When Milwaukee-based Clearwing Productions took on the job of designing a new audio system for the Minneapolis Convention Center, it was even more of a blank slate than a typical install. To meet the often-conflicting audio and production needs and stay within a very tight budget, Clearwing turned to a large system centered on Kara and Kiva enclosures from L-Acoustics.
“While the system was spec’d specifically for the main auditorium, we knew from the beginning that pieces of the main system would be in a near-constant state of motion between the venue’s meeting rooms and ballrooms, in addition to the auditorium,” said Clearwing’s Kerry Miller, who worked closely with the convention center audio staff.
One of the biggest challenges had nothing to do with audio coverage and everything to do with navigating a municipal budgeting process. “The convention center is owned by the city of Minneapolis, and understanding how to present the system and its costs in a way that made sense to the municipal officers charged with minding the budget was a huge part of the success of this project,” Miller said.
Beyond just the multiple rooms typical of a convention center, the auditorium itself morphs. There are three circular areas spread across the back of the main room, each with self-contained seating the same as that provided throughout the main seating area. Each of those areas can be used as a separate room or, when the entire space is added together, it can hold close to 3,500 people for events running the gamut from concerts to corporate presentations to conventions.
The venue hosts a wide range of events—in December of this year, the biggest motorcycle show in the region will run right up against a presentation of one of the Harry Potter movies with a live symphony orchestra—and “the cities,” as locals call the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, has a unique production culture. “There are a lot of ex-touring guys in the cities,” Miller said. “They may have gone on the road to get out of town when they were younger, but when they decide it’s time to get off the road, a good percentage seem to come back home.” That means a pre-existing pool of pros that are familiar with working with L-Acoustics systems is available to draw on for almost every show that the convention center hosts.
The need to maximize flexibility—the system may have been budgeted for the auditorium, but pieces of it may be used in multiple parts of the building on any given day—and still maintain a consistent sonic signature was a big part of the choice of Kara and Kiva. “Even after direct shootouts against a couple of other highly regarded brands, the choice to go with L-Acoustics was in some important ways more the beginning of the process than it was a final choice,” Miller said.
As is increasingly the case in the world of high-end audio installs, it was all about ROI—return on investment. Clearwing Productions is well accustomed to keeping that kind of data in mind when designing systems, but the process at the Minneapolis Convention Center was more complex. “Going with Kiva and Kara was a terrific option in terms of sound quality, logistics, and overall flexibility,” Miller said. “We can treat it like ‘audio Lego blocks.’ The sonic signature across the L-Acoustics family is so consistent that we can deploy what is best for the room and the event in terms of coverage and never have to compromise on audio quality.”
The complication when showing a good ROI was that none of that flexibility could be considered as factors. “The job—and the budget—was for a system specifically designed for and deployed within the auditorium,” Miller said. “All of us knew that various parts of the system would be deployed throughout the various parts of the convention center, but we couldn’t budget to maximize that.” In fact, the challenge was to get as many mobile elements as possible into an install that was ostensibly for a fixed venue. To that end, designers and audio crew at the convention center opted to power the system with six LA-RAK touring racks each containing three LA8 amplified controllers backed up by five more LA4X amplified controllers housed in L-Cases.
The rest of the system includes 42 Kara enclosures plus 24 Kiva and a total of a dozen ARCS II, six of which are installed as a center cluster for when the entire auditorium space is being used as a single room. The remaining ARCS plus eight self-powered 108P cabinets see “fill” work of every imaginable type, while eight SB18 subs flown in two cardioid arrays deliver tight and solid low end. “The auditorium can be carved up into some challenging sonic slices,” Miller said. “So, even though we had to be creative in specifying those for what is, on paper, a fixed install, they are important to the success of the overall system. And we never have to worry that a room will sound different or somehow compromised. It’s a ‘fixed’ system that just happens to get moved around a lot.”