UC Berkeley’s Memorial Stadium’s New Sound Is Loud, Clear, Inside, Invisible

The University of California’s Memorial Stadium was built in 1923, when there wasn’t much else around the 63,000-seat venue, the largest football stadium in Northern California. The field’s landmarked exterior walls are literally at the edge of the campus, and, over the decades, the city eventually came up hard on Memorial’s perimeters, drawing noise complaints, some caused by the pole-mounted speakers encircling the field and facing upward into the stands. Those speakers posed a problem for fans, too: mounted on the inboard wall between the field and the seats, they blocked views and, even worse as college football’s broadcast fortunes increased, interfered with camera angles. And the older sound system always had intelligibility issues.

So there was a lot on the table when the university greenlighted a sound-system renovation this year. “You have residences literally overlooking the stadium, and you have to find a way to keep more of the sound inside the stadium while, at the same time, trying to keep the volume up inside to keep it exciting and make it intelligible,” lists Jack Wrightson, principal at consultancy WJHW, which was tasked with implementing that broad checklist. “Plus, you have constraints in terms of the landmarked status of the façade. There was a lot of things that had to be juggled at once on this project.”

The neighborhood’s concern over noise pollution ruled out the use of a point-source system, while the kind of fully distributed system with surface-mount speakers that has become increasingly common at MLB parks and some NFL fields would have been too expensive and required more structural changes than could have been allowed. Wrightson concluded that the pole-mounted approach could be retained, but the poles had to be relocated to the outboard walls of the stadium, with the speakers pointed down into the bowl.

That would require a certain kind of speaker. Fortunately, Meyer Sound had been working on just what was needed: a columnar-array type of enclosure that had high steerability and directionality control of its dispersion pattern and, critically, was also weatherproof. University of California’s Memorial Stadium became the first outing for Meyer Sound’s CAL 96, which is based on the system’s beam-steering technology.

“We concluded fairly early in the process that some kind of a distributed system was the best solution,” says Wrightson, adding that the point-source systems favored by many college bowls would have only increased the noise complaints. “Later, we found out that Meyer Sound was developing the CAL loudspeaker, and it ended up being the right solution. It kept the historic look of the façade.”

Most of the CAL 96 loudspeakers are spaced around the bowl rim, with the sound steered to cover the stands, with minimal spill onto the field and virtually none outside the venue. Two additional ones are mounted facing the student cheering section.

Stands below the new press box required a different setup, using Meyer Sound MSL-4, UPM-1P, and UPJ-1P VariO loudspeakers. Coverage for the University Club, under-scoreboard, and club-level sections is supplied by MM-4 and MM-4XP self-powered loudspeakers, along with additional UPM-1P loudspeakers. Galileo loudspeaker-management systems with three Galileo 616 processors provide signal drive and alignment.

“This solved a number of issues, including sightline problems for broadcast and for fans and the spill of sound into the neighborhood,” says Wrightson. “It’s not as loud as some might like it inside the stadium, but it’s the perfect compromise given all the issues that had to be addressed.”

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