RE/P Files:The Coming Of Age For The Once-Maverick Touring Sound Business
Stanal Sound with the new Concert Series loudspeaker system for Neil Diamond's 1985 arena tour...

February 06, 2014, by David Scheirman


This article, from the archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, provides an in-depth look at a concert sound milestone tied into a tour by Neil Diamond in 1985. The text is presented unaltered, along with the original graphics.

First introduced to the public in 1985 by JBL Professional, the new Concert Series represents what is perhaps the first attempt by a major manufacturer to address the growing need for pre-manufactured speaker systems, complete with all accessories.

In recent years, several firms have introduced factory-built enclosures that have found acceptance in both the touring-sound and installation-contracting industries, and a few of them included accesories such as cables, dollies, and flying hardware.

The significant development is that the Concert Series systems are complete and ready to operate with the addition of only program source and mixing equipment. As part of the new series, loudspeaker cabinets, power amplifiers, electronic crossover and loudspeaker signal processing equipment are available, as well as equipment racks. The systems are pre-wired, tested and ready for immediate use, with road cases available for touring applications.

Typically, touring sound firms have steadfastly clung to the development of proprietary loudspeaker systems, maintaining that the established manufacturers do not build what they require. Firms such as Meyer Sound Laboratories, Eastern Acoustic Works and Turbosound have been changing that. Each of these companies has made significant inroads into the touring sound market with mass-produced enclosures.

The new Concert Series systems, which come complete with power amplifiers and signal processing, add a new dimension to the pro sound marketplace, with potential applications in installation-contracting as well as the rental sound business.

This article will examine the development of these new JBL systems, and their first large-scale use by Stanal Sound for Neil Diamond’s recent arena concert tour.

Touring Sound Company Involvement
In early 1985, JBL Professional’s VP of Marketing, Mark Gander, examined possibilities for a new product line that would address the market need for pre-built loudspeaker enclosures. A decision was made to offer systems that incorporated both direct-radiating and horn-loaded designs.

A new two-box, direct-radiating system developed by Stanal Sound, Ltd. (North Hollywood, CA, and Kearney, NE) and a one-box, horn-loaded enclosure assembled by Electrotec Productions (Los Angeles, CA) were deemed to have good potential for market development. OEM agreements were reached, and the concept of entire pre-built systems developed.

“Touring sound evolved over a period of years from a pile of parts used by inexperienced persons, into the sophisticated tour companies we see today using modular speaker packages,” Gander explains. “JBL builds the components used in the majority of touring sound systems on the road. The fact that two of those [sound-rental] companies can come to a major manufacturer, with proprietary enclosures that can be incorporated into our product line, shows just how far the concert-sound business has come.”

Gander feels that the time is right for the commercial development of entire packaged systems. “Audio equipment manufacturers are selling end-users the promise of good sound,” he offers. “It takes a certain amount of education and expertise to take raw components, and assemble a quality sound system. Offering a correctly engineered system, made up of individual components that can stand alone on their own merit, is a step in the direction of consistently good sound for the end-users.”

JBL Professional VP of Sales, Ken Lopez, stresses that the new Concert Series systems are well-integrated. “For a matched system to be available off-the-shelf is a new concept,” he concedes. “Users have the ability to go to one source for everything… cables, racks - all that is
needed to be up and running. Our recent distribution agreement with Soundcraft mixing consoles can make the package idea even more attractive.” (See News item in the February 1986 issue of R-e/p regarding JBL’s acquisition of the sales and marketing responsibility for Soundcraft products in the U.S.—Editor.)

Stanal Sound Involvement
With its production wood/fiberglass shop in Kearney, NE, and considerable experience in the development of hanging sound systems and the application of fiberglass for road use, Stanal Sound was particularly well-suited for helping to develop this first commercial concert-system package.

“I have always maintained that a market existed for correctly-designed concert sound systems,” advises Stanal president Stan Miller (read more about Stan here). “Many sound companies try to keep their speaker systems secret. We felt that ours had more potential than that.”

StanaI’s two-box system, with trapezoidal cabinetry and integral hanging points, was incorporated into JBL’s product line with very few changes. Miller considers that his experience with touring-sound systems for nearly 20 years has paid off: “We feel it is important for the primary enclosure that a system is built around to be a stand-alone device. The 4870 loudspeaker system is a full-range device with 15-inch speakers. The 4845 18-inch low-frequency box, while matching the 4870 in size, is essentially a subwoofer. Additionally, we have developed half-sized, long-throw horn boxes and two-way, down fill devices.”

Loudspeaker Enclosures
The JBL Concert Series Model 4870 is a bi-amplified speaker system comprising dual l5-inch Model 2225H loudspeakers in a ported enclosure tuned to 40 Hz. The large circular ducts incorporated into the box design allow complete freedom from vent compression over the cabinet’s operating range (Figure 1, below).

