The best-sounding club in NYC?

Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola has a spectacular sound system, the Audiophiliac drops by to listen.

The crowd at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola Jazz at Lincoln Center
I recently dropped by Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center to talk with the sound engineer, and by chance met Sam Berkow, the club's sound designer. Berkow had one key advantage going into the project that most designers don't: the club was planned before construction started on the Time Warner Center in New York. Berkow was quick to point out he had one major hurdle to jump over, in that there would be a huge glass window behind the stage to give patrons a spectacular view of Central Park. The window would be a massive acoustic reflector, which can add an unpleasant hardness to the sound. Berkow worked with Artistic Director Wynton Marsalis and architect Rafael Vinoly to get things right. Dizzy's is a beautiful and extremely comfortable place to enjoy jazz. The intimate venue seats 220 people.

Berkow used a substantial amount of sound absorbing and dispersing material to tame the club's acoustics, but you can't see any of it. It's hidden above an acoustically transparent fabric-covered ceiling. The club's curved walls also disperse sound, and the JBL speakers over the stage are precisely angled to provide uniform sound coverage throughout the 2,300-square-foot space. There are two 8-inch subwoofers (with four drivers in each sub) strategically mounted under the stage.

Designer Sam Berkow at Dizzy's Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Live concert sound quality has never been better, but it's usually much too loud for me and possibly you. If you go to a lot of concerts, overexposure to loud sound may lead to permanent hearing loss . I use V-Moda Faders VIP earplugs to bring concert volume down to a tolerable level, but the earplugs stayed in my pocket at Dizzy's.

For me, the best club sound systems are the ones that don't sound like they're turned on. Dizzy's system wasn't designed for high-decibel rock or any really loud music. At Dizzy's it's nearly impossible to be sure if the sound is coming from the musicians, or the system. The sound for Igor Butman & the Moscow State Jazz Orchestra's rehearsal was perfect, and I was blown away by this hard-hitting 16-piece big band. The sound was easily the best I've heard in a jazz club.

With a big band like Butman's the club's mix engineer, Juan Carlos Andrews, doesn't run the entire band's sound through the system, just the quieter instruments like saxes, flutes, bass, piano, and the singer's vocals. The setup for each band is different, and the relative volume levels of the players are determined at the sound check the afternoon of the first evening's performance. At Butman's rehearsal they had the sound squared away in a couple of hours. During the show Andrews will continue to fine-tune the levels.

Typically, two bands a week play Dizzy's. Some shows are recorded for broadcast on the Pure Jazz channel on SiriusXM, and the club puts live-as-they're-happening concerts on its Web site on Thursday nights. Tomorrow's concert features the Phil Woods Quintet at 9:30 PM ET. Check it out at that time.

Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola is part of Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC). If you love jazz and you're in NYC, don't miss it!

If you're lucky enough to have a great-sounding venue in your town, tell us about it in the comments section.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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