Home to the UNT Eagles basketball team, or the ‘Mean Green’ as they’re sometimes called, North Texas Coliseum is one of the premier basketball facilities in the region. Located roughly forty-five minutes north of Dallas and known as The Super Pit, since 1973 the venue has played host to a large number of high profile US college teams, served as a first-round site for the 1976 and 1980 NCAA Tournaments, as well as hosted the 2005 Sun Belt Conference Basketball Championships.
For all its importance as a sporting venue, however, the arena is definitely a multi-function facility, explains Gary Salmon, Director of Coliseum/Gateway Center. In addition to basketball it also hosts the University of North Texas’ annual commencement ceremonies, a variety of guest speakers, as well as cheer competitions and local church and community events.
Over almost thirty years at the university, a decade of which he’s spent in his current position, Salmon has dealt with a huge number of vendors, dealers and contractors on a variety of projects at the university. Of them all, he says, working on the comprehensive 2010 upgrade of the Coliseum’s aging audio infrastructure with Dallas based PMK Consultants and integrator CCS Presentation Systems was one of the best experiences he’s had to date.
The primary issue prompting the overhaul was an overall lack of intelligibility. A lack that was noticeable at all their events, but particularly during commencement ceremonies. To speak to the problem project manager Chris Chandler and acoustician Justin Stout of PMK designed a customized system comprised of Tannoy VQ 60s and Tannoy VS 15 DR subs for the 10,000-capacity arena.
CCS, explains Stout, hired PMK directly. A bit of an unusual situation, he admits, but one based on the fact that in addition to A/V consultants PMK also employs dedicated acousticians, like Stout himself. “That’s the reason I was initially involved.” he explains. “We were unsure whether the lack of speech intelligibility was an audio system problem, or an acoustical problem.”
After visiting the room, Stout determined the fault lay in the configuration of the existing sound system. “There are absorption panels on the ceiling as well as around the upper bowl in conjunction with some other beneficial architectural features. So, the room was okay acoustically. The real problem was the design of the system; there was quite a bit of speaker coverage overlap, which caused major problems.”
One of the decisions Stout and Chandler had to make up front was whether to reuse the existing loudspeakers and reconfigure the system, or to replace them with new components entirely. After modeling both situations they decided on the latter. Although cost was an issue the core benefit of employing the new Tannoy system far outweighed budget considerations. “Technology has come a long way in the ten years or so since the existing system had been designed. Speakers these days, and specifically the Tannoy, are significantly better in terms of pattern control over frequency, frequency response, and phase response. All of this allows us to design systems with the opportunity of better speech intelligibility.”
The replacement of the other system elements was also discussed, but ultimately Stout and Chandler determined that they were satisfactory. “They had a Yamaha O1V console and some Yamaha DSPs – all working fine. They also had some delay speakers, that were in fine working order. There were some issues with plates and panels out on the floor – loose and corroded wires, old connections that need to be replaced and that sort of thing. But as a whole we didn’t think it beneficial to replace all the equipment when they didn’t need more functionality. So we reused eight existing QSC amps, the Yamaha DSPs and the Yamaha console.”
The choice of Tannoy, and of the VQ 60 in particular, allowed Stout and Chandler to provide better coverage and higher quality sound with fewer boxes. Previously the venue employed twelve speakers. “But the overlap was significant,” Stout says. “At any location in the room you were listening to two, sometimes three, loudspeakers. With the VQ60’s sixty-degree conical pattern, our modeling indicated that six speakers would cover the room.”
For their purposes, however, Stout and Chandler only wanted to utilize the full range Tannoy VQ 60’s mid/high drivers. Essentially physically separating the system’s low frequency drivers from its mid/high drivers, and augmenting the mid/high section of the VQ 60s with independently hung VS 15 subs. “For this particular application we had a cluster design with some space to play with. So we thought it would be a better idea to take the low frequency driver out of the box. Once we did that, we could start playing with delay and equalization to steer the low frequencies down into the seats,” Stout explains. “So we called up Tannoy and said, ‘this mid/high horn is exactly what we want, but we want to take the low frequency out of it.’ And Tannoy said ‘no problem, we can do that easily’. They’ve really taken care of us,” he adds.
To envision Stout and Chandler’s design and the speaker placement in the Coliseum’s central cluster, it helps to think of the layout in terms of the points of compass. In all, the cluster incorporates six Tannoy VQ 60 mid/high boxes; two facing roughly north, two facing roughly south and the fifth and sixth facing east and west respectively. Eight VS 15 subs are also incorporated into the cluster; two placed between each of the VQ 60 positions and stacked one on top of the other at the points of compass representing northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest.
Some pre-existing loudspeakers are also used as delay speakers for the upper bowl exclusively. Sixteen in all, placed in a concentric ring above the walkway separating the upper and lower seating areas.
