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EAA SkyScape Gets a Digital AV System Upgrade and Saves a Klipsch Sound System From the Landfill

Published February 2, 2022

The entrance to the SkyScape Theater at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI
The entrance to the SkyScape Theater at the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI (Source)

In 1985, the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) built a 100-seat movie theater addition to the aviation museum in Oshkosh, WI. At the time, the audiovisual system was state of the art. A film projector was in the projection booth. The amplification was a trio of Hafler P500s. Although the original processors are unknown, there were telltale signs of Runco and Lexicon equipment, likely added in the 1990s. The sound system was Klipsch Professional, with ten speaker channels. Three LaScala’s provide the Left, Right and Center channels. Four Heresy speakers are flown in the back for surround channels. Two double stack MWM horn subwoofers sit underneath the Left and Right channels and a third half height MWM subwoofer hangs in the back.

Thirty years later and I was working at EAA as the summer AV intern. I had the opportunity to give some much-needed TLC to the tired AV system. Over the years, a variety of AV processing came and went, as did several different analog video projectors. Video formats changed over time as well, from film to Betacam SP, VHS, and DVD. A 2010 upgrade brought to the Skyscape AV system several repairs as well as a Denon surround processor and a Panasonic 720p projector, fed by an early generation Blue-Ray player AND a Toshiba HD-DVD player. A secondary older projector remained in place overhead and was now used solely for Power Points. When necessary, an independent portable PA speaker was set up for presentations.

The audio was only capable of 5.1 surround, instead of the full 7.1. The original Hafler amplifiers were still in place, as well as the Klipsch speakers.  An extra Crown amplifier was being used on the subs. It didn’t sound very good to me; the bass was kind of mushy. So, I re-wired the subs to one of the Hafler channels and the Klipsch MWM’s really came to life. The bass was now tight, punchy, and REALLY LOUD! Imagine the rocket launch scene in the movie Apollo 13- the subs got louder, and louder, and louder and it didn’t stop. It made me smile!

Over the next five years, amplifier channels began to fail and old temporary amps were brought out of storage to fill in. The Hafler amplifiers were built like tanks and even when mis-wired could still drive the speakers and subs to insane volumes! More on this later. But they were getting tired. The video system was not faring much better. It was time for a full upgrade.

Finally in 2020, I had been working at Arrow AV Group for a while and suggested that Arrow should do the upgrade for the Skyscape. I was pleased to hear Arrow won the bid. The budget was tight, however what we came up with in the end, I believe, isn’t really a compromise, nor is it the bare minimum. It was still a complete upgrade- of the head end.

A different customer supplied rack allowed us to properly mount the new equipment. A new Panasonic full HD laser projector was put in place. A new Crestron control system with two easy to use touch panels allowed for simple one button operation of the entire system. A BrightSign solid state media player replaced the HD-DVD player and a new Denon Blue-Ray player was also added. A microphone input and HDMI input were added at the front of the room. A Wyrestorm video switcher handled the different HDMI sources. This switcher also featured a PIP option so the power points would not be too large on the screen. A Crestron surround processor fed the single Crown eight-channel amplifier.

Brand new speaker wire was pulled to each individual speaker. The old wiring was spliced in multiple locations, and was kind of sketchy. However, one thing did not change. The original Klipsch speakers remained. It was determined that they were in fine condition and did not need replacing. We did discover that both front subs were internally wired in parallel and they were also wired in parallel off a single amp channel. We were giving the old amps less than a 2-ohm load on that channel. Once this was wired correctly everything worked fine off the new amplifier. Yes, that’s right, the Klipsch speakers are so efficient, we only used a single eight-channel amplifier at 300 watts a channel. This gives us plenty of power and still some head room!

The installation took place in July 2020 during the summer of the pandemic. Normally, the EAA AirVenture happens during this time but was delayed until the following year. We waited a whole year before the system would officially be used to its capacity. Fortunately, everyone was very pleased with the performance and ease of use of the new control system. Arrow’s technicians tuned the room for the best possible performance, without taking away from the Klipsch sound legacy. The result was an improved audio-visual experience for the audience and a simple streamlined operator experience.

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