Martin Audio Makes Sure Soundworks For Richmond Symphony Orchestra

When Virginia-based Soundworks took delivery of its Martin Audio WPS and WPC line array systems earlier this year, little did they know that the world was within one month of going into lockdown.

“The pandemic shut down all of our bookings from mid-March forward,” recalls CEO, Steve Payne.

The company had to wait until the end of summer to put its systems to use, kicking off with two socially-distanced outdoor concerts by the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. Soundworks has been contracted to provide sound reinforcement for all Richmond Symphony Orchestra’s community outreach concerts since 2015.

“Each season the RSO will incorporate the performance of a popular local or regional artist into one of their ‘Big Tent’ gigs,” Payne explains. “The arranger will write scores for orchestral accompaniment to six or so of the guest artist’s songs. Past musical artists have included a wide range of musical styles and genres, and this year’s featured artist was the Commonwealth Bluegrass Band.”

To thoroughly road test their new scalable Wavefront Performance rigs, Soundworks used the September 12 show at Maymont Park to evaluate the power of WPS in the delay position – with a view to future main FOH deployment.

“The venue required that we cover a depth of 420ft, so we used two hangs of eight WPC for the main PA, with two SXH218 subs ground stacked per side and two hangs of six WPS for delays at 220ft, with a CDD-LIVE 15 at each of the main hangs as outfills.”

The audience size was capped at 700 due to social distancing rules.

“The conclusion was that WPS had plenty of impact and presence for use as a main system. We could not be certain that the WPS would be able to punch out to 290ft as required at the next gig but felt sufficiently confident to give it a try,” says Payne.

The next show was two weeks later at Pocahontas State Park in Chesterfield, VA, where approximately 500 socially distanced people were spread over an area that could have accommodated a maximum of 4,000 (standing).

“The performance of the little WPS in this space just seemed to fly in the face of logic and break all the rules,” exclaims Payne. “There was little doubt that they were entirely capable of serving as mains. The first time we fired them up at Pocahontas was quite a revelation. The sound and performance were far above what one would expect from an 8in box. The rig did a stellar job of providing even, high fidelity audio out to 290ft.”

The area for both concerts could accommodate a crowd vastly larger than the safely distanced audience.

“We do the Richmond Jazz Festival in this same space each year where audience size can approach 7,000,” says Payne. “To cover the areas properly we are putting in systems capable of covering approximately 10 times the audience size under normal conditions.”

Seating at the Maymont concert included close seating to the sides of the stage which were out of the pattern of the WPC arrays.

“We supplemented these areas with CDD-LIVE 15s on lifts at a height of about 10ft,” he adds. “We were very pleased with the tonal integration between CDD-LIVE and Wavefront Precision.”

Payne himself carried out the venue measurements and system design in Display 2.3.

“Due to available amp channels [in the Martin Audio iK amps] both WPC and WPS systems were set to 2-box resolution at Maymont,” he points out. “For the Pocahontas Park gig the WPS system was run at 1-box resolution.”

Bryan Hargrave was the system tech, with Payne acting as his assistant at both gigs. Jason Misterka mixed FOH at Maymont, while Grant Howard occupied the same role at Pocahontas.

As for the music source, with acoustic bluegrass and orchestral backup they had plenty of headroom in the system.

“The sound was full and really pleasing, while the vocals were riding on top of the mix and right in my face,” enthuses Payne. “It was as good as I could have wished for. Both gigs were acoustic performances and so the real test put to the systems on these gigs was accurate fidelity, even coverage and long throw capability. Max SPL was never tested.”

The symphony sounded gorgeous at every seat in the house – just stupid good! Steve Payne, CEO, Soundworks

Martin Audio’s ‘Hard Avoid’ feature worked beautifully at both gigs, he confirms:

“The advantage is especially noticeable with multiple open mics and acoustic instruments on stage. On some systems low mid build-up on stage rolling back off the PA can be a problem and create the need for remedial FOH EQing.”

But in this regard, FOH mixer, Howard comments:

“Basically all I had to do was shove the faders up. I left the house EQ flat and I barely touched the channel EQ.”

Payne believes the main difference between a socially distanced audience versus a tightly packed audience is that the system can be run at a 6 to 10dB lower volume to achieve the same result.

“I don’t think there is any difference in approach to tuning or EQing. Martin Audio guarantees measured system performance will be within ± 1dB of the performance predicted by Display 2.3. With Wavefront Precision systems we have found that measurement systems such as SMAART are now essentially verifying target performance rather than revealing information to be used for correction. It's very impressive.”

The Richmond Symphony Orchestra also found it impressive, with their production manager, Brent Bowden commenting:

“Pocahontas sounded fantastic and I heard many positive comments. I have heard a number of different line array systems over the years, both indoor and outdoor and some key factors stood out at these shows that I really enjoyed, apart from top notch engineering. Vocal clarity was noticeable without the dB spike that often results from boosting the human voice above other instruments. The evenness of the level in various locations was also very good, especially difficult in a flat, open park with delays.”

Payne is confident that these systems will soon repay the investment despite sitting idle through the summer’s COVID pandemic.

“We expect WPS to be capable of covering 75% of the gigs we used to cover with another manufacturer’s 10in system. To get the kind of performance that this system delivers out of a passive, physically diminutive 60lb box with 8in drivers is stunning. The symphony sounded gorgeous at every seat in the house – just stupid good! I am sure it will be the first rig to leave the shop at every opportunity. And of course having both WPC and WPL systems in our warehouse we can easily ramp up the performance whenever required.”