Edmonton, Canada’s Rogers Place Arena is the new home for the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club and features internal architecture that resembles nothing less than an eighteen-thousand seat version of a modern opera house.
The Oilers Entertainment Group’s consulting team led by Vernon Mason invited one of Canada’s leading acoustic consultancies, Orchestral Arts (OAi), to participate in the project. The result equipped the impressive venue with a new sound system featuring loudspeakers from d&b audiotechnik.
“Oilers Entertainment Group looked to Orchestral Arts to define both the extensive acoustic treatments and sound reinforcement systems,” says Dale Fawcett, principal of OAi outlining two distinct responsibilities.
“When an architectural drawing set for Rogers Place was presented to Orchestral Arts, some acoustical challenges became immediately apparent,” continues Fawcett. “Unlike arenas which position loudspeakers above and around the center ice score clock, the main loudspeakers in this arena would need to be lowered and moved closer to the listeners.”
Nevertheless, the classic conundrum prevailed. “The acoustic challenge in a sports arena is controlling the loudness of the reverberation. Acoustic treatments defined by OAi in Rogers Place begin with the high ceiling and side walls of Ford Hall, the venue’s large lobby some 300 feet long with glass on two sides. Inside the arena the 54-foot high main concourse ceilings are acoustically treated, as well as the six clubs on eight levels, the sound booth, a high-end restaurant, and the dressing rooms for players and performers.
To alleviate undesirable reflections, the main seating bowl within the arena has a number of acoustical features; these include all of the seats being correctly acoustically padded, ceiling deck and side wall baffle suspensions, sound attenuating material at locations around the high bowl, and a custom OAi solution for the Loge Level seating ring. The extent of the acoustic treatments required principal architectural firm HOK Architects to play an instrumental role in guiding their completion through the construction processes. The acoustic in the bowl provides an essential environment for the d&b sound system eventually selected.”
Following discussion with Francois Corbin at d&b audiotechnik Canada and with input from the d&b headquarters’ Applications department in Germany, Fawcett used EASE acoustics simulator software to verify an installation solution founded upon ten line arrays of d&b V-Series arranged around the seating bowl. Specifically, the Vi8 installation version was used to shape the main arrays, with three cardioid Vi-SUBs deployed immediately behind each array – all powered by D80 amplifiers. Delays for the upper concourse seating and the writing press, fill speakers for seating immediately bordering the mid-bowl dasher boards, and fills for the players and officials on the ice was accomplished using the d&b Yi10P point source loudspeaker. A combination of d&b D20 and D80 amplifiers were used for the Y-Series enclosures.
“No compromise was made with respect to coverage in the higher bowl,” explains Fawcett. “This involved careful placement and aiming of the d&b Yi10P speakers in EASE, and then the preparation of CAD drawings for use by the sound system installation contractor Allstar Show Industries. Gary Urlacher, owner of Allstar, attended to installation details throughout the entire project. His team’s effort was exemplary through the difficult construction process. The Y10P loudspeaker, with 110-degree actual horizontal dispersion, is quite small and the off-axis frequency response is excellent, permitting a smooth horizontal transition from device to device. This compact dipolar loudspeaker is a useful weapon in an arena construction environment. At the most critical time, very late in the construction phase, they are relatively easy to install and deploy.
“The Vi8 and Yi10P both have meaningful pattern control, verified by d&b Germany’s EASE files, while the inherently cardioid Vi-SUB subwoofer has good rejection to the rear. The ten subwoofer arrays are timed precisely to the full range Vi8 arrays for maximum LF impact. Three V-SUBs are the same height as each mains. This presents a small profile viewed from the front of each array, which visually allows them to sit just above the score-clock’s four 22 feet by 38 feet 16:9 HD video displays. The passive designs of the Vi8 loudspeaker and Vi-SUB cardioid subwoofer, plus their smaller size and weight, help in putting together a straightforward installation. This is a consideration when selecting a line array for a major construction project. It is a foregone conclusion that their suspension above a venue will occur at a difficult time for all the trades, with tight time windows.”
Beyond the arena bowl Oilers Entertainment Group provided Orchestral Arts with detailed input lists for every room. Coordination with the Oilers Entertainment Group team during construction was the task of Calgary-based Daryl Yakielashek. “I introduced the idea of a QSC Q-SYS solution,” says Fawcett. “Ray Rayburn of Sound First in Colorado, USA created the design for the dedicated dual-redundant digital audio network as well as extensive software for Q-SYS. Ray Rayburn, an AES Life Fellow, is one of the most capable audio professionals worldwide. The system has more than 480 inputs and 420 outputs, and includes 1500 distributed loudspeakers throughout the facility on many signal delays all timed off the respective d&b arrays. Dedicated Q-SYS outputs exist for each of the d&b amplifier channels.”
