- Louisville, KY-Since the 2009 hiring of Charlie Strong as head coach, renewal has been the order of the day for the University of Louisville Cardinals. But that renewal goes beyond re-energizing the team and its fan base. It extends to a retrofit and expansion of the facility itself, the home of the University of Louisville's football program, Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Designed by Dallas based PMK Consultants, Louisville's Cardinals stadium features a new audio system incorporating over 400 Tannoy loudspeakers.
Undertaken by Louisville based architects Luckett and Farley, and first begun in late 2008, the $72 million expansion was completed just prior to the Cardinals' 2010 season opener. Although the project involved a comprehensive overhaul of the stadium's AV systems, the driving force behind it was to increase the stadium's capacity and patron amenities.
With the addition of 1,725 club seats and 13,000 regular seats, the overall capacity of the stadium has been increased to 55,000. Among other improvements there are thirty-three new private suites, a new Cardinal Authentic store and the Norton Healthcare Terrace, which overlooks the field from above the south-end stands and connects the east and west sides of the stadium. While the stadium bowl is primarily used for Cardinals' games, the renovation and overhaul will also benefit other schools that use the venue for marching band competitions and high school football playoffs.
With all that extra space, a dramatic rethink of the venue's pre-existing audio system was an absolute necessity. Designed by Dallas based PMK Consultants, the new audio system incorporates over 400 Tannoy loudspeakers, providing reinforcement of music, speech, and a variety of program material in the bowl and throughout many of the stadium's new interior spaces.
The bowl system, explains Mike Dewees, owner and president of Acoustical Audio Designs (AAD), the integrator on the project, is actually a replacement of a replacement system-a system that never entirely met the client's needs and was installed when much of the original audio infrastructure was displaced by the addition of a large video screen at the stadium's north end.
"Week in and week out they'd get complaints that 'this seat was too loud' or 'in this seat we couldn't hear,'" Dewees said. "The far end of the bowl required pretty high SPL, so when you got the system loud enough to hear at that end, the people up front complained and the school really wanted to address that."
Comprised largely of Tannoy's VQNET 40 MH loudspeakers, the main bowl system now allows operators greater control and provides more even coverage to all areas of the bowl, new and old. Even so, after the first use of the Tannoy heavy system, the system required additional optimization, a function of the architecture of the bowl, but the problems were addressed when the system was tweaked after the first game.
Thad Packard, PMK's project manager for Cardinal Stadium explained, "We just ran out of time. This sometimes happens during commissioning when we are not made aware of all the other things that will be happening in the venue. So, we decided to focus on the main bowl. Unfortunately, this left some dead spots on the new terrace and in the new upper deck. But, after we were able to get back to the venue between the first and second game, we finalized the settings and provided excellent coverage in all areas."
"The mechanical time alignment and the form factor of the Tannoy VQNETs makes for less tweaking overall, and the low amount of horn interaction is impressive," says Derek Black, eastern regional rep. for Tannoy in North America. "At the end of the day, however, we are all governed by some basic physics and acoustic rules, and the limitations of 'free space' outdoor venues present legitimate hurdles to overcome, especially with an end zone shot design."
Members of the athletic department closely involved in the construction are forthright in their assessment of the problems inherent in providing sound reinforcement throughout the venue, saying that they could only be completely addressed by a distributed system that was value engineered out of the project early on. They add, however, that the sound quality and coverage in the stadium bowl with the new Tannoy heavy system is of a decidedly higher quality than previously was the case.
There are often issues in a venue of this nature, Dewees puts in. "On a hot windy day with crowd noise there are some areas that are a little light." But, he added, since PMK's design was implemented and the final tuning completed, the complaints have stopped.
If anyone has an intimate understanding of the sonic issues at Papa John's, it's Dewees. "In addition to installing the new system, we're also contracted to operate it for every event and game here," he said.
His work at the facility actually dates back to 1998, when the stadium first opened, and Dewees' company-then acting as the install division of Far Out Music, a pro MI store in nearby Jeffersonville, Indiana-were hired to install the venue's original system. Since incorporating in the mid-2000's, AAD has remained a relatively small company, specializing in AV presentation format design/installs for churches, schools and corporate clients in the Louisville area, as well as a variety of international clients whose projects have required installs in Mexico, California, and Chicago.
Since the stadium was originally built, a distributed system was discussed, he continued, and although it would have been a better solution than an end zone cluster, it has never been implemented. Initially, the biggest issue was where to place the speakers. "There really isn't a good place to mount speakers around the bowl to get a proper distributed system. When the renovation got started the owners were looking for a substantial improvement in the audio system, and when they discussed this with PMK, a distributed system was brought up.
"A distributed system is always PMK's first approach whenever it is feasible," Packard said. "Such was the case here, but then there was a round of budget reductions. Everything was cut back, so the distributed system was no longer feasible.
"PMK then proposed an end zone cluster system at the south end of the stadium because it would be higher (in altitude) than the existing location at the north end, and we knew it would minimize annoying reflections." After pricing the alternate solution, however, it was found that the additional steel required for building the location for the loudspeakers made it financially impossible.
At that point, the design was altered again, reworked to depend heavily on a cluster of loudspeakers placed above the video wall/scoreboard at the U-shaped stadium's open end. "The Tannoy's were chosen," Dewees said, "primarily because we needed to hit some seats that were almost in another zip code. We also had somewhat limited space to fit the system in."
