Think back to the last time you visited a stadium as a spectator. Whether it was the site of the local high school’s weekly football game or the venue for your favorite band’s most recent tour, one thing is almost certain — there was a lot of sound. Maybe it was the roar of the crowd, the voice of the announcer or the music being blasted through the speakers. Whatever it was, it was undoubtedly a vital part of the stadium environment.
But while it can be easy to take for granted, everything you heard in that stadium was carefully controlled by stadium acoustics. Most of the sound waves reached your ears only after bouncing off other surfaces, and the stadium’s setup was crucial in enabling them to do that.
Think back again to your stadium visit. You may have managed to get the perfect seating to see everything happening on the field. More likely, though, you were seated somewhere that gave you a limited view of what was going on. Maybe you were in the upper deck, and the players or performers were no more than dots from your perspective. How did you keep track of what was happening?
Most likely, you pieced together what you could see of the field with what you heard the announcer say over the loudspeaker. But now imagine that you couldn’t hear the announcer, either. Then your only resource would have been the video board. But if you’d wanted to watch the game on a screen, you could have stayed home and seen it on your TV. At that point, you’d be wondering why you even bothered to come to the stadium at all.
This setup is what makes acoustics so vital to anyone in charge of running a stadium. Especially in larger stadiums, you’ll need careful design to prevent significant loss of sound in certain seating areas. Loss of sound will reduce the stadium’s atmosphere, which will lead to a loss of spectators and therefore profits.
Without good acoustics, you’ll find yourself getting a lot of complaints from spectators. To keep those people coming back to your stadium, you need to put in the effort to improve stadium sound to ensure that they can not just see, but also hear, everything going on.
Keeping sound inside a stadium can be surprisingly challenging. Many different factors affect how sound travels, and you’ll have to address those factors to improve your stadium atmosphere.
Sound becomes weaker as it gets farther from its source. This phenomenon is partly because the sound waves are moving away from each other and becoming more isolated, and partly because sound weakens when it moves through any medium — even air. This effect becomes more pronounced as distance increases, which is why the size of a stadium can make a significant impact on its acoustics. A larger stadium results in longer distances, and therefore in weaker sounds for the areas farthest from the speakers.
Weather and temperature also play a major role in the way sound moves. The higher the temperature, the faster sound travels. Different temperatures in different parts of the air, then, distort and refract sound waves as they move. In a stadium on a hot day, for instance, the air will be warmer just above the ground than in the upper levels of the stands. This temperature difference can cause sound waves to be refracted upward, straight into the sky — and away from the spectators’ ears.
Other weather-related factors can make a difference as well, such as humidity. The more moisture is in the air, the slower the sound waves will be as they move through it, and the more refraction is prone to occur.
While sound can travel to our ears directly from its source, it often comes to us by a less direct path, bouncing off other materials on the way. But which materials it bounces off can make a big difference in whether it reaches us at all. While some materials — like wood and metal — are great at reflecting sound waves, others — like hundreds of people’s clothing — are heavy absorbers. The materials in your stadium will have a major effect on how sound waves travel through it.
Of course, it’s not just about if the sound waves are reflected. It’s also about where they’re reflected. Even if you fill a stadium with reflective materials, if you don’t arrange those materials properly, they can reflect the sound waves in the wrong direction. Make sure you consider the architecture of a stadium when assessing its acoustics. The best stadiums are built with this issue in mind, designing the shape of the decks and overhangs in just the right way to reflect sound to the spectators.
The quality of your stadium’s sound depends largely on the quality of the equipment you use to produce and project it. If you rely on an old or poorly-made sound system, it’ll show in your audio quality. If the system is especially old, the audio may sound muffled or crackly. It could cut out altogether at some point. It’s worth replacing such a system to ensure you have high quality, up-to-date equipment.
As more stadiums use video boards, another element of acoustics has come into the fold — synchronicity. Spectators may be able to hear the sounds you’re pumping through the speakers, but when those sounds accompany a video, many people may experience the two as being out of sync.
This occurrence takes place because light and sound travel at different speeds. The farther someone is from the video board, the greater the delay in the sound will seem. This fact means stadiums have to decide how to synchronize their video and audio to create the best experience for the most people.
One of the most effective ways to create excellent acoustics is to integrate the above considerations into your stadium’s construction. To ensure the reflection of sound waves, you can maximize your use of materials like metal that increase reverb. You can also construct a roof, or partial roofs, for your stadium that will reflect sound waves headed for the sky.
