October 2009 Issue

Are You Ready for Some Football?

From left, Richard Bratcher, Nate Andrews, Demetrius Palavos, Kevin Day, Greg Swindle
Say what you will about the tired adage “everything’s bigger in Texas,” but there’s at least one man in the Lone Star State who has made it his life’s passion to keep it fresh. That man? Jerry Jones, the main brain (and wallet) behind the Dallas Cowboys. Those who work for him, or around him, call him “The Owner.” Football fans have other, sometimes colorful, names for him.

Call him what you want, but Jones was not afraid to put his money where his mouth was when it came time to build the brand new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. The largest domed stadium in the world, construction costs were said to run up to $1.2 billion, and the venue seats up to 100,000 people. The list of companies and contractors that worked on Cowboys Stadium would fill the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the two most interesting to FOH readers are designers Wrightson, Johnson, Haddon & Williams, Inc. from Dallas and systems integrators Pro Media/UltraSound from Hercules, Calif.

WJHW, a firm that’s worked on a handful of NFL stadiums from Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to Qwest Field in Seattle, began working on the design of the audio system in the middle of 2005. “It was still artist’s renderings at that point,” says WJHW associate Kevin Day. “So, we worked through the schematic design phase, the design development phase and then finally we went into construction documents.”

One of the early directives, Day reports, was that all of the speaker boxes had to be high in the steel. Of course, that meant that there was going to be a tremendous amount reflected energy and the WJHW designed an acoustic treatment system that would put absorption on the roof and the walls in the upper deck. The tab for that was around $3 million. Rather than green-lighting the spend right away, the designers had to convince the owner and the construction company that it mattered. After all, aesthetics were one of the most important design considerations for the entire structure.

“We did a lot of audio simulation using the 3D model that we built to simulate the difference between having the roof open and the roof closed, putting up the acoustic treatment or not putting up the acoustic treatment, and even the difference between whether the audience was in place or not,” Days says. “We predicted that deleting any acoustic treatment was going to make it difficult to understand the spoken word, and I think the key point that they really tied onto was even their advertisements, even their sponsors spot would not be understood. We ended up with Mr. Jones saying, there’s gotta be an option.”

WJHW had already thought about an alternative system that broke the “stay high” directive and put a larger number of boxes pointing more directly into the seats. “Mr. Jones got his head around that and really understood what the issues were and made the choice to make the speaker system overcome the room acoustics. So we dropped the speakers 90 feet below the steel,” Day explains, “and we had to add 10 more line arrays to make up for that. The acoustic treatment in the room was all deleted and we used the sound system configuration to do the best that we can for the direct to reverb ratio in the room.”

It was not an inexpensive decision. “It raised the system cost by another 60 percent,” Day reports. “We added 10 line arrays to compensate.”

While that answered any issues that were presented for athletic contests, the lack of acoustic treatments has certainly impacted touring bands that have stopped at Cowboys Stadium. “George Strait, the Jonas Brothers and Paul McCartney have all been in there,” Day states. “We said to Mr. Jones, ‘When you bring in those acts, they’re going to want to use their system and point it up to the upper deck. It’s going to hit all that glass and the steel and it’s going to be very challenging for them.’ Mr. Jones acknowledged that and moved forward with the directive to drop the speakers and delete the acoustic treatments. Sure enough, the different acts that have come through here have had a tough time of it.”

Once the acoustic treatment issue was decided, Day and the team went out and started to work on the angles necessary to get the speaker boxes in the right position. The line array prediction software didn’t allow for the grid angles that were going to be required at the stadium, especially considering the nearly parallel-to-the-ground approach that was needed to keep energy off the upper suites. “It became apparent that the standard rigging hardware was not suited for what we had in mind,” he says. “So, a custom solution was required, and Pro Media, the installing contractor, hired Production & Rigging Resources out of Dallas to build custom hanging framing.”