A Model 2380 Bi-Radial flat-front horn loaded with a Model 2445J two-inch compression driver provides mid/high frequency coverage beyond 16 kHz. For systems requiring increased high-frequency power above 10 kHz, mounting provision and wiring are included for adding a pair of JBL Model 2404 ultra-high frequency transducers. Cover plates for these extra mounting holes and wiring for the tweeters are standard.

The sides of each enclosure taper from front to back at a 15-degree angle. Fourteen system hanging points with Aeroquip hardware are included on each box. These points are stress-rated between 2,000 and 5,000 pounds each, depending on the angle of pull. Each Model 4870 box weighs 214 pounds and measures 49.5 by 29,5 by 19.75 inches (HxWxD).

Coverage angles are said to be 90 degrees horizontal by 40 degrees vertical, with a frequency response of 35 Hz to 20 kHz (-10 dB). The cabinets are externally finished with a dark gray, impregnated fiberglass-reinforced plastic, A black nylon protective grill completes the package.

With a 20 to 800 Hz usable frequency range, the Concert Series Model 4845 cabinet is a very low frequency companion piece to the Model 4870. It also has identical exterior dimensions, and houses a single Model 2245H 18-inch loudspeaker in an enclosure tuned to 27 Hz (Figure 2).

Figures 1 and 2. (click to enlarge)

The enclosures are designed to a trapezoidal pattern that allows several boxes to be assembled into tight clusters for wide-angle coverage, a configuration that also improves the coupling at low frequencies (Figure 3). The integral certified hanging points enable the quick and easy assembly of cluster arrays.

Array Assembly
The enclosures are supplied with ITT/Cannon EP-8 type connectors, one each male and female, mounted on recessed steel plates for protection (Figure 4). Every loudspeaker enclosure is equipped with aircraft-style pan fittings that terminate in a round-head stud.

Figure 3. (click to enlarge)

Designed by Stanal Sound, the mating hardware for rigging and hanging is available to purchasers of the new JBL cabinets. The entire system has been designed with both the structural integrity and sonic characteristics of large-scale arrays in mind.

“I have always felt that the all-in-one composite speaker boxes that were common 10 years ago were not the ultimate solution,” Miller explains. “In assembling large arrays for arena use, there are many times when one needs to point certain components in a specific direction for optimum coverage. We have come up with a ring and stud hardware system that gives one the ability to assemble very sturdy clusters that, if so desired, can be permanent.

“Our half-sized companion enclosures for long-throw and down-throw applications give us more tools to use in quickly assembling arrays that are custom-tailored for each specific use.” (Figure 5)

Figure 4. (click to enlarge)

JBL’s Model 4866 cabinet, which houses a pair of Model 2386 40-degree horns, is approximately one-half the size of the Model 4870 full-range enclosure. A small mid/high box (Model 4860) and bass box (Model 4847) are also available (Figure 6).

According to Miller, the Concert Series enclosures were stress-tested before the box designs and construction techniques were finalized. “Whenever you suspend anything in the air above people’s heads, safety is the prime consideration. The structural engineering is just as critical as the audio; a mechanical system is only as strong as its weakest link, We have designed this system to have no weak links.” (See accompanying sidebar titled Stress-Testing the Hanging System—Editor.)

Figure 5. (click to enlarge)

The modular speaker boxes are easily transported on a specially designed dolly (JBL Model 4870DL). For protection, the boxes travel face down (Figure 7). When portable systems are transported by truck, the boxes can be stacked up to four high.

Stanal On Tour
In December 1985, Stanal took the first full-scale Concert Series arena system on tour with Neil Diamond. The brief tour played to capacity crowds in such venues as Kemper Arena (Kansas City), Riverfront Coliseum (Cincinnati), and Joe Louis Arena (Detroit).

Figure 6. (click to enlarge)

A total of 64 Model 4873 enclosures (three-way versions of the Model 4870) were suspended in the flying array. Additionally, 32 Model 4866 long-throw packages and Model 4860 down-throw packages were carried. Subwoofer enclosures were placed at floor level.

Of specific interest with Stanal’s arena array configuration for Neil Diamond were two additional clusters to supplement the main left and right hanging groups: eight Model 4873 boxes were suspended above the center-stage line, and angled downward into the forward seating sections; another separate cluster was suspended behind the stage to provide optimum sound coverage for the rear seating areas.

