HARMAN’s JBL loudspeakers installed at New York’s Academy Theater

Pro audio loudspeaker manufacturer, JBL, has had its ScreenArray and VRX series loudspeakers installed at the Academy Theater at Lighthouse International in New York city.

The Academy Theater is one of four theaters operated by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences—otherwise known as AMPAS—famous worldwide for its annual Academy Awards or Oscars event.

The 220-seat Academy Theater is AMPAS’s East Coast showcase and was recently remodelled. The remodelling was extensive and impressive with the interior designed by the renowned theatre designer, Theo Kalomirakis.

As part of this remodel, the audio system was also—quite naturally—revamped. This is a task which required a perfect installation. The audio/visual task was passed to New York-based Digital Media Systems.

“Since the Lighthouse Theater is the Academy’s East Coast showplace, we knew the sound and picture quality had to be nothing less than the absolute best,” explained Digital Media Systems’ Gregg Paliotta. “However, all the speakers had to be completely hidden. Designer Theo Kalomirakis understands the importance of great sound as a vital part of the cinema experience – yet was insistent that the speakers should not intrude upon the elegant interior design of the Academy Theater.”

The use of the theatre, however, did make the installation a little more complicated.

“The installation is also unique in that it’s really two installations in one,” added Paliotta. “The Lighthouse Theater is used as both a screening room for films and as a traditional stage for concerts, plays and other events. When films are being shown, the Microperf cinema projection screen rolls down from the ceiling. Then a motorized masking, scrim and house curtain system is engaged. When in final position, the stage has turned into an amazing screening room front end.” 

Despite this, Paliotta provided an elegantly simple solution to this issue of which JBL tech was central.

“Our solution to accommodate the theater’s dual-purpose nature seems obvious in retrospect – we installed two separate audio systems,” he clarified. “We went with JBL ScreenArray 5732 loudspeakers and 4642A subwoofers for movie screenings, and JBL VRX932LA loudspeakers and VRX918S subs for everything else.”

In regards to the digital crossovers for the speakers and subs, Paliotta plumped for BSS Soundweb London processors.

“The architecture wasn’t the easiest to work with, as there were ‘wings’ projecting from the walls on either side of the stage that had to be dealt with,” he continued, “but Kalomirakis and I came up with the solution of building the three VRX932LA speakers per side right into the wall with one VRX918S per side, and hiding the line arrays behind fabric.”

Nonetheless, the installation of the ScreenArray 5732 speakers and 4642A subwoofers required a little more creativeness.

“We mounted the ScreenArray speakers and subwoofers on wheels,” highlighted Paliotta. “The staff rolls them in behind the acoustically transparent perforated screen when movies are being shown, and rolls them out after the closing credits. Instead of figuring out how to locate and hide such massive speakers and subwoofers, we came upon the idea of just keeping them off the stage when not in use, and as a result, not having anything to hide in the first place!”

For Paliotta, there was never any doubt about which brand of tech he was going to use for this particular installation. HARMAN’s JBL kit was always the top choice.

“It wasn’t ever not going to be JBL product,” noted Paliotta. “I’ve been a projection and sound supervisor for AMPAS for 10 years, and I know the capabilities of JBL. The ScreenArray 5732 loudspeakers are proven performers that are specifically designed for a cinema environment, and can be placed behind a perforated screen without adverse acoustic effects. The VRX932LA speakers and 4642A subwoofers gave us the coverage, clarity and low-end presence and articulation we needed in their respective applications.”

The Academy Theater is based in the East 59th Street headquarters of the non-profit vision loss organisation, Lighthouse International. AMPAS provided the finance for the upgrading of the projection and sound equipment according to its standards. Similarly, Lighthouse International’s board member Charles S. Cohen and his wife Clo Cohen funded the aesthetics of the theatre.

The 84th Academy Awards will take place on February 26th.