by Jason Allen
L-Acoustic’s L-ISA ‘Immersive Hyperreal Sound’ technology made its Australian live debut on Saturday November 10 with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra performing the score to ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ with the film at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre. Novatech Creative Event Technology provided the extensive L-Acoustics system, which comprised seven hangs of 12 KARA, two hangs of 12 KIVA, and 12 KIVA as in-fill, supplemented by 8 SB28 subwoofers, all powered by L-Acoustics amplifiers.
L-Acoustics staff had flown in especially for the event, and California based L-ISA applications engineer Carlos Mosquera was on hand as L-ISA system tech. L-ISA is still only deployed for live events with an L-Acoustics staff member present, and this will be the case until global certified training has been rolled out to enough engineers. This hasn’t slowed L-ISA’s use globally; over two million audience members have experienced L-ISA at over 600 events so far.
Sense of Space
CX joined a group of influential live engineers, consultants, and potential customers hosted by Jands and L-Acoustics at a pre-show presentation that demonstrated L-ISA through five SYVA, using an orchestral multitrack to show off its capabilities to create a vivid sound field. Switching between a stereo mix and L-ISA mix was extremely enlightening; the stereo mix sounded like you were listening to an extremely good recording on a very nice PA., while the L-ISA mix almost convinced you there was an orchestra in the room.
L-Acoustic’s Tony Szabo, Head of Application – Touring, and Tim McCall, Sales Manager, and Jands’ Scott Harrison, Technical Representative – Installed Systems, talked the crowd through L-ISA’s principles and practicalities, giving examples from both live shows and install projects around the world. After the presentation and a spot of dinner, we were allowed into the auditorium pre-show to chat to Carlos Mosquera at FOH and ask follow-up questions of Tony, Tim, and Scott. We then took our seats for the show.
Most of us were seated centre, a few metres in front of the FOH mixing position – prime seats. It would have been very interesting to hear the effect off to the side, where we did hear reports that the imaging wasn’t quite as strong. However, the experience in centre was consistent with the SYVA demo – it didn’t sound like a PA anymore. At no point during the experience did I feel like I was listening to a speaker. The imaging duplicated almost perfectly the large orchestral forces in front of us, including the 70 piece choir. The choir handling was one of L-ISA’s niftier tricks – it had been made to sound like it was everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The word ‘ethereal’ was used more than once in post-show discussions describing the effect.
In The Mix
Handling the mix from Novtaech’s DiGiCo SD10 was visiting engineer Charles Gagnon, who tours as an employee of the producers. While he has mixed ‘Azkaban’ many times, it was his first night with L-ISA. “It affords me the luxury of doing some things I can’t normally do,” Charles commented. “It’s very beneficent for dialogue, and allows a more refined soundstage because of the source positioning capabilities, creating a multi-dimensional sound.”
Many engineers have reported that they mix slightly quieter and use less processing on L-ISA systems and we asked Charles if this had been his experience. “I feel like I’m mixing at the same level, but the system is filling the room differently,” he observed. “My channel EQ is about the same, but I’m using less overall EQ. I mix on groups a lot for this kind of mix, and depending on how the room is reacting, I might EQ the group, but I’m using less group EQ on this system.”
The Pro’s Opinions
While many of the assembled audio boffins didn’t wish to have their opinions on L-ISA noted in this publication, the legend that is James ‘Oysters’ Kilpatrick was kind enough to share his impressions. “I thought the orchestral multitrack demo sounded amazing, with a level of mix separation and spatial depth I hadn’t heard previously,” he offered. “I love image as an engineer, especially on an orchestral show. Listening to the movie with the orchestra, it was bit harder to pick as the dialogue and foley were always very present, but I could still always pick where a single orchestral instrument was at any point in the show from listening to it; you could look at the direction of the source and instantly see the player. It seemed to have a great level of stage depth to it as well.”
“The only real disadvantage I see is that the arrays occupy the same real estate as the lighting front truss,” James continued. “So they would either have to hang in front of said truss, and that puts them probably four metres further forward than they should be, or they would have to hang on the same beam as the lighting truss, which is problematic. There would definitely need to be a good rigging plot done with all concerned well in advance. All in all, I think immersive audio is definitely something worth pursuing and I will definitely be wanting to give this a try in the near future.”
Mark Hanson of consultancy Hanson Associates was also happy share his observations. “I thought L-ISA was terrific, and very effective,” he enthused. “Even though I was sitting at the back, I could certainly hear sources appearing to come from where they were. The system was replicating what you’d expect in a recital hall. What the system was trying to do in some cases was separate the instruments out for effect, which is the opposite of the blending in a concert hall, but the overall effect is different – it produced a nice, wide sound stage that reminded you that you were listening to a live orchestra. It’s exciting for us as acoustic engineers when you can see a system emulating what would happen with the acoustics of a room. You can relate to it, and it’s not just an effect running in a black box.”
Novatech’s managing director, Leko Novakovic, got to experience L-ISA for the first time with the rest of the audience. “I loved it! I thought it was very natural,” he related. “Everything sounded like it was coming from where it should. The system had a lot of headroom and almost sounded like it was idling; sometimes orchestras can get a bit heavy in the big epic moments and choke the PA, but that didn’t happen. Charles pulled a great mix; I was particularly impressed when the choir was came in and sounded like it was everywhere.”
Leko was proud his gear got to take part in the system’s debut. “It was great to be the first in the Southern Hemisphere,” he said. “I can see L-ISA working just as well in rock touring, and a lot of other applications, especially fixed installation in theatres. It’s not a fad, it’s a tool, and while it’s not for use on everything, I think it will become the new way we do things.”
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