Detroit's Cure-All



Dance club Panacea is the product of clever thinking, a more mature target audience, and a team of like minds

Invariably, some club systems end up being the result of compromise. Others, however, benefit from everyone in the process – designer, architect, and owner – sharing the same philosophy from conception to final product.

The house sound system at Panacea, a new Detroit club, thrives under this principle. Burst Inc. LLC, noted as a provider of serious club systems at area venues like Motor, Temple, and Lush Lounge (just to name a few), enjoyed close collaboration with Panacea owners Glen Hernandez and Eric Calado from the outset until opening night, a time period spanning more than 18 months.

Located downtown at the corner of Congress and Shelby streets, Panacea lives in what was originally a bank building, with later incarnations as a McDonald’s and a deli. The open, two-level, 9,000-square-foot room, able to comfortably accommodate about 500, has been formed into a tasteful, aesthetically pleasing space catering to a more mature, upscale crowd.

Not Necessarily Techno
Burst was brought into the project at its earliest stages, both via a recommendation from the project architect – McIntosh and Poris of nearby Birmingham, MI – and through other referrals made to Hernandez and Calado. “When we met Glen and Eric, it just clicked,” says Mike Fotias, who spent more than a decade as a working DJ before teaming up with Brian Johnson to start Burst. “They made it clear to us that they were definitely looking to make a statement. Initially the project was driven from a design criteria of ‘ above and beyond,’ well before we even talked dollars.”

Panacea’s location helps the club attract an after-work crowd, and the vision is to play on that; to make it a place for the 21-and-over crowd. While programming and themed events haven’t been fully set, the general direction firmly skews to the adult side of things. Panacea serves, then, as an alternative to the majority of venues in Detroit that might cater to the “youngsters.” It’s an interesting card to play in the region right now.

“This place will stand out in its ability to cater to a more grown-up party-goer,” Fotias explains. “Speaking as a sound guy, that’s the direction our discussions with the owners took from the start. It drove our work and its outcome. Equate it to this: If you could build a room in your house to have the party come to you, say, 500 of your closest friends, this is likely the way you’d set it up.”

"Gawker" Rails
A big dance floor dominates Panacea’s main rectangular room, surrounded by second-floor recessed walkways lined by sturdy “gawker” rails. Large bars,backlit in cool green and yellow tones, anchor the far end of the room on both the first and second floors.

The room, which is topped by a faux-wood, rich-hewed ceiling, needed acoustical attention, and this proved to be another area where like minds thought alike. The architect readily agreed with Burst’s assessment that treatment on the ceiling was needed to keep too much stray energy from bouncing throughout the space, where it could jumble the overall sonic picture.

So Burst hunted down RPG, a leading acoustical materials supplier, to devise a semi-custom solution fitting both acoustic and aesthetic goals. Fiberglass panels, normally intended by RPG to work as energy diffusors (due to binary holds drilled in their surface), were supplied without the holes, and also were covered by dark fabric matching the aesthetic of the ceiling. The modification dramatically improves their total absorptive capability.

“We could tell, just from looking, that the room would benefit from some from of treatment to deaden things a bit, and the ceiling presented the best place to implement a solution,” Johnson notes.

“The panels went in very early during construction, so we didn’t have a chance to measure the acoustics. But when we checked things with an SIA Smaart package after the system went in, we noted very low reflection characteristics off the ceiling.”

And The Avalon
Another key partner in the system equation was EAW, with the company’s Jeff Mason and Rich Frembes offering design support. Burst has recommended EAW Avalon Series club loudspeakers for the majority of its projects since its introduction to them a few years ago. “Since its inception, we’ve considered Avalon to be our dream for a club loudspeaker. Simply put, it’s the perfect wrench for the bolt,” Fotias says. “And the more we work with it, the more familiar we become, the more we’re convinced that it’s a product line perfectly conceived for these applications.

“The important thing to remember is that just because someone has Avalon boxes doesn’t mean they have an Avalon system,” he continues. “There must be an understanding of EAW’s vision, which they are more than glad to share. It’s not just the boxes, but rather a total integration of the entire system to a design ethic, one creating an experience, from a sonic stand-point, that’s completely memorable and totally in sync with the surroundings.”

Initially, Burst envisioned coverage provided by four Avalon Series DC3 full-range loudspeakers mounted to support pillars posted at each corner of the dance floor. Given the rare chance for more, they leaped, moving up to larger DC2 full-range loudspeakers for these locations. While the smaller models would have done the job more than adequately, there’s always wisdom in looking to the future and anticipating that added capability may be wanted and needed.

The DC2’s, featuring Avalon’s trademark aesthetic for clubs (highlighted by distinctive metallic grilles and unique cabinet shaping), reside about 12 feet above the floor, firing slightly downward and attached with custom rigging. Each DC2 incorporates dual 15-inch woofers flanking a mid/high section.

Mids are reproduced by a 10-inch driver working with EAW’s patented horn-loading technology, while the high-frequency section – critical to meet the demands of modern dance tracks – is made up of a 1.4-in exit/3-in voice coil high-frequency compression driver on a 90 degree by 40 degree constant directivity horn. A complex asymmetrical internal passive crossover/filter network integrates the mid- and high-frequency subsections.

Get Smart
By way of a unique system developed by Burst with a local metal fabricator, Fotias and his team were able to fly the DC2’s in a manner enhancing the visual effect of the room, which also ended up saving the client money.

