Betting on Good Sound

by Thomas S. Freeman

The “God Lives in Glass” benefit for Family Promise and the Nevada Conservatory Theatre was the new Yamaha system’s debut.
The “God Lives in Glass” benefit for Family Promise and the Nevada Conservatory Theatre was the new Yamaha system’s debut.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, didn’t take chances when it was time to upgrade the sound in their Judy Bayley Theatre.

The Judy Bayley Theater on the campus of University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is home to many of UNLV’s performing arts groups and the Nevada Conservatory Theatre. Built in 1972, it has a raked 550-seat auditorium, a fully-rigged proscenium stage and a thrust apron that can also be used as an orchestra pit. Unfortunately, it also had some outdated audio gear.

“The room is quite nice, but it had old speakers and amps from the late ‘80s that were past their prime and did not work very well,” says Scott Hansen, TD at the Judy Bayley. “The room had a totally undeserved reputation for being a bad-sounding room, and we wanted it to sound good.”

So when the funding for a new system came through, department head Brackley Frayer called in audio expert Mary McFadden to consult on a new system. McFadden was familiar with the venue as she has worked at UNLV as an adjunct professor teaching sound design. “There is no sound design degree at the school, but there is a concentration in sound design available within the general theatre BA,” says McFadden. “Since there is no full-time faculty that teaches sound, my feeling was, the new system needed to be easy to operate and have a digital signal path to familiarize students with digital audio networking and concepts.” She worked with Hansen and the wizards at PRG to design a new audio system that would fill UNLV’s needs and sound great. The system they came up with includes a Yamaha M7CL-48ES digital audio console, IS series speakers, DME24 (Digital Mixing Engine) and XP amplifiers.

Left-right: Eric Hebard, Mary McFadden and Brackley Frayer around the new Yamaha M7CL in the Judy Bayley theatre at UNLV.
Left-right: Eric Hebard, Mary McFadden and Brackley Frayer around the new Yamaha M7CL in the Judy Bayley theatre at UNLV.

Centerpiece Sound


The centerpiece of the system is the new Yamaha M7CL-48ES. McFadden chose the M7CL-48ES thanks to its size (both in the number of inputs and its small footprint in FOH), power under the hood (Virtual Rack with up to eight simultaneous signal processes, remote control using the StageMix app, onboard EtherSound), and also because it’s intuitive enough for students to grasp quickly.

“We wanted to have at least 48 channels, and the M7CL has all the faders on the surface,” says McFadden, which means students don’t get lost searching through layers. And because it’s a new digital board, students will also familiarize themselves with the technology they’ll be seeing once they finish school.

“This board provides both the fundamental operations necessary for the beginning students, yet also provides considerable options for the more demanding productions,” says Hansen. Once the console was selected, Yamaha worked with Hansen and McFadden to provide an optimal speaker and distribution system.

The new system includes Yamaha IS2115 speakers throughout the space, three hung from the proscenium in a left-center-right configuration, and others along the side walls of the theatre. When McFadden was considering speakers, Lloyd Kinkade and Randy Weitzel from Yamaha came in and analyzed the theatre, giving sound and lighting students an impromptu lecture on the physics of sound. Kinkade suggested the IS2115 speakers, and since McFadden was familiar with the IS speaker, she agreed with the recommendation—which was fine with Eric Hebard, the audio designer at PRG who put together the space’s sound design.

“I think the tonality of the box is great,” Hebard says. “It’s got a smooth, flat response and the coverage pattern is great for them. The horizontal and vertical coverage on the mids and highs follow the spec sheets, as opposed to some other manufacturers that start to roll off around the edges.” Plus, they also fit within the budget. The passive speakers meant that they didn’t have to install new power lines for the speakers or new mounting points, both of which kept the costs down.

“The company provided excellent information about the way sound reacts in our theatre, and that was clearly incorporated by both Mary and PRG. In listening to our new system, the improvements are clear and audible,” says Hansen.

The DME 24 helps with that, too. Currently the DME is being used to create an even frequency response throughout the room with its EQ and delays, but it can do a lot more depending on how McFadden and others want to use it.


The Yamaha DME24 and XP amplifiers in a rack backstage at the Judy Bayley theatre.
The Yamaha DME24 and XP amplifiers in a rack backstage at the Judy Bayley theatre.

“The DME is a key part of the system,” confirms McFadden. “It is very cost effective, and has all the DSP required for the system—EQ, crossovers, delays, etc. It also has a delay matrix component, and surround sound capability. I used the delay matrix to teach and design with last year, and I used it in my recent design for ‘God Lives in Glass,’ a benefit for both Family Promise and the Nevada Conservatory Theatre. The DME is a great teaching tool, and gets students to think about signal processing and design in the digital realm.”


The school plans to buy an EtherSound card for the DME to make the DME part of the ES network, but for now it’s still analog in and out. By using the GUI for the DME, students can become familiar with system design concepts.

Electronic Infrastructure

After the design, PRG bid to do the install as well. “PRG worked as a subcontractor to American Southwest Electric to bid on the project, and we won the bid with ASE,” says Hebard. ASE ended up handling the general and electrical construction portions, while PRG handled all the audio system engineering and installation. “This design included the rigging of the speakers based on locations that Mary had specified: the small shrouds for the portable Yamaha SB168’s stage boxes, the rack with power and thermal dissipation to properly house the equipment, how to reasonably network the SB168’s, power and network locations to stay within budgets, and in keeping with modular capabilities,” says Hebard. “Value engineering during the first round of design to keep within budgets was a large portion of what PRG assisted with. We also provided ‘as built’ drawings as per our standard procedure, and this helped the theatre greatly as they had no real drawings of the space (now they have it in basic 3D modeling).”

“Eric and I agreed that it was very important to spend some of the grant money to establish an isolated ground for audio, as one had never been created,” notes McFadden. “He suggested running Cat5 circuits in the stage house to minimize cable runs, so there are Cat5 patch points upstage center, and downstage left and right. These terminate in a patch panel in the amp rack down stage right. Ordinarily, the Yamaha console lives in the front of house booth, but moves into the back row for musicals. Eric also suggested putting a Cat5 patch box in the back of the theatre that runs to the booth, so when the console is moved out of the booth for musicals, it can be patched through without running any extra cable.”

The complete sound system got it’s first real test at the “God Lives in Glass” benefit and the Nevada Conservatory’s fall production of Romeo and Juliet, and it received good reviews all around.

“As Faculty Technical Director, I am asked to provide the best quality work for our audiences, yet our most important goal is to provide an optimal educational experience for our students,” says Hansen. “At UNLV, we work with inexperienced first year undergraduates, graduate students in design and technical production, hire professional sound designers (such as McFadden), and for occasional outside use by additional academic or touring productions. With this potential for a wide variety of demands, expertise, and to stay in line with our education goals, I was asking a lot of our consultants and system designers. The sound system recommendations provided by Mary McFadden and subsequent system design provided by PRG is an excellent addition to our theatre, and most importantly, to our students.”

I am very pleased with the new Yamaha sound system,” adds Brackley Frayer, chair and executive director of the Department of Theater and the Nevada Conservatory Theater, respectively. “This is the best sound I have heard in the Judy Bayley Theater since I arrived 17 years ago.”