With any new audio system install, the P.A. is key: It should be geared toward the type of entertainment that will be traipsing across the stage. It must offer adequate coverage to deliver the sound all the way to the back wall. And, of course, it needs to sound good. But being able to adapt to altitude and air pressure? That’s not a requirement many installers may encounter, but for Bret Dowlen, president of Arvada, Colorado–based Dowlen Sound, this factor is paramount for the Denver area. And when he was hired on to handle the audio system install and limited acoustic treatments for the recently opened 1st Bank Center (a joint venture between AEG Live Rocky Mountains and Kroenke Sports Enterprises, now dubbed Peak Entertainment), he automatically turned to a P.A. he knew would fit the bill for this 6,500-seater.
“In Denver, where I’ve been my whole sound career, it’s the altitude that you deal with,” he explains. “And in the early days when I was building sound systems—and I still build them—we modify virtually everything due to the fact that at a mile above sea level, you have less air than you do at sea level. This interferes with cooling aspects of the system, and it can also change the tunings of cabinets and the precise alignments between the drivers. So having a system that has been aligned here will really help out because it’ll work here.
“Interestingly enough, if you tune it up and design it here, and then you take it to sea level, it really gets going,” he continues. “I used to send out a little system with a band called The Samples, and they would go around the country blowing up beer bottles on bars with the subs. So from that standpoint, I’d have to spend a whole career arguing with manufacturers that, ‘No, sometimes your amp won’t run at even 4 ohms at this altitude and it definitely won’t run at 2-ohm loads at this altitude.’
“One of the reasons McCauley was chosen for this installation is that it’s also the system we use at Red Rocks in the summer. It’s capable of doing the 320-foot throw to the top of the venue and it uses the same boxes all the way from the top to the bottom of the venue; you don’t have to use different cabinets. With some systems, you have to put different beams on top of the existing boxes and do the angle thing, but it won’t aim up hard enough when you have to do more boxes on the bottom, or it won’t aim down hard enough. As a line array you can pan the McCauley in the degrees that you need to get it to go all the way from the top to the bottom.”
The issue is compounded by the fact that the venue is in the foothills and sits at about 6,400 feet. However, Dowlen has used the McCauley system in many installs and, as such has had plenty of time to test the rig. “It’s been a bit of a challenge to tune it, but we just bought a SIM system from Meyer. We also have a Meyer MILO rig that spends some of its time with various rentals and tours. I elected to put the McCauley into this installation because they wanted to do heavy dance shows occasionally, and the McCauley has the low-mid energy that will knock you in the chest and keep on going through the back wall. It has the authority and the force that is required to meet their expectations.”
The McCauley MLA-6 line array is augmented with Chevin, QSC and Crest amps, and Dowlen Sound proprietary boxes. A Midas XL4 sits at FOH alongside racks of outboard goodies while a Paragon P-II resides at monitor world; if bands come in with their own desks, these can be rolled away. In addition, there is a full mic locker, enough cables to wind around the theater many times over, monitor amps and more.
The venue officially opened on March 5, with a celebratory two-night stand by Further, featuring Phil Lesh and Bob Weir. Upcoming concerts include Muse, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry and more, as well as family programming (Sesame Street Live) and sports (Ultimate Fighting Championship).
“The sound goals were the same that everyone else wants to achieve: clear, even coverage for the entire arena and the ability of doing any type of music that they want to book into the venue,” Dowlen says. “Using my experience gained over the years, and with 16 venues in the Denver, Boulder and Ft. Collins area to my credit, I chose my tools carefully.”
Sarah Benzuly is
’s managing editor.