That certainly was one of the bigger challenges for his team, reports Demetrius Palavos, ProMedia/Ultrasound senior sales and design engineer. “We worked closely with EV to come up with a way of redesigning the internal support of the structures to allow us to actually use a custom rigging frame that we built and designed that would basically support the enclosures but allowing us to get a more down tilt angle than what their typical standard product would allow for,” he says. “They redesigned the boxes internally and worked closely with our engineers to basically come up with the type of support that’s needed to allow us to build this custom rigging frame that would suspend them in the angles that Kevin wanted.”

The custom rigging was used to hang a massive amount of Electro-Voice boxes, including 104 X-Line Xvls and Xvlt units, 108 Xlci127DVXs, 30 XLE181s and 156 ZX1is. “The main arrays weigh over 8,000 lbs. per cluster,” reports Palavos. “The upper bowl delay fills weigh 4,500 lbs per cluster.”

Day picked the EV boxes for a couple of different reasons, including his past experience with the accuracy of the company’s predictive data. “I wanted to go into this with high confidence that we were going to get what we thought we were going to get,” he explains. He confirmed that during a handful of installations where he used EV’s products and predictive software.

Specifically, there are six line arrays mounted in the scoreboard to cover the sideline areas and eight large line arrays to serve the lower deck, Day says. Another 14 line arrays are scattered around the upper deck and four are pointed straight down on the field for the dance teams.

All of those boxes are powered by 228 Tour Grade amplifiers (TG-7s and TG-5s) with RCM-26 DSP modules that are located in four different amp rooms in the stadium. “The project originally specified EVP series amplifiers, which is old school technology, but we know that they sounded good and the amplifier control system for them was quite adequate,” Days says. But when the extra line arrays were added, they needed to save rack space and electrical power. “We needed to look to current technology, to H-class amplifiers, with switching power supplies and switch mode output,” Day says. “EV offered the Tour Grade amps, which are two rack units tall and are very smart. They monitor and control how much power they are pulling from a circuit and monitors the RMS voltage, which is the most available parameter to watch for heating of the load.”

In addition to the TG-7s and TG-5s, there are 110 CPS2T amplifiers along with five NetMax N8000 system controllers with FIR-Drive processing that are controlled in 32 layers of IRIS-Net. Some observers have cited the project as the largest NetMax, IRIS-Net installation to date. Additional processing and distribution are handled via BSS Soundweb London over CobraNet fiber optic networks.

Texas-sized Cable Runs

The cable run from the amps to the clusters, Palavos says, were thousands of feet per run and they used 8 and 10 gauge cable. “That was a different challenge, because we had to pool large quantities of multi-conductor cables up and around catwalks to get up to the positions on the superstructure.” It took approximately six weeks to rig the entire bowl, he adds.

Plus, the ProMedia/Ultrasound and Production & Rigging Resources teams had to install additional four-point guide wires so the clusters wouldn’t move even in the event of a 100-m.p.h. wind. “Everybody wonders why 100 m.p.h., but they get some pretty severe thunderstorms, and I think it’s in case a thunderstorm rolls through quicker than they can get the doors and roof closed,” Palavos explains.

At the control room, which is on the press level at the stadium, the company installed a Yamaha M7CL board. Day picked the M7CL back in 2006 when his original gear list was compiled, though it turns out to be a good selection because it helps Cowboy personnel responsible for working on game day.

“The staff, at that time, had no experience with digital consoles and they had some concern,” Day says. “I felt that the M7 gave them enough of an analog feel and a full set of faders for input channels that it was the right step into the digital realm. A PM5D might have been a little too much for them and I didn’t want them to get stuck with a small digital console that you have to drive it by going through pages on a small LCD screen.”


Keeping Up with the Video

Even after all the hard work, many of the world’s first impression of Cowboys Stadium came with the unveiling of the stunning 160-foot long Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision video displays. WJHW had a hand in designing that system as well, which put the pressure on Day’s audio design. “We recognized that the audio needed to have the same impact as the video,” Day reports. “It would have been embarrassing for people to look at each other and say, ‘What did he say?’ It became apparent that we couldn’t cut corners and there couldn’t be any intelligibility problems. That was a definite sign of what level of performance the sound system would have to match.”

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