A game changer at the ANZ

© Scott Willsallen 5/6
© Scott Willsallen 6/6

Now here's a great idea, let's put a really powerful standard concert system complete with full on throbbing low end, into a highly reverberant space and entertain eighty thousand people. There is a way, and system engineers have been managing it with varying degrees of success for years; correctly placed delays, careful array targeting, and good time alignment fit the bill. But have you ever visited a stadium that has such a system already permanently installed? You can now. As ANZ Stadium, Sydney Australia's premier stadium settles into what promises to be a prolonged new era of success, they pose the question; how long will it be till everywhere else steps up to the line?

“Any well run venue will seek to maximise utilisation and when you have exhausted the sporting potential you have to look at other mass spectator events,” explains Simon Davies, General Manager of ANZ Stadium. “Stadiums often host big rock concerts, ANZ certainly does, and the sound systems these shows bring to our venues are really potent. But these are concert systems and come with the tour; the only time you see systems of this potency actually installed in stadia is for the big sporting events such as the Olympics, Rugby World Cups or NRL Grand Finals. Look at the London Olympics; the impact of great audio for the opening ceremony was profound. But these systems are only ever temporary. So we asked ourselves, why can't we do this at ANZ Stadium on a permanent basis, and can we achieve this in an affordable fashion? That's the task we set ourselves and I believe we have achieved those goals on both counts.”

Davies and the ANZ Stadium management team led by MD Daryl Kerry were fortunate in one respect; the man who designed the London Olympics sound system is Australian. “Scott Willsallen cut his teeth working on the Sydney Olympics and had over the years, worked with ANZ Stadium on the special events we staged here using the pre-existing sound system,” explained Davies. “That familiarity with the venue and the goals we had given ourselves allowed us to set a tough brief.” Willsallen it seems was unperturbed. “The main confine of this brief was to use pre-existing rigging points and all cable infrastructure from the old PA system.” The thinking being, as Davies so succinctly put it, “I'd rather invest our money in the new system hardware than the infrastructure. Our customers don't value the infrastructure, they take it for granted, but what they experience directly: sound, vision and comfort, all have great importance.”

Willsallen's bid package invited eighteen of the world's leading pro audio manufacturers, “Representatives for all bidders were open for feedback, so we could comment on their initial proposals and they could respond to those comments. Besides the broad in depth evaluation process conducted by Stefan Goertz at d&b Application Support in Germany, I also took an integrated approach to the installation process. It is normal for installers to forge relationships with particular loudspeaker brands, but it doesn't follow that the best installer for your project will necessarily have a relationship with the best manufacturer for your project. So I set out to separate manufacturer from installer in the bid process. We got the best installer and the best equipment.”

Once the decision was made Willsallen defined the precise installation, over four hundred d&b loudspeaker cabinets were suspended from the ANZ Stadium roof in the final design. “The system ANZ Stadium eventually settled on was based on a d&b medium format line array system, the V-Series, specifically the Vi installation variant models Vi8, Vi12, and Vi-SUB, the system was supplied by d&b Australian distributor National Audio Systems (NAS) and installed by integrator The PA People.”

The d&b V-Series succeeded for a number of significant reasons, not just by being the best performer on the day. “When I first looked at renewing the system in early 2012 Shane Bailey, Director of NAS, had suggested the new d&b V-Series in its Vi installation variant. From the point of view of stadium requirements the Vi loudspeakers have several compelling features, in particular the fact that they are fully passive. Given the restrictions of pre-existing rigging points and cable infrastructure we had a limited circuit count of just eight channels at each point. Being passive meant we could put in more boxes at each position, that's a huge advantage. Most of the arrays are covering 130 degrees in the vertical plane so more cabinets is a real benefit; also the two types of full range loudspeaker, Vi8 and Vi12, at 80 and 120 degree horizontal respectively, proved ideally matched to the general seating patterns. For the icing on the cake, the cardioid Vi-SUB is also passive, so were a single cabinet to fail there's no loss of cardioid behaviour from the other subs in that particular array. Just one circuit to drive two Vi-SUBs; there's a certain elegance to that.”

The new system was revealed to all the various officials of the five sporting codes that regularly grace the ANZ on June 13th, “An auspicious day for us,” commented Davies. “They all quickly understood the benefits and potential of the new system and were excited by what they heard. For me as far as I was concerned the d&b system was the best choice. I'm no expert, but the shootout process convinced, it put this system head and shoulders above everything else. We stage some fifty or so sporting events a year, at least six are full houses, and another third draws about a thirty five percent capacity, so they were all very interested. The ability to impart even more emotion to the games was an obvious benefit to them. In some ways we were surprised by how wholeheartedly the various authorities embraced the idea, but you only have to look at something like the Indian Premier League cricket competition to see where that game is headed. The thing with all sports is that people come because they want to have fun; by communicating directly through the high quality sound system that Scott has produced for us we have a way of enhancing the fun and drama. That's the ANZ Stadium vision and we believe this is the future for sport.”

With thanks to Scott Willsallen for some of the photographs.

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