In building its 162-seat McDonnell Theater, ArtYard, state-of-the-art exhibition and theater chose to outfit the space with Alcons Audio pro-ribbon systems to ensure that the sound meets the exacting standards of its founders.
ArtYard’s roots – and its relationship with Alcons – go back to 2004, when Chris Langhart, supported by John Chester, designed and built a private entertainment space in a barn on Jill Kearney and Stephen McDonnell’s Pennsylvania farm.
“Chris and I had long been fond of ribbon tweeters, but at the time we had not seen one that would survive in a sound reinforcement system,” said Chester. “However, Chris knew of Alcons pro-ribbon speakers and wanted them for the barn. At that time Alcons had no distribution in the U.S., so we purchased a system directly and imported it from Alcons in the Netherlands.”
Nobody is quite sure, but this may have been the first Alcons system in the U.S. Comprising two 12” VR12 mid-size versatile monitors, a 15” BF302 high-output subwoofer, and two ALC2 amplified loudspeaker controllers, it was an immediate success. “It was the first system I’d worked with that sounded really transparent at low level and maintained that quality without difficulty all the way up to maximum volume,” said Chester.
“For one event we had a baby grand piano, with the lid open and miked from a reasonable distance. I asked the artist to start playing with the microphones off, then gradually faded them up. The piano got louder, but still sounded very much the same as when the mics were off – except of course that coverage at the back of the hall was greatly improved.”
After 10 years of events, Kearney and the artist Elsa Mora founded ArtYard as a nonprofit arts center and began its exhibition, live performance, residency, and festival offerings. When the opportunity arose to build a brand-new venue on the site of a disused egg hatchery in Frenchtown, they were determined that only the highest standards would be acceptable for a space designed to host live performances ranging from music concerts and theatre to dance and film festivals. For Langhart and Chester, this meant that they only considered an Alcons system.
“We wanted a very high-end cinema and PA, capable of delivering the widest range of performances to a very high standard,” said Chester. “We had a great starting point in the combination of a good architect and adequate budget for acoustic treatment giving us a good sounding room, which is always better than trying to use the sound system to fix a bad room.”
Getting the acoustics right was helped by world-renowned acoustics expert Sam Berkow, who was recommended by David Rahn – by this time established as Alcons’ North American sales manager – and Mike Sinclair of New Jersey-based AV specialist Sinclair AV, who was brought on to install the equipment.
“We have been involved with several multi-purpose facilities where the ‘speaker-wall’ was not built correctly and caused disturbing resonances. Here, we were asked to help design an acoustically appropriate screen wall and we knew that Sam’s expertise, together with the Alcons pro-ribbon screen systems and subwoofers, would give ArtYard audiences an exceptional movie experience,” says Mike. “We have used Alcons systems in several projects where high-quality sound was a critical design goal and they have always delivered.”
Working with David, Chester specified an Alcons pro-ribbon cinema system comprising three CR1 ultra-compact screen systems, two 15” CB151sl compact shallow subwoofer systems and ten 6,5” CCS6 small-format surround speakers. For live events, a flown L-C-R system of four 6,5” Alcons LR7/120 and six 6,5” LR7/90 micro line-array modules, plus three 12” LR7B micro line-array bass modules. Three Sentinel3 and one Sentinel10 amplified loudspeaker controllers provide power and control.
“The first thing I like to do with a new speaker system is to listen to a wide variety of music and think about whether there’s some common sound that’s contributed by the speaker system,” said Chester. “With the new Alcons system, I heard more of the music and less of the speaker system than ever before. It made us completely confident that we have a system that can do everything from subtle reinforcement to loud electric music with outstanding clarity.”
He continued: “I also like that Alcons amplifiers are not built into the speakers, because it would often be very difficult to quickly access our speakers for service while a show is set up on stage. Alcons’ Signal Integrity Sensing (SIS) eliminates any sound degradation caused by speaker cables, so we get the sound quality of powered speakers without any of the disadvantages.”
Opening acts in the McDonnell Theater included performances by Apsáalooke hip-hop artist Supaman, renowned dance troupe Company SBB, an Oscars contenders film festival, and award-winning contemporary classical composer, pianist, and Frenchtown resident Heidi Breyer. These events confirmed that audiences and staff alike appreciate the sound quality delivered by the Alcons systems.
“Everyone was very happy,” said Chester. “As I thought from the experience in the barn, all those years ago, the Alcons system really makes a piano sound like a piano. One could connect directly with the artist without being aware of the sound reinforcement system.”
Sam Berkow add: “The HF pro-ribbon drivers in Alcons loudspeakers are among the finest I have heard. They deliver low distortion with wonderful transient response!” Given Sam’s peerless credentials, this is high praise indeed.
ArtYard exists to present transformative artwork, foster unexpected collaborations, incubate original new work, and provide people access to a vibrant third space where culture and community are planted, nurtured, and grown. With the Alcons Audio systems, they can be assured they are doing so with the benefit of the best possible sound.