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Brothers' Big Break


Originally published in Pro Audio Asia
May-June 2012 issue

In the 40 years it has been in business, Melbourne-based Billboard The Venue has established itself as a renowned entertainment landmark in the region. Indeed, the live band venue and nightclub has seen the likes of Tina Turner and AC/DC hit the stage, and it prides itself on being a location of choice for “A-grade” international artists and DJs.

When Billboard’s owner recently sought a new sound system, it required equipment that could continue to attract such artists, withstand the rigors of use, and crucially, “move air”. A brand no stranger to having its products applied to clubs and entertainment venues is Clair Brothers – yet despite being a well-recognized and successful brand with installations spanning the globe, it is surprising to learn that the loudspeaker manufacturer has had somewhat limited exposure in Australia so far. So when presented with the opportunity to showcase itself, Clair Brothers Australia sprang into action to create a name for itself down under.

“Billboard’s sound system runs at a consistently high SPL for six to eight hours, four nights a week,” says Clair Brothers’ system engineer Glenn Helmot. “The particular ‘sound’ signature that the owners have been trying to create puts a lot of stress on the low frequency components of a sound system. I am not talking about traditional nightclub sub frequencies here. I am more referring to frequencies in the 63 to 300Hz range,” he stresses.

Mr. Helmot decided that Clair Brothers’ i218-M large format line arrays were the most obvious choice for the job: “Not only would the LF drivers be more than capable of providing the energy for the long term, but we could run the flown arrays full range 38Hz-20KHz. The coupling of the LF drivers produce the air movement needed, complemented further by the mid and high frequency drivers. We knew they could deliver exactly what the owners expected to achieve.”

With help from system installation specialist Terry Owens of Beanstork Productions, a total of eight i218-Ms hung four per side were installed as the main left and right hang, boosted by four CS218 dual 18-inch sub low frequency loudspeakers at the front edge of Billboard’s stage. For down-fill, an active two-way R2D loudspeaker was selected, with four FF2-HP compact speakers providing further support for recessed areas towards the rear of venue that are shadowing from the coverage of the main i218-M arrays.

It was imperative that the loudspeakers reach their full potential, which could not have been achieved without equally powerful amplifiers. As a solution, five Clair Brothers’ PLM 20K amplifiers are used throughout to drive all the main system components as well as the CS218 subwoofers. Meanwhile, PLM10K amplifiers are used to power the down-fill and delay loudspeakers, whilst Lake’s onboard DSP takes care of loudspeaker processing.

Although Mr. Helmot was equipped with a pre-existing knowledge of the two-tier space, the project was not without its challenges. “The existing rigging points were located too close to the stage proscenium arch wall and had to be moved forward by about 1m due to the physical depth of the i218 loudspeakers,” Mr. Helmot explains. “This enabled us sufficient clearance to configure an optimal array curvature. Moving the points required some structural engineering and custom steel work was installed. We also wanted to be sure that the rigging points were structurally capable of supporting the weight of the i218-M arrays.”

A disused old steel catwalk structure that ran across the width of the room at roof level also proved to be problematic, and during the initial design calculations the team could see that the runway partially obscured the top i218-M from getting a clear shot to the rear of the venue. “Fortunately for us, Billboard’s owners are very keen to improve their facility and they took our suggestions onboard and had the catwalk removed. This made a vast improvement, not only to the end audio result, but also to the venue’s aesthetic.”

Mr. Helmot is quick to praise the efforts of Wayne Grosser, director of Clair Brothers Australia “Wayne’s experience as an engineer and with Clair Brothers products provided invaluable guidance on this project. We spent many hours discussing ideas and solutions and collaborated on the system commissioning end turning. Also worth noting is the engineering support we received from the head office in Manheim’, he adds.

Before the Clair Brothers solution dominated the venue, many asked how it was possible to improve on Billboard’s pre-existing system. “Some believed it would not be possible to improve the audio, but the unanimous response to the new system has been that the club has done it,” he smiles. “They have taken the sound to another level yet again.”

It seems the new system has proved popular with patrons and performers alike, as Mr. Helmot points out: “Billboard has a roster of DJs who have worked in the club for several years, as well many regular patrons who are attracted to the club because of the quality of sound. They are very familiar with how the venue’s sound has progressively improved over the years, and the system has given the club recognition to attract an even greater number of international touring artists.”

Mr. Helmot remains decidedly optimistic on Clair Brothers’ future in the country: “I always enjoy seeing the smiles on people’s faces when they hear the systems for the first time. You can tell someone that a loudspeaker is great, but the truth is in the listening People recognize what they have been missing the first time they hear a Clair Brothers system, and the listeners’ expressions don’t lie.”