The primary reason for specifying the Tannoy VQ 60s was their pattern control, Stout explains. “With these particular loudspeakers it’s very good over a very wide range of frequencies. Literally, from crossover to crossover, it remains very linear and maintains its pattern control throughout its frequency response. So when we model them, regardless of whether we’re looking at 500 Hz or 2kHz, they perform the way they’re supposed to; the way they do on paper if you look at a polar plot directivity chart. These are just very well behaved in terms of directivity over frequency, as opposed to some other loudspeakers that may vary in directivity even from 1kHz to 2kHz. That means we can lay our coverage patterns next to each other with a very narrow band of overlap.”
The result is far less overlap and far more intelligibility overall. To the north and south of the central cluster the only overlap occurs in the Coliseum’s aisles, where no one is sitting. And to the east and west, where the single middle VQ 60s are covering a huge portion of the arena’s side seating area, the overlap is only one or two seats wide. “So, other than that area, in the rest of the venue you’re listening to one speaker.”
Choosing Tannoy was also a matter of having confidence in the brand based on familiarity. In recent years, Stout says, a fair bit of PMK’s work in the Dallas office has been in the hospitality sector, where they often specify Tannoy in-ceiling speakers as a solution in a variety of distributed audio applications. “Casino gaming floors, ball rooms; there’s a lot of opportunity for in-ceilings and Tannoy has proven to be absolutely one of best manufacturers for ceiling speakers. They make great backcans, the drivers are superb, with predictable frequency response, directivity patterns and power handling.” And while PMK doesn’t limit itself to any one company’s product, they do specify a large number of Tannoy’s in-ceiling boxes as well as the company’s other loudspeaker lines, Stout says.
In the case of the VQ Series, PMK also has a level of interest in the line that Stout characterizes as an almost personal investment. “One of the gentlemen that works in our international office in Dubai, Jerrold Stevens, has been asking for this type of loudspeaker from Tannoy for many years – the idea of a high frequency driver set inside of a mid bass driver, working in conjunction with each other and correctly time delayed. So when Tannoy came up with the VQ, from the first time we heard it, we knew it was going to be a great loudspeaker for power handling, frequency response and directivity.”
PMK doesn’t traditionally spec a lot of line arrays, Stout adds. “When they’re needed, they’re needed, but for smaller venues we prefer this type of loudspeaker. We think it just provides a better audio experience. So the VQ really fit the bill. It’s plenty loud, but also very predictable.” A better fit all around; “In addition to speech reinforcement for events like commencement, this is a basketball arena. To get the crowd involved we need plenty of volume, plenty of kick. We need to play music really well. One of the selling points of the Tannoy is how much fun it is to listen to. It wasn’t a deciding factor, but it was a bonus.” Additionally, there was a tendency with the previous system to blow high frequency drivers. “Not on a regular basis,” Stout says, “but it was happening often enough that it was a problem. If we reused the old speakers they would have to deal with that issue still. With the Tannoy’s, we knew they could handle the SPL we needed and not have to worry about blowing drivers.”
Although the install was completed in May 2010, roughly a week before UNT’s commencement ceremonies, PMK continued to take an active role in ensuring the system worked as intended for UNT’s needs during the ceremony. After tuning the system, Chris Chandler actually attended UNT commencement, to assist in running the system for the first time and ensure the delays and levels were set correctly.
It’s a level of service that is typical of PMK, Stout explains. A degree of care they applied not only in solving UNT’s intelligibility issue, but also in diagnosing it in the first place. “The way we got this job is somewhat interesting. A competitor was approached and provided a proposal that did not make UNT happy. Instead of providing a proposal immediately, Chris and I drove out to Denton and met with UNT officials and Jeff Fisher of CCS to look at the system and get our hands on it and listen to it. We wanted to see what was actually going on, rather than just propose a new design.”
Ultimately that visit led to their suggestion that the system be analyzed so that UNT could benefit from an educated opinion about how the existing design needed to be changed to increase intelligibility. “At this point they weren’t sure how much money they had and we wanted to make sure they knew what was going on before they did spend it. So we gave them a report and said the biggest issue here is the design and here are some ways you might improve it.”
In essence, that’s a similar degree of care and flexibility offered to PMK by Tannoy, by way of their efforts to aid PMK in achieving their goals by custom creating what are essentially ‘VQ 60 MH’s’. “I don’t know if every manufacturer is willing or capable of doing that, but Tannoy has proven that they are. And it’s hard not to speak well of them when they’ve really gone out of their way to make us and the client happy.”
In the end PMK’s approach left a lasting impression on Gary Salmon. “They were on the spot during the install. They were very receptive to our needs. They listened to us, which is uncommon. We had a very limited budget and they worked within it and were able to use a lot of our existing equipment. They were very accommodating in that regard.”
“We couldn’t be happier. We’re very pleased,” Salmon adds emphatically. “It’s night and day different. We had a number of people come in from both the community and the campus after the install – people who had no idea that it had taken place and they commented, saying ‘what did you do to the sound system? This is the best it has ever sounded.’”