InfoComm Is Not-So-Quietly Becoming Live Sound’s Big Show

Intelligibility, immersion, and networking are increasingly critical for venue systems

Sports venues in the market for new sound systems got a preview of Christmas in June at the InfoComm Show last week, and they liked what they saw and heard. The number of entrants in the steadily expanding sweepstakes of sound continued to increase, with introductions by sound-system manufacturers Coda and Void. And systems are becoming easier to install, tune, and operate, thanks to more-automated system-control capabilities.

There was a record two dozen or so audio-demo suites, 19 of them occupied by major PA-systems manufacturers, including L-Acoustics, Meyer Sound, Harman/JBL, Renkus-Heinz, Martin Audio, Bose Professional, K-Array, and EAW. For many exhibitors, these suites were an extension of their booths, of which there were some 250-plus located together in the show’s Audio Pavilion.

The Importance of Music and Speech Reproduction
Full-range music reproduction and speech intelligibility in stadiums and arenas remain the most critical elements of sound-system design, and both were emphasized by such manufacturers as Clair Brothers, whose new C12 TrueFit offers incrementally adjustable waveguides, and Danley Sound Labs, whose new J6-42 is part of its Jericho Horn series and will be incorporated in the Danley system being installed in the Atlanta Falcons’ new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Management of live-sound systems has also taken on some new configurations. In some cases, DSP is combined with power amplifiers, creating what L-Acoustics calls “amplified controllers,” creating an integrated processing system. And several high-end sound-system manufacturers, including Meyer Sound, Biamp, and d&b audiotechnik, have embraced the AVB standard, one of several intercompatibility protocols — the other open standard is AES67 — developed in the past decade as bridges between various proprietary networking approaches.

Sound systems are facing a kind of Moore’s Law quandary: venues, fans, and leagues are expecting bigger sound from smaller sound systems. That’s due to an unexpected reason: video, which has become a significant source of a sports venue’s revenue via commercials and sponsored announcements. As video displays get bigger, the sound systems around them need to stay loud but also stay out of the way.

“Video’s the moneymaker in the stadium,” stated Danley Sound Labs President/CEO Mike Hedden during the show. “What we’re doing is developing a way to keep the sound intelligible, full-range, and loud while keeping it out of the way of the video.” (At Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a compact form factor will help keep one of the new J6-42 speakers out of the line of sight on the venue’s massive 111- x 60-ft. main display.)

Scott Sugden, head of application, touring, L-Acoustics, pointed out audio’s evolving role in venue media, noting that in-venue–advertising sponsors want to make sure fans in the stands are looking at their commercials on venue displays. “A big source of revenue now is that 15-second spot that plays after the buzzer,” he explained. “Audio is what makes sure everyone looks up there.”

Surround Sound for Sports Venues
Next-generation surround-sound technologies — aka immersive sound — are on broadcast’s radar, but live-sound versions were evident at InfoComm 2017. Notably, Alcons Audio and Astro Spatial Audio collaborated to promote immersive-audio technology incorporating an Alcons cinema system and Sara 3D; Meyer Sound demonstrated its well-established Constellation system.

Meyer’s Steve Ellison acknowledged that, although immersive sound may not be a reality for most conventional sports venues in the near future, innovations have made the concept viable for outdoor use — he cited its use by the Miami New World Symphony Orchestra for its outside performances — and that LSU and Electronic Arts’ joint venture might indicate immersive sound’s future as the audio component for esports events.

Dante Makes a Statement
The Dante networking protocol was ubiquitous at the show, and network interfaces like Focusrite’s RedNet line were on display, as were solutions incorporating the AES67 and AVB interoperability standards, such as Riedel’s Tango TNG-200 network-based intercom/communications platform and L-Acoustics’ new P1 networked digital processor.

Not everyone sees AVB on the same tier as AES67 and Dante. Renkus-Heinz chose Dante over AVB because, said company founder Ralph Heinz, “Dante was simply there first. It was taking too long to get the specialized switches needed for AVB to get to market. We actually wanted AVB — it’s a great technology — but our customers were asking for Dante. The support [for AVB] just isn’t there yet.”

What seemed unanimous was that the InfoComm Show has evolved into the leading installed-sound expo for the U.S. “By far, I’d say,” observed E-V’s Guy Low. The organizers reported attendance at 44,077, with attendees from all 50 states and 117 countries, and the show’s 950 exhibitors occupied more than 545,000 net sq. ft. of exhibit, demo, and special-events space, making it the biggest InfoComm ever.

“InfoComm is an … information-gathering opportunity for audio professionals, who can experience the latest microphones, mixers, signal processing, digital audio, loudspeakers, recording and editing, conferencing, and accessories needed in today’s systems,” said Jason McGraw, SVP, expositions, InfoComm International. “No other trade show in North America offers the breadth of audio solutions and the ability to hear the leading loudspeaker brands’ systems demonstrated at full volume.”