Like Night & Day
The Night Cat invests big in a mid-Covid production upgrade, spearheaded by a Meyer Sound ULTRA-X40-based point source loudspeaker system.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
The Night Cat is one of those venues that seriously contributes to Melbourne’s reputation for amazing live music. Its in-the-round stage configuration means you’re never far from the action and its low ceilings help imbue a sweaty intimacy that’s real and unvarnished.
The type of acts you see through The Night Cat include those “on their way up and on the way down” as owner Justin Stanford describes it. The 600-person capacity puts the venue in the city’s mid tier.
When Justin took over The Night Cat back in 2016, he was committed to making the venue the coolest and best-sounding in town. Partnering with in-house engineer, Louie Michael, he set about fixing acoustic issues, pulled out an ill-suited, mismatched PA and introduced a pre-loved Meyer Sound system, based on the UPA-1A. Some five years later they knew they could do even better.
“The 30-year-old UPA-1A speakers were terrific,” recalls Louie Michael. “They might have been long in the tooth but when we tested them, every driver worked to factory spec.”
A production upgrade would raise The Night Cat’s live music stocks considerably. A new PA was priority No. 1 but Justin Stanford was just as serious about investing in a new lighting rig and a four-point motorised truss. But a full production upgrade in middle of a pandemic?
“Never waste a good crisis,” reckons owner Justin Stanford. “With other venues really struggling, I managed to do some deals with ticketing and beer supply that gave us a sizeable advance of money. We channelled some of that into into upgrading our production. The plan is use one of the worst times in live music history to get a jump on the competition and come out the other side much stronger.”
In a highly competitive market, Justin Stanford understands better than most that he’s in the business of offering a rewarding, frictionless experience for artists, managers and promoters as he is a fun, memorably experience for punters. Offering a rider-friendly production spec is a significant part of that for everyone.
AGAINST THE LIVE TIDE
The next step was to scope out some possible new sound systems. Louie Michael has his own supply company, which obviously had the inside running but Justin Stanford insisted on a proper tender and quoting process.
“A lot of live venues in Melbourne use line arrays which are totally unsuited to The Night Cat,” recalls Louie Michael. “I was determined to steer Justin to a point source solution.”
With Louie’s preference for Meyer Sound product he reached out Meyer Sound directly. Meyer Sound brought in their newly appointed dealer CMG AV, based interstate in Wollongong, knowing they would be a great fit, largely due to the fact CMG has a wide range of Meyer Sound demo stock to audition. CMG AV’s Aaron Taylor picks up on the story: “We flew Louie up to spend a day with our Meyer Sound demo stock, and put him up overnight. We essentially handed him the keys and allowed him the space to get to know the various point source speakers in the range and the subwoofers that would best match those systems.”
It was here that Louie became convinced that the new Meyer Sound ULTRA-X40 full-range point source loudspeaker should form the basis of the new Night Cat PA.
“We need something with wide horizontal coverage,” explains Louie Michael. “But the rotatable horn in the ULTRA-X40 gives us the ability to be able to achieve that coverage on the horizontal or vertical axis, which has proven handy for our back speakers where I’ve flipped the horns. Then I needed something for the low end that would be able to keep up. But having a stage situated in the middle of the room, there’s not a lot of real estate.”
The space constraint pointed Louie towards fewer, more high-powered subwoofers in the design. CMG AV helped Louie to experience Meyer Sound’s 900LFC subs with the ULTRA-X40s. The final spec featured the larger 1100-LFC but as Louie put it “the 1100 is like two 900-LFCs in one box so I assumed that was going to be awesome”.
Meyer Sound design services team worked on a front of house system design for Louie based on the Meyer Sound ULTRA-X40 full-range loudspeakers accompanied by ULTRA-X20 fills and two 1100-LFC subs. A third 900-LFC sub joined the design for a very specific purpose.
“Being in the round, and with the bar closer to the stage than most venues, the bar staff have traditionally copped a lot of level,” explains Louie. “They might be on a shift for eight hours and having to hear punters’ orders over the PA is fatiguing.”
The design included a 900-LFC switched into Reverse Fire mode into the system design, mounted into the ceiling. Placed correctly and optimally delayed, the 900LFC can cancel a lot of low frequencies otherwise punishing the bar service area.
“I’ve been experimenting with various delay setting on the Meyer GALAXY processor,” explains Louie Michael. “Finding where different cancellations occur over different frequency ranges. I’m up to something like 27ms on the delay and it’s cancelling out up to 10dB at 80Hz!”
CMG AV installed the system under the supervision of General Manager, Tobi Pinazza.
“We had a lot of confidence in the product,” confirms CMG’s Aaron Taylor. “We knew the proposed design would achieve Justin’s goals for The Night Cat. Now the install has been completed, the system delivers exactly as promised. In fact, it does more than that, it’s actually outstripped our expectations.”
