Despite its 130 year age and mix of historic architectural styles, the Czech Republic’s Mahen Theatre has always been at the forefront of technology. Now it has again embraced the latest ideas with the installation of a full Yamaha DME-based Ethersound network, complementing its existing Yamaha digital mixing consoles.
One of the cultural hubs of Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, on its opening in 1882 the Mahen Theatre was one of the first public buildings in the world to be lit entirely by electric light. This was in response to a spate of fires in gas-lit theatres across Europe, the Mahen also featuring from the start what we would today recognise as a very modern arrangement of additional stairways and fire exits.
Comprehensively rebuilt and updated in 1936, and enjoying a rolling programme of improvements ever since, the theatre is recognised as one of the country’s National Technical Monuments.
Installed by Prague-based Audiopro, the latest upgrade adds an Ethersound audio network which features four Yamaha SB168-ES stage boxes, four DME4io-ES digital mixing engines and an NAI48-ES Ethersound interface to work with the theatre’s two M7CL-48 and 01V96V2 digital mixing consoles.
“The theatre’s main auditorium uses the two M7CL consoles and a second, smaller stage which uses the 01V96V2,” says Petr Winkler, the theatre’s chief of sound engineering.
“We chose the M7CL because it was the only digital console which met our requirements for reliability and connectivity. It was important that one sound engineer could operate the console or, in the case of bigger productions, that two engineers would be able to work independently on one console - something which isn’t possible with multi-layer consoles. In its price category there is no competition.”
The theatre is the home of the National Theatre Brno’s (Národní divadlo v Brně, or NDB) dramatic ensemble, staging mainly modern drama and musicals. However, other NDB ensembles also stage productions there, including several opera premieres and ballet performances each year. One of the key factors in upgrading the theatre to a full Ethersound network was the frequency of performances, as Petr explains.
“One of our main requirements was to reconfigure the entire system in a few seconds, by literally pressing one button,” he says. “We regularly have several performances each day and, of course, the settings on the mixing consoles and effects processors are changed throughout each performance. With virtually every channel used and very little time between performances, resetting the system to start the next show was virtually impossible in the analogue domain, but with the digital system it poses no problem at all.”
Another aspect of the new system that has really impressed the theatre’s audio team is the breadth of options offered by the DME units. “The possibilities and scalability of the DME processors can't be compared to any other product,” says Petr. “There is a virtually limitless number of possible concepts for managing and distributing sound, through DSP and speaker management, including presets for well-known loudspeaker producers or completely bespoke solutions. We have worked with other, well-known processors, so we can make the comparison in terms of operation and sound, but no direct comparison is actually possible because DME is completely customisable. It is truly awesome - simply the best!”
With the whole theatre based on the new Ethersound network, there was the possibility that the sound team might encounter a steep learning curve. But the Commercial Audio team at Yamaha Music Europe were on hand to ensure that this didn’t happen.
“Yamaha’s staff helped us to not only choose the right technology, but also with how to get the most from it,” says Petr. “Everyone has had experience with manufacturers who sell you their product and then don't want to hear about it any more. With Yamaha this was completely different, the company provided exceptional support, the best we have ever encountered.
“At our request, we were supplied with the documentation adapted in such a way that we could easily understand even the most complex areas of programming individual features. That is incredible service.”