Live From Super Bowl LIII: Halftime Show Tackles Live-Sound Challenges of Mercedes-Benz Stadium
Augmented audio will ride on Dante network; PA system will be loaded onto 14 carts positioned around the field
Super Bowl LIII, like its predecessors, is weathering a bit of controversy around its halftime entertainment show. This year’s choice of pop-rockers Maroon 5 to headline the event taking place in America’s hip-hop capital engendered more than the usual sturm und drang, but the show’s producer faces the usual challenge involved in putting on live music shows in massive venues. The challenge is magnified when it comes to providing even, full-range coverage of all the seating in a domed stadium that can seat up to 80,000.
ATK Audiotek, the sound-reinforcement provider for the entertainment events around the Super Bowl, has been refining that task for 22 years. Its solution is based on an ingenious system that puts the music PA components on 1,500-lb. wheeled carts that are pushed and pulled into place around the field at the halftime break, with their speakers precisely aimed in such a way as to create a sheet of sound that ranges from the field to cover the lower-bowl seating and connects seamlessly with the bowl sound system to cover the upper seats.
This year’s version of that neat trick has a few new and critical wrinkles. For starters, for the first time, all the entertainment audio signals will be riding on a network: in this case, a Dante-based network that connects to key points in the system, such as mix consoles and amplifiers, using Focusrite RedNet D16R 16-channel AES3 I/O for Dante audio-over-IP network interfaces and A16R analog I/O interfaces, as well as MP8R eight-channel remote-controlled Dante-enabled mic preamps and A-D interfaces.
New Speaker Components
Also new this year are more-refined PA loudspeaker components. JBL’s new VTX A12 speaker improves pattern control compared with the VTX 4889 boxes that ATK had been using for more than a decade. The A12’s improved power-to-weight metric also means that. this year. the entire augmented PA system will be loaded onto 14 carts instead of the usual 18, with six A12 and two SB28 subwoofers per cart. The other four carts will carry four SB28 subs each, giving the PA system far more LFE capability than ever before. That, says Kirk Powell, senior design engineer, ATK, and the engineer in charge for the event, optimizes the system both for the venue and for popular music’s ever-increasing demand for bass.
“We’re placing the subs in the corners, to get more-even and -complete coverage for the low frequencies,” Powell explains. “Getting the full range of sound throughout the seating areas was always difficult, even more so in this stadium, which doesn’t have any acoustical treatments, and getting enough low end everywhere has always been a struggle. So we focused more low end by using carts with just subs, and we’re moving all of the carts a little farther away from the edges of the field, to keep all of it better focused and have less overlap with the house system.”
Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s acoustics have been problematic since it opened in August 2017. The first concert held there, a Garth Brooks show in October of that year, elicited complaints about reverberation and speech intelligibility, and demands for refunds of ticket purchases. Stadium management said at the time that it would address both the sound issues and problems with the operation of the venue’s unique eight-piece adjustable halo aperture.
Three Mixers, No Waiting
The live-sound mixes for the actual entertainment and music portions of the event will be split among three A1s: Alex Guessard will be the FOH entertainment mixer, Tom Pesa will mix monitors, and Jack Bowling will mix the non-entertainment FOH sound. Both Guessard and Pesa will be on DiGiCo SD5 consoles; Bowling will be using a Yamaha CL-5 desk. Professional Wireless Solutions (PWS) will manage onstage wireless microphones— a mix of Shure and Sennheiser systems — for ATK.
The use of a network for audio this year significantly reduces the complexity of the sound system, says Powell, who also designed the augmented PA system. Fiber cabling extends around the stadium to the four corners of the field, distributing the signal to the Powersoft K10 amplifiers located under the movable bleachers and then to the carts. A split from a Focusrite D64R Dante-to-MADI interface sends that entertainment mix over MADI to the broadcast trucks.
“The changes to the music sound system this year are partially in response to this stadium and its acoustical challenges,” says Powell. “But, if they work as well as we hope they will, this will be the new design for the future, especially for outdoor venues. Because the shows are likely to just keep getting more complex and the stadiums just get bigger.”