The installation was completed in Spring 2016, the irregular nature of the seating bowl and goal camera sightlines forced some rehangs later that year, the final commissioning being completed by d&b audiotechnik sports arena specialist Stefan Goertz in early 2017. Goertz has tuned and commissioned countless sports venue systems around the globe, yet Rogers Place proved a unique experience. “I’m generally excited by sports venues but I’d never done one in North America and to see such a venue as this was impressive. The arena is exceptional, the architects have followed an open concept. When inside you can see across all the different levels, not just the seating grandstands, but the catering and beverage areas as well. It means the VIP areas are not so obvious. The high ceiling is not totally different to the Lanxess arena in Cologne where we installed a d&b system several years ago. At Rogers Place the treatment to the walls and roof defined by Orchestral Arts means there is not a huge reverb despite the high ceiling. Their work has ensured it is relatively comfortable acoustically.”
As ever, commissioning was tightly scheduled—just two nights from 11pm (post-match) to 7am, when the ice was once again required for practice. “Ideally your distributed arrays are evenly spaced and positioned above the same seating rows all the way round,” explains Goertz. “That way you have no problems with time alignment. But because the end arrays had to be rigged closer together we had to spend a lot of time on the time alignment before we could optimize the horizontal level distribution by compensation in the gain structure. That said we had enough options to approach that difficulty and it worked. The thing is with any systemized approach you always find there is something new to think about at each venue, as at Edmonton.”
The fruits of all this work fall to Noel Hynek who is one of the operators of the system for all sporting events. “I’m part of the team employed by the Oiler Entertainment Group,” he begins, “specifically the audio mixer. I began my career as a freelance live engineer around 1998 and I also worked as an installer and have lots of experience in a variety of sound environments.”
Beside some notable live work with traditional Latin bands, Hynek has worked installations in theatres, radio and TV broadcast, topping out with CBC, the Canadian national broadcaster where he built both recording and live on-air studios. That broad experience is invaluable to address the dual and sometimes conflicting demands of managing live sound within the arena and the needs of the broadcaster.
“The intro for an Oilers game is timed to the second, from the moment you go live you cannot afford to fall behind the commercials that run; they operate on the broadcaster’s strict schedule so you’d better be on it in the venue. In terms of detail, there are things like scripted camera moves – they need to align with what is happening and heard from within the venue. More directly, dealing with referees’ mics is a huge issue. Under the scoreboard are loudspeakers to cover the ice surface, eight d&b Yi10P, four of them also for the crowd immediate to the edge of the ice. The ice coverage is there primarily for the players and they need to be on. The ref’ is almost always in that field of coverage when they make announcements so they have to be individually faded off and on. I’m maybe seventy feet above the main audience bowl yet I can see levels coming off the crowd of 103-106dB at heightened moments. If someone makes a big hit and there’s lots of boo’ing that’s unlikely to subside much before the ref speaks.”
By default, the ref mics are omni lavalier and Hynek takes the obvious steps, generally cutting everything below 200Hz, “and depending on the voice, often a little between 1-2kHz. It’s what’s happening in the house that affects that equation. That said, with the arena at capacity the combination of acoustic treatment and the precise positioning and alignment of the d&b loudspeaker system means there is absolutely no slap back. That’s a real help. Since the d&b team came in with Stefan Goertz the system performance has real energy. The bottom is really nice so you hear everything. It exposes poorly produced audio clips; you hear it all, no hiding place. It’s very accurate.”
While the acoustic and sound system was designed for hockey, it is also available for touring acts. “The bowl system has the capability to connect the d&b arrays and subwoofers to a touring system, specifically to the far end zone but also other zones,” says Fawcett. “With d&b included on many riders, it is hoped that this use will develop over time, and maybe even operatic events. For touring acts – an important revenue stream for the facility – the acoustic treatment in the bowl was envisioned to provide a good feel for artists and engineers first entering and then rehearsing in the space.
“Keith Urban, who gave the inaugural concert, was quoted on the Rogers Place website: “So many arenas are purely built for sport and the concert sound suffers, but not Rogers Place. It’s one of the best sounding arenas I’ve played in.”