Percussive is a new buzzword in stadium sound
As with everything else in sport, COVID-19 has revamped the sound of venues: entirely new sound systems have been designed and installed specifically to propagate the sound of artificial crowds, both on courts and playing fields. and in broadcasts, making up for the lack of fans in the stands. It was a condition that persisted for over a year, spanning most of 2020 and 2021. Now, with the seats again mostly filled, the focus has shifted back to what it takes to get the job done. a stadium or an arena sounds good.
A venue’s sound signature, which is largely established long before its sound system is installed, includes a combination of architecture and acoustic treatments. The audio system can either complete this combination or try to ignore it. The latter involves highly directed sound energy that is tightly focused on seating areas and away from reflective surfaces, such as walls and floors, minimizing acoustic interactions with venue materials.
This is how system design has evolved for most of this century. However, the task is more difficult today than ever, given the increasingly extensive use of glass inside arenas and stadiums to cover suites and other discreet areas.
But it’s a capability that high-end touring sound systems have achieved. These systems move from venue to venue and seek to avoid becoming part of every acoustic signature and to keep the music on stage as colorless as possible. This technical capability is aggressively applied to sports venues.
“The intention is to excite the room as little as possible, so that the audio system can reproduce what it is intended to amplify as accurately and authentically as possible,” explains Dan Palmer, Business Development Manager, Sports Facilities, US and Canada, L-Acoustics, whose portfolio includes State Farm Stadium for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals and Wells Fargo Center for the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s Flyers. “In addition to delivering concert-quality sound, the level of support that sports venues need today is also much higher. We have redoubled our efforts in terms of training, software modeling and [system] calibrations.
Sports venues pay more for premium “tour-ready” audio systems, referring to the makes and models of systems demanded by top touring artists and music shows. But they are also able to promote these systems, especially the loudspeakers installed at the upper level, as being able to be used as transparent delay extensions of a visiting tour system, thus reducing transport and rental costs. of a visit.
“The right kind of audio system can help boost business [beyond sports] for the place and contribute to [the system’s] return on investment,” says Palmer.
Schools are ahead
College sports venues have tended to be at the forefront of certain live sound industry trends, primarily because their young domestic audiences are making their musical preferences clear. This pushed the low end into the systems, with hip-hop and other genres once known as “urban” becoming predominant.
But the use of such systems is running up against the trend toward ever-larger dashboards, and the growth of video on sites is making it harder for sound to follow suit. Integrating video and audio into the same unit has been a trend for some time, and consolidating the form factor helps optimize space for these large builds.
However, video is increasingly crowding out the components of the audio system. It’s behind a design trend of extracting more power and ever-lower bandwidth from smaller form factors. It’s a conundrum that would make physicists cringe.
“Bulletin boards are getting bigger and bigger to accommodate larger screens; however, the space allocated to the speakers often becomes more restricted”, confirms Stephen Siegel, President and CEO, Fulcrum Acoustic, adding that the company developed its AHS speaker modules specifically to address this trend of in-dash audio systems. At approximately 30″ square x 28″ deep, they can be more easily maneuvered around dash structures.
“University sites are the three Ls: higher, lower and less”, observes Mike Heden Jr., President/CEO, Danley Sound Labs, whose portfolio includes systems in flagship stadiums in Arizona, Michigan and Louisiana State, emphasizing the desire to make form factors more compact. “They want to play a Dua Lipa or The Weeknd or a Post Malone song and really To feel all over the room.
Marc Lopez, Vice President, Marketing Americas, d&b audiotechnik, says, “Video is still king.” The Company’s US sports facilities include Rice Stadium in Houston and MLB Mariners’ T-Mobile Park in Seattle. He notes that d&b has also developed a smaller form factor line to deal with the dash’s encroachment on audio real estate in stadiums: the Y-series or new XSL system is internally called “lightweight and strong”.
Players speak up
Although the venues themselves make the final decisions about their sound, resident teams and even individual players influence those decisions. This is a trend clearly visible in basketball and, more recently, in baseball, sports in which individual athletes are closely related to music.
“NBA players travel from arena to arena,” notes Justo Gutierrez, director, AV and sound, sports and live events, Diversified. “When they hear the brand new audio system somewhere, they come back and compare it to what [their home arena has], and this will often result in a new system or an upgrade. Integrator Diversified’s portfolio includes the NFL’s Jets and Giants’ MetLife Stadium in New Jersey and the NHL’s Red Wings and NBA Pistons’ Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit. “Sound quality has become very player-centric, and it’s a combination of players and fans that drives higher expectations for sound quality. The change in baseball stadiums is particularly notable: baseball parks historically stuck with typical PA systems. Now, with gamers wanting their own background music, [stadiums are] towards an impact type sound.
When the bass leads the band
The audio industry has long been in love with buzzwords, and the most popular right now is hard-hittingsupposedly a means of expressing a powerful punch without excessive volume, but it has been subject to interpretations.
“The customer will say we want a ‘punch park’, a ‘punch sound system’, but that’s often misinterpreted as just loud,” says Demetrius Palavos, Vice President, Sports Integration, Clair Global. “There are ways to use the tools to achieve really punchy sound, and it comes down to proper production techniques and attention to the signal chain and dynamic range. You can achieve a [volume] level that people perceive as loud but doesn’t show up that way on an SPL meter. There’s more to punchy sound than just volume.
Continuing perceptual impact can lead to other problems. For example, Palavos cites the demand, especially in arenas, for more and more bass. A problem arises when the rest of the frequency spectrum that the sound system pumps out cannot keep up with the massive arrays of subwoofers, creating a tonal imbalance that can negatively affect both speech intelligibility and music reproduction.
“The system must be designed in such a way that all bandpasses can track each other,” he warns.
No more music or sport
Sports venues have become a major competition ground for more than just the teams in their leagues. What was once a secondary vertical in the live sound business has risen to prominence along with the media profile of broadcast sports itself, helped in large part by the dramatic decline in music touring during the pandemic. For example, the bubble built by the NBA for its 2020 season necessitated the development of new sound systems to project the artificial sound of the crowd directly onto the courts, to energize athletes and provide a semblance of aural normalcy for viewers at home. As a result, sports venues are now flagship projects that manufacturers promote with as much enthusiasm as they once touted rock and pop tours using their systems.
And it works. Danley Sound, for example, shows a clip in which ESPN College GameDay analyst Church Herbstreit completes its system installed at Bryant Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama, proclaim“They didn’t buy cheap speakers when they redid this place,” adding, “Nowadays the fans want a show.”
The interplay between music tours and sports venues takes an interesting turn. Hedden says the company’s experience with low-frequency propagation on such a scale has actually accelerated its more recent moves into the music festival and sound system market in the United States and Europe, a reverse. the trend that music tours and sound systems from suppliers such as L-Acoustics and d&b audiotechnik are increasingly establishing themselves in sports venues.
A venue and its sound system, he notes, are less often designed for sports or entertainment and more likely to be intended to handle both.
Click here for Tech Focus: Venue Sounds, Part 2 – The pandemic hasn’t slowed sound progress