The ‘Cathedral of College Basketball’ Gets a Sound Upgrade

Dubbed the “Cathedral of College Basketball,” the University of Pennsylvania’s Palestra is one of the country’s most historic college arenas. Founded in 1927, the 8,722-seat venue in Philadelphia is home to Penn’s Quakers men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, and wrestling teams. It was known for its unusually intimate seating — it used to seat 10,000 — but not for its sound. That’s changed, however, with the installation late last year of an audio system featuring JBL Professional loudspeakers and Crown amplifiers, designed and installed by systems integrator Clair Brothers Audio Systems.

“The existing sound system simply wasn’t meeting the needs of the facility,” says Clair Brothers Project Manager Tim Mazur. “It was underpowered and couldn’t compete with the reverberant acoustics of the arena.”

After conducting an acoustical analysis of the Palestra, Clair Brothers designed a new system based on JBL VRX932LA-1 constant-curvature loudspeakers and ASB6118, all powered by Crown Macro-Tech amplifiers.

As part of the renovation, Clair Brothers designed and fabricated a custom two-layer rigging grid that can be raised and lowered from the ceiling, placing it in the optimum position during games and other events and out of the way when not required. The fly grid holds 30 JBL VRX932LA-1 loudspeaker enclosures arranged in six clusters of five enclosures each, with eight ASB6118 subs hung from the center. In addition, four JBL AM5212/95 loudspeakers deliver fill sound onto the court itself. The loudspeakers are powered by a single Crown Macro-Tech 5000i and 10 Macro-Tech 9000i amplifiers, linked by a BSS Audio London BLU-160 signal processor with digital audio bus and a BLU-BOB2 breakout box.

“The Palestra is a very difficult acoustic space because it’s highly reverberant, but we were not allowed to apply any acoustical treatment,” Mazur notes, citing the arena’s historical status. Working in conjunction with JBL, Clair Brothers determined that the JBL VRX932LA-1 loudspeakers would deliver the most output for the budget, thanks to their compact size, ease of installation, and 100- x 15-degree coverage pattern.

“We had a very tight turnaround on the project: only nine weeks from the time the purchase order was issued to the completion date,” Mazur points out. As a result, Clair Brothers hung and tested the entire system at its Manheim, PA, headquarters before installing it in the Palestra.

“The system sounds great,” he says, “And everyone was really excited about having it in time for the basketball season.”

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