Electro-Voice XLD system earns high marks at the Varsity Theater
Celebrating a nearly 100-year history as a venue for live entertainment, the Varsity Theater is a Minneapolis landmark. Originally built for vaudeville in 1915, the theater featured a compact auditorium that inspired the nickname “The Dinky” and later led to the surrounding neighborhood – today a hive of restaurants, bars and venues on the north side of the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus – being dubbed “Dinkytown.”
The venue was upgraded and expanded in the 1930s into a 900-seat Art Deco standout, which it remains today. In its present life the Varsity features stunning new interior lighting and architectural design details, and hosts an eclectic variety of events, including national touring acts (KT Tunstall, The Fray, Goo Goo Dolls, Imogen Heap, Suzanne Vega, etc.), local music, live theater and special events such as weddings, fundraisers and corporate events. With a new in-house sound system from Electro-Voice, the Varsity is now able to handle all types of events with minimal turnaround time and no outside sound system rentals necessary – even for the most demanding touring artists.
“Over the years the Varsity has established a reputation as a leading concert venue in the landscape of clubs in the Midwest,” says Josh Lacey, who promotes concerts and events for the venue. “The level of touring outfits that we were seeing was continuing to advance and still is. Visiting tour managers and audio engineers were consistently telling us that the room had the potential to be among the very best in the country of its size, with one caveat being that the audio equipment was in serious need of an overhaul. So it was time to go for it and bring our venue to the next level. To continue building our reputation we decided to move ahead with a major audio upgrade.”
Rob Schmidt, who handles all things technical at the Varsity, says that one key factor in choosing Electro-Voice to provide the new system was the company’s “attentiveness and interest in developing a relationship with their customer base.” In this instance that was exemplified by the willingness of Mike Doucot of EV sales to allow the theater a demo period with the new system. Of course that legendary Minnesota niceness wouldn’t count for much if the product itself had not been standout. “Once we had the boxes in the room,” Schmidt confirms, “they really spoke for themselves in regards to performance and aesthetic.”
The top priority in system design was to achieve precise coverage while maintaining the room’s elegant vibe. A compact line array system was the clear choice to minimize the visual footprint. “Stu Schatz of EV tech support was instrumental in the system design, and George Georgallis worked with us on tuning the room,” Schmidt says. “We had a pretty clear idea of what we were looking for from the system, and the EV team was extremely helpful in determining specifically what we needed. They also made themselves very available for assistance in implementing the processing and tuning the boxes to the space, as well as for training our staff in usage of the Dx46 system processors and the IRIS-Net software.”
The main workhorse of the system is the Electro-Voice XLD281 dual 8-inch line array element, a 3-way system in a very compact enclosure. The XLD281s are hung in two lines of six each. “They are lightweight, small and pack a punch,” Schmidt says. “In terms of clarity, headroom and contour, they hold up to boxes that are twice the cost.”
A half-dozen QRx 218S compact dual 18-inch subwoofers deliver the lows from their home directly under the downstage. “They were able to fit in the limited space allotted and handle the workload needed,” Schmidt says. “So far they’ve been bulletproof and reliable.” All the loudspeakers are powered by seven CP4000S 2100-W per channel class-H power amplifiers; four for the mains and three for the subs. “They are very efficient with regard to power consumption,” Schmidt says. “They are lightweight with a small footprint, so they are easy to handle. And they sound clean and clear.” The Varsity purchased the QRx subs and amps in 2012, working with Chris Vnak of local EV dealer Metro Sound & Lighting. Vnak worked with the EV team throughout the process of the XLD addition this year.
A set of Dx46 sound system processors provide control, crossovers, and FIR filtering. “The Dx46s make overall system processing a breeze,” Schmidt says, “and they link via Cat-5 cable to provide expandable I/O, which is a great feature. Plus the setup is intuitive and the GUI is very user-friendly, so anyone could get a program set up and a show running in no time. The internal settings give us component-specific control of our main drive, the FIR filtering allows us to contour each XLD box to its specific function in the array, the TEMP limiting allows us to wirelessly monitor from FOH exactly how the amps are being driven, and we have complete control of all system limiting during show-time, so there’s no more running across the room with 1000 people to get through.”
Reflecting on the new system’s impact, Schmidt says that “since the install, we’ve housed plenty of large national touring acts, all of whom have been more than happy with the system’s performance. I’ve even personally had FOH engineers asking for contact information to bring an EV rig on tour.”
Lacey confirms that the investment in the system has paid off. “After the install was completed,” he says, “I wanted to make sure we were getting feedback from artists to help validate the decision for our owners and management. And the feedback we’ve had does exactly that. The consensus from visiting artists has been rave reviews of the sound, and that we made exactly the right choice of gear for our room.”
Photos by George Georgallis