Chesapeake Energy Arena Upgrades Audio for the Return of OKC Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder now has a sound system to match its name. The rumble of low-frequency audio will be heard more clearly following a complete audio upgrade that brought the NBA’s first permanent installation of EAW’s Anya adaptive-array system to Chesapeake Energy Arena. But the new system isn’t just about bass and booming music to get the crowd riled up. It also offers better intelligibility and new software-enabled flexibility to the multipurpose venue.

The EAW Anya adaptive-array system can be quickly reconfigured for the multipurpose Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The EAW Anya adaptive-array system can be quickly reconfigured for the multipurpose Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Completed on a tight timeframe just before start of the 2016-17 NBA season, the Anya system’s precisely shaped coverage is controlled via software, which means that the audio rig can be digitally reconfigured to deliver immersive game-night programming and then switch presets to enable coverage patterns for concerts and other uses of the venue. At the push of a button, venue operators can switch from a basketball setup to a monster-truck–rally configuration, and it takes only about 15 seconds for the system to reconfigure and readjust its pattern.

Pressure To Become Competitive
The arena modernized its video systems in 2012, and, this summer, it was time to modernize the arena’s aging audio setup, which had issues with coverage and clarity. The upgrade goals were clear from the start, according to Jerrold Stevens, associate principal/director, AV systems, Marsh/PMK, the audio- and acoustics-consulting firm that designed the new system: “They needed to boost intelligibility and the quality of music playback and improve coverage to enhance the overall fan experience and become more competitive with other NBA arenas.”

With major NBA presence in nearby Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, the pressure was on to get hip to the new sound of basketball. The arena sound systems of old needed mainly to handle speech reinforcement, but, with the ever increasing amount of music programming used throughout games, a new approach must be taken to drum up crowd energy.

Coverage Controlled Digitally
Of course, once all that sound is generated across the hard court and solid surfaces in a basketball arena, it needs to be controlled, to prevent the loss of clarity in a lot of slapback and reverberation. EAW’s approach to steerability with Anya attracted Stevens to its potential use at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Unlike with other line arrays, which require a curved hang of speaker boxes to properly direct energy, the Anya can be hung straight and coverage patterns manipulated digitally.

Anya loudspeaker modules are self-powered.

Anya loudspeaker modules are self-powered.

This was a bonus for audio-system installer Ford AV. The “straight hangs” allowed by Anya’s adaptive capabilities meant that, “to some extent, we could leave the tweaking to be done in the software — no worries about aiming, splay angles, etc.,” explains Brent Kucharo, project engineer, Ford AV.

The Anya system was installed in two columns of four boxes each at the north and south ends of the arena, with two columns of six boxes hung on both the east and west ends of the seating bowl to provide 360 degrees of horizontal coverage. “That’s another great feature of Anya,” Stevens observes, “since it is a straight hang, you are able to tight-pack multiple horizontal arrays together.”

Additionally, Anya loudspeaker modules are self-powered. “The rack room is now left with half the number of amps that it held previously,” says Stevens. “Although it makes a quite hefty cabinet, it is nice to not have to worry about amplifier pairing and figuring out appropriate amplifier settings and crossovers for each different type of driver. We just send it one audio signal, and it takes care of the rest — with an impressively flat frequency response all across its coverage pattern, I must add.”

Complete Dante System
Because the Anya system is fed via Dante audio, the installers were able to efficiently run everything back to a single switch, and then, Kucharo says, “with a few button clicks in the EAW Resolution software, we are able to get audio sent to all of the different cabinets. We now have a completely Dante system, from the Yamaha CL3 mixer to the Q-Sys DSP to the Anya modules. A lot can be said about preserving audio quality by reducing the number of A-D or D-A conversions.”

But with audio networking comes additional concerns. “There was also a very serious concern by the owner, especially the Thunder IT department, for full redundancy in the Dante network,” Kucharo explains. “So there was a lot of effort put in to making the system as redundant as possible to make sure we wouldn’t lose audio during a game.”

In addition to the first-ever NBA-purposed Anya, other exotic products used in the system include the brand-new Fulcrum Acoustic CS121 passive cardioid subwoofers released just in time for the job. Lab.gruppen amplifiers were ordered from Sweden, and a bevy of custom orders for cabling and custom rigging to chain-hoist the eight arrays, the largest of which weighed two tons, increased the pressure on the Ford AV team to work until the last minute before the first preseason game was held at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“We were often putting items in right when we received them from the vendor, but, in the end, we were able to complete the project in time to meet the customer’s deadline,” Kucharo says. As an added challenge, because the arena is a multipurpose venue, the install team had to work around various concerts and other events.

But the project has a happy ending, according to Stevens: “The net result is, when you walk from the front row to the top row, it’s a very, very even coverage. It’s almost impossible to find the seams in coverage from one array to the next. It sounds like a point-source speaker, rather than a line array. It has incredibly clean impulse response. It shocks me every time I hear these things.”