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‘As soon as people hear it they believe it’: Danley Sound Labs on plans to take on the UK market

Phil Ward speaks to Danley Sound Labs' Peter Barnard and Tom Drew about their plans for the US brand in 2019

Is it just me, or is there one hell of a lot of computing going on to get too many loudspeakers to deal with the basic requirements of sound reinforcement? That’s certainly the view of a growing number of professionals – usually below the radar of international marketing – who would like to get back to a few basics. Or rather, they would like to move forward with the same basics in a new van.

These basics include the following recalibration of acoustic goals: if you don’t point sound at the roof and walls, it won’t hit the roof and walls – in which case many of the remedial machinations of processing are simply not necessary. Point source methods are alive and well everywhere, of course, but not for some time has there been such a groundswell of support for them in the core market of live music performance – especially of the loud kind.

In the UK the clarion call is clearest at Danley UK Sound Systems, the local outpost of US-based manufacturer Danley Sound Labs and a confident lobby for the manifestos of founder Tom Danley, a pioneer of point source solutions for every application. The current crop is spearheaded by the Synergy Horn, proudly assembled – as is the whole range – entirely on US soil and founded on a passionate regard for musicality. Industry veteran Peter Barnard and young gun Tom Drew have established Danley UK at just the right time, they believe.

“The interest in point source is incredible,” says Barnard, “and it could be a manifestation of the typical 20-year technology cycle. Whatever it is, a lot of highly renowned engineers are re-educating their ears. When you add the advances of DSP and better components, you have the best of the old and the new.”

“We tell people about the performance of the multiple drivers,” adds Drew, “combined in Tom Danley’s design to produce one sound wave, and while it’s all absolutely true we do get a few double-takes. Of course, as soon as people hear it, they believe it.”

Faith hearing

One true believer is Kyle Marriott, MD of Manchester-based Neuron Pro Audio, a brand-agnostic full service supplier with pointed ambitions. “Line array has consistently been pitched to the touring world as a scalable solution, as much for convenience as for best-quality audio,” he states. “The appeal has always been consistency, but at the same time in some cases you simply could not buy a leading system unless you consented to their intense training. Being one degree out makes a big difference when you’ve got many boxes interacting with each other, so you have to get it right. And in fairness, ticking all those boxes, there was an improvement and certainly a consistent toolset – and quicker to rig, too.

“Don’t get me wrong: we do line array. We’ve done the courses. But what you effectively have is a vertical hang of point sources, and you lose the advantages of HF coupling and long throw because you have to compromise on the mids and lows: you get an unbalanced, smeared sound because the frequency response is variable. To overcome this you do the things that pull it back into the world of point source: the
best line arrays are a vertical array of close-coupled point sources.”

This practical understanding of line array and its latter-day developments underpins Marriott’s evangelism for Danley’s point source solutions. It’s part of his and Danley UK’s mission to communicate the realities of today’s touring technology behind the
rider-led assumptions and the dense technical marketing that seems unwilling to let go of the line array paradigm completely. Instead, a swing back to point source techniques continues to be couched in the terms that established line array over the past 20 years. If nothing else, Marriott would like a little more transparency.

“We’re simply telling the market that we have a better widget,” he says. “We’re not dismissing the training that’s done; we’re not dismissing the progress that’s been made; we’re not proposing some kind of return to the ‘good old days’. We’re saying let’s move forward: let’s condense this toolset and make things simpler. Instead of trying to aim multiple boxes, we might only be aiming a main box, a downfill and an outfill. We can go from 36 boxes per side to three – or just one, for many shows.”

Marriott sees no need to differentiate between applications, either. “The key thing is that the music source is irrelevant,” he says. “The sound system design is to achieve a goal: to be ‘this’ loud at this place; and less loud at that place, with the correct response. It’s a tool to get you there. The great thing about Danley’s point source boxes is that you put them up in the air, point them at the audience and give them a signal. That’s it! They work as you expect them to work, and there’s far less to consider. You don’t have to worry about the inter-enclosure relationships, or rigging angles, or time-alignment of the boxes in the array. Yes, there are many lessons we’ve learned from line array over the past 20 years – and now we’re taking them to the next evolutionary step.”

Word clock

The key position is that Marriott feels he is able to confirm and consolidate these observations using the Danley Sound Labs range he now purchases from the UK team of Barnard and Drew. As an articulate customer, he has already enthused several colleagues – and competitors – to join the cause, including Iain Mackie and the team at Glasgow-based full service rental company and installer A-Live Sound, StageLightSound in Dorset and a growing roster of open-minded venue operators.

Andy Grey, who with Neil McDonald runs Clockwork Production in Oxfordshire, used Marriott’s Danley payload for the first time at this year’s Bestival – the boutique festival now in Dorset that pops up in the late summer or whenever the stars are aligned with the mushrooms in the crop circles.

“We had them on the Temple stage as a direct replacement for line array,” Grey says, “and I thought they sounded really musical as well as being a convenient size and efficient to deploy. Outdoor line array output tends to get blown about in the wind, and the Danley J3-94s had real clarity and cut through right to the back – with a sweet cut-off, too. You can take it up another 1dB or 2dB and it still has all the information, with the punch, and your ears don’t close down because you don’t have that harsh top end. It’s obviously very
well designed.”

“I can deliver what’s required under better terms,” Marriott continues. “For example, for Farmfestival in Somerset we went down from eight-a-side line array plus 12 subs down to four boxes of Danley – two mains, two frontfills. We used way less electricity, and used the budget savings to fly the PA rather than groundstacking it. This gave us better consistency front to back, with fewer amplifiers, a smaller generator, less cabling and faster rigging time.

“This is a 7,000-8,000 capacity festival, and we were able to provide a much better sound with fewer overheads – meaning better consoles, better microphones… an upscale of the whole production.”

The line array alternative, Marriott points out, requires more work, time and money to achieve a result he believes is actually inferior, especially when you consider the lack of opportunity it affords to complete the fine tuning of various details that can commonly
get overlooked.
“I can walk around the site,” he explains, “and concentrate on all kinds of enhancements and fixes, like finally putting a four-corner system in the dance tent, dealing with client requests and giving everything a lot more attention.”

This is for live music touring and festivals, don’t forget. But of course the advantages as Marriott sees them extend to Neuron’s installation work
as well.

“We’ve just done a multi-function venue in Manchester called Yes with two spaces – 400 capacity and 250 capacity in the basement – for Now Wave, a real taste-maker brand of promoter that helped to break alt-J among many other acts,” he says. “We pitched against premium quality tenders, not cheap, and put in one Danley enclosure per side. We did add delays, because the venue has a low trim height, but we got away with using far less treatment, less weight on the rigging point and all at a price point that enabled the inclusion of a world class desk: the Allen & Heath dLive.

“The mics in the package are higher grade as well, as are the wedges. The whole venue has been significantly upgraded, and we still came in at a hundred grand cheaper than the next competitive quote. And the speaker enclosures are pink, too…”

With up to 90,000-capacity stadiums unflinchingly set in their sights, Marriott and the Danley UK team are now planning certification programmes and increased rigging options to carry the message forward and raise skills and awareness among users who are perhaps ready for change.

“It’s a really exciting time for us and the culmination of a lot of legwork,” Marriott concludes, and the smart money wouldn’t bet against them.