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Thunderbird Café and Music Hall Finds Budget-friendly Solution in Rock-ready L-Acoustics A15i Professional Audio System

“John Pergal is a musician and avid concertgoer and specifically requested L-Acoustics for the Roxian Theatre,” says Hollowood Sound’s Brad Hollowood. “When discussing an upgrade for the Thunderbird, the same brand was at the top of his list once again. John did consider several other manufacturers’ systems; however, the A15 system perfectly met all their needs sonically and did so within budget.”

Pittsburgh’s Thunderbird Café and Music Hall is a longstanding fixture in the city’s unique and vibrant Lawrenceville neighborhood. First established in 1890 as a bakery, the building was converted in 1933 into a tavern known as Michalski’s Café, which was granted Pittsburgh’s second liquor license following the close of Prohibition. Since 2000, the venue has been owned by John and Ami Pergal, who also own the 1,400-seat Roxian Theatre across town, which put in an L-Acoustics Kara system five years ago. Today, Thunderbird’s 583-capacity Music Hall is an intimate mainstay on the national touring circuit, and it recently bumped up its audio facilities with a new L-Acoustics A Series loudspeaker system designed and installed by McKees Rocks-based Hollowood Sound.

A Series provides plenty of SPL and low-frequency response

Nathan Shapert, Hollowood Sound’s lead installer, worked closely with L-Acoustics’ Chris “Sully” Sullivan on a system design that would custom-fit the three-level venue’s unique geometry, which included both a balcony and top-tier VIP area. “We tried to keep sightlines, as well as a custom mural on house right, in mind when designing the system,” Shapert describes. “We were limited to a corner concrete stage with only room for two KS21i per side, so the system features flown subs as well. A15i made the most sense considering the amount of low-frequency response the box provides as well as output. Even though the venue is under 600 capacity, it still required enough SPL to meet the requirements from touring engineers to provide enough headroom as well as the sonic clarity that comes with an L-Acoustics system.”

The venue’s new left and right main arrays are each comprised of two A15i Focus enclosures over a single A15i Wide and topped by a KS21i sub. A center cluster, used to fill in the balcony, features a similar configuration minus the subwoofer. Four additional KS21i are positioned under the stage, and the entire setup is powered by four LA4X amplified controllers.

Additionally, four coaxial X8 enclosures, driven by an LA2Xi, deliver supplementary VIP and bar area coverage.

The right rig for the room

“A Series was designed for rooms like the Thunderbird,” says Brad Hollowood. “Between our long tenure as a legacy L-Acoustics company and our client’s desire to choose the brand, it was a no-brainer. The low-mid frequency response with A15i coupled with the KS21i made for a great combination for the space. And the system is so budget-friendly for small-medium as well as larger venues that you can’t go wrong. The weight, cost, and sound quality are what makes A Series a win.”

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Thunderbird sound engineer Mike Jantho is jazzed with the venue’s new loudspeaker setup. “When I walk into the room, I am confident that I have the best tools available to make a band or performer sound their best,” he says. “The same goes when I am handing drive lines over to a guest engineer. ‘The room sounds great,’ is a comment I am now hearing over and over. When mixing on the A15 system, the boxes don’t sound constrained. Everything is there to tailor an appropriate mix no matter what genre. And the coverage in the room has immensely improved—from the floor to the third balcony to the back bar, the coverage is smooth. Soundvision really helped nail that.”

Clarity, coverage, and headroom

For fellow Thunderbird sound engineer Alex Heard, hearing the room’s transformation from the previous rig to the new one is tremendously satisfying. “The old system could be extremely shrill in the upper mid-range, which could make for a very fatiguing listening experience,” he recalls. “I always felt like the old PA was yelling at me, but the A Series arrays have completely eliminated that problem. I can get the clarity I need but at a lower volume than I was ever able to achieve before. On top of that harshness, we were always pushing against the top of the subs’ abilities, but now we have headroom for days on the low end. And I no longer fear blowing a driver in the subs to get the low end I want.

“But the biggest difference for me is the even coverage when I walk away from the FOH position. The Thunderbird’s unconventional shape and building materials make for a visually stunning design, but also make the room quite challenging from a mixing perspective. The room is taller than it is long and incorporates two balconies of different shapes, which means several sets of fills had to be employed. In many rooms, I feel like multiple fill zones are a compromise to a problem that never really feels solved, and that was certainly the case with the old system here. But with the new L-Acoustics rig, it just works—left to right, front to back, top to bottom, my mix sounds like my mix. It’s pretty amazing to walk up to the top balcony and have the same clarity and low-end that you experience on the floor.”

As both a venue owner and a gigging musician, John Pergal has a unique appreciation of the Thunderbird’s sound from multiple perspectives, and he’s proud to bring L-Acoustics to another one of his spaces. “There were many reasons why we went with L-Acoustics, such as the rock-solid reliability of their amplified controllers, which have run flawlessly at the Roxian since 2019,” he says. “Plus, their L-Drive protection system sets our mind at ease knowing that all of our drivers have a serious safeguard. We were looking for a system that would improve our low-end reinforcement and coverage, yet stay within our budget, and the A Series provided a full-coverage solution that was the best option for the room. With the 15-inch drivers in the A15i paired with the 21-inch drivers in the KS21i, we knew they would not fall short, and they haven’t. Plus, the Hollowood team is always great to work with. They have the perfect combination of passion and knowledge, and partnering with them and L-Acoustics again made this project a complete success.”

 

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