With input from the architect as well, they implemented what’s best described as a steel “bumper” system made of tubular steel. Concrete was stripped from the main support beams, allowing the bumpers to be welded directly to the steel, and the supports were then re-covered with concrete, creating the illusion that the bumpers actually “grow” out of the beam.

Prior to installation, the steel tubing was sized and cut, and then transferred to the venue to be welded together. The bumpers were set up to allow loudspeakers to be rotated up to 20 degrees to the left or right, for optimal and convenient final aiming. After they were complete, the bumpers were coated with a two-stage epoxy paint matching that of the surrounding rails.

Burst also deployed dual elements – unique to the Avalon Series – that highlight high-frequency effects, and in a very interesting way. Two DCT1 super-tweeter arrays, each with four super high-frequency compression tweeters that provide 360-degrees coverage, are flown equidistant from each other. They work with the main loudspeakers to create enhanced effects in an area more-or-less centered between the two. At times, a distinct swirling effect can even be heard.

“We determine the final height of the super-tweeters with listening tests, because each project is different,” Johnson says. “They were initially a bit lower, but we felt the sound was too near-field in relation to the other loudspeakers, so we raised them a few feet. We also further dialed them in during the Smaart tuning process.”

Six Avalon DCS2 subwoofers , each loaded with dual 12-inch woofers on EAW’s unique sub horn design, pound with tight low-frequency energy. All of these reside together at one of the long ends of the dance floor, opposite the service bars. They are housed in a custom chamber designed by Burst, with an assist from EAW’s Frembes. Framed with two-inch by six-inch studs, the chamber’s back wall was designed to enhance low-frequency coupling. It’s made up of dual alternative layers of sheet rock and cement board, filled with sand.

“The chamber has been designed to give us some third-order coupling, courtesy of its back wall,” Fotias explains. “Resonant energy is focused more on the dance floor, and the entire structure furthers a natural low-end amplification of the tuned frequency of the subwoofer. We’re saving horsepower as well, running the subwoofer amplifiers at about 70% capacity of what is normally required.”

Push Down The Chain
Two Technics 1200 turntables, well isolated, anchor the front of the DJ booth, which is positioned on the second level, directly overlooking the dance floor.A Pioneer CMX50000 dual CD player also here will likely see more use in the future.

A pair of DS123 monitors attach to the face of the wall above the front booth “cutout.” Fotias notes that he prefers three-way monitors in general, and specifically ones with a soft-dome tweeter rather than a horn/driver combo. Fidelity is enhanced, and a variety of mix styles can be comfortably accommodated.

The 12-inch woofers in these cabinets offer added bass coupling, and the cabinet shape allows them to be flush-mounted while firing down at the optimum angle. And, they can be tweaked and tailored with a BSS Opal 422 compressor and BSS Opal FCS-955 third-octave graphic equalizer.

DJs mix on a Rane MP44 DJ mixer – a staple of Burst club designs – resting on the spacious counter between the turntables, and with easy patch provisions for effects devices, if wanted. “The Rane mixer is very, very flexible,” Johnson adds. “It also has a lot of guts, voltage-wise, to drive a big system. Unfortunately, a lot of DJ mixers fall short in this regard – when they’re ‘overloaded’ and go into clip, they just quit. The MP44 has enough drive to push it down the signal chain, and with audible quality.” The DJ mixer routes directly to the EAW MX8750 digital processor, housed in a secure rack with the QSC power amplifiers at the rear of the booth, well out of the way.

Tax-Free Amps
All of the QSC PowerLight 2 Series power amplifiers driving the main loudspeakers configure discretely to the outputs of the MX8750. In other words, no pair of loudspeakers share an amp channel, allowing full use of the processing power and capability.

QSC PowerLight2 PL236’s drive the DSC2 subs and the low-frequency section of the DC2 main systems. PL230’s are applied to the passive mid/high sections of the mains, and PL218’s power the DCT1 super-tweeters.

Fotias notes that there’s plenty of horsepower: In fact, about a third over what the system needs for standard operation. This is by design, meeting a desire to hit any necessary SPL levels without the system straying outside of its safe operating level. All compression ratios are set “really light;” basically serving as peak/stop limiters to prevent abuse.

“When your amps aren’t taxed, they’re always going to be sending the cleanest signal possible,” Fotias points out, adding that this philosophy fit the “more is better” attitude shared by ownership translated to the entire club team. And it comes down to Burst’s desire to push club systems to the edge of maximum fidelity.

Dealing with a program media like vinyl presents some limitation in this regard, especially when a system is running at a very high level. But beyond this, the goal is furthering the art of fidelity, what can be provided as loudly – yet as cleanly – as possible.

“This has been my life’s work, bringing club systems to a point that they can be enjoyed by everyone who wants to dance to the music and have a good time,” Fotias says. “When total strangers seek you out to put a system into their new clubs, that’s the payoff. Not from a money standpoint, but from an artistic standpoint.”

As the project wrapped, Fotias reflected on the process, and offered ample credit where it was due. “From a design criteria on this project, we were given a very open budget and afforded total freedom to come up with something we believed in. What an opportunity – a license to fully apply your talent and experience,” he concludes. “It’s a statement about Panacea, that it’s about the sound, the music, the vibe, the experience, and not just doing things like everyone else. Really, in the end, everybody’s expectations are raised when they hear about a place like this.”

Copyright 2002 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2002 TESTA Communications