Omaha, NE | February, 2011 – For history buffs, the idea of turning a classic old train station into a museum scores high on the Really Cool Ideas scale. For the person tasked with designing a sound system for said museum, not so much.
When it opened in 1929, Omaha’s Union Station represented the city’s burgeoning growth as a railway hub and a gateway to the west. Hailed as one of the Midwest’s finest examples of Art Deco architecture, the station remained a hub of activity until the decline of the nation’s rail era, finally shuttered in 1971. Two years later the Union Pacific Company donated the building to the City of Omaha, who opened the Western Heritage Museum in 1975. A $22m renovation in 1995 was funded largely by civic leader Charles Durham, with the museum renamed in his honor.
While no train station has ever won praise for its acoustics, the Museum’s home is even more challenging than most. With its soaring ceilings, abundant glass and no shortage of hard surfaces, it’s a space so acoustically live that even minor background noise generates a din that challenges the intelligibility of most normal conversation.
Bringing that environment under control was the task at hand for Omaha-based Direct Pro Audio, and as DPA’s John Manhart explains, the project turned out somewhat different than expected.
“My original design concept called for four Renkus-Heinz Iconyx IC16 arrays,” says Manhart. “Ben Shipman of Audio Video Associates in St. Louis had provided the Museum with a demo system for an event, and it was so successful that a donor immediately provided money for the system.”
The project took an unexpected turn when the museum board discovered that the building’s landmark status prevented them from making the necessary structural modifications. “They had to obtain special authorization, which could potentially take quite some time, or even completely derail the project,” says Manhart.
As an interim solution, Manhart and DPA’s Dan Allen built a temporary system, setting the IC16s on tripods and pairing them with an SG12S-5 powered subwoofer. But rather than a short-term inconvenience, the system’s lack of a permanent fixed location has proven to be an asset.
“Because the system is portable, they can use it in a variety of locations and in different configurations,” says Manhart. “They can set up in the Susanne and Walter Scott Great Hall, or in the smaller Swanson Gallery, or even outside on the grounds. We created a handful of presets, so they can easily change the steering and tuning to suit the space.
Iconyx’s steerable beam technology made the difference in a space once legendary for its bad sound, says Manhart. “It’s the most acoustically challenging room I’ve ever been in, and the IC16s provide clear, wonderfully voiced sound without agitating the space too much. The beam steering enables us to place the sound exactly where we want it, and nowhere else.”
Not surprisingly, there’s no rush to make a final decision on permanent installation for the system. “Sooner or later they might decide to install them, but for now they’re really enjoying the flexibility,” says Manhart. “The Museum’s staff have commented several times that they’ve never heard it sound so good.”
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