Iconic Athenaeum Embraces Coda & Digico
As one of Victoria’s oldest public institutions, the Melbourne Athenaeum was founded in 1839. The heritage building was originally the Melbourne Mechanics’ Institute. Later it became a picture theatre, then a venue for the Melbourne Theatre Company before they decamped to Victoria Arts Centre. These days, it’s the smallest of the traditional CBD theatres, but always the most interesting, hosting a varied roster of dramatic theatre, opera, acoustic performance, comedy, rock shows, musicals and more.
Recently the ‘Ath’ has undergone a significant audio upgrade. One of the owners Glenn Elston wanted an audio solution that would handle the highly varied range of acts.
Normally, an installation caters for the largest production needs and scales down on a show-by-show basis. However with the Athenaeum being a heritage, wedding-cake style theatre, the venue did not lend itself to large systems, either flown or ground stacked. In addition, Elston was after a system that would cater to all these different productions, while being easily reconfigured by the house tech staff.
CODA FRONT UP
A combination of distributed and small form-factor systems from Coda Audio, Camco amplification, mixing from Digico consoles, plus DSP from Xilica Audio Design and Apex Audio were specified for the installation. This, combined with a thorough infrastructure update, has given the Athenaeum enough flexibility and power to thrive. The concept was to have a high-powered distributed system, one that would not impact visually on the heritage theatre, while still allowing different zoning and system configuration to cater to the many types of clients hiring the theatre.
Coda Audio won’t be a brand familiar to many. It’s a primo German brand producing ultra-compact and high output loudspeakers, which exhibit a consistent tonal response across the range. The decision to go with Coda made a lot of sense given the theatre’s beautiful interior didn’t need to be filled with huge speaker footprints. Saying that, installing the system sensitively and unobtrusively was always going to be a challenge for installers, Melbourne’s RTR Productions.
New cable runs meant having technicians crawling through unbelievably tight spaces. While other installers might be happy with running surface-mount conduit on each level, RTR went the extra mile.
Matt Hanson from MPH Australia one of the country’s foremost riggers excelled himself in dealing with the Athenaeum’s intricacies.
There are 16 speaker zones, each fed by a Coda DNC260N controller, which delivers advanced DSP and speaker management for the zone. Four Apex Intelli-X 2 Z48 processors then provide complete front end control for time alignment, system tuning and EQ management. To manage all the matrix feeds, one of Xilica’s latest digital audio processors, a Neutrino A-1616, has been installed. This is a completely open-architecture 16 x 16 40-bit floating point processor configured with room presets comprised of different speaker configurations depending on the show requirements. This allows the in-house technicians to decide on different tuning presets to suit their client, and then also mute different zones depending on what parts of the theatre are being utilised. A Xilica wall panel (the MiniS8), features eight control buttons that can be programmed simply by dragging a parameter on the panel using Xilica’s intuitive software package, NeuConsole.
With the room completely configured with several practical preset options, Elston has been very impressed with the quality of sound and the simplicity of operation. “It’s great to just be able to walk in, turn it on, and have world class sound without having to do anything except flick a switch. I am really happy with everything.”
With the entire PA being upgraded, it was only fitting that a new front of house console was added to match. Mixing and monitoring duties are now handled by a Digico SD9 with 2 x D-Racks. Since the installation, the technicians have found the 64 on-stage mic inputs more than enough to cover their clients’ needs. There are 24 outputs on stage as well. These can feed the four sends of Nexo PS10R2 monitors, or multiple sets of in-ear monitors.
Elston was particularly impressed with the final solution. “The installation was done really well. It really fits with the venue aesthetically. The column speakers on the balcony follow the lines of the building perfectly. It doesn’t intrude on the interior of the theatre at all.” The speakers are soon to be painted, colour matching the cream, heritage interior.
Since the installation, the Athenaeum has been receiving rave reviews and extremely positive feedback from theatre companies, bands and engineers alike as Elston further commented. “The sound is absolutely brilliant. We have been receiving regular compliments from clients and patrons. It’s just fantastic.”