Winspear Centre introduces state-of-the-art loudspeaker system

Winspear Centre introduces state-of-the-art loudspeaker system

By Rudy Howell

The Winspear Centre has entered a new era in its storied history of acoustic excellence.

In January 2024, we began installing the state-of-the-art L Series loudspeaker system designed by the French professional audio manufacturer L-Acoustics. This exciting upgrade will modernize our concert hall's sonic capabilities, significantly enhancing the experience of our audiences and performers.

“It is the chance of a lifetime to experience brand-new technology on a whole new level of quality and performance,” said Jonas Duffy, Head Audio Technician, Winspear Centre.

Before proceeding, we warn you this will be a rather technical read. We at the Winspear are dedicated to the science of sound, which means there is no way to tell this story without getting a little nerdy.

What is the L Series?

Released in April 2023, the L Series features the latest and greatest advancements in line array technology. Line array refers to a series of loudspeakers stacked on top of each other and facing slightly different angles to consistently cover a greater depth of field than a single public address (PA) speaker. While first demonstrated by American acoustical pioneer Harry Olson in 1957, the line array approach was widely popularized by L-Acoustics in the 1990s.

“L Series is a breakthrough concept in concert sound that is made possible through the culmination of 30 years of intensive research and development in software modelling, loudspeaker technology, and electronics,” said Germain Simon, Director of Product Management, Loudspeakers at L-Acoustics.

Celeigh Cardinal concert. Photo by Levi Manchak.

Time for a Change

The L-Series is the Winspear Centre’s third loudspeaker system since opening in 1997 and replaces the Meyer Sound M’elodie installed in 2007. While identifying a replacement system, size, coverage, and intelligibility were three important sonic deciding factors. Coverage refers to the ability to provide every seat in the house with the same acoustic experience. In contrast, intelligibility refers to the clarity with which a listener can identify different sounds, such as the many nuances of an orchestra. As for size, we sought a system loud enough to satisfy any act while housed in a compact form factor.

In early spring 2023, the options were narrowed to two finalists. However, in the eleventh hour, Jonas was contacted by representatives from L-Acoustics, who said they had something new they thought would be a perfect fit for the Winspear Centre.

“L-Acoustics wanted to see (the L Series) in a world-class concert hall. The product was originally designed for touring but could be used for installation applications. They found that (the Winspear) was a perfect fit for what they wanted to see it used for,” said Jonas.

Violent Femmes concert. Photo by Levi Manchak.

A Series of Firsts

It is important to note this conversation took place before the public announcement and release of the L Series. Thanks to the steadfast support of dbi Systems Integration, the Winspear’s long-time audio/video integrator, and FM Systems, the Western Canadian distributor for L-Acoustics, the Winspear became the first venue in North America to receive the L Series and the first venue in Canada to install the system.

“We wanted to do something special because we know the Winspear is not your run-of-the-mill type of venue. Projects of this scope and importance do not come along every day, so it was special to do it in a room like the Winspear and with brand-new technology that will take the venue forward for a long time. There is no act this sound system is not going to accommodate,” said Jerry Van Dyke, Principal, dbi Systems Integration.

Completing the installation of the L Series will result in another Winspear first: a left-centre-right (LCR) line array configuration. This means we will have three separate line array units hanging above the stage, providing maximum coverage and intelligibility across the entire concert hall. At present, only the left and right units have been installed. The centre unit will be installed in July 2024, providing audiences with the most immersive audio experience in our concert hall to date.

Violent Femmes concert. Photo by Levi Manchak.

Unique Features

Each L Series line array comprises two elements designed to work together or independently: L2 above and L2D below. Each line array at the Winspear will consist of 2 L2 loudspeakers and 1 L2D loudspeaker. The L2 has a maximum sound pressure level (SPL) of 155 dB, while the L2D can reach 151 dB. For reference, most rock concerts measure between 95 and 100 dB, while orchestra concerts measure between 70 and 85 dB. This means there is enough headroom to eliminate the fear of loudspeaker failure.

