Iconic Melbourne Athenaeum embraces Coda Audio

As one of Victoria's oldest public institutions, Australia's Melbourne Athenaeum was first founded in 1839. The heritage building was originally called the Melbourne Mechanics' Institute, an educational facility which taught various technical disciplines.


In 1873, the name was changed to the Melbourne Athenaeum and the front of the building received a major rebuild from 1885-1886.


In 1896, The Melbourne Athenaeum became the first theatre to ever show a movie in Australia. This milestone became a pivotal moment for the venue, which regularly screened films until 1921. From then on, the theatre began hosting a range of theatrical and creative performance shows.


Over 90 years on, the Melbourne Athenaeum is home to the Melbourne Theatre Company and hosts a slew of acts ranging from theatre productions, to comedy festivals, to concerts year round. With this iconic Australian venue due for a complete sound overhaul, one of the Athenaeum's owners Glenn Elston wanted an audio solution that would be able to handle the highly varied range of acts that grace the Athenaeum's stage.


Normally, an installation caters for the largest production needs and scales down on a show-by-show basis. But with the Athenaeum being a heritage, wedding-cake style theatre, the venue did not lend itself to large systems, either flown or ground stacked. In addition, Glenn was after a system that would be able to cater for all these different performances, while being easily reconfigured by his in-house tech staff.


The solution was a combination of distributed and small form-factor systems from Coda Audio, Camco amplification and DiGiCo mixing consoles. This, in conjunction with a thorough infrastructure update, gave the Athenaeum the flexibility and power it needed to continue delighting its audiences now and into the future.


The concept was to have a high powered distributed system; one that would not impact visually on the heritage theatre, but still allow different zoning and system configuration to cater to the many types of clients that hire the theatre.


With Coda offering a range of loudspeakers that are ultra compact and high output, the decision to go with Coda made perfect sense and ensured that the theatre's beautiful interior remained as unaffected as possible.


The installation was carried out with a high level of configurability and forethought in order to keep up with the Athenaeum's versatility as a venue, with Melbourne's RTR Productions carrying out the entire installation.


"RTR really had their hands full with a theatre like the Athenaeum” says Group Technologies' Drew Menard. “It’s from an era where cabling and rigging weren't meant to be easy."


New cable runs meant having installation technicians crawling through unbelievably tight spaces. Many other installers would be happy with running some surface-mount conduit on each level; but that was unacceptable for RTR. "Having high performance speakers this small meant that we could put them in some fantastically tight locations,” continues Drew. “And Matt Hanson from MPH is one of the most respected riggers in the country, and had no problems dealing with the Athenaeum's intricacies. All of the original structural members are enormous timber beams. Even in a building as old as this, Matt was millimetre perfect."


The main front of house PA includes four Coda LA4 cabinets and an LA4 Sub flown per side. Four LA4 subs were also installed along the front of the stage. The LA4 is an extremely impressive miniature line array system that features two 5" neodymium drivers and Coda's patent pending 4" neodymium planar wave driver. The result is a highly efficient and scalable array system capable of very high output for its size.


Front fill includes four D5 Cubes which were installed against the front lip of the stage, and the proscenium fill is now handled by a single Coda G712 per side, a true full range three way loudspeaker system utilising a 12" neodymium driver and a concentric 1.4"+1.75" driver. Delay for the stalls comprise four D5 Cubes, which are spaced evenly from left to right half way down the theatre.


The dress circle has a completely different layout and needed a different approach. While both the ground floor and the top level feature long aisles and plenty of vertical height, the second level dress circle has a very narrow vertical opening between the two balconies. There is also a strong rake, which made it challenging to get high frequencies to the back of the area. Instead of installing another LA4 line array, two CoRAY column speakers per side were installed. These line source columns feature the same drivers as the

LA4, but are used as two single line source columns.


In this configuration, the two columns flown top-to-top feature a vertical dispersion of 22 degrees, while the adjustable horizontal dispersion of the CoRAY ensure a full, focused sound can be provided to patrons seated in the dress circle without causing any sight line issues, and helps alleviate reflections from the side walls. An additional four D5 cubes were used for delays to cover up to the walkway behind the raked seating.


The upper balcony includes a similar setup to the stage level system and includes four LA4 modules and an LA4 Sub flown per side, with an additional four D5 cubes for delay.


The D5 cubes are a concentric 5"+1" coaxial speaker with an exceptionally small footprint, high output and very sweet sound. Their subtlety makes them ideal for theatre installations. At the Athenaeum, they have been installed either individually or on truss between existing lighting fixtures throughout the theatre. This ensured an extremely low visual profile for the delays.


By using a combination of Coda loudspeakers and Camco amplification, the Athenaeum features a versatile range of options and the system can be configured appropriately according to the requirements of a particular show. There are 16 loudspeaker zones throughout the venue and each zone is fed by a dedicated Coda DNC260N controller, which deliver proprietary advanced DSP and loudspeaker management to each zone.


With the room configured with a number of practical preset options, Glenn has been very impressed with the quality of sound and the simplicity of operation.


"It's great to just be able to walk in, turn it on, and have world class sound without having to do anything except flick a switch,” he says. “I am really happy with everything."


Glenn was particularly impressed with the final solution. "The installation was done really well. It really fits with the venue aesthetically,” he adds. “The column speakers on the balcony follow the lines of the building perfectly and don’t intrude on the interior of the theatre at all."


Since the installation, the Athenaeum has received rave reviews and extremely positive feedback from theatre companies, bands and engineers alike.


"The sound is absolutely brilliant,” Glen concludes. “We have been receiving regular compliments from clients and patrons. It's just fantastic."


For more information visit www.codaaudio.com

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