But if you’re reading about stadium acoustics, odds are your stadium is already built, and you may not have the resources available to construct whole new sections for it. So what should you do to give your stadium the volume and resonance it needs?
Fortunately, plenty of options are available for addressing this issue solely through the sound system. Here are a few of the best tips for improving stadium acoustics.
Stadiums use two main types of sound systems — single-point and distributed.
Particularly for large stadiums, distributed systems are preferred. Single-point systems distribute the sound unevenly, with people in one area of the stadium hearing it more clearly than people in another part, and at slightly different times. This problem is particularly bad for stadiums that use video boards, as the people farthest from the speaker will experience a high degree of delay. In some stadiums, there can be areas where a single-point system won’t be audible at all.
Distributed systems, on the other hand, ensure that speakers are placed throughout the stadium. This setup means that no matter where someone is seated, they’ll have a speaker close by, allowing them to hear all the announcements and experience minimal delay relative to the video board.
There’s a reason that so many home stereos advertise bass-boosting capabilities — bass levels of sound are some of the easiest to lose. In a stadium, that’s even more true, as it’s difficult to contain even the higher sound waves. As such, you want to find a way to increase both the quantity and quality of your bass. This need is particularly true of music, making high-quality bass especially critical for stadiums that have video boards or get used for concerts.
Enter subwoofers. A key component of any large-scale sound system, these speakers reproduce low sound waves in audio. For any stadium, it’s essential you install subwoofers. But be careful — in certain environments, cheap subwoofers can make sound quality worse rather than better. Make sure you use equipment that will work for your stadium and that’s designed well enough to function the way it’s supposed to.
It’s one thing just to have a sound system that projects the announcer’s voice or the video board audio. With an advanced sound reinforcement system, however, you can do much more than that. These systems filter all audio through a central mixing console, where you can alter the sounds you produce. You can clean up the clarity of the announcer’s voice, for instance, or add some additional reverb to the music you play.
These adjustments aren’t simply aesthetic tweaks. The intelligibility of your sound is vital to your stadium’s atmosphere. It won’t matter if everyone can hear your announcer’s voice if no one can tell what they’re saying. With a sound reinforcement system, you can clean up your audio so it sounds clear even when it’s echoing off over 100 yards of reflective surfaces.
Many elements of sound systems apply across the board, but others vary from facility to facility. Consider what kind of stadium you have and what you use it for. If the stadium is small, and only used for high school football games, you probably don’t need to invest in the same amount of equipment as a professional sports stadium.
Likewise, if your stadium is very open, you’ll need to think differently about how to position your speakers than if your stadium has a roof overhead. And if you hold concerts at your stadium, you’ll want to look into high-quality subwoofers. A lot depends on factors like those, so there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to stadium acoustics. The sound system at one stadium is never the same as the system at any other stadium.
You’ll also want to make decisions based on your specific needs. But whereas the previous point related to function, this one relates to cost. Higher-quality equipment is more expensive than lower-quality equipment, but not everyone needs the same level of quality to begin with. Then again, you don’t want to aim purely for cheapness and end up with a sound system that doesn’t do you any good.
Of course, if you’re running a professional sports stadium that also frequently hosts concerts, you may want to go ahead and invest in the most high-quality sound system you can get. But a high school stadium will neither need nor be able to afford that sort of equipment. So the question then becomes, how high-quality should your equipment be?
That, again, depends on your specific needs. Assess what your stadium requires, and evaluate the quality of the available equipment against your budget.
Even outside of the factors already discussed, there’s an array of elements that go into the way a sound system functions. Things like equalization, amplification and sound pressure levels all play a role as well. With so much to consider, it can be overwhelming to attempt a complete stadium AVL overhaul on your own.
One of the best things you can do to ensure the quality of your sound system is to bring in a qualified consultant to help with the installation process. Stadiums that choose not to work with consultants will likely have to replace the system again sooner than stadiums that work with professionals. With the aid of the right group, you can give your stadium the upgrades it needs to provide top quality sound for years down the road.
Addressing stadium acoustics is a complex process. Things like weather, design, materials, equipment and distribution all play a role in determining the quality of sound in a stadium. Trying to tackle all of those challenges without help carries significant risk.
Not sure where to start? Don’t worry — Illuminated Integration has your back. Illuminated offers an array of sound, video and lighting services, led by consultants who bring experience and expertise to the task. We’ll make sure to provide the right equipment and setup for your stadium, as we’ve already done for many other facilities. Get in touch with us to start the process of getting your stadium’s sound up to the quality your spectators deserve!