EAW JFX200 two-ways give the VIP area vivid, close range sound.
Studio sound in a tiny lounge.
Photos by Misha Vladimirskiy
From the appropriately named Ruby Skye in San Francisco to Bay Area satellite Aura, California club consortium Inner Circle Entertainment has a reputation for finding underutilized spaces and making them shine like diamonds. So it only seems appropriate that they would have to dig further underground for their latest gem: a swank, Prohibition-era styled lounge, restaurant and after-hours juke joint named Slide, located beneath crown jewel Ruby.
Local lore says that this basement was once a speakeasy during Prohibition, only accessible via a covert slide. So, Doug Goreley of Playhouse Designs designed a brand new one for the new venue. But aside from that, and the elegantly appointed mahogany finishing and chocolate brown/baby blue upholstery of the furniture, Slide represents a break in tradition for how a small club’s sound system should be designed.
Confronted with a small space and a client with lofty ambitions, Michael Lacina of JK Sound (jksound.com), and Slide’s stage manager, Dan Thiel, combined custom-made loudspeaker boxes with a state-of-the-art digital sound processor, a design that made the system the centerpiece of EAW’s “Tech Tour” at this year’s AES convention. “The idea was to build something that sounded as good as a recording studio, something that couldn’t be touched in regards to quality at high levels,” says Lacina.
A Whole New Box
The first challenge they faced in the design was Ruby Skye and its 76,000-watt sound system, the rowdiest upstairs neighbor anybody could imagine. “During the construction phase, the [Ruby] subs made the whole space rattle,” recalls Lacina. So they stuffed the ceiling with mounds of sheetrock and mineral wool insulation. “We also [floated] the [Ruby] subs on dollys with rubber wheels. They’re then floated on Super W isolation pads. We knew we would lose a bit of energy at Ruby by uncoupling the subs from the floor in this manner, so to compensate we bolted them together in a cube. This worked to preserve the intense bass of Ruby while keeping it out of Slide.”
The second challenge was finding the proper system for a subterranean lounge with an 1,800-square-foot footprint that is far longer than it is wide. The sound system had to provide a high amount of headroom; fit into a space that seemed to shrink and shift as construction progressed; and be tri-amped rather than bi-amped, to fit Dolby Lake contours. The clear solution was not necessarily the EAW DC4: While Lacina found that box’s mating of the high- and mid-level frequency drivers, and its size fit the bill, its original factory configuration just wouldn’t do.
So with the help of EAW Engineering co-founder and president Kenton Forsythe, Lacina helped design a brand new box with three drivers foraged from other speakers in the EAW family to create a speaker so distinctive, it has its own name: the DC4/JK (after JK Sound). The woofers come from EAW’s KF300, the mids from the KF760 line array and the highs from the KF730 line array.
For subwoofers, Lacina went with two EAW SB284C’s – designed for the tight, shallow space behind movie screens – placed out-of-phase, due to their distance from each other in the room. (They were later upgraded to Eminence Killowatt 18s.)
All speakers are placed in pool-table-pocket fashion around the perimeter of the club, with the corners providing the splay for 90 degrees of space, and the middle speakers fanned out at 45 degrees to provide for 180-degree coverage. “On the main floor, you are never more than 15 feet away from a DC4, so the idea was to use speakers that reference up close,” says Lacina. Both the DC4/JKs and the 284Cs were painted chocolate brown to merge with the décor.
A gutted Wurlitzer houses the DJ set-up, which includes a Rane TTM 57SL mixer
and Serato Scratch LIVE.
Making It Fit
Space was still at a premium in the bottle areas and VIP lounge. And while the sound still had to be crisp and clean, it also had to provide for a more relaxed and convivial atmosphere. Another custom speaker – one of two 12-inch EAW SBX220 subwoofers – was placed underneath the booth, and was altered by Katz to fit into the tight spot. “We only had 15 and a half inches to work with and it runs 12-inch drivers,” recalls Thiel. “We actually had to knock out the side of the box to get the drivers in.”
The rest of the midrange and highs are handled by six overhead EAW CIS400 ceiling speakers in the VIP area – acting as mid-highs, “just to add clarity and detail to the seating areas,” says Lacina – and four JFX200 speakers in the bottle area. “With its 100-degree conical horn and high-powered 12-inch driver, [the JFX200] works beautifully at close range,” says Lacina. Overall, “the sound is full spectrum.”
Pulling it all together is a top-of-the-line Dolby Lake LP4D12 system controller, a piece of gear usually reserved – like many of the drivers used in Slide’s custom boxes – for tours and variable audio environments, not static nightclubs. The system is blessed with four outputs, 12 inputs and some of the best analog-to-digital converters available. A soundman can EQ through a tablet PC and make changes to any driver as he goes along. This may seem like overkill for a dance club, but Thiel insists the system is worth every penny: “The Lake digital system is a high degree of musicality at a wide range of operating levels. We can be slamming the rig extremely hard, and because of its high amount of headroom we don’t get the additional clip and distortion that so many other digital processors [have]. It just truly gives a wonderful sound palette to work with.”
A Furman ASD-120 controls the shutdown amps that control the mids and highs, while the Crest amps that control the lower frequencies go straight into the wall and are shut off manually.
The visuals in this club are very subdued; if a special event demands anything additional, it’s contracted to local firm Lumitech. There are three flat panel screens alongside one wall that duplicate a window facing out to the street: Foot-level films of people walking and cars moving across the screens, as if really passing by, are looped on the screens throughout the night.
A gutted Wurlitzer piano stands to the side of the dancefloor and provides the body for a mobile DJ rig built around the Rane TTM 57SL mixer, fully loaded with Serato Scratch LIVE. “It’s also designed to accommodate any tabletop mixer, like a Pioneer DJM-800 or a Xone:92. It’s very flexible unit for us,” says Thiel.
Currently, Prohibition-themed clubs and restaurants are on the rise in San Francisco, as evidenced by restaurants and bars like Bix and Milk And Honey. So it only makes sense to go bleeding-edge rather than retro to set the club apart. Thiel does hope to upgrade the DJ monitors for a more mobile set, but feels he has more than enough headroom, unless, God forbid, the federal government puts a prohibition on high-definition sound design. In which case, only the outlaws will know where the party’s at, as always.