Justin Stanford: “I really appreciate the help from the Meyer Sound team, they’ve looked after us beautifully and everything promised, they’ve delivered. Plus more. And the response to the system so far is just like, ‘wow, this is now the best room I’ve ever heard’. So I really can’t wait to get a few more shows through and get more people through and keep the buzz going.”
SPACEMAP IS GO
The Meyer Sound upgrade introduces the mouthwatering prospect of Spacemap Go spatial sound. Meyer Sound has taken a different approach to immersive than its key competitors, with solutions that are more specifically designed around a minimum of five frontal arrays. Meyer Sound’s Spacemap approach is arguably more suited to experimental immersive concepts, anything from object-based panning in the stereo field through to a Cirque du Soleil-style, sky’s-the-limit immersive bonanza. Simply by having a GALAXY DSP/Router in the rack, The Night Cat is ready to leverage the Spacemap Go control software to begin exploring immersive in whatever manner might suit the occasion.
Aaron Taylor: “Spacemap doesn’t require the venue or the owner to purchase any more equipment — The Night Cat now already has the building blocks for an immersive system. They may want to add loudspeakers to whatever extent they would like. So the immersive system can be as straightforward or as complicated as the venue would like it to be. And it can be a moving target. They don’t have to immediately commit to some sort of extraordinary number of loudspeakers, it can be an ambition that grows over time. But they’ve got the technology. They’ve got the hardware to make it work. Right From this very moment.”
Louie Michael is a self-confessed gear geek and is licking his Spacemap chops: “I’m currently using the eight analogue GALAXY inputs (working in AVB bumps the I/O considerably). When in Spacemap mode, instead of just sending a left and right signal, I’m sending eight buses out, which generally are my SD11 groups. So I’ll have a kick, a snare, and three stereo groups — keys, vocals etc. I’m loving how I can precisely place instruments in the stereo field.
“Do I have more grandiose plans for how we can use Spacemap? Absolutely! I love the idea that I can phone CMG AV and ask Aaron for, maybe, another GALAXY and some additional ULTRA-X40s to cater for a special event. I can easily integrate that into my existing system and workflow.”
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
The production investment extends beyond the FOH loudspeaker system. A Digico SD11 digital mixing system (loaded with a Waves DSP card and connected to a D-Rack 32 in/16 out stage box) now presides over the mix position. The lighting guys have not been forgotten either. A freshly-minted GrandMA3 lighting console handles a new inventory of lighting fixtures that include fixed and moving head units from Martin. “When Justin took over the venue five years ago,” explains Louie Michael. “We spent about seven grand on generic Chinese lights to get us out of trouble. But what we have now, it’s like experiencing a mini arena production. It’s elevated the look and feel of our shows no end.”
More investment is to come with a stage monitor upgrade. A complement of 10 or 12 Meyer Sound MJF-210s are in the offing, which will replace the current stock of UM-1A active wedges.
The plan is use one of the worst times in live music history to get a jump on the competition and come out the other side much stronger.
WHAT’S YOUR POINT
With any performance space a new PA has to tick a number of boxes and please a bunch of different stakeholders. Sometimes the ‘optics’ can play a disproportionately large role in a decision — does the new PA look ‘serious’. Often this can lead to line source being spec’ed over a more suitable point source option. Interestingly, Justin and Louie had no fear that the low-profile ULTRA-X40 point source loudspeaker was somehow going to disappoint in any regard. In fact, not only do the ULTRA-X40s deliver, they give back a bunch of sight-lines and space otherwise occupied by a short hang of line array.
“The people who doubt the Meyer ULTRA-X40 do so mostly because they haven’t heard it,” asserts Louie Michael. “Every single sound person that’s come into The Night Cat has been impressed. Even our lighting tech! I’ve been at him for months — “you’re going to be blown away… this new Meyer PA will be unlike anything you’ve ever heard before” — and his response has always been “yeah, yeah, I’m glad it’s happening but it’s still just a speaker, right?” After a week with the new PA he finally turned around and admitted it: “You’re so right, I’ve never heard anything like this.” The new Meyer PA really speaks for itself. I just can’t wait for more people to get the chance to experience it!”
Melbourne has endured a particularly tough pandemic. The lockdowns have wrought a terrible cost on live venues. Owner, Justin Stanford, might mouth the ‘never waste a good crisis’ catch-cry with bluff confidence, but there’s no doubting that this investment is as brave as it is first rate. Of course, we all know that live music will return; that interstate and international touring will return; that the lovers of live music will also be back; and that there is latent demand. And when it all does come back, The Night Cat will find itself very well placed to be rungs higher on the live venue pecking order. It’s a technical upgrade of the first order.