d&b and Britney help revamp Planet Hollywood’s Aladdin Theater.

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When it comes to a big show in Las Vegas it's all about time and intention; you'd better be absolutely clear in your intentions, and know precisely how much time you have to achieve them. For Britney Spears’ extravagant return, Caesars Entertainment made a significant investment. They completely gutted the old Aladdin Theater at Planet Hollywood right down to the basic shell and started again to create the Axis, a venue entirely in keeping with the demands of twenty first century productions, not least the audio system.

Britney’s Piece of Me show was a known quantity and one that would be in residence for a considerable time, the parameters of technical refurbishment were already clear. However, as Michael Cusick of appointed audio consultants Specialized Audio Visual Inc. (SAVI) explained, "There were other considerations to embrace. Britney’s production designer, Baz Halpin's immaculate design for Britney had some very reasonable requirements for the audio system; but Caesars Entertainment quite rightly, also charged us to look into the future and ensure the system we designed would be capable of accommodating any production, be that a touring act, Broadway show, or TV broadcast event. That consideration applied to our work in three clear dimensions; how the PA system itself performed and its predicted level of acceptance by visiting productions; the audio control equipment and its capacity to manage the most complex of shows; and finally the digital backbone, a system that could accommodate everyone.”

For Cusick the audio system was an easy decision, “Our research has shown time and again that one of the most widely accepted and requested systems come from d&b audiotechnik, a manufacturer we work with a lot. That doesn't determine system design, but it does provide the toolbox. When setting out to design the PA system for this show we first attended a production meeting with Baz Halpin, who had very definitive ideas about the look of the stage, the theater and the proscenium treatment. Oversize line arrays hanging down in the stage picture were not going to be accepted.” With Halpin using huge panels around the stage opening for large scale projections (some sixty four projectors in all) SAVI managed to completely conceal a large part of the audio system they implemented, putting four flown arrays of J-Series SUBs, and a center cluster of V-Series behind the acoustically transparent projection panels.

Having made that decision, it then remained to design the loudspeaker system, "This is a splendid fan shaped auditorium seating more than seven thousand people,” explains Cusick. “The depth of the seating is 180 feet to the back row, almost equidistant around the arc of the fan, and the fan sides proscribe an arc of 275 degrees. In simple terms, to achieve the desired coverage across the whole listening area required considerable precision in the choice and positioning of loudspeakers; one reason why we chose from the d&b range, their adherence to constant directivity as a discipline, is absolute. That makes our job much simpler, the fact their products are so musical and well liked by most sound engineers only makes that decision easier.

The mains and side systems are J-Series and V-Series respectively,” continues Cusick, ‘rigged high and well to the sides of Halpin's lavish projection areas. The center cluster is V8s to cover the VIP area and the general admission pit in front of the stage. The hidden arrays of flown subs (four hangs in total) covers the balcony, while down on the floor, hidden in the apron, are more J-SUBs and J-INFRAs, as well as some Q10s concealed there for frontfill. The floor subs and frontfills are nested in custom built frames we commissioned that are also home to M4 and M2 wedge monitors that project audio up through stage floor grills."

Caesars Entertainment engaged 3G Live to provide the hardware, electing to use a long term rental model rather than buy into the hardware. "We turned our design scope into a rental specification that the client could use to bid the project," confirmed Cusick. "3G Live is a d&b Production Partner with offices in LA and Las Vegas. They really stepped up to the plate and, with guidance from us, used their rental expertise to provide exactly what was designed, with welcomed suggestions to further enhance the overall performance. Another great advantage is service; 3G have their main base in Las Vegas so are always readily on hand for support; Julio Valdez of 3G steered a steady course through the implementation of the project."

Day one of a tight commissioning period gave Jason Waggoner from d&b Application Support in North Carolina only four hours to set up measurement mics and gather data from the main L / R hangs. "Working offline back at his hotel using the tuning capture measurements from that morning, and the original AutoCAD and ArrayCalc models, Jason voiced and aligned the PA, (virtually of course,)” Cusick recalls. “The next evening at 10 pm he had access with complete quiet, fed in his virtual settings and we listened. He had achieved 95 % of target tuning offline, and only required a couple of fine adjustments here and there to complete the job. That's an amazing example of complete understanding and interpretation of what those initial tuning capture measurements meant. With those kinds of tools to achieve a workflow like that offline, it saves an enormous amount of time."

The original Aladdin was by reputation not the most friendly environment for sound reinforcement, as Britney's house engineer Robert 'Cubby' Colby confirmed, "We all played the old Aladdin and know what that presented, not least that low end boom from the domed ceiling right down onto the mix position." And now? "Well the dome ceiling is still there," he said, "and the mix position is in the same place, but the work the acousticians have done, what they have been able to achieve is a great job. I'm just happy to be a part of this, SAVI and 3G did a great job, their intentions were clear and they used their time well. I'm really reaping the benefits of all the technology these guys put together.”

Image courtesy of Denise Truscello/BSLV and Getty images.

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