Flexible sound: loudspeakers for multipurpose venues

As technology advances, so do the expectations of venue owners looking to host many different types of events to maximise revenue. Can a high quality one-size-fits-all loudspeaker system ever be deployed to meet their needs, or do compromises have to be made? Charlotte Ashley finds out.

Venues aren’t what they used to be. A football stadium’s worn-out pitch can be transformed into the stage for a rock band by night. The modern-day university auditorium may not just accommodate recitals and theatre, but can offer a complete cinema experience with surround sound.

When AV can sometimes be last on the list of priorities for venue owners, a clear dialogue on what events they may host and what manufacturers and integrators can provide with loudspeaker systems is essential. This must take place whilst carefully navigating a number of key stakeholders involved in the process of specifying a system in a multipurpose venue.

Can one size fit all?

“There’s increasingly more and more competition for venues with a multipurpose sound system,” says Jamie Ward, international sales manager, EMEA at Community Professional Loudspeakers. “To keep their bookings up these venues need to be able to offer good quality and wider flexibility to the install and hire markets.”

A loudspeaker’s suitability for handling different events is often defined by the scale of the venue where it’s going to be installed. “A sports stadium must have a house system in order to keep people involved in the sport itself, but that system would only be partially used for a U2 concert for example,” says Bob McCarthy, director of system optimisation at Meyer Sound. As much as arena owners may want a system to be enjoyed by fans both at a football game and a music concert, often speaker placement at sports venues (central and high, near scoreboards) means it is not possible for it to provide the coverage needed. “If it’s a 10,000-seat venue, it’s very unlikely that any kind of one size is going to fit all.”

He continues: “The smaller the place gets, the greater the chances that it can do everything in the hall. When you’re small-scale, you want to get your system ready for anything, because that makes your venue become more attractive.”

“There’s no venue anywhere that is going to satisfy everybody, even if it satisfies it in a technical perspective in terms of SPLs and coverage. You’re never going to get 100%, you can get 65 or 75% I believe, but that’s the difference between a show maybe being cost effective or not,” says Neal Allen, concert sound consultant.

“There’s no venue anywhere that is going to satisfy everybody, even if it satisfies in terms of SPLs and coverage. You’re never going to get 100%, you can get 65 or 75% I believe, but that’s the difference between a show maybe being cost effective or not.” 

What can make a loudspeaker suitable for different events? “One of the things we’re finding in nearly every venue we’re installing is that speech intelligibility is extremely important. I think also cost-effectiveness and return on investment as well,” says Ward.

“One attribute that would make a sound system suitable for a range of uses would be the ability to have different zones that can be independently controlled. For example, multiple rooms that can be sectioned off for smaller independent functions that need separation from one another, or if the rooms can be combined to have one big function,” says Ladd Temple, North American sales manager at Renkus-Heinz.

Lars Heinrich, sales and marketing manager at Kling & Freitag highlights the importance of design flexibility: “Loudspeakers need to be almost invisible. As this is not possible, they have to be perfectly integrated. As the acoustical result of ceiling speakers is not as good as regular installed speakers we have developed installation speakers for different uses, and each model can be scaled for a wide range of applications.”

Infill potential

When it comes to bringing a rental system to handle audio, the product’s capabilities will decide whether the installed system can still be used as infill for hard-to-reach spots like underneath PAs. “Many times an installed system can be used in conjunction with a rented system brought in for a specific event. The main benefit of merging the two systems together would be if there were spaces that the rental system couldn’t get adequate coverage to where the installed system is already covering,” says Temple.

Systems may not always be compatible, however.

“It can be difficult to blend in, if it is a distributed system then it depends how its been wired and fitted and rigged whether it would voice correctly and whether you’re going to get the right type of coverage, and not cause other problems by having different reverberated sound,” says Ward.

Allen states that the decision whether the installed speaker will be used comes down to how long an event or act will be at a venue. “The perfect example is the O2 in London [used for music, sport and comedy events]. The very top tier at the O2 is an installed system that everybody plugs into. If you’re going in for a one or two day show then you’re going to use it.” He adds for longer stints of around four or five days, acts will consider bringing in another system.

Jan Leerschool, head of international sales at Pan Acoustics, notes that the installed speaker can still be used for evacuation purposes, even if it does not meet the criteria of the event.

Multifunctional systems

According to McCarthy, the rise of mult
ipurpose venues has raised the skill level required to handle systems. “When I got into the business, the skill level required for the house sound person was pretty low. You’ve got to be ready to reconfigure, reprogram to all of these processing to get your signal routed to the right places. You’ve also got all sorts of interfaces from broadcast feeds to recording feeds, from your lobbies, backstage, to your bathroom,” he says.

view from back of movie theatre with large screenLeerschool says untrained members of staff at venues potentially can be in control: “If the system allows control of presets or external control with media systems (AMX, Crestron, Q-Sys, Biamp etc.) they can make the necessary basic changes by activating a certain preset.”

Purchasing power

When it comes to specifying loudspeakers at multipurpose venues, purchasing power is split between various stakeholders both within and outside the industry. Unanimously audio consultants are pinpointed as the key personnel in the planning stage of projects, with the end user involved to oversee costing.

Ward notes that the influence of a consultant can differ across the EMEA region. “Consultants are important – obviously depending on territories across Europe. Markets like Germany and the Middle East are very consultant-driven.”

The type of venue can also have an influence. “If it’s privately owned its going to be down to a budget versus what they actually want to achieve,” explains Paul Ward, sales and marketing director at Coda Audio. He adds that relationships contractors have with manufacturers can play a part.

One thing that is apparent as new public venues continue to be built and push the boundaries of modern design, the role of the architect is increasingly prominent. “Architects have always been there a little bit, but I’ve noticed that it’s increasing now – certainly on the multipurpose venue front,” says Jamie Ward.

“That’s always challenging from the sound point of view, because obviously architects want things to focus on how things look, rather than the performance of the audio – that’s a hard thing to juggle.”