PA: Same sound in every seat?
German artist Peter Maffay on tour with a Meyer Sound LEO system (Photo: Ralph Larmann)
Craving consistency Is the promise of consistent sound coverage more important than ever, or is it simply easier to deliver? Erica Basnicki takes a well-balanced look...
onsistent, even coverage throughout an entire venue is not a fad or a new trend,” says Rational Acoustics’ Jamie Anderson. This is the one point on which everyone can agree. No one wants to put up with, or deliver, awful sound. Naturally, sound quality has always been a focal point for PA manufacturers. Lately, the idea of providing “the same sound in every seat” appears to have increased in importance. Where opinions on the matter begin to diverge is in trying to establish who is driving this demand. Anderson explains: “Audience members listen to a performance from one point in space. They generally do not know if the sound is better or worse in the next section over. What they care about is sound quality and ﬁdelity. It’s the production companies and system engineers who care about coverage and consistency.” Martin Audio’s marketing director, James King, agrees: “The audience tends to be able to only judge in terms of whether they can hear clearly enough from their position and whether as a whole they are moved by the concert experience. If not, they take
to social media to complain and worst case to the promoters to ask for their money back. Depending upon the scale of the issue it can also break through into mainstream media.” Case in point: In 2013, Live Nation refused to refund Iron Maiden fans in Stockholm after widespread complaints about the gig’s sound quality: barely audible guitars and muddy vocals. According to reports, Live Nation investigated the issue with concert staff but ultimately dismissed the complaints on the grounds that “sound experience is subjective”. Sweden’s National Board for Consumer Disputes agreed with the ﬁndings. Prior to 2013, concerts in London’s Hyde Park were criticised for their less than optimum sound quality, marring performances by high-proﬁle acts such as Paul Simon, Arcade Fire and Blur. The gigs just weren’t loud enough. So far, there have been no reported complaints of sound quality variance from one seat/audience area to the next. That’s not to say that there won’t be any in the future. “As ticket prices for seats at live events are everincreasing, the audience’s expectations are rising
proportionally,” explains Michael Creason, product manager, system applications and training, Meyer Sound. Even the artists are becoming aware of this. For their latest tour, U2 has been “experimenting” with a new sound system comprising speaker arrays suspended from the ceiling, in order to provide equal coverage for everyone in the audience. (According to Reddit users, the sound isn’t great. Oh, well.) One would be inclined to assume that PA houses are also pushing for the best possible coverage from their investment, naturally. King notes that “since MLA has now solved the Hyde Park conundrum and highlighted what can be possible, MLA has gone on to win more and more festivals around the world.” Consistency may have always been important, but, as systems like the MLA have shown, technology is becoming a major factor in improving what can realistically be achieved.
Hardware or software? Now the question is what role DSP should play – if any – within a system. Here the variances are even wider. On one end of the spectrum is KV2. As Dave