As 2016 gets underway, AMI decided it was time to take the temperature of the commercial install market, looking at the current challenges and opportunities in four key segments. David Davies spoke to leading vendors in each to see how things stand at present – and get an idea of their expectations for the year ahead.
More fully integrated control systems, custom integrator-friendly amplifiers and loudspeakers, and compact mixers are among the product trends to have ensured that fixed installation has become an increasingly important contributor to pro-audio manufacturers across the board. But what are the emerging requirements in some of the main install segments as we enter 2016, and how are vendors responding to them?
In a bid to more clearly define the state of play in installed sound, Audio Media International spoke to some leading manufacturers about their current activities in four key install markets: large concert venues, sports stadiums/arenas, educational facilities and bars/restaurants…
Large Concert Venues
With a decline in recording revenues forcing more acts out on to the road for ever-longer tours, and concert halls consequently having fewer and fewer gaps in their schedules, it stands to reason that all stakeholders must be increasingly cognisant of maintaining quality in order to encourage repeat visits by both acts and gig-goers.
Cédric Montrezor, director of application, install at L-Acoustics, highlights the fact that “large concert venues are working in a competitive market – always looking to book the best, most attractive shows into their venues. More and more I’m seeing that the venues are looking towards a high-quality sound system to make them stand out from the crowd – so the demand for higher and higher quality is out there.”
But this goes beyond the specification of suitable speaker systems, which in L-Acoustics’ case includes the K2 line array, with Panflex directivity control, and the 2015-released X Series coaxial products that include a reference stage monitor, a live FOH monitor and coaxial speakers that can be used in distributed systems or as fills.
“In addition to installing quality, rider-friendly sound systems, venues are looking beyond the speakers and working with acousticians to ensure that the acoustics of their venue are the best they can be,” says Montrezor. “We’ve seen that in 2015, for example, with the opening of the new Philharmonie de Paris, where the room is treated to be able to handle the acoustics of both orchestral performances and electric performances.”
Indeed, the ability to handle as broad a cross-section of event types is now highly prized. For example, “in Asia, I’m seeing a lot of large concert halls that are built to be multipurpose”, Montrezor continues. “In Singapore we installed K2 in the Star Performing Arts Center, which hosts theatre and music during the week and on the weekend serves as a mega-church. In Europe and the US, the halls are more dedicated to entertainment, even if they host a diverse line-up of entertainment acts. In some of the bigger cities like New York or London, concert halls are diversifying out to host weddings or corporate events. In all of these cases, the venues are looking for a system that can handle everything from spoken voice through to the most dynamic music.”
Oliver Sahm, director marketing application design at Bosch Security Systems, concurs about the heightened expectations of high-quality audio for speech and music. This is accompanied, he says, “by increased requirements for detailed supervision and monitoring of the systems and interaction with media distribution”.
Whatever system is eventually chosen, it is evident that venue owners and operators are now highly exacting when it comes to specifying the right system for the long term, taking the time and trouble to tap suitable specialist assistance. Unfortunately, it seems they don’t always optimise the project during its final stages, suggests Montrezor.
Acoustics are becoming a bigger consideration in concert venues such as the Philharmonie de Paris.
“In my experience, I see venue management taking the time to really evaluate their needs, to find the right integrator to help them assess, choose and install the system that is best for them,” he says. “And then, at the end of the project, they don’t always take the time to calibrate the system once it’s hung. The systems these days are of such quality that they sound great out of the box – but taking the time to
calibrate ensures that the venue is getting the absolute best out of their system. It’s a too often overlooked step, in my experience.”
The permanent calendar of major global sports events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, as well as a busy repeating programme of international athletics events, has traditionally resulted in a steady stream of new work for pro-audio manufacturers and installers.
Sahm confirms the high-end expectations of stadium clients, noting in particular their desire to acquire “remote control options from various locations throughout the stadium for different users. This includes a comprehensive approach and interfacing with life safety relevant PA/VA systems.”
Accordingly, Sahm highlights the gradual shift towards combined pro-audio and EVAC systems: “Having separate ProSound and EVAC systems is only the second best solution; it complicates handling and increases the incidence of errors. Additionally, venues such as stadiums and arenas have long reverberation times and challenging room acoustic conditions. To achieve the speech intelligibility values required by safety standards and to prevent non-uniform sound quality, installations require the use of ProSound components. For this reason, a combined ProSound and EVAC system – the best of both worlds – is the solution for which customers have long been waiting.”
In terms of stadium design and acoustics, Sahm remarks: “To provide flawless sound reinforcement the loudspeakers need to be exactly aligned and need to radiate freely. To be able to achieve this, all roof fittings need to be included in the construction plans to avoid later problems with acoustic shadows and reflections.”