"The Tannoy VQ series would have performed excellently in any of the scenarios," Packard says. "The consistency of dispersion over frequency minimizes the size of the interference zone where loudspeaker patterns overlap because you don't have to worry so much about high frequency coverage. Many loudspeakers have coverage patterns that significantly decrease as frequency increases. So, in order to achieve adequate coverage at 4 kHz, for example, the patterns have to overlap greatly at 1 kHz. This overlap causes interference, which results in greater inconsistency in level from seat to seat."
It's a challenge in any stadium employing an end zone cluster, he continued. "The longer you throw the more important that is. We had a really long throw, so the tighter the pattern the better... And when the loudspeakers are arrayed together it's easier to control the level in a specific area."
He stressed that PMK always prefers to use a loudspeaker with good pattern control as long as it also has good sound quality, as the Tannoy VQs do. In this case, that consideration was even more important given the location they ultimately were required to use. "The loudspeaker cluster location is slightly lower than the top of the bowl, and much lower than the new east side upper deck. Knowing that it would be difficult to achieve even coverage and impossible to avoid echoes from such a location, we chose to make all other aspects of the sound system as good as we could. Not only are the VQs consistent in beam width and accurate in frequency response, but also, they are priced competitively."
Black agrees that a distributed system would have been more acoustically appropriate. "I don't think VQ or any other end zone stack is preferable over a distributed system, but in most venues, we have to balance other factors in finding the best solution. The VQ maintains a consistent tonal quality at high SPL, whether you're ninety, or nine feet away," he added.
In all, the main system is comprised of 14 Tannoy VQ NET 40 MHs placed along the top of the northern video wall/scoreboard. The array consists of two stacks of four boxes in the center, two stacks of two boxes to the left and right of that and, finally, one VQ MH at either end. "The center cluster is aimed at the far, closed end of the horseshoe, with the outer arrays covering the nearer seating areas with fewer boxes as you move to either side, where you don't need the extra SPL," Dewees explained.
Low frequency support is provided by four new Renkus Heinz subwoofers in tandem with six pre-existing Renkus subs. "The Tannoy are dead center of the field, then off to one side the ten subs are placed in two vertical stacks of five, roughly sixty feet in the air about twenty feet off the one side."
Various control systems are used; VQNET for the Tannoy mains, RHAON for the Renkus and QSC BASIS for the internal distributed audio systems. "With the QSC DSP, we are feeding the mains and we do some general equalization with that, but all the individual speaker's delays, compression, and some tonal adjustments are done using the internal DSP of the various boxes."
Both Packard and Dewees characterized the audio portion of the project as an augmentation of the existing systems in the venue, explaining that most of the pre-existing mic package was reused, along with the main console, a Soundcraft L7.
Entirely new video elements have been introduced however; two 345-foot by 3-foot LED ribbon boards running along the fascia of the east and west sides of the stadium, as well as a new 60-foot by 20-foot LED screen at the south end to match a pre-existing screen at the north end.
Naturally, the sound system in the bowl gets a fair bit of attention, but it was also necessary to augment the audio systems in the facility's interior to cover the new real estate created during the expansion. These areas are used for a variety of events including trade shows, weddings, receptions and bar/bat mitzvahs. With the addition, there are basically two spaces; the roughly 15,000 square foot Brown and Williamson Club and the approximately 6,000 square foot PNC Club.
Crestron control is used to configure the systems for various events and private functions, and provides a means of selecting the routing required for any given event quickly and easily. All amplifiers, DSP, and network switches are housed in five discreet equipment rooms tied together by fiber.
"There are a lot of existing speakers in the old areas on the west side," Dewees said, "but the east side got all new speakers." With the exception of a quantity of Community outdoor boxes in the new eastern concourse, Tannoy loudspeakers are used exclusively to provide distributed audio to these areas, which include the thirty-three private suites and a glassed in 'Loge' area running the length of the field.
In total, 135 Tannoy CVS6s are installed in the private suites, four in each. Below the suites, fourteen CMS 601 DC BMs and three CMS 801 BM subs provide sound reinforcement to the two-story Loge area, which contains seating and bars. "The coverage is very smooth there," Dewees said. "The overall control and level that you can get out of the high frequency portion of the speakers, they cover that area real well."
In addition, 254 Tannoy CVS4s are installed in an area running the length of the field outside the private areas where the ceilings are only, roughly, nine feet high. "It's full of sprinkler pipes, ductwork and conduit, and we only had about four inches of clearance, so we had to find a speaker that would physically fit. And because it's standing room, not seated, we really had to fill that area up, so we have CVS4s approximately every five to six feet." In this area, Tannoy in-wall loudspeakers were specified originally - specifically because of their low profile back can - but, again, budget considerations prompted the switch to the CVS4s.
While no specific challenges drove the choice of Tannoy for that particular space, Packard said, PMK regularly uses Tannoy in ceiling for projects of this nature-"Whenever the budget will allow, because of the high sound quality of the product."
Providing that quality is increasingly important inside and outside of sporting facilities, transport hubs and any venues where large groups of people gather. Once, the quality of an experience at a given venue was largely dependant on the event itself. Oftentimes, in fact, sound was expected to be somewhat less than pristine. Increasingly, however, as the demands of an ever more tech savvy clientele become greater, that's not the case.
"Consumers today take elevators with HD monitors," Black said. "They equip their cars with high quality multi-speaker systems. They watch movies at home in HD with surround audio systems. The bar for audio performance has been raised."
Meeting and exceeding those expectations is an ongoing challenge everyone involved in these projects takes seriously, including manufacturers. In Tannoy's case, by providing a range of solutions for both interior and exterior applications that, Black said, result in a 'signature family sound' and by adopting an approach to development, particularly in the creation of large format, high output devices, that is "anything but a 'me too' approach."