New Marlins Ballpark Typifies Distributed Sound Systems’ Domination

When the Florida Marlins open their 2012 season in their new home stadium, it will mark a two-decades-long stretch of sports-venue construction that would have impressed even the coliseum-happy Romans. It will also boast a distributed audio system that demonstrates why that type of design has become ubiquitous in arena design.

The sheer number of new sports venues has propelled unique architectural designs as differentiating factors. Many venues also have to be multifunctional, serving as entertainment sites as well. And architectural design has been consistently driven by demand for increased levels of premium and club seating. All that has led to stadium layouts with complex acoustical requirements that could not be met by the point-source sound systems that once formed the core of sports-venue audio.

The distributed system, which puts the sound sources closer to fan seating and into the nooks and crannies of modern stadiums, has become the dominant solution for sports-venue sound. The Marlins’ new and as-yet-unnamed ballpark offers an example of how well it can work and how manufacturers have accommodated the concept with new products.

“[The] Marlins ballpark isn’t symmetrical like the New Meadowlands Stadium and some other stadiums are,” says Mark Graham, audio design specialist and associate at WJHW, one of a handful of audio and acoustical consultants that specialize in sports venues. “The [acoustical] conditions change as you move around the stands and the field. The architecture of the stadium is fluid, and the challenge is to have the audio conform to each section’s architectural aspects yet deliver a consistent audio experience section to section.”

The dimensions of the 37,000-seat, Populous-designed stadium are such that throw distances and dispersion requirements can change within sections. Speakers directly under the stationary portion of the canopy of the retractable-roof ballpark might require 30-foot throws, but, at the edges of the canopy in the same grid, the throw requirements could be half that, calling for another type of speaker.

Graham says that the number of products now available to designers to meet such challenges has vastly increased since he began working on sports-venue audio systems two decades ago (he was project manager on the completion of the sound system for the original Mile High Stadium in Denver in 1991). Many major manufacturers offer product lines that can accommodate these requirements and are competitively specified, with contractors making choices primarily from a business perspective, although other factors — performance, deliverability, the extent to which certain products can be customized — also come into play.

The level of product diversity, though, hasn’t impeded the use of multiple manufacturers’ equipment on the same projects. The distributed PA system at the Marlins ballpark, for example, will feature EAW MK Series speakers and QX Series boxes and, in the outside entertainment plaza, JBL VLA loudspeakers, and PA processing will be done by BSS’s London speaker-management system. At this stage, much of the conduit and cabling infrastructure is in place, installed by Parsons Electric Technologies.

As good as the equipment is and as refined as the architecture has become, the basics of acoustical and mechanical issues remain paramount. “We always have to look for HVAC- and plumbing-system vibration issues that can affect the seating areas and other interior spaces,” says Graham.

The more complex architectural designs of the latest generation of sports stadiums sometimes create mechanical couplings that transport HVAC-system vibrations to seating and interior areas, where they can interfere with PA systems’ intelligibility and comfort within a given space.

“We receive all of the [architectural] design updates,” says Graham, “and we’re constantly monitoring for potential HVAC- and plumbing-noise intrusions.”

When the new Marlins ballpark is topped off later this year, it will be the cap on an extraordinary period of sports-venue construction and innovation, one that has seen the fully distributed audio system come into its own.

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