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MLA Ready For New Belgian Festival Sound Limit Proposals

––FACE Conducts Site Demo To Prove That Radical Design Will Meet Reduced Thresholds Beyond The Coverage Area––

When Flemish CD&V minister Joke Schauvliege recently pleaded for clear legislation regarding Belgian pop festival sound thresholds, following the proposal of a 100dB LAeq (15) and 116dB (C) maximum for the loudest norm in public areas, it couldn’t have come at a better time for Karel de Piere and his team from technology specialists, FACE.

With the new festival season fast approaching in a country noted for its outdoor events, if the new proposals become law they would have a major impact on festival promoters and production companies. FACE decided it was time to act.

Fortunately, the Belgian distributors had carried out measurement tests of Martin Audio’s radical new Multi-Cellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA)* nine months earlier—during an Amnesty International concert in Antwerp’s Groenplaats—followed by a demo at the large

Antwerp Sportpaleis arena. And they knew the system would meet the new criteria.

“The results were simply staggering,â€? said de Piere. “From the outside the MLA enclosures look like ordinary loudspeakers—but they conceal an ingenious design philosophy.â€?

The MLA was designed to minimize the variations in frequency response and sound pressure levels—effective over distances of up to 150 meters. Thanks to an accurate predictive analysis, trial-and-error array design has been replaced with intelligent numerical optimization of the array’s output based on a highly accurate acoustic model. With the multi-cellular approach, each cell is individually addressed by its own DSP and Class D amplifiers.

“This means that wherever they are sat in the festival field, each person will receive the same sound image at the same volume,� notes the FACE director.

“If a concert organizer wanted to achieve 100dB at the back of the site by the conventional method, he would need to have 110dB in front—by the speaker system. But we wanted to prove that this is now no longer the case. With MLA, the volume can be at exactly the same level throughout the coverage area, while we can limit the sound immediately beyond that—for the neighbors or the festival campsite.

“The system also ensures that there is virtually no sound return to the stage—so it is nicer for the musicians to play through the MLA. “

Karel De Piere recalls that, when the local environmental police arrived onsite at the Groenplaats, they didn’t believe that the 102dB registering at the mix position would not spill out to the neighboring businesses and residents surrounding the square. “But what we saw was an alarming tapering off of 12dB [beyond the sound field] over the final 15 meters—to hit 90dB. People were telling me it was not possible.�

The recent evaluation at the FACE HQ in Boom saw Martyn ‘Ferrit’ Rowe, Martin Audio’s Technical Training Manager, demonstrate the theory to around 90 festival organizers, sound technicians and members of the press in a seminar presentation—backed up by practical examples from the Zac Brown Band’s American tour.

Next, the assembly repaired to an adjacent park—which also happens to be the location for the dance festival, Tomorrowland—where the site measures 80 meters wide by 160 meters deep. Here two PA wings were set at a distance of 24 meters (with 12-box hangs per side trimmed at a 10 meter height). A further 12 MLX subs were stacked adjacent to each other—forming a single broadside array—along the front.

To give the festival site further authenticity, a mix tent (which also contained drinks and heating) was sited at 70 meters distance from the MLA. Source material was provided by carefully chosen CD tracks, to demonstrate a wide range of music program material.

Assisted by Peter van der Geer from Event Acoustics Projects onscreen readings were taken at 20m, 60m, 80m and the final one at 130m—with one overview screen placed at the mixing position.

“We could clearly see the four levels—at the first three measurement positions the level was the same but the drop off was -15dB at the 130 meter mark—which was quite impressive,� said FACE’s Steven Kemland. “The environmental people from Antwerp [who had sanctioned the event on the Groenplaats] also used their own measurement instruments as proof of concept.�

Knowing that all feedback had to be supplied to the Minister by February 11th, FACE believes the exercise was vital. “It was necessary that our guests could experience the technical solution for themselves— proving that the system would deliver an identical SPL to everyone throughout the site, with a steep ‘tapering off’ outside the festival zone.

“After the demonstration, those present were still marveling at how the system could throw consistently over that distance and then suddenly fall off,� continued Kemland. “I think as a result everyone will know that there is a future beyond line array. The event was a complete success.�

And Karel de Piere added, “This was a perfect situation to prove to festival organizers, sound technicians, politicians and press the validity of this system — and we believe we have gone a long way towards establishing MLA on festival riders should this 100dB sound threshold become law.�

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Photo captions: Martyn ‘Ferrit’ Rowe presents the practical demo; outside on the mock festival site

About MLAâ„¢ (Multi-Cellular Loudspeaker Array)
The result of many years of intensive R&D, MLA’s methodology replaces trial-and-error array design with intelligent numerical optimization of the array’s output based on a highly accurate acoustic model. The multi-cellular format has six individual cells in each enclosure, each with its own DSP and amplification.

With up to 24 enclosures, each MLA array has up to 144 cells — too great a number to optimize manually, or by ear. Instead, Martin Audio’s proprietary Display2â„¢ system design software automatically calculates FIR DSP filters for each cell and a redundant-ring audio network (U-NETâ„¢) downloads the settings into each array enclosure. Martin’s VU-NETâ„¢ software provides real-time control and monitoring of the system.

MLA delivers a frequency response and SPL consistency never before achievable; a very high system output (140dB peak, per cabinet @1m); Automatic optimization of the array, both physically (splay angles) and electronically (DSP); Computer control and monitoring of the entire system, and total control of sound system balance for engineers and sound technicians.

MLA is fully integrated, with Class D amplification, DSP and U-NET digital audio
network built into each enclosure. MLA complete systems are ready-to-use, with MLA, MLD and MLX enclosures, flying hardware, software, cabling and training all supplied. Everything needed is included. All ancillary items — from tablet PC and Merlin™ controller to network interconnects and mains distro — are also included in the complete system package. This ensures full compatibility worldwide, down to cabling and accessories.

Additional features include 90° x 7.5° dispersion; a compact size (1136mm wide x 372mm high x 675mm deep), one-box-fits-all (festivals to theaters) application range and a global voltage, power factor corrected power supply.

MLA’s compact size and very high output allows it to be shipped using smaller trucks, offering considerable savings and reduced carbon footprint. The system also includes the MLX powered, flyable subwoofer capable of an unprecedented peak output of 150dB @ 1m; MLD downfill cabinet, and Merlin 4-in/10-out system controller and network hub. Audio input is via analog, AES3 or U-NET.

By adopting these principles and system components MLA is optimized for every member of the audience—from a 2,000 capacity theater, to a 20,000-seat arena, to a 100,000-person festival site. It will deliver the engineer’s exact mix to every seat (up to over 150 meters) with precision, exceptional power and clarity.