Tech Focus, Part 2: Five Sports Venues Show Off Their Sound
By Dan Daley, Audio Editor, Sports Video Group
Sports-venue audio is like the air that makes sound manifest: it’s just there. Unlike the increasingly imposing video systems that proclaim themselves with each gargantuan screen larger than the next, sound has been taken mostly for granted, coming to center stage only occasionally, its memorable moments often not on the field at all but rather in tropes, like Gary Cooper’s echo-laden delivery of Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech (“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth…”) in the 1942 film Pride of the Yankees. (Completing the artifice, even those echoes were added in postproduction.)
That has all changed. Venue sound has become an integral part of the in-person experience for sports, as well as a vital component of leagues’ efforts to reverse attendance declines. As stadiums get bigger, sound is relied on to amplify that which used to be able to take care of itself, such as the band at LSU’s Tiger Stadium, where a new Danley sound system projects the band across nearly 100,000 seats. And NBA and college basketball has become synonymous with hip-hop, as arenas add stacks of subwoofers. Here’s a look at some sports venues that have recently amped up their audio.
Pepsi Center Refreshes
Nicknamed “The Can,” the 20,000-plus-capacity Pepsi Center is home of the NBA Denver Nuggets, NHL Colorado Avalanche, and National Lacrosse League Colorado Mammoth. When the Pepsi Center upgraded to a state-of-the-art scoreboard in 2013, management also replaced the venue’s audio system. WJHW designed and sound contractor LVW Electronics installed a JBL loudspeaker system comprising six columns of 10 JBL VLA901-MF-16 line-array loudspeakers on the perimeter of the arena. Each speaker is equipped with dual 15-in. woofers, dual 8-in. cone midrange compression drivers, and three 1.5-in. high-frequency compression drivers. In addition, four JBL ASB6128V dual 18-in. subwoofers are hung directly behind each of 10 main line arrays. The speakers and subs are powered by 44 Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD amplifiers, plus 11 Crown CTs 2000 amps to drive additional speakers at the back of the arena. The system is networked via four BSS Audio Soundweb London BLU-806 signal processors and six BLU-326 I/O expanders, both Dante-enabled. LVW CEO Rusty Griffith notes, “This installation turned out to be fantastic in terms of equal coverage to every area of the arena. The Pepsi Center project turned out to be one of the best examples of this I have heard.”
The Tennessee Titans organization contracted with Dallas-based consulting firm WJHW and contractor AVI-SPL to help upgrade fans’ sound experience at LP Field in Nashville. “We took out a single end-zone cluster and replaced it with a distributed audio system,” says Brian Seeliger, special events producer, TitanVision. This allows entertainment programmers to push and place sound throughout the facility. “We now can put sound where we want sound as opposed to the whole stadium,” he points out.
Approximately 800 EAW QX5, MK23, and MK81 series weather-protected speakers were installed at LP Field. And custom weather-resistant TT112 and TT212 speakers, designed in conjunction with WJHW, provide coverage in difficult areas and address acoustical issues in certain seating sections. “Fans can now enjoy the game without the extreme fluctuations in sound and sound quality,” says Seeliger.
Penn State Pow
With capacity of more than 106,000, Beaver Stadium, home to the Penn State Nittany Lions in University Park, PA, is the second-largest stadium in the Western hemisphere, the fourth-largest in the world. A recent off-season upgrade brought in a new HD sound system that relies on Danley Sound Labs’ Jericho horns to throw sound from the south end zone clear across to the north end zone — and everywhere in between — using a point-source, horn-loaded system. Coverage is ±2 dB across that huge expanse, and eight Danley TH-812 subwoofers support the full-range content with a low end that shakes the stands.
The system hangs from three levels on the new scoreboard, and each side is a mirror image of the other. At the top level, two Danley J4 Jericho horns hit the stands beyond the opposite end zone. Below that level, four J3 Jericho horns cover the far half of the east and west stands. At the lowest level, two J3 Jericho horns cover the near half of the east and west stands, and two SH95-HO speakers provide near fill. Eight TH-812 subwoofers, four on the top and four on the bottom, provide abundant bass.
Lab.gruppen FP-Series amplifiers with NLB-60E controller provide system power as well as network control and monitoring. “Everything worked out very well,” says Clair Solutions Senior Systems Designer Jim Devenney. “Coverage is excellent: ±2 dBA throughout the stadium. The system has good articulation, nice fullness, great dynamics, and impressive vocal clarity.”
Swimmingly Good Sound
The Mizzou Aquatic Center, part of the Student Recreation Center at the University of Missouri in Columbia, has hosted numerous high-profile competitions, including Big 12 Swimming and Diving Championships, USA Swimming Series, and NCAA meets. But, like most aquatic facilities, it was plagued by problematic acoustics. With its glass and concrete walls, a steel roof, and abundant reflective surfaces, announcements were drowning in the din. A new Iconyx digitally steered column array system, installed last year, addressed that.
The system, installed by Conference Technologies Inc. (CTI), comprises a single Iconyx IC Live ICL-FR-DUAL column in the center, flanked by IC Live ICL-FR columns on either side. One ICL-FR column covers the diving-well area, with the ICL-FR-DUAL at dead center and the other ICL-FR at the far end of the pool. A CFX218S dual 18-in. subwoofer adds low-end punch. Intelligibility is also dramatically improved, adds CTI’s Brian Noerlinger. “Having the ability to control our point sources and direct the sound exactly where we wanted it — and, more important, to steer it away from the places we didn’t want it — made a tremendous difference,” he says. “The sound in there now is crystal clear.”
The University of Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium has a new Meyer Sound LEO large-scale linear line-array system, augmented by SB-3F sound-field synthesis loudspeakers. The new system for the 55,000-capacity stadium was designed by WJHW’s Ron Baker and Justo Gutierrez, with installation done in two phases by Parson Electric and Pro Sound & Video.
Packed tightly into the north-end scoreboard, the Meyer Sound system deploys 24 LEO-M linear line-array loudspeakers in five arrays: two main arrays of eight each for the lower bowl plus two additional arrays of five and three LEO-Ms for the upper seats on the east side. Eleven SB-3F sound-field synthesis speakers throw crisp mid-high information to the far-end seats and beyond to an upper-deck terrace more than 700 ft. away. Eight 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements (in 2×2 cardioid arrays) supply convincing bass; two arrays of three MICA line-array speakers cover closer-in seats; and a Galileo loudspeaker-management system with one Galileo 616 AES and two Galileo 616 processors handle drive and optimization.
“We’ve received zero complaints about not being able to understand the announcer, which was a major problem with the old system,” says Mike Dewees, head technician, Acoustical Audio, the company contracted to operate and maintain the stadium systems. “Now the music quality is very good throughout the bowl with consistent coverage in all seating areas, and we have more headroom than we’ll ever need.”