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Sound On Broadway: A Detailed Look At The Audio Designs For Several Top Current Shows

The variety of ways that sound and systems are supporting exceptional theatrical performances on the Great White Way

A recent trip to Broadway in the Big Apple took me to five of the season’s top shows to see what equipment is used when the stakes are high.

Literally million dollar shows, successful musicals often gross over a million dollars a week. Next February’s off-again, on-again Spiderman, sees songwriter U2’s start-up costs estimated at around $40 million.

Broadway sound designs must provide clear, crisp, detailed sound to every seat in the house for patrons who pay average prices approaching $100.

Digital consoles now dominate Broadway, and are currently the rule, rather than the exception, with DiGiCo’s D5T having arrived several years ago and preferred for top shows, Yamaha’s PM5D-EX beginning to replace the PM1D, Studer’s Vista 5 coming on strong with new theatrical software and Digidesign’s Profile providing a compact solution with plug-in options.

Favorite loudspeaker products include those from Meyer Sound, d&b audiotechnik, L-Acoustics and EAW. Compact line arrays are popular as center-clusters above proscenium arches. Point-source two-way loudspeakers at each side of the stage on the orchestra level and above for the balcony fill in the sides and create accurate imaging.

While small front-fill loudspeakers across the stage lip generally just reinforce vocals, in other coverage zones, it’s not unusual to employ dual loudspeaker systems for vocals and orchestra instruments, allowing the vocal system to be optimized for body mics, while the music system is tweaked to sound natural without getting in the way of the words.

The balcony is frequently treated as a separate acoustical space, often reinforced from a closer overhead house truss.

Under-balcony loudspeakers have been a regular feature for so long that some Broadway houses are permanently wired with loudspeaker cable, and d&b’s E3 has become a darling. Surround systems are now a standard in modern designs, regularly using JF80 compact two-way loudspeakers. Subwoofers commonly have pairs split upstairs and down to provide even coverage throughout the house.

Following is a detailed look at the sound for some of the finest musicals currently on the Great White Way.

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