Steve Durr: Proper stadium audio systems important for proper broadcast audio

By Dan Daley

SVG audio editor

Steve Durr has been specializing in sports venue sound for two decades. He’s designed audio systems for venues including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for football’s Chiefs, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium and Sprint Cup tracks in Las Vegas and Bristol, TN.

The wide range of facilities he has worked on has also helped him learn that stadium sound is about more than sheer volume. “The fan experience is enhanced when you invest in both good sound reinforcement and good acoustical design,” he responds. “At too many facilities, we’re not seeing both.”

Given that the sound from the fans at the facility is a major component of the audio that ends up in the broadcast mix, it makes sense to put extra effort into the venue’s live sound.

“There’s a lot of details that are worth spending time on,” says Durr, including matching the venue’s announcers with the proper microphones. If you put a crappy condenser microphone into a great sound system it’s still going to sound like a crappy condenser microphone.

Then there are the computer-based music sources. Companies like ClickEffects create custom music and audio files for teams and venues but they can’t stop the venues from hooking it up wrong.

“I’ve encountered situations where the unbalanced stereo outputs of the laptop [computer] are interfaced to a Y-cable and connected into the mono input of the sound system,” Durr says. “No impedance matching or level matching. You got to remember that this is the sound that viewers at home will be listening to, too.”

Acoustics is a tricky science, redolent with nuance. One of the improvements Durr says he implemented at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was to increase the downward angle of the speakers on the wall along the side of the track opposite the grandstand.

“They were getting a lot of phase shifting and distortion from those speakers,” Durr explains. “The track is black, it gets extremely hot from the sun and the friction from the tires, and the heat rises. That interferes with the sound, which also travels in waves.”

To restore coherence to the sound, Durr experimented with various angles and found the one that best offset the dynamically variable effect of the rising heat. “It was a compromise solution – the amount of heat is going to vary by time of day, level of sunshine and so on,” he says. “But just that simple solution improved the sound noticeably.”

According to Durr, the NBA regulates the sound pressure level (SPL) from speakers in basketball facilities, limiting them to 94 dB. The gymnasium-like environment of basketball courts usually has all the makings of an acoustical nightmare: hard, reflective surfaces set parallel to each other, creating nonstop flutter echoes. Technology offers the solution as Durr uses DSP-based speaker management systems to mitigate the reverberation. His preference is for DSP systems from White Instruments, but several companies, including XTA and Meyer Sound, offer similar solutions. Durr adds that it’s important to utilize these DSP-based systems’ ability to store a number of settings, allowing it to be customized for other applications in the venue.

Ice hockey, on the other hand, has no SPL limits. Rather, it thrives on high volume – the Nashville Predators built a stage into their venue where a band plays at halftime. Equalization and careful compression limiting help keep the sound tamed.

“I think that if venue management understood how much of the live sound at sports events ends up in the broadcast mix, there would be more attention paid to the audio systems at sports arenas,” says Durr.

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