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Meyer Sound's advanced tech takes concert sound into the 21st century

The Audiophiliac drops by the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center to check out the Meyer Sound Constellation system.

Wynton Marsalis, right, on trumpet; Dan Nimmer, piano. Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Say what you will about big venue concert sound systems, but one thing's for sure, they can play incredibly loud. I'm more interested in systems that sound really good.

I was thinking about all of that the night I went to hear a private demo of the Meyer Sound Constellation system at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City. Lucky me, on stage, jazz legend Wynton Marsalis played trumpet, accompanied by Dan Nimmer on piano. They were wonderful together, and I could listen to their music with the Constellation sound system turned alternatively on and off. Seated midway back in the 500-seat venue with Constellation turned off the horn and piano sounded distant and strangely uninvolving; flicking Constellation on, the instruments were set in a gorgeous, richly reverberant acoustic space. Constellation didn't boost the trumpet and piano volume all that much, but Constellation made them sound like they were playing in a perfectly honed, purely acoustic (not amplified) environment.

As I moved around the room as Marsalis and Nimmer played I couldn't detect any sound coming from dozens of Meyer speakers in the ceiling and side walls, all of the sound seemed to come from the instruments! The music and sound were terrific, but it also helped that the Appel Room has an incredible view of Columbus Circle and Central Park, directly behind the stage!

The Constellation system was installed in 2013; before that, Jazz at Lincoln Center Vice President Doug Hosney was looking for a sound system "that would transparently support acoustic jazz." He wanted to bring quieter acoustic music out into the hall, to make the sound more intimate and make sure everyone in the audience heard the music as clearly as possible. Constellation provides the optimal environment for acoustic and amplified music.

Meyer Sound's D-Mitri digital audio platform is the brain of the Constellation system. With 8 microphones above the stage and 14 more around the room pick up sound for D-Mitri -- which in turn feeds 87 MM-4XP loudspeakers, 6 UP-4XP loudspeakers, and 16 MM-10XP subwoofers carefully positioned around the Appel Room -- most of the speakers are hidden from plain view.

The speakers and subs were designed and manufactured by Meyer Sound, and they supply microphones for use with Constellation. Interestingly, the mics aren't positioned to pick up the direct sound of the instruments, the mics instead capture the room's natural reflections and reverberation for processing by the system.

Some might say why not just build the hall with great acoustics, but Constellation's sound can be adjusted to complement different types of music, and provide just the right environment for each one. One night the Appel Room might feature a big band, the next night a solo piano or maybe a large choir. No single acoustic would perfectly complement each concert, but with the Constellation system the Appel Room can provide the perfect ambience, custom-tailored to the music.

Meyer Sound's Applications Director, Digital Products, Steve Ellison, filled me in on the details of the system. He led the team that worked with Jazz at Lincoln Center to integrate the Constellation with the Appel Room, and Ellison assisted in the final tuning of the system.

The Meyer Sound Constellation system has been installed in a number of venues around the world; just last year Ellison rolled up his sleeves and went to work calibrating and tuning Constellation systems in class rooms and corporate theaters to enhance intelligibility. The Newport Performing Arts Center in Oregon has recently installed a Constellation system in its Alice Silverman Theatre. Oakland, Calif., restaurant Oliveto, San Francisco's new experimental music venue SoundBox and the Fosnavåg Cultural Centre in Norway have all had Constellation systems installed in the last few months.

If you live in or plan to visit New York City try to catch a show at Jazz at Lincoln Center, or wherever you are you can watch their concert webcasts.