For the last 20 years the Cincinnati Bengals have been taking on NFL rivals at Paul Brown Stadium, a 65,515-seat gridiron arena that has always placed a premium on the strength and quality of its audio systems. Equally known as the site of performances by artists ranging from Kenny Chesney to Guns N’ Roses, PBS, as locals call it, subscribes to the notion that sound traveling throughout its concourses and seating areas should live up to concert-level expectations at all levels, whether it be on game day or for special events.
To that end, a three-phase project to re-energize the stadium’s original, 20-year-old audio blueprint was just completed this fall, debuting on October 4 before a reduced crowd that watched as the Bengals beat the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars. Designed and implemented by Nashville, TN-based Durrell Sports Audio Management, the new system is an amalgam of workhorse legacy components, upgraded Q-SYS control from QSC, and custom loudspeakers built in Italy expressly to meet the needs of this unique application by RCF.
“Paul Brown Stadium is unlike any other around the country when it comes to audio,” Durrell’s John Horrell explains. “Every aspect of its game day production from simple announcements to music is as live as you can get. There is nothing here that even vaguely resembles a prerecorded TV show. That’s why when we were chosen to upgrade the audio we felt it was essential to create a system that was capable of true, concert-level high performance.”
Durrell has a longstanding history with PBS as well as other stadiums used by the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans, and Kansas City Chiefs. The firm first arrived at PBS’s riverfront location in downtown Cincinnati in 2003. Subsequently awarded a contract to maintain the house sound system for the next 20 years, Horrell, along with partner Dave Towne, have assiduously guided the audio teams working at the stadium into the current decade. Under Durrell’s mindful watch, regular inspections ensure that everything is operating optimally, levels are properly set, and components changed out as necessary.
“Typically you get seven to 11 years out of a sound system in a large stadium,” Horrell explains. “To be honest, even at 20 years old we could have easily gone another four or five years with this one, but natural weathering from the elements was beginning to have an impact on some of the loudspeakers. Right to the end, however, we never had a performance issue.”
Simple, efficient, durable, and high-performing – plus providing the client, Ohio’s Hamilton County, with high value and ongoing cost effectiveness – the 20-year-old original system was based around distributed loudspeakers, QSC CX Series and PowerLight 4.0 amplifiers, and a MediaMatrix management system from Peavey. The only real change over the years prior to the recent upgrade was made following Durrell’s successful use of QSC’s Q-SYS platform and Core 3000 main frames at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. Shortly thereafter in 2011, the MediaMatrix system at PBS was retired and similar Q-SYS technology to Ford Field’s was installed.
“Based upon the phenomenal success of the original,” Horrell relates, “for the second time around I suggested that we design a new system that was essentially a modernized version of the one everyone from the fans, owners, and the Bengals themselves had enjoyed for so long. After careful review and study, we even determined that we wanted to continue using all of the 99 original QSC amps at the facility, along with six new QSC PL380 amplifiers. Once that decision was made, we essentially designed the new system around the power that was at hand.”
The upgrade project was implemented in three phases, with the first kicking off in 2018 and bringing, among other things, new delay loudspeakers from RCF to the upper deck and canopy level. Phase two added approximately 120 new RCF loudspeakers to the lower level and 70 more to the canopy level in 2019, along with four dual 21-inch RCF subwoofers on each side of the canopy level. Upgrades were made to the Q-SYS platform at the same time.
Phase three of the project was approved in January of this year, and in hindsight Horrell says that “if we all knew what we’d be facing this year with the pandemic, a smart move may have been to put the project off for another year.”
Hindsight, as we all know, is 20/20 however, so by February the job was underway, with Durrell working hand-in-hand with Louisville, KY-based United Electric to turn the plan into reality. As the pandemic tightened its grip globally on labor and materiel beginning in March, the design and install team steadfastly kept to construction deadlines with help from suppliers and manufacturers, including RCF (See Sidebar).
The third phase specifically addressed the club level, which is the space between the lower level and the canopy including the club seats as well as access to a climate-controlled club lounge with upscale dining options, televisions, and tables. This final phase additionally upgraded the sound on the lower level even further within 20 rows of seats.
Critical to the audio heard within this space as well as sound traveling throughout the entire bowl, custom-built, hand-assembled loudspeakers from RCF figured prominently within the phase three additions. In total, 20 cabinets designated as model HVL 15-L1 and eight bearing the model number HVL 15-P1 were provided by the Italian manufacturer as one-off custom units built to Durrell’s specs just for PBS. In between these custom long-throw boxes, standard offerings from the RCF catalog including model P 4228, P 3115T, and P 6215 cabinets were interspersed as down fill in numbers of 28, 10, and 14 each, respectively.
Based around a horn-loaded symmetric design, the custom HVL 15-L1 cabinets from RCF are outfitted with a pair of 15-inch drivers at the low-end, a pair of 10-inch midrange drivers, and two titanium dome compression drivers with four-inch voice coils at the top. All of the transducers feature neodymium magnets.
With a frequency response of 43 Hz to 18 kHz (-10 dB), these three-way, long-throw boxes are driven in bi-amped mode and are stated as capable of producing a maximum SPL of 133 dB (LF) and 145 dB (MHF), while power handling is rated at 1,000 watts and 900 watts AES respectively within the same bandwidths. Horizontal coverage is 90 degrees while vertical coverage spans 30 degrees. Internally, a passive filter provides crossover and EQ between the midrange and compression drivers.
As a safeguard from the elements, a waterproof barrier strip is provided for making connections, and the grille is made from epoxy-coated steel with open-cell fibers and a water repellent woven fabric backing. The enclosures themselves were constructed using Baltic birch plywood finished with a waterproof, textured, white polyurea coating.
The eight HVL 15-P1 loudspeakers built by RCF for the PBS installation share many of the same design characteristics as their 15-L1 brethren, once again operating in the same frequency range and employing a bi-amped, horn-loaded symmetric design, passive filtering between the mid and high frequency sections, and the same external construction. Equipped with the same latest generation transducers as the 15-L1 across the board, the 15-P1s differ in that they offer 60 x 30-degree coverage.
Widely recognized for their ability to put serious sonic horsepower within the confines of a stadium while maintaining intelligibility and even coverage, Durrell spent a lot of time analyzing the Q values required of the system and had the custom RCF long-throw enclosures built accordingly. “Understanding the Q speaker values in a stadium environment is imperative to managing reflections,” Horrell explains. “Q, of course, in its simplest terms, is the speaker ‘throw’ value – how far the audio carries away from the speaker. In practical terms, managing each speaker’s Q value in these spaces allows you to contain what I refer to as the ‘whiplash effect’ of sound traveling across the field.
“A common example of this phenomenon is when you hear the bass coming at you, and then, whoops…here it comes again,” he continues. “With proper Q design, sound travels where it’s intended to go and no further. Designing the correct Q speaker values in PBS was our biggest challenge, and with proper processing plus the custom RCF boxes built right to our own precise specs, we created a distributed system that no matter where you’re sitting you won’t be annoyed by a loudspeaker intended to bring coverage to somewhere else.”
A pair of Q-SYS 510i cores operating in redundant mode serve as the backbone of the controlling end of the system, using 16 I/O frames with dataport output cards for interfacing with the amps. Another pair of I/O frames with mic/line input cards runs in redundancy mode for input into the Q-SYS network.
Updated with version 8.0 software, the network is now outfitted with a higher pathway count and an ability to run gated announcements internally. All signal processing was redesigned as well.