The Academy of Music: An old theater gets a new sound

  • Sound engineer Jason Raboin designed and installed the new sound system at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. Kevin Gutting/GAZETTE STAFF

  • Sound engineer Jason Raboin operates a new sound system for performances at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. —Kevin Gutting

  • A new sound system for performances has been installed at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. —Kevin Gutting

  • A new sound system for performances has been installed at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. —Kevin Gutting

  • The new speakers are mounted outside the proscenium arch, so won’t affect performance space or sight lines. Kevin Gutting/GAZETTE STAFF

For the Gazette
Published: 8/3/2016 3:59:21 PM


Netflix. Amazon Prime. Direct TV, Apple watches ... These days, Americans need look no farther than flat-screen TVs, tablets, laptops — even their own wrists -— to be entertained. So, how does a 125-year-old theater compete with a wristwatch?

The answer, says Debra J'Anthony, the executive director of the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton, is to offer audiences premium in-theater experiences, and that means bringing the historic theater up to snuff when it comes to the state-of-the-art technologies that support the performances.

The Academy of Music, a 125-year-old historic theater in Northampton, remains essentially the same as when it made its debut: the moldings, the opera boxes and the proscenium are much the same as when the first audiences sat in the theater’s red velvet seats back in 1891.

But, after five renovations over the years, there have been some changes: Most recently, the auditorium was restored with a fresh coat of paint, the number of seats has decreased from 1,000 to 800 (because of fire safety codes) and the theater’s décor has been updated (although that work was inspired by the original).

And then there’s the brand-new $40,000, state-of-the-art audio system, which made its own debut June 17 and 18 at this year’s “Django in June” concerts

J’Anthony said the Academy paid for the audio system through its annual operating budget, as well as through grant funding from the Northampton Community Preservation Act Committee.

“It is a huge investment for us,” said J’Anthony in a recent interview at the theater. “We have been talking about getting a new sound system for about the last four years. We were not in the position to purchase one at that point.”

Aiming for consistency

The old audio system, which suffered from a lack of sound consistency, simply wasn’t good enough to support a modern-day theater, says Jason Raboin, a sound engineer from South Hadley, who was hired to design and install the system.

Until now, he said, the Academy had to hire a different audio company for different types of performances.

“The Academy of Music wasn’t getting the level of audio quality that they wanted to be synonymous with their brand,” Raboin said in a recent interview at the theater.

Raboin purchased four CX1595 speakers, two Sub215 subwoofers, from a Massachusetts company, Fulcrum Acoustic in Whitinsville, as well as a Yamaha Ql1 mixing console.

The goal, he says, was to achieve consistent sound coverage across the stage.

“There isn’t another system that would achieve this level of quality within budget,” he said.

Plus, he added, with the old system, the speakers were stacked onstage, taking up about six feet of space that could have otherwise been used by performers.

At about 43 pounds, the new speakers are lightweight so they can be mounted on metal poles outside of the proscenium arch — which means they don’t affect sight lines.

That, Raboin says, also preserves the historical integrity of the theater.

“There is not a seat where you will see the speakers and not a part of the performance, and it gives the performers more space onstage,” he said. “That is what I am trying to achieve. That was the design and approach to the system — making it disappear.”

There are limitations to the new system, however. While it will be more than adequate for theater performances, dance shows and small concerts, Raboin says, it won’t do the trick for loud rock ‘n’ roll bands, which are not often booked into the theater. For those, Raboin says, the Academy will need to bring in a supplementary system.

With that one exception, Raboin says, the new system will more than suffice.

“It is really cool when after a show someone goes, ‘It sounded really good.’ But, you know you did a good job and it sounded good when nobody says anything,” he said.

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