A venue’s sound is best when it’s not a distraction. You notice when the sound is bad — when a mic cuts out, when you can’t distinguish one instrument from another or when the feedback makes your ears feel like they’re about to bleed. When the sound is good, all you hear is the music.
Since the Dallas Observer recognized Armoury D.E. as Dallas’ best live music venue in its annual Best Of Dallas issue, the Armoury's back patio has had a series of upgrades in its sound technology. The upgrades a sign of how far Dallas’ best live music venue has come, and they signal the venue’s commitment to the Dallas music scene.
“We get the best bands in Dallas, so they deserve the best sound quality we can offer,” Armoury co-founder Dan Murry says. “Not only do the bands deserve it, but our patrons deserve it, too.”
As more bands began to show interest in playing the venue, concert promoter Jeff Brown approached the Armoury's owners about upgrading the sound quality.
“You could have the best speakers in the world, but they wouldn’t mean anything without a great sound engineer," Brown says.
Sound engineer Christopher Kent Cotter led the way in picking the best equipment for the 600-square-foot outdoor space. The goal was to make Armoury’s the best-sounding patio in Dallas.
Cotter lives for sound. He works a day job with Presentation Services Audio-Visual and spends his nights at Emerald City Productions, volunteering at Fort Worth DIY venue 1919 Hemphill and answering just about any other call for engineering help.
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“People that play shows [at Armoury D.E.] are a part of a culture that promotes positive radical change in the North Texas metroplex, and the Armoury is interested in providing a platform for those people to communicate those ideas through music," Cotter says. “The shows at the Armoury are free, so to make an upgrade like this shows their dedication to the music.”
Cotter, who first started running the Armoury’s sound using the same “hunky-junky” PA system he used to run sound at house shows and small venues around town, is proud of the recent upgrades.
“I made it sound really good, and when they paid me, I started scaling up my operation, and things got better … louder," he says.
The Armoury’s other co-founder, Peter Novotny, took notice of all the work Cotter was doing to perfect the venue’s sound and asked what the owners could do to make Cotter’s life easier. Buy the right equipment, Cotter said. With Novotny's blessing, Cotter set to work measuring the angles of the small outdoor space and found the perfect speakers to match.
“They’re ETX-35Ps — 2,000-watt, quasi-three-way professional powered speakers," Cotter says, "and I’ve got one LCR in the middle,” which makes for better coverage and gives the engineer the option to do inductive panning to give the sound more balance.
The system is now elevated above the heads of concertgoers and “covers the environment ... or what we call ‘the audience plane’ ... better,” Cotter says. “When the speakers were on the ground and the audience was standing in front of the speakers, people couldn’t hear anything in the back.”
The sound upgrades have only been in place for a few weeks, and there are more improvements still on the way. The system still lacks subwoofers and monitors, which Murry says are coming soon.
However, concertgoers and band members hardly seemed to miss this equipment Friday night when Fort Worth metal band Duell played the Armoury stage.
“We could hear a lot better,” Duell lead singer Belvedeer Lee said Friday. “It was way more clear than the last time we were here, and I really think that it helped us play better.”
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Longtime Duell fan Jordan Jameson remarked that the sound “was definitely better here than at some of the other small venues we’ve seen them at.”
With three guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, and vocals, Duell’s sound is hard to capture — especially in a small venue. On Friday night, however, every instrument, every note and every lyric came through with distinction and clarity.
One frequent patron of the Armoury who returned to the venue for the first time since the upgrades said, “I feel like the sound tonight was on point. It was definitely more balanced than it was before. The fact that the Armoury made this kind of investment really shows that they’re serious about the music.”
Armoury will continue to host two to four shows a week, meaning it has plenty of opportunities to show off its new equipment.