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Empress GM: Ears get a treat with breakthrough sound system [Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. :: ]
[February 09, 2014]

Empress GM: Ears get a treat with breakthrough sound system [Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. :: ]

(Times-Herald (Vallejo, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 09--Other than perhaps applause by a full house or the writing of a paycheck, nothing's sweeter to a musician's ears than a pristine sound system.

The just-installed Tectonic Audio Flat Panel Speakers System at the Empress Theatre? Music to Don Bassey's ears.

"Amazing," said Bassey, the 470-seat downtown theater's general manager and bass player in the venue's in-house Wednesday Night Ramble band.

The six panels installed before Generation Esmeralda hit the stage last Friday aren't just an improvement, said Empress sound engineer Gustav Hobel, an audio expert and Berlin native.

It's a revelation.

"In my 25 years in live sound, there's really been no change" in such a sound advancement, he said. "Speakers got bigger, then smaller. They became better, then worse. Shows got bigger and speakers got bigger. But they all worked from the same concept." The Tectonic speakers, however, change everything, Hobel said.

"This is a paradigm shift," Hobel beamed.

Tectonic Audio Labs in Washington developed the system, named "Best of Show" last week in Los Angeles at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show.

The system simply spreads sound up to a six octave range evenly throughout the theater regardless of frequency. Because of the state-of-the-art technology, sound no longer bounces around the room as with traditional sound systems, bringing audio of equal quality from all speakers to all points of the room.

"They're thrilling to see that it's actually here," Bassey said. "We've been talking about this for a year now." The Empress is the only permanent location for the flat panels in the Bay Area, said Bassey, and the 102-year-old theater is now the sound system "demo house" for Techtonic Audio Labs.

Yes, Bassey said, the theater did purchase the system.

"We bought them and we're not finished paying for them," he said.

Expensive? "Depends on what you think 'expensive' is," Bassey said. "If you're buying them for home audio, yeah, they're expensive. For a theater and what they can do, they're amazing." "Consistency," is the major change, Hobel said. "You can move around to anywhere and hear the same thing.

"The new sound is very distinct, each instrument is heard but still come out a whole beautiful sound," Empress board member Susan MacDonald said. "I could hear the sound effect of the brushes on the drums. It was amazing. We had four horns on Friday night and each sound was separated but part of the whole sound." The Empress Theatre's more conventional speakers use a "cone" system, sending the highest quality side into the walkways leading to the front lobby, said Hobel.

Now, the sound is dispersed evenly throughout the theater, he said.

"The sound is the same no matter where you are in the theatre because it delivers sound in a different way," MacDonald said. "Microphones do not interfere with the speakers, no more ear splitting screeching or squealing mics." Winning the "Best Of" at the NAMM show is big, MacDonald believed.

"It is a huge reputation booster to have a sound delivery system that is state of the art, cutting edge," she said.

The producers of these speaker from Tectonics will be using the Empress for demos for theaters, bands, sound stages from throughout the Western Region.

"It will give the Empress some great exposure," MacDonald said. "There is no other place in the Bay Area where these speakers can be heard. We are excited to be a part of a regional focus. I think it will be a big attraction to musicians and patrons alike." Bassey was in the speaker business 15 years "so this isn't the first speaker I've ever heard. But my initial response was 'Wow.' It's a phenomenal experience to stand here and feel the difference." Other musicians have heard the new system "and they're freaked out. They can't believe it," Bassey said, hoping that "word would get around" about the great vibes coming from the Empress.

Bassey believes it will help attract stellar musicians and promoters to downtown Vallejo.

"It's so great knowing you're walking into a venue and you know it's going to be killer sound," Bassey said.

It's difficult to say if the flat panels are the best available sound system in the world, Hobel said.

"There is no 'best' or 'worst.' Is it the best we can do here? I'd say, 'Yeah,'" he grinned.

___ (c)2014 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) Visit Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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