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How sweet it is

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A Music Retailer Builds An Ideal Theatre And Presentation Space

FORT WAYNE, IN—”What we have here,” said Russ Berger, president of the Russ Berger Design Group (RBDG) in Addison, TX, is a “theatre that goes to the ubiquitous Spinal Tap 11.”

Berger is talking about the new 250-seat theatre/presentation space at the giant Fort Wayne, IN music instrument and music technology retailer, Sweetwater. The company’s new $35 million,

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A stereo PA was added to support sound reinforcement of demo material as well as live performance. 180,000-square foot LEED-certified facility includes offices, a fully automated warehouse, and a mall complete with a diner, game area, and employee health club.

At the project’s heart are the RBDG- designed theatre and three adjacent recording studios, featuring a LARES electronic acoustical enhancement system, Digidesign DControl mixing console, Digidesign ProTools HD3 recording system, and a variety of outboard gear.

“What Chuck has built is truly inspiring,” Berger enthused, referring to Sweetwater founder and president, Chuck Surack. “Their previous building had been renovated a number of times and had become a rabbit warren. They’ve had such great success and growth but were out of room and beyond capacity in their warehouse when a site was found with an existing office complex that could be renovated and expanded.”

Beyond obvious theatre requirements, Berger said, the Sweetwater project went far beyond the usual to embrace a space for training. “A speech-only system was incorporated to insure excellent intelligibility at each seat in the audience. A stereo PA was added to support sound reinforcement of demo material as well as live performance. A surround system was included to accommodate multichannel surround equipment playback, demos of surround material, music, and movies.”

A large 24-foot-wide rear-projection screen accommodates two or more simultaneous high-resolution images output by three Panasonic projectors for text and graphics to see software as it runs and to view live and prerecorded video. “There are two additional smaller screens that flank the main screen and connectivity for laptops as well as headphone jacks at each extra-wide seat with a fold-away tablet desk,” Berger detailed. “The room also includes a full rigging system for PA demos and a central cross-aisle allowing for rolling in a mixing console for a theatre mix and console shootouts.”

Sweetwater’s LARES system represents a unique placement for that technology, noted LARES Associates principal Steve Barbar. “I haven’t encountered anyone committing these

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A 24-foot-wide rear-projection screen accommodates two or more simultaneous high-resolution images output by three Panasonic projectors for text and graphics to see software as it runs and to view live and prerecorded video. kinds of resources to this type of facility,” he said. “When I got the call from Russ, I had a lot of questions because I had envisioned the theatre being used primarily for training and lecture.”

As it happens, Barbar discovered that Surack, like most of his employees, is a musician. “He wanted a theatre that could support a wide variety of activities, performances, and media,” Barbar recalled. “He also recognized the importance of integrating all of the technologies throughout the facility. Thus, the theatre can serve as another studio, or demonstrations in the theatre can be viewed throughout the facility, and live performances can be recorded in HD—there are no limitations,” he said.

The Sweetwater LARES system features about 107 speakers distributed throughout, overhead, laterally, on the rear wall, and onstage, with processing providing two functions. “It changes the acoustics to accommodate a source, such as string quartet, allowing for a wide range of programming,” Barbar said. “Its secondary use is for supplemental surround sound for film. Most cinema systems have left and right surround due to cost constraints. The Sweetwater room has four surround channels plus LARES, and 32 additional side speakers. All speakers closest to the seats on the sides of the room are adjusted appropriately so you get the correct image no matter where you sit.”

Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.

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