Case Studies in Improved Sound: Wichita State’s Koch Arena, Boise State’s Bronco Stadium

Stadiums tend to get the glory, but arenas are often the problem child for sports-venue sound. Circular designs and center-hung signage and sound systems can create challenges for intelligibility, as can the need for high-SPL music and especially the amped-up low end pioneered in NBA arenas. Two recent sound-system renovations illustrate what it takes to make sports in the round sound good.

Originally constructed in 1953 and renovated in 2003, the 10,500-seat Charles Koch Arena is home to the Wichita State University Shockers’ basketball and volleyball teams. The men’s basketball team is a ten-time contender in the NCAA finals, and its home games usually sell out the arena. Recently, Daktronics designed and installed a center-hung videoboard in Koch Arena, prompting a simultaneous renovation of its previous — and reportedly disappointing — sound-reinforcement system. The new system comprises 24 Danley Sound Labs Synergy Horn loudspeakers and four Tapped Horn subwoofers.

To the northwest, Boise State University recently expanded its Bronco Stadium from 14,500 seats to its current 36,000. However, the stadium’s original sound-reinforcement system failed to grow with it. When a local company offered money to update the stadium’s similarly outdated scoreboard, the university scrambled to match the funding so that it could add an upgraded sound-reinforcement system, too. Local A/V integration firm Production Services International (PSI) worked on that while Daktronics handled the new scoreboard. Sound here again used Danley Sound Labs’ Jericho Horn loudspeakers, BC subwoofers, and OS-80 weatherproof loudspeakers.

Symmetrical Room, Reflective Dome
Both projects illustrate arena live-sound challenges. “Men’s basketball at Wichita State University attracts large, mostly sold-out crowds,” says John Olsen, a Daktronics regional sales representative who specializes in large sports-venue audio. “Because the shape of the building is circular and because the roof is curved, the sound level in Koch Arena can be challenging to overcome when the action on the court heats up. The old system lacked the proper design and performance to cover the entire arena with intelligible speech and impactful music, and there was a definite lack of low-end performance. The school had invested a lot of money in past improvements, but they were ineffective for the whole facility. The new system had to be more inclusive of the immediate in-game needs for all the fans.”

Owing to its circular architecture (designed to give everyone a better seat), Koch Arena is known locally as “The Roundhouse.”

“It’s a symmetrical room with a highly reflective dome,” notes Larry Lucas, of Richmond, VA-based Anthony James Partners, which assisted with system design and commissioning. “The acoustical challenges that come with that are extreme. The new system would have to have exceptional pattern control so that energy would hit the fans and not the ceiling.” He notes that the Danley horn-loaded designs offer the kind of pattern control needed to accomplish that.

The installed system comprises eight clusters that circle the top ring of the new center-hung videoboard. Each cluster contains a Danley SH-96, a Danley SH-64, and a Danley SM-80. In addition, four Danley TH-118 subwoofers round out the bottom end. A Yamaha LS9-16 manages all the inputs to the system and, in turn, feeds a QSC Q-Sys processing system. Twenty QSC PL240 and four QSC CX1102 amplifiers power the Danley boxes, whereas two QSC CX302V and two QSC CX108V 70-volt amplifiers power 36 JBL Control 25T wall-mounted speakers covering seats below a balcony lip that is shaded from the videoboard.

“The tight pattern control of those Synergy Horn boxes worked well within each cluster and between clusters,” Lucas says. “When we commissioned the system, one box was inadvertently set 6 dB hotter than the rest, and it upset the acoustical balancing act that we had designed for the symmetry of the room. Once we brought it back down, the whole system tightened up nicely.”

Throwing Sound
Boise’s Bronco Stadium needed a sound-system design that addressed both speech and music.

“The original system was designed for a much smaller stadium, and it was pretty much designed for speech only,” explains Brian Kohagen, the PSI sales and audio engineer who designed the new sound-reinforcement system and oversaw its installation and commissioning. “The Boise State University marketing department was forever asking for a high-energy, full-range sound system that could really pump up the crowd.”

He drew up his original value-engineered design with a different loudspeaker manufacturer but switched to the Danley system because it could be delivered within the tight 120-day timeline the situation had imposed.

Bur the real challenge at Bronco Stadium was throwing sound from the scoreboard clear across the field and past the other end zone to the opposite seating 200 yards away. “There is no place for a real distributed system to exist, as there is no roof system at Bronco Stadium,” Kohagen says. “It has to be an end-fired single source.”

Four Danley J3-64 Jericho Horns, two on each side of the new Daktronics scoreboard, provide the lion’s share of the coverage, keeping the sonic energy on the fans and preventing it from spilling outside of the stadium — an important achievement given neighbors’ frequent complaints about the old system’s pattern-free leakage. Four Danley OS-80 weatherproof Synergy Horn loudspeakers provide fill for the seating area directly below and in front of the new scoreboard, where the Jericho Horns overshoot. “We easily met all of our coverage and SPL requirements,” says Kohagen.

Arenas are getting their sonic due more consistently, thanks to a combination of the availability of better technology targeting their particular needs more precisely; demand on the part of those who use those venues, fans and teams alike, to pursue improved sound; and an expanding pool of experience with this type of venue.

“The SPL and intelligibility required in a facility like this can be very tricky to obtain,” says Olsen. “The complexity of equipment and the engineering know-how that is needed to properly design, install, test, tune, and fully commission this kind of system takes experience.”

And it will especially let subwoofer-laden arenas bang the low end that they’ve become known for. Kohagen recalls the most memorable moment during the system commissioning, when his crew powered up the pair of Danley BC-415 subwoofers installed just above a pair of the J3-64s to see what they could do.

“The videoboard installers had been working all day and prevented a full system test up to this point, so we hadn’t heard the system at full volume,” he says. “At 4 p.m., we got the all-clear that they were off the structure, and we lit up the low end. About 60 seconds later, my phone was ringing; the head football coach was asking how long this was going to take. It turns out, his office is directly below the scoreboard, and the low end coming off the BC 415s was shaking the wall and items on his shelf. One picture actually fell off the wall. At that point, I knew we had a kickin’ system in place.”