JBL loudspeakers help transport Boston Museum visitors into Space

HARMAN’s JBL loudspeakers have been installed at the Charles Hayden Planetarium in Boston’s Museum of Science as part of a $9 million restoration.

The Planetarium—which was founded in 1958—is the most technologically advanced theatre in New England which currently provides state-of-the-art digital projection tech in addition to the equally important 10.2 channel JBL loudspeaker system.

“Although admittedly the visuals are what get peoples’ attention in a planetarium,” admitted Marcus Weddle, the Marketing Director for the system integrators, New Hampshire-based Sky Skan. “the experience would be somewhat hollow and incomplete if you didn’t have sound on a scale to match. In a domed theater environment, that means large-scale surround sound.”

To bring the sound to life within this massive 60-foot dome would be something of challenge and one that Sky Skan and theatre designer, Kurt Berna, were more than happy to take on with the help of JBL engineers.

“We collaborated closely with JBL engineers and the acousticians on the project,” explained Berna. “In addition to the fact that the shape of a dome can be acoustically problematic by nature, the original construction needed better isolation from the outside environment. We solved those problems and the acoustics and audio quality in the Charles Hayden Planetarium now are outstanding.”

In order to produce this outstanding audio, Sky Skan and Berna decided upon installing eight JBL AM6340/95 three-way loudspeakers (part of the Application Engineered (AE) series), two JBL AM6212/00 two-way speakers and two JBL ASB6128V dual-18-inch subwoofers.

In terms of amplifiers, the team decided upon driving the speakers using two Crown Audio MA-5000i, four Crown CTs 1200 and five Crown CTs 2000 amps with the JBL AM6340/95’s being driven in bi-amp mode.

The mixing console for the Planetarium is Sky Skan’s own custom model with the audio signals handled by three BSS Audio Soundweb London BLU-160 signal processors with digital audio bus capability.

“Obviously, we couldn’t let the speakers intrude on the visuals in any way,” explained Berna. “We hung the speakers from the roof, behind the projection screen, and positioned them to give even sound distribution throughout the dome. Although they needed to fill a large space, we were able to get the SPL and sound fill we needed using just 10 JBL main speakers and the two JBL subwoofers, because of the speakers’ wide yet precise coverage pattern and high power handling capability.”

The Boston Museum of Science team were clearly delighted by the new improved acoustics provided by the renovation.

“The sound system is great,” stated Darryl Davis, the Planetarium Systems Coordinator at the Boston Museum of Science. “The low end is much better than we had with our original theater, and if the industry catches up to 10.2, we are already prepared for it.”

As the Museum’s overseer, Bill Steul, noted: “Our generation owes the next generation the best science-based experience the Museum can offer, and the new Planetarium will be our centerpiece.” Berna agrees believing that the Planetarium can transport the visitors beyond the confines of the dome.

“The purpose of a planetarium is to transport people to another world,” Berna concluded. “We’re extremely happy with the way this installation turned out. The enveloping quality of the surround sound system and the absolutely stunning visuals really make you feel like you’re traveling through space and time and you completely forget that you’re in a theater.”

The Charles Hayden Planetarium re-opened in February 2011.