Egypt doesn’t have all of the cool pyramids. One of the four architecturally true pyramids in the U.S. is in Long Beach; specifically, the Long Beach State Walter Pyramid, the sports and event space for the university’s athletics department. And with L-Acoustics Ai Series sound system powering the venue, LBSU fans experience sporting events loud and clear.
The $22 million venue, built in 1994, has hosted several NCAA events, including NCAA women's volleyball matches, the 2001, 2003, and 2019 NCAA men's volleyball championships, and the 2003 NCAA women's volleyball regionals.
The uniqueness of the Walter Pyramid’s exterior also presents interior geometric challenges. Believed to be the largest space-frame structure in North America, the Walter Pyramid measures 345 feet on each side of its perfectly square base, accommodating three full basketball courts and four additional half basketball courts, and featuring a unique cantilevered seating system mounted on moveable platforms. However, the Walter Pyramid is unique in another way: it’s got the best sound of any pyramid, anywhere, any epoch, thanks to the installation of a new L-Acoustics Ai Series sound system, a project completed earlier this year.
The venue’s previous and original PA system perhaps had more in common with those of ancient Egypt, as it was old with outdated technology. Its truss-hung loudspeakers had stopped working earlier in the year and were being supplanted by portable speakers.
“It was the original sound system, installed in the early 1990s, and it was pretty old technology that was simply ineffective for this type of building,” said Mark Edrington, senior associate athletics director at Long Beach State. He also knew that sourcing a new sound system for the venue would be a challenge, citing its geometry, its unique moving seating system, and the venue’s requirements to accommodate a wide range of activities, from sports to banquets. Unlike many venues with retractable seating, the lower bowl at Walter Pyramid is hinged and raises in drawbridge-like sections to create an open flat floor. In this “seats up” configuration, the metal undersides of the seating sections become acoustical reflectors around the lower bowl.
“In terms of audio, they were limping along in there,” said Susan Holguin, founding CEO of Burbank-based Vizual Symphony, the integrator that installed the new L-Acoustics Ai Series system, which was the culmination of two years’ development of a system design by consultancy Idibri, a Salas O’Brien company. That system would come to include, after safety inspections, a replacement of the entire truss system, which was no small task in a building with no parallel surfaces.
Then, the entire cable path had to be rewired, with new, super-heavy eight-gauge audio cables needing to run as long as 190 feet to the highest point. In retrospect, said Holguin, who worked on the project with Long Beach State project manager Marc Joves and Production Access Group CEO Ben Frederick, it made the installation of the L-Acoustics Ai system itself seem like a breeze.
The new loudspeaker system design is typical for an arena installation: a four-sided cluster with A15i Focus speakers as the main enclosures—two per hang except for one hang, which has only one A15i in order to shorten it above an area with no bleachers. All four hangs are buttressed with one A15i Wide on the bottom and one KS21i sub on the top. A horizontally hung array of four A10i Wide provide court-floor coverage. One LA2Xi and one LA4X amplified controllers power and process the entire system.
Edrington, who has oversight of all of the school’s athletics facilities, is the sports administrator for women’s and men’s volleyball, men’s and women’s water polo, and women’s soccer; and also oversees the implementation of all athletics capital improvement projects. He shared that he was highly receptive to the idea of the L-Acoustics brand. “They’d been in touch with us over the years,” he said. “Prior to the pandemic, they even came in and did a sound assessment for the Walter Pyramid.”
That would prove especially helpful, he said, noting the venue’s very tall structure and what he calls its “tricky” acoustics. “The old sound system had acoustical challenges because of the unique shape and design of the building. The volume setting for the lower seating area would be at one level while fans in the upper seats were literally getting blasted,” he says. “Sound in here is challenging, but L-Acoustics seems to have conquered it by making the sound consistent throughout.”
Idibri’s Ryan Knox reveals the secret of how that was possible: “We used the flexibility of the Ai Series’ vertical and horizontal patterns to maximize coverage of the seats and minimize sound hitting the walls in both the ‘seats up’ and ‘seats down’ configurations,” he said. “Soundvision proved out the coverage quickly and EASE was used to verify that the design was optimized for the unique acoustical environment and would achieve the intelligibility goals, which it did.”
“The loudspeaker system went without a hitch, and when we turned it on, it was exciting,” Holguin recalled. “They’ve also installed a nice, big video wall, and seeing and hearing all of these new systems makes it feel like a brand-new arena. I think the highest compliment it’s gotten so far is on social media, where people were posting that they could hear the announcers clearly over the noise of the screaming fans. Now that’s a powerful PA.”
Installed earlier this year just as the basketball season was wrapping up, the new system was fully ready for the 2022 volleyball season. And even though it’s still early days for the Ai Series system there, said Edrington, “It’s performing well and meeting expectations.”