Cincinnati's 65,515-seat Paul Brown Stadium

The Cincinnati Bengals have been taking on NFL rivals at the 65,515-seat Paul Brown Stadium for the past 20 years. Equally known for hosting performances from artists ranging from Kenny Chesney to Guns N’ Roses, PBS – as locals call it – believes that the sound delivered to its concourses and seating areas meet concert-level expectations at all levels, whether it be on game day or for special events.

To this end, a three-phase project to re-energise the stadium’s 20 year-old audio blueprint has been completed by Durrell Sports Audio Management and proved to a reduced crowd that watched the Bengals beat the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.

The new system is an amalgam of workhorse legacy components, upgraded audio processing, and custom loudspeakers built in Italy 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 pre recorded 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.’

RCF PA install at the Paul Brown StadiumThe project was implemented in three phases beginning 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 eight dual 21-inch RCF subwoofers on each side of the canopy level.

Phase 3 of the project was approved in January 2020, so by February the job was underway, with Durrell working hand-in-hand with Louisville, Kentucky’s United Electric to turn the new vision into reality. As the pandemic tightened its grip globally on labour and material beginning in March, the design and install team steadfastly kept to construction deadlines with help from suppliers and manufacturers including RCF.

Critical to the audio heard within this space as well as throughout the entire bowl, custom-built, hand-assembled loudspeakers from RCF figured prominently within the Phase 3 additions. Wide horizontal coverage cabinets designated as model HVL 15-L1 and narrow coverage speakers bearing the model number HVL 15-P1 were provided by the Italian manufacturer as one-off custom units built to Durrell’s specs. In between these custom long-throw boxes, standard offerings from the RCF catalogue including model P 4228, P 3115T, and P 6215 cabinets were interspersed as down fill.

Based around a horn-loaded symmetric design, the custom HVL 15-L1 cabinets are loaded 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 43Hz–18kHz (-10dB), these three-way, long-throw boxes are driven in bi-amped mode and are capable of producing a maximum SPL of 133dB (LF) and 145dB (MHF). Horizontal coverage is 90°, while vertical coverage spans 30°.

The eight HVL 15-P1 loudspeakers built 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° coverage.

Durrell spent a lot of time analszing the Q values required of the system and had the custom long-throw enclosures built accordingly. ‘Understanding the Q speaker values in a stadium environment is imperative to managing reflections,’ Horrell says. ‘Q, of course, in its simplest terms, is how far the audio carries from the speaker. 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.’

Out in the bowl and throughout the concourse levels, Scott Simpson, executive producer of JungleVision Productions, relates that the renewed audio system’s RCF loudspeakers differ from their predecessors in terms of balance and overall coverage. ‘The expanded coverage in the facility is outstanding, it’s a whole new experience for our fans.

RCF PA install at the Paul Brown Stadium‘Live stadium sound is a unique animal in that hard, reflective surfaces and wide-open spaces abound. The thought that went into this design combined with the presence of the fans in the stands to help absorb unwanted reflections brings the whole system to life. Paul Brown Stadium can now continue to classify itself as one of the truly great sounding venues on the planet.’

‘When we debuted the system the crowd may have been small, but it was very enthusiastic,’ says Horrell. ‘We were all tickled to death with how it sounded. It had punch, and nothing was compressed to death. The linearity was great and evoked emotion – a pure presence that moved and excited everyone. OK, I’m an analogue guy, but that’s hard to get out of a digital product. It additionally has dynamics that make it one of the better systems in the NFL. We could never have done this with line arrays, and given the history, this all should last another 20 years or more.’

‘All of us here and in Italy felt this project was vital as a boost to everyone’s morale,’ says RCF USA National Sales Manager, Tarik Solangi. ‘With added precautions made to keep everyone safe on the job, the factory churned out the work and kept our delivery promises. Beyond the virus, our biggest challenge was fitting our products into the exacting requirements dictated by the stadium.’

‘All things considered, it was a considerable challenge for us given the complications created by the pandemic,’ says CEO Arturo Vicari, who led the RCF team. ‘Credit really is due to all the teams on both sides of the Atlantic that nonetheless executed the task with flawless organisation and coordination. The project was an ambitious one even when viewed through the lens of a pre-Covid-19 world. Accomplishing it decisively and on schedule within the context of today’s difficulties is testament to the efforts of everyone involved.’

See also:
Case Study: Tottenham Hotspur Stadium


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