NEXO's All-Singing All-Dancing Sound Systems
In this piece, NEXO's Marketing Director in Paris, Ginny Goudy, explains how their sound systems are being used: "It was a bitingly cold Paris evening in February when I finally heard the roar of a crowd in the Stade de France. Kind of weird really, because I've been visiting France's iconic national stadium for 14 years, ever since NEXO installed nearly 400 loudspeakers in that famous floating roof, ready for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. But, as I usually go to empty venues, my ticket for an IRB Six Nations rugby international provided the first chance to see this majestic sports ground in action, and to hear our sound system 'in anger'.
However, this was the ill-fated Ireland versus France fixture, called off at the very last moment because the pitch was frozen granite-hard. Some 80,000 frustrated rugby fans provide an excellent test for a PA system I can tell you and I felt bizarrely proud to hear every syllable from Thierry Dusattoir, the legendary captain of Les Bleus, as he took to the microphone to appease and manage an irate crowd.
"It was a vivid and personal reminder that what we do in sound-system-land goes far beyond 'firing up the crowd' with another burst of "Simply the Best". Large stadium venues present a challenge firstly because they are very large acoustically imperfect structures, secondly because they contain very large and usually very excitable crowds of people, thirdly because the responsibilities of a modern sound system have to take into account health and safety, commentary and entertainment. These requirements are now converging into one technical specification, not least for budgetary reasons, which is the catchily-named PA/VA."
In 2011, NEXO supplied systems to 15 European stadia, including a total refit at the Stade de France and an all-new system at the Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow. NEXO is a French company and all of the manufacturing of their loudspeakers takes place in France. The company has a long track record in live music, where they've learnt the values of high SPL output and high intelligibility, both central to PA/VA system design for sports venues.
Take the example of Ibrox, home to Rangers FC, famous for the vocal performance of 50,000 singing fans. "Some games can get a little raucous" said Richard Northwood of COMS, the AV consultancy. "We originally set the target level of the sound system at 102dB, but, with 106dB of ambient crowd noise on occasion, we were pleased to see that NEXO's GEO S12 loudspeaker is capable of 105-8dB. Unlike many other places, Ibrox Stadium has no problem with noise leakage, so Rangers can drive the system fairly hard to try to whip up atmosphere and provide a bit of razzamatazz."
High sound pressure levels are not the magic bullet. As well as intelligibility, or clarity, the key criterion of any sound system is dispersion affected equally by the system design and the quality of the components used in it. Stadia come in different shapes and sizes; from the distinctive elliptical design of the Stade de France to the 130-year old 'listed' architecture of Ibrox with its more conventional rectangular layout. And then there's the human element; many Rangers fans have been attending matches for decades, sitting in the same seat, and so the design of a new sound system had to consider sensibilities far and above the provision of audible evacuation instruction.
IMAGES: ©Stade de France® - Macary, Zublena et Regembal, Costantini Architectes, ADAGP Paris 2011
Stephen Scott, Project Manager for Ibrox, explained that the respect for the Club's supporters was one of the most critical factors in the new design: "The objective was for dispersion to deliver exactly the same SPL to every seat in the stadium. And to be sure, believe me, we did check every seat in the stadium."
Designers can address the dispersion requirements by zoning the audio systems, allowing the output of each loudspeaker to be tightly controlled, both in terms of volume and directivity. Stade de France, for example, has nearly 300 GEO S12 loudspeaker cabinets in its new system, set up to work in 13 different zones; at Ibrox, the installation is zoned per stand.
Modern designs are networked, with loudspeaker and amplifier units connected via fibre optic cable; 10km's was used for the Stade de France installation. Using a small number of control devices, signal can be routed from any zone to any other, from pitch to car-park, providing really flexible functionality. The right contractors will also build in real-time system supervision and diagnostics. For example, at Stade de France all the amplifiers are continually monitored; if one blows up, the system immediately switches to another, if anybody unplugs anything in the stadium it will immediately show on the screen in the control room.
In a television age, aesthetics matter. Neither audiences nor TV broadcasters are well-served by bulky loudspeaker units intruding on sightlines. NEXO's popular S12 cabinets are very compact, and array into very low-profile clusters, finished in white casings at many venues, including Stade de France.
Finally, when the delivery channel for safety announcements, the relay of commentary and information, and audio support for sponsors and advertising has been decided upon, there is the obvious question of pre- and post-match entertainment. High-specification systems like NEXO's offer wider bandwidth and lower frequencies that meet the expectations of modern sports fans who have all been to rock concerts and know what can be achieved. Or, to put it in the words of Richard Northwood talking about Ibrox: "The big moments for the sound system come with the pre-match entertainment and at the start of the second half when the teams run out. When they played the big number from
Orff's Carmina Burana, we saw the upper deck of the main stand was actually shaking, and we knew our work was done. I think we've ended up with the best-sounding stadium system in the UK."
Special thanks to IBROX: Richard Northwood, COMS (AV consultant); Stephen Scott, Ibrox (Project Manager); and Tommy Gorman, Sound Acoustics (Installation Contractor). STADE DE FRANCE: Sylvain Brotte & Thierry Trenchant, Melpomen (System Design and Installation Contractor); and Fabien Budnik, Stade de France (Project Manager).