“This is a huge bonus for our organization. As word spreads to the touring community, (the L Series) will hopefully bring in other acts that want to get a chance to use the new PA. It will hold out as good as anywhere and sound better than most spaces. This is a sound system that I know is going to keep up with anything we throw at it,” said Jonas.

The system also features L-Acoustics Panflex™ technology, which provides audio technicians like Jonas with quick access to a choice of four horizontal sound directivity patterns. With Panflex, users can adapt the system coverage pattern to match the complex shape of any audience geometry by widening or narrowing the directivity pattern of each line array.

From a performer's perspective, artists and musicians can expect to hear less of the PA on stage than before. Through its integrated cardioid feature, the L Series can be adjusted to maximize sound rejection where required, ensuring performers hear precisely what they want to without impacting the audience and vice versa.

Ultimately, these features will result in a sound Jonas describes as “natural.” Compared to similar products from other manufacturers, the loudspeakers in the L Series have minimal impact on sound as it travels from its source point, such as a voice or an instrument, to the ears of the audience via the PA. This means Jonas can spend less time tailoring the frequencies of voices, instruments, and the hall itself to achieve the desired sound for any given performance.

Celeigh Cardinal concert. Photo by Levi Manchak

Additional Upgrades

In addition to the L Series, the Winspear also purchased an additional 51 loudspeakers and 17 subwoofer loudspeakers from L-Acoustics for the stage, orchestra loge, dress loge, orchestra terrace, choir loft, viewing room, control booth, control console, main lobby, and upper lobby. This equipment will enable a broader frequency range in loge seating, improve coverage and intelligibility for choir singers, and ensure all chamber rows are targeted with balanced sound from the PA. The coverage of the previous system started at approximately the fifth row of orchestra seating, which meant rows 1-4 primarily heard stage volumes.

In a surprising turn of events, Jonas said these updates have made the Winspear’s viewing room one of the best places in the hall to listen to concerts. Located on the second floor, the viewing room is an isolated space with a view into the hall where audience members with a persistent cough, for example, can enjoy performances without disturbing others. Before this year, the sound quality in this room relied on a pair of 1997 JBL Control Series speakers and one amplifier. It now features three new L-Acoustics X8 loudspeakers in an LCR configuration and one L-Acoustics SB10i subwoofer.

“Anyone in (the viewing room) now gets essentially the same and sometimes better sound quality in a controlled environment than the people in the chamber. It was not intended to have that quality of results, but we were very happy to find out that is what happened,” said Jonas.

These combined audio upgrades throughout our facility represent the most significant investment in professional audio equipment in Winspear history. The Winspear Centre is grateful to Western Economic Diversification Canada for helping fund a portion of this milestone project.

Violent Femmes concert. Photo by Levi Manchak.

Looking Forward

This is the third major undertaking by the Winspear Centre since 2022 intended to improve audience experiences in our concert hall. In the summer of 2023, we replaced our original 26-year-old seats with 1,668 new ones featuring cupholders. Like their predecessors, the new seats are specially designed to mimic the acoustic properties of a human body. Therefore, when there is no audience during rehearsal, the hall sounds roughly the same as it does during a performance with a full house. Additionally, all the original acoustic curtains and baffles were replaced in 2022. This equipment is used to control the level of sound absorption in the hall. Amplified shows will typically require the curtains and baffles to be in, while acoustic shows, such as ESO performances, will have them out.

Overall, these upgrades are part of the exciting momentum leading up to the completion of our Winspear Expansion Project. By providing a world-class centre for music capable of serving the unique needs of everyone, from touring rock bands to our Music Box Babies, we aim to enhance the connection between our community and music's transformative impact.

“The Winspear is dedicated to providing the best sound quality for musical performances, whether acoustic or amplified. Our new state-of-the-art sound system underscores our commitment to delivering unparalleled live experiences to our community,” said Jerrold Eilander, Orchestra Operations Manager, Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

A sight and sound to behold, Canada’s first L Series L-Acoustics installation at the Winspear Centre in Edmonton,...

Posted by FM Systems on Thursday, February 15, 2024