Stanford University has completed the first phase of a major upgrade program of sound reinforcement systems across its campus athletic venues. By early summer of this year, all-new Meyer Sound systems based on column array loudspeakers (CAL) with advanced beam-shaping technology were in place at 50,000-capacity Stanford Stadium, the Avery Aquatic Center, and the Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium, home field for the school’s softball team.
Stanford Stadium and the Aquatic Center were designed, engineered and installed by Diversified, a global technology solution provider. Meyer Sound Design Services collaborated during the design phase for all venues, with prominent sports venue consulting firm WJHW providing oversight and guidance on the football stadium and aquatics systems.
Stanford Stadium — home to PAC-12 Cardinal football — was built in the 1920’s as a mammoth bowl seating upwards of 89,000, then completely reconstructed as a dual-deck stadium in 2006 for a more up-close fan experience. The system installed after the rebuild, based on conventional loudspeaker technology, was showing its age and its acoustical limitations. For this year’s renovation, the design team decided to rethink what was possible using the newest digital beam-shaping technology as incorporated in Meyer Sound’s self-powered column array loudspeakers. A total of 80 column array loudspeakers were installed at the stadium, using all three models in the series: the 10-foot high CAL 96 (with 96 individually processed and amplified loudspeakers) as well as the smaller CAL 64 and CAL 32 models.
“The beam steering technology lets you put a loudspeaker in what otherwise would not be an optimal vertical location,” observes Peter O’Neil, director of engineering at Diversified. “Horizontally it needs to be set in the right place, but in the vertical dimension you can use the beam steering to successfully cover the seating plane in a way often not otherwise possible.”
The extraordinary pattern control avoids problems often encountered in large stadium sound systems, explains WJHW Associate Principal Mark Graham. “One problem with distributed systems, when using long throw loudspeakers, is that if you don’t have the vertical control of the Meyer column arrays, you can have sound from one side of the stadium leaking over to the other side. And if it’s loud enough it will degrade intelligibility of the spoken word. But with the CALs and their narrow vertical pattern we can pretty much dictate exactly which seating areas each loudspeaker will cover and prevent that problem.”
Graham also notes how the slender profile of the column speakers enables discreet coverage of problem areas of upper decks between lighting structures. “With conventional solutions crossfiring into those areas you can have horrible problems with time arrivals. But with these column arrays, we simply add a small pole, which is fairly inexpensive and unobtrusive architecturally, and you can steer sound right down into that area.”
Although presenting a slender profile, the column array loudspeakers have ample power to punch through crowd excitement, according to Meyer Sound Director of Business Development John Monitto. “Besides distributing the sound in an even, well-controlled manner, the CALs also give you very high peak output to deliver excellent intelligibility over crowd noise, even at high points of the game.”
Despite the sophisticated digital technology, Diversified’s O’Neil is fully confident in the system’s long-term reliability. “It’s a proven solution,” he notes, “with a working base in other outdoor stadiums, including Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, which has been in use for several years. It holds up to the elements, and it also holds up to football games where you need the horsepower.”
To cover seating areas where a column array solution was not appropriate, the Stanford Stadium system also incorporates 84 UPJunior and 10 UP-4XP loudspeakers.
Nearby at the Avery Aquatic Center, two CAL 96 loudspeakers and one CAL 64 loudspeaker are centered above the scoreboard provide an elegant point-source solution for grandstand seating accommodating up to 2,480 spectators.
“This was an interesting challenge because it’s an open facility with other pools around it, with practices scheduled at the same time as events,” says Monitto. “They don’t want to be disturbed by what’s happening in the competition arena. So here CAL was a great point source solution, targeting a majority of the audience with only a minimum number of outfill speakers needed.”
The fill systems comprise nine MM-4XP and two UPJ-1XP loudspeakers. For events — such as synchronized swimming — that require high fidelity, full-bandwidth music, the system provides controlled deep bass through three 750-LFC low frequency control elements deployed in a cardioid configuration.
For the Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium, with a scalable capacity from 1,500 up to 3,500, a new Meyer Sound system provides two CAL 64 column array loudspeakers along with four UPJunior-XP loudspeakers. “Another great thing about a CAL solution is you have flexibility to deal with scalable seating scenarios,” says Monitto. “If you need to redistribute the sound, you can simply program another preset to steer it into a tighter or broader coverage pattern to fit the new seating configuration.”
Another factor favoring a comprehensive Meyer Sound solution, notes Monitto, was proven product longevity. “Several of the outdoor facilities here had installed MSL-3 systems more than 25 years ago and they are still working well. It shows what we put into weather protection research back then, and we continue to evolve that technology to further extend the life of products with exposure to the elements.”
Future phases of facility upgrading program will include new Meyer Sound systems for Laird Q. Cagan Stadium at Maloney Field (soccer and lacrosse) and Klein Field at Sunken Diamond (baseball).