Highlighting a product range that includes the 180-model Electro-Voice EV Innovation range (“designed with the contractor in mind”), and notable recent installations such as the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, France, Sahm underlines the continuing buoyant health of this market sector.
“Stadiums are a more or less constant portion of the business as there are always some national or international events in the pipeline during the coming years,” he states. “At the same time, some older venues will undergo modernisation and renovation. Each individual project has a timeline of several years and individual projects will overlap. We see regional variations depending on the location of events. Globally, however, we are experiencing a positive trend and contribution to the business because of [the aforementioned] quality requirements.”
In distinct contrast to stadiums, where budgets are generally substantial and there is little difficulty scaling a high bar for audio quality, educational facilities will often have to contend with very limited funds. Nonetheless, it is generally felt that they are increasingly astute when it comes to the specification of new systems – calling upon specialist consultants and integrators whenever possible to help ensure that they get the best value for money.
It’s no surprise to discover that, in many cases, these systems must be able to handle a wide variety of activities – from school meetings to live performances and more. But increasingly there is a call for more extensive integration with other AV equipment, as QSC’s director of sales EAME – systems group, Glen Harris, observes.
“There is a need for sound systems to fully integrate with video and control,” he explains. “Being of a true Layer 3 design [QSC’s networked audio and control platform] Q-Sys can co-exist on a converged network and therefore offers the client the ability to integrate digital audio with IP-based video and control. Co-existing on the same network reduces costs based around the network cable infrastructure as there is no need to run separate LAN. Our latest solutions are both hardware and software feature-based, but all residing in a single DSP Q-Sys processor; such as the media stream receiver (software), built-in media drive storage of up to 1,200 hours of WAV, MP3 audio storage (internal hardware) and a 128 multi-track player (software).”
Harris anticipates continued growth for QSC in the educational market, not least due to the arrival of new products such as the Q-Sys Core 110f DSP appliance. A total of 128 x 128 network audio channels, 16 x 16 USB audio channels, 24 channels of analogue I/O, eight configurable flex channels, 16 x 16 GPIO Logic Ports and 16 channels of routable AEC are among the features of the new appliance.
Sound reinforcement pioneer Funktion-One has been synonymous with high-end leisure and entertainment installations for nearly 25 years now, and director Ann Andrews confirms the growing expectations of quality throughout the bar and restaurant sectors.
“These days people expect more than background music, and yet at the same time they still wish to be comfortable and able to converse,” she says. “The high-quality sound delivered by Funktion-One systems easily achieves this.”
In terms of new products geared towards these space-conscious environments, Andrews points to the MB210 low-profile bass [enclosure], while with “the rise in the number of outdoor installations for beach bars we have had to introduce products with weather-resistant qualities”. But more generally, she remarks that all of Funktion-One’s “small systems sell particularly well into this market with the associated low-frequency products”.
Taking stock geographically, Andrews cites “particular growth in the Middle East and Ibiza, and in beach bars generally”, while foremost expectations for 2016 include “steady growth, along with increasing awareness of the importance of sound quality”.
Funktion-One Flying High in Beirut
High-quality audio and the need to respect the proximity of local residents were among the primary factors that informed the installation of Funktion-One speaker systems at two new rooftop restaurant/bars in Beirut, named Iris and Caprice.
Installation at the venues – both of which are owned and operated by Addmind – was carried out by Funktion-One’s distributor in Lebanon, Audiotec Group.
The ability to deliver low level background during the day, live performances in the early evening and louder club levels into the night were priority considerations for the installation at Iris, which is located on top of the iconic al-Nahar building and incorporates an outdoor deck and wooden bar.
“We also had to be conscious of neighbours,” says Funktion-One design engineer Mike Igglesden, who worked with Audiotec Group to design the systems for both venues. “To deal with this, we designed a twin four-point system of F101s for the central area and stereo F81s for the surrounding areas. By doing this we were able to create a high intensity in the middle due to the general close proximity of the speakers. Despite there being 25 speakers, we’ve kept the number of source locations to six.
“The pair of F81s facing the stage and the F101s either side are on separate processing channels so that the F81s can be turned off or used for monitors and the F101s’ level can be raised for live performances. For the low frequencies, we used BR218s in the central area and BR118s for the surrounding area. These are ideal as they produce strong, deep nearfield bass that doesn’t travel too far, again helping us to localise the sound.”
Located on the Jal El Dib seaside road, the Caprice venue also utilises a host of different Funktion-One products, including Resolution 2 speakers, F101s, F88s and BR218s.
Audiotec Group managing partner Ralph Choueiri comments: “Both of these venues are excellent references for Audiotec and for Funktion-One. They show what can be achieved with the compact range of loudspeakers, together with a creative approach designing the best sound reinforcement for the space in question.”
Main Picture: The recent Bosch installation at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice, indicative of a healthy stadium sector.