Saratoga Springs, NY (July 14, 2016)—"Jazz audiences are totally unforgiving," says Mike Sinclair. He should know—as the president of Roselle Park, New Jersey-based Audio Incorporated, he’s spent a decade providing sound for the annual Freifhofers Saratoga Jazz Festival, often mixing many of the acts himself.
The Saratoga Performing Arts Center is an indoor-outdoor amphitheater, "basically a concert hall without walls," offers Sinclair. The home of the New York City Ballet and Philadelphia Orchestra, as well as the Saratoga Jazz Festival, it's shaped like a curved bowl and rises 100 feet high.
The system Sinclair selected for the 2015 Saratoga Jazz Festival consisted of a 12-cabinet Renkus-Heinz VL3 "J" array on each side of the stage. "With jazz, it's especially important that the PA sound transparent, as if you were listening to the band without a PA. Renkus-Heinz VL3 self-powered line arrays deliver that clear, transparent sound, which is one reason we chose them."
"The ‘J' array has constant curvature; none of the cabinets are at zero to each other," explains Sinclair. "And we rig it as high up as we possibly can so that we have the top box pointing up at the balcony and the bottom box pointing down at the third or fourth row, so it's almost overhead. That way, we get complete coverage, other than a few front fills."
"It's a difficult space to mix in because it has a balcony, which is unique for a shed," muses Sinclair. "With the VL3s, it seemed we could actually make the top half of the system louder and the bottom half of the system quieter so that we got even coverage from the front to the back of the house, including the balcony."
Sinclair likes to mix most of the Jazz Festival acts at around 103 to 105 dB SPL. "That's a good sweet spot for this kind of music," he explains. "Now, at the end of the day, with the headliner, you have to be able to go to 105 dB, with peaks at 110, and the Renkus-Heinz system is amazingly flexible in that respect. It retains its musicality through a very wide range of levels."
In the first year with a new system, one might expect the festival's artists and engineers to be skeptical, but that was not the case. "We got no pushback from the engineers or artists,” he recalls. “Almost unanimously, the response was ‘wow, I've heard about these arrays; this will be fun!' And all day long, I had engineers coming in while I was mixing the show, and their reaction was just fantastic, exactly what we wanted: It sounds natural and transparent."