The Kaufmann Concert Hall at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan, New York City, has upgraded its sound system to L-Acoustics’ L-ISA, becoming the first US performing arts venue to install it.
The 92Y itself was opened in 1874 as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) but eventually evolved into a venue for all featuring education, social services, and entertainment. Central to the institution is the 905-seat Kaufmann Concert Hall, which opened in 1927 to host mainly classical music performances, as well as lectures and other shows. Notably, Dylan Thomas did his last reading of Under Milk Wood there two weeks before his death in 1953.
Today, the 92Y has become a significant part of the New York City cultural scene. The Kaufmann Concert Hall hosts regular panel discussions with leaders in a variety of fields, as well as musical theatre, cinema experiences, live music, and special events.
However, with a nearly 20-year-old audio system and a tricky interior, the venue was looking to upgrade its audio. “The main challenge for this concert hall is that the interior is largely made of wood, and it’s very reverberant,” explained Kaufmann Concert Hall technical director, Sean Fogarty. “It was built in the 1920s and meant for classical music, so when we did amplified music, it could easily overwhelm the space.”
L-Acoustics’ L-ISA Immersive Hyperreal technology was chosen to bring the venue into the 21st century. It also happens to be the first US installation of L-ISA in a performing arts centre.
The system was sold through local rental house See Factor, and installed by the Kaufmann Concert Hall’s IATSE Local One technical staff, with guidance from See Factor’s Alex Jones, L-Acoustics and Hudson Scenic Design. The installation also included a new digital FOH console and recording and broadcast infrastructure also supplied by See Factor.
“We had gone to the venue for a site survey, and to speak with Sean and Anthony about what their needs were for a sound system,” said L-Acoustics application engineer, Jesse Stevens. “The more we discussed the acoustic properties of the space, the design directives, and the varied programming, it became clear that L-ISA was the key to solving this puzzle. So we all hopped a cab to the L-ISA studio space at See Factor so that the Kaufmann team could hear and mix in L-ISA in real-time.”
Stevens designed a system comprising five arrays of Kiva II—with six enclosures per hang—across the width of the stage, and four SB15m subwoofers. This frontal system would solve a key issue in reinforcement: localisation. The ability to localise the reinforced sound to the source onstage became an essential element to improve intelligibility, creating a cohesive blend of live and reinforced sound.
For the immersive aspect of the system, a total of 20 X8 loudspeakers—four X8 coaxial loudspeakers per side and four in the rear for balcony and orchestra—allow the Kaufmann staff to use the entire venue to place sounds for cinema, or enhance the space using the L-ISA integrated Room Engine. Furthermore, 5XT under-balcony fills, six X4i ultra-compact coaxial frontfills on the lip of the stage, and two Syva colinear loudspeakers as proscenium nearfills complete the system, which is powered by 11 LA4X amplified controllers, fed via AVB from the FOH infrastructure. Finally, there are two L-ISA Processors (main and backup) located at FOH, and managed by the L-ISA Controller software, running on a Mac Mini.
Audio into the L-ISA system first starts at the console, a Yamaha Rivage PM10, which sends each audio channel post-fader and post-processing into the L-ISA Processors via a MADI stream. From there, the resulting objects are placed and layered in the L-ISA Controller—with the spatialised outputs sent to the corresponding loudspeakers.
FOH engineer Anthony Lombard explained: “The ease of use of the L-ISA Controller is so natural. I can place objects quickly, move them around, add width and depth, and create and recall snapshots, all from the same screen in the software. It just naturally integrates into the workflow, so while mixing with dimension might seem complex, it’s made to feel really intuitive. And the quality of sound is just amazing.”
The first show with the new system—a performance by Shinedown in September—illustrated its capabilities as the band members discussed their music with the moderator, Chris Porter, followed by a three-song performance. “L-ISA has really changed the way we hear music here,” said Fogarty.