Figure 7. (click to enlarge)

The two main speaker arrays were fed discrete left and right stereo program material, while the auxiliary center cluster was given a combined left/right mix. “Oftentimes in large venues, the best seats in the house have traditionally received less-than-ideal sound because of the ‘hole’ between the left and right stacks,” Miller explains. “The center cluster helps to fill that gap, and let the closer audience areas hear a true stereo mix.”

The rear cluster comprised an amount of gear equivalent to one-half of a main left or right array. Configured for 180-degree coverage, the cluster was made up of 12 Model 4873 boxes, six Model 4866 long-throw boxes and six Model 4860 down-throw boxes. To provide more than just a stereo mix, a separate mixing console, with operator Richard Albrecht, was positioned high above the backstage area, facing the rear-fill cluster. Albrecht did a remix of 16 separate subgroups fed directly from Miller’s main house mix position.

“Some time ago, I noticed a hook-and-ladder fire truck going down the street,” Miller recalls. “Because the truck is so long, they used a separate driver with his own steering wheel. Well, we like the people in the rear seats to get their money’s worth. If I am out in front of the stage [mixing the show], I certainly can’t hear what is going on back there. The separate mixing board gives us much better control for that different acoustical environment and, using subgroup feeds, still gives me a certain measure of control over the mix.” (Figure 8)

An aside from the author: To my knowledge. this is the first instance of a sound reinforcement company supplying a separate mixing console and operator for a rear speaker cluster used for large venues. Stan Miller has traditionally used Neil Diamond’s show for unveiling new techniques and innovations in live sound system technology. Over the past 15 years, these have included such new strategies as stage mixIng, flying speaker systems, subwoofers, and delay-line speaker towers for large audiences. While other live sound companies have been on similar development tracks over the years, Miller’s consistent list of “firsts” with a single artist—in this instance, Neil Diamond—is perhaps without parallel.

Figure 8. (click to enlarge)

For the Diamond tour, Stanal supplied an extensive stage monitoring system that rivaled the main speaker system in complexity. Although a standard central monitor mixing area existed, three of the on-stage musicians (including the band’s musical director) received subgroup feeds, and were provided with auxiliary mixers. These three individuals had control over the program material content in their own stage monitor speakers. (A complete description of the stage monitor system for Neil Diamond’s tour is beyond the scope of this article.—Author)

“It has been interesting for me to note, over the years, that the things we develop for Neil often work so well that they end up being adopted by the live sound industry at large,” Miller says. “It is quite an honor to have been able to mix the same artist’s show for 18 years. When that level of trust is developed on the part of an artist and his sound engineer, those are the situations where it is possible to advance the overall ‘state of the art.’ Instead of having to rush things into development for last-minute tours, we are able to take a good, hard look at what direction we want to take things next. It is a mutually beneficial situation.”

Table 1. (click to enlarge)

Concert Series Systems
The new Concert Series system enclosures have each been given a 4800 series designation (Table 1). In addition to the series 4800 of speaker enclosures and accessories, such as cables and dollies. JBL Professional has completed formulation of the 4900 series for complete, packaged sound systems. Both direct-radiating and horn-loaded systems will be available, complete with dedicated signal processing and power amplifiers. Electronics racks and road cases also are available.

The system packages include fully loaded enclosures, JBL/UREI electronics, and pre-assembled racks and cables. The heart of each system’s drive rack is the Model 5234A electronic-frequency dividing network. A variety of signal-path variations are available to accommodate different numbers and types of enclosures (Figure 9).

Figures 9 and 10. (click to enlarge)

“Our system design philosophy is to use a high-quality class of matched components,” advises JBL’s Mark Gander. “Some people today are using crossovers with bandwidth shifting and independent limiting and compression for protection on the system sections. Our approach is not to do bandwidth shifting because of the radical changes in power response which can be incurred, and not to do limiting or compression unless every crossover section is linked to the others, to prevent wild psycho-acoustic anomalies.” (The Model 5234A, used for the Concert Series, has a custom-designed, plug-in crossover card, incorporating power-response equalization and high-pass filter for low-frequency driver protection.)

Within the 4900 series systems, increasing numbers of multiple cabinets and companion electronics are available to achieve pre-specified acoustical power outputs. The 4943 system, for example, comprises all components needed to supply a maximum of 140 dB (measured at one meter, continuous program) of full-bandwidth (20 Hz to 20 kHz) audio frequency sound reinforcement from a program material input (Figure 10).

Future Directions
Stanal Sound and JBL’s joint venture development of the Concert Series systems with JBL may be significant for several reasons. The fact that a touring sound company—an end-user of a manufacturer’s loudspeaker components—has developed a packaging concept attractive to JBL for inclusion in the latter’s product line, helps to mark the maturity of the touring sound industry.

