NBA All-Star Weekend To Offer One Audio for All — At the Venue and at Home

The 2008 music documentary It Might Get Loud could be talking about this weekend’s NBA All-Star 2015 weekend: it will be the noisiest yet. And the live and broadcast components of several events — including the audio — are being produced as a single proposition for the first time. Whatever fans in the stands hear in the venues, from music to announcers to sound effects, will also be heard on the air, and vice versa.

Besides the All-Star Celebrity Game and Rising Stars Challenge today and Shooting Stars and Skills Challenge tomorrow at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the All-Star Game itself on Sunday at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the weekend also features musical performances by Ariana Grande, who will perform at halftime during Sunday’s game, and Nico & Vinz. Event-production company Done + Dusted is producing the music and the spectacle.

“It’s very different this year,” says Tom Sahara, VP, operations and technology, Turner Sports. “The events are distributed across two premier venues, and, on Saturday night, it’s an integrated program, with the televised events and live events sharing the same rundown. There’s been a huge effort to make it all into one big show.”

That complicates things for the sports broadcaster, Sahara acknowledges. For starters, the game’s A1, Pat Thornton, who regularly mixes NBA games for Turner Sports, will also be mixing music on the same program between and during the main sports events. All the events will be mixed in 5.1 surround.

“In the past, people at the events and viewers at home would be having dramatically different experiences,” Sahara says. “This year, everyone is going to hear the same things at home or in the arena, including the announcers. The experience is going to be seamless.”

Sahara notes that the new seamless experience has been a work in progress. During the regular season, on occasion, the network has collaborated with the league and the venues’ live-sound-system operators to improve both the fan experience and the effects audio for the broadcast, consulting on such aspects as system tuning, equalization, frequency response, pattern coverage, and sound-pressure levels (SPL) in an effort to optimize the sound in the arena and, by extension, the audio on television — for instance, by reducing acoustical reflections that reduce the intelligibility of announcements.

Several players will be wired for sound at all events, including the All-Star Game itself. Six channels will be deployed at the Barclays Center, 10 at MSG. The players will wear Quantum5X’s most recent PlayerMic, the QT-5100 RemoteMic, which is 30% smaller than the previous version. Features include 25-kHz spacing, a frequency range of 525-698 MHz, and RCAS remote-control audio system, which enables remote operation of Q5X’s transmitters. Sahara says that, for the All-Star Game in the past, one or two players per team have been wired for sound; this year, he’s hoping to double that number.

Per NBA players’ collective-bargaining agreement, they have the right to refuse to wear a microphone, but Sahara says the idea has been gaining ground. “We’ve been steadily lobbying for it, and the league has been especially helpful in promoting it [among players].”

The new PlayerMic has been used successfully throughout the regular season, he points out. “[Player audio] has been a big part of our effort to bring that on-court presence to the viewers at home. We’re looking forward to bringing more flavor to the sound, to let viewers know what it’s really like to be a player in the All-Star Game.”

Although more broadcast sound will find its way into the venues’ PA systems at these events, says Quantum5X CEO Paul Johnson, that won’t include the wireless player audio, for the same reasons — mainly profanity — that most player sound is not used in replays. However, he adds, there have been discussions with the league about bringing live player audio into the venue in the future.

“It’s still conceptual, but we think it’s coming,” Johnson says. “Once we get a generation of players in the professional leagues who have experience with live player audio throughout their lives, it’ll become second nature to have it, and, for the bigger stars.=, it will become part of their branding. I think we’re about a half generation away from that.”