Sports Venues Turn to Acoustical Products for Improved Sound Control

Acoustical-treatment products have proliferated in recent years, and there’s plenty of off-the-shelf stuff to improve the sound of the living room 5.1 system. But, with sports venues housing a growing variety of events, a niche industry has emerged to vastly increase the scale of sound control.

The most widely used single product is likely MBI Products’ Lapendary panels, which the company has been marketing since 1987 and can be found in more than 100 venues, including American Airlines Centers in Miami and Dallas and the FedEx Forum in Memphis.

The panels themselves are conventional, with absorptive material such as semi-rigid fiberglass batting covered by a fabric. They have a noise-reduction coefficient (NRC) of 1.10. (NRC is a measurement of how much sound a material can absorb. For example, a completely non-acoustical concrete wall has an NRC of about 0.01, carpet on concrete 0.14, heavy fabric 0.55. Anything below NRC 0.60 is considered non-acoustical.)

MBI’s ability to make the panels on a large scale and to custom-size them to the steel used in arena construction makes them a major go-to for stadium acoustical consultants.

“For about the last 10 years, the push has been to put lots of absorptive material in the ceilings of arenas,” says MBI President Chris Kysela. A more recent variation has been to hang the horizontal acoustical panels vertically to create large bass traps in the upper reaches; lower frequencies pass through the panels as they radiate outward but are caught by the panels when they are reflected back toward the center of the field. An example can be found in Los Angeles’s Staples Center.

“It’s becoming more about managing the low frequencies as stadiums get more bass information coming from music used during games,” Kysela explains. “A lot of that is going to get into the broadcast sound, so the better you can manage it, the better the fan experience in the stadium and for the home viewer.”

Cost-Effective Workarounds
Acoustical-materials manufacturers keep most of their products in stock, but the needs of large-scale venues like sports arenas often require custom fabrication. That can be costly, and, in recent years, designers have had to scale back or get creative.

Designer Steve Durr says he starts with specifications derived from his calculations as to what a given space needs but then weighs the cost of materials and applies value engineering. “The spaces we’re engineering are unique, so the products we use to adjust the acoustics are also unique, and that can be expensive.”

But there are ways to achieve results close to the original specs with a little bit of ingenuity. Durr’s design for the Indiana Pacers’ Conseco Fieldhouse called for 35-ft. fabric-covered custom panels to line a wall. He commissioned the manufacturer to construct 10-ft. panels and covered the rest of the wall height with duct liner, used to baffle HVAC ducting. “We got most of the performance we were after at considerably less cost,” he says.

Other acoustical-control products providers that have been found to be useful for sports venues include two Canadian firms, Winnipeg-based Sound Concepts and Ontario-based Decoustics. The former’s absorptive and diffusion panels have been used at Oklahoma State University’s Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma University Memorial Stadium, the Miami Activity Center, the University of South Dakota, and the West Vancouver Community Center.

Decoustics custom acoustical ceiling and wall products are in Amway Center in Orlando, FL; Cowboys Stadium in Dallas; and Cassie Campbell Community Centre Pool in Brampton, ON.

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