Two decades ago, sound companies looked to speaker manufacturers for enclosure concepts; 10 years ago, those same companies were hard at work developing better-sounding, more roadworthy speaker systems. Today, a new product line for mass production and marketing by a major speaker manufacturer has been developed and tested by such a touring sound firm. The research and development cycle has gone full circle.

“Sometimes, the touring sound companies are like our racing teams,” Gander offers. “It is nearly an exact analogy to the Formula race car situation, where different drivers try out new tires and other automotive technology. We manufacture products. The touring PAs that go around the world give those products the roughest test imaginable. Having a product accepted in that industry ... that’s our proving ground.”

New lines of sound systems developed through a dialog between manufacturer and end-user will have a market much broader than just the touring sound industry in which it was born. “These systems are available through two different avenues of distribution: the pro audio dealer that caters to the entertainment industry, and through qualified installation contractors,” explains JBL’s Ken Lopez. “Also, there will be those who bridge the gap, the tour sound accounts. It may very well be that some of the more experienced PA companies will be the model for the contracting company of tomorrow; they already have the experienced technicians in place, the fabrication abilities and the expertise in on-site troubleshooting.”

When coupled with the variety of different yet compatible new enclosures available from JBL, the hanging hardware fittings for the Concert Series systems, available through Stanal Sound, point the way toward a concept that may change the process by which major venue sound system installations are bid, designed, contracted, and completed. The contractor that has the ability to quickly assemble a road-proven, modular sound system available from a reputable manufacturer in off-the-shelf form may have a distinct competitive edge.

Click for a larger view of the image of the Concert Series rig out with Neil Diamond.

Touring sound company operators, installation contractors, and audio equipment manufacturers cannot help but benefit from the increased dialog and sharing of ideas that comes from such collaborative projects as the new Concert Series. A complete, pre-tested, modular loudspeaker system available for shipping from stock, and assembled into massive arrays for large-venue use, was once only a dream.

The successful completion of this project, from idea to available product, marks the coming of age for the once-maverick touring sound business, and the receptivity of an audio manufacturing industry leader to new ideas. Scribbled drawings on hotel restaurants napkins and dreams over cups of coffee have turned into engineering blueprints—from such dreams, sometimes, come future realities.

If systems such as these do turn out to be compatible with market needs, Stanal Sound’s years of carrying loudspeakers around from city to city would appear to have been well spent.

Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day. Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

Read more RE/P Files here.

Stress-Testing A Hanging Speaker System

Hanging sound system technology for both touring and installation use can pose some very serious questions. One of these is related to hardware stress, because the methods and equipment chosen to suspend heavy loudspeaker arrays above the ground vary from venue to venue. Portable systems often rely on nylon straps and chain motor hoists, while permanent installations require more solid suspension fittings.

The temporary system places a dynamic or changing load on the rigging hardware. As the speaker array moves up and down, great force can be developed. Permanent installations are usually static, non-moving loads, although some facilities provide for the raising and lowering of arrays.

To ensure the structural integrity of Concert Series enclosures, Stanal Sound commissioned the services of an industrial testing laboratory. “It is imperative to know just what the limits are, and when the breaking point is going to occur ,” explains Mark Engebretson, an electro-acoustical consultant involved in design engineering work on the CS enclosures. “Certification of industrial hardware requires more than guesswork.”

Osborne laboratories, Inc. of Santa Fe Springs, CA, was assigned the task of trying to pull apart one of the new enclosures. With 600,000 pounds of test pressure available, any weak spot in the cabinet’s construction would show up.

A “sacrificial” Model 4870 system was strapped into the firm’s Tinius Olsen model Universal Testing machine, comprising extremely powerful hydraulic screw·cylinders pushing in opposition. Force was gradually applied; the results are shown below.

“The device was calibrated to be accurate within 50 pounds,” recalls Engebretson. “As it turned out, the box was actually stronger than some of the rigging hardware typically used to suspend such speaker systems in the air.”

The series of three ultimate-load destruction tests on the 4870 cabinet were postponed when a nylon strap used to attach the load fasteners separated. A heavy metal clevis was then used in replacement, and the test continued.

“Eventually, the test rig just pulled the box apart,” notes Engebretson. “However, it is impressive that this ultimate failure did not happen on the end-to-end test until a point well past two tons, which is beyond the capacity of the very chain motors that are typically used to support hanging speaker systems.”

Such extreme stress testing is required whenever a hardware manufacturer, or a user of hardware, needs an answer to a very important question: Mow strong is it? Many hanging sound systems use the structure of the loudspeaker cabinets themselves to support the weight of other enclosures. Verifying the structural integrity of an enclosure is one of many required steps along the path that leads to the development of safe, reliable hardware systems.


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RE/P Files:The Coming Of Age For The Once-Maverick Touring Sound Business