Martin Audio's Multi-Cellular Sensation Blasts Off

mla-cologne.jpgThe first tour of duty for Martin Audio's new ground-breaking MLA (Multi-cellular Loudspeaker Array) reached an astonishing climax at the huge Lanxess Arena in Cologne, supporting top German hip hop band Fettes Brot.

Europe's largest and most modern multi-use arena (with a maximum of 18,000 seats), for concert use the venue is configured for over 14,000—every one of which was filled.

Yet with just 16 MLA hangs per side (and no delays) the system managed to cover a staggering distance of 328 ft. from the arrays, right up to the top bleachers (a height of 118 ft.).

Even experienced sound engineer Olli Voges, who has worked with the system throughout the tour, was staggered.

“The venue measures 460 ft. by 394 ft. and it's 360 ft. to the third balcony.” And the 137 feet to the roof makes it the highest hall in Germany.

He said much had been learned about the system since Martyn ‘Ferrit' Rowe and Complete Audio owner André Rauhut first took over as systems techs.

When the band first stepped out at Pier 2 in Bremen on April 29th to begin their German tour, they didn't know that they were about to embark on a historic journey into a new generation of audio, although Olli Voges may have been aware that his new system was about to set a bench mark in sound reinforcement.

“It was like the time when the first line array came out,” he said. “This system reinvents line array—we have established a new standard.”

Trial and error array design has been replaced by adopting a numerical optimization of the array's output based on a highly accurate acoustic model. The MLA was designed to minimise the variations in frequency response, sound pressure levels and set-up times from venue to venue — and operate over distances of up to 492 feet. “We wanted all our shows to be as consistent as possible, night after night, and be able to offer a more accurate predictive analysis of each room by removing the guesswork,” said Martin Audio's R&D Director, Jason Baird.

With the multi-cellular approach, each cell can be individually addressed by its own DSP (and Class D amplification); thus with six cells in each enclosure a 24-box system provides 144 uniquely tuned elements. “The beauty is that all the complexity of the DSP is under the hood, so it doesn't impact on the user,” says Baird.

So how was the advanced integrated software platform accomplished?

Since the144 cells that form a typical 24-box hang is too great a number to optimize manually, Martin Audio's proprietary Display 2.0 system design software automatically calculates FIR DSP filters for each cell and a redundant-ring audio network (U-NET) downloads the settings into each array enclosure. Martin's VU-NET software provides real time control and monitoring of the system.

Aside from its even frequency response and SPL over audience areas, MLA also boasts 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 the sound system.

Additional features include 90° x 7.5° dispersion; a compact size (45” wide x 14.6” high x 26.5” deep), one-box-fits-all (festivals to theaters) application range and a global voltage, power factor corrected power supply.

The system also includes an MLX powered, flyable subwoofer capable of an unprecedented peak output of 150dB @ 1m, an MLD downfill cabinet and Merlin 4-in/10-out system controller and network hub. Audio input is via analogue, AES3 or U-NET.

All of which left Voges reflecting contentedly on his good fortune at meeting with André Rauhut, on the stand of Martin Audio distributors, Atlantic Audio, at this year's Frankfurt Pro Light+Sound Show.

“At that time we were looking for something that could adapt well to arenas ranging from 2,000-9,000 seats,” he said. “Lanxess Arena was not in the picture then.”

With Martyn ‘Ferrit' Rowe, Martin Audio's North American-based Technical Training Manager taking on the duties of system tech, Voges observed that the system sounded “absolutely beautiful” from the get-go.

So why does the MLA, in his words, render conventional line array technology “old school”?

Largely because the system's predictive measurements will deliver audio to every seat in the house within 1dB of accuracy. In fact the sound radiation can be so tightly controlled that anyone walking an arena from the mix position, to the front rows right up to the backmost seat in the tribunes will not experience more than 1.5dB of level difference from the mix position.

“I remember Olli himself hearing it for the first time,” recalls Ferrit, “walking towards the stage and saying ‘It's not getting any louder.' And I said ‘Exactly, that's the idea!”

At one venue production took a measurement from the front row to the rear of the balcony—a distance of some 118 ft.— and the differential was little over 1dB. At Lanxess, the 262 ft. balconies were less than 1dB quieter than mix and even at the 360 ft. distant and 111 ft. high top balcony seats the level was just 4dB down. A consistent and seamless balance covered the entire venue.

Meanwhile, Fettes Brot's record producer, André Luth—who had just delivered the double live album that had taken them high into the charts —was another convert. “He was really freaking out about the sound,” confirmed Voges.

“Everything we had talked about at the predictive stage we could now hear with our own ears — including where it would taper off right before the end of the back wall. It was just so precise.” In fact Luth said he was hearing detail in the mix that he had only ever heard previously in the studio.

“This system can make a system tech into a hero,” believes Ferrit. “With the control this provides from all the parameters absolute consistency can be achieved from show to show. What is heard by the engineer at the console is delivered everywhere—there is no more guesswork.”

But how would the system make the big step up to Lanxess—and from ten hangs a side to 16—with seven MLX subs ground-stacked each side of the stage accompanied by another row of eight WS218X as center subs?

“In a way it was mind altering,” said the sound engineer. “Shows in the past at this arena have generally sounded horrible—the acoustic is really tricky. My last show was mixing Aha support band, Stanfour back in December and I have also worked here with Herbert Grönemeyer—always using different systems. But this was by far the best sound I have achieved—I have never had such a stable sound on any tour.”

“He added that with a standard PA it is impossible to reach Lanxess's top balcony, and there's always been a lot of problems integrating the house system—but we managed to skip the house system entirely.”

With André Rauhut now taking on the lead system tech role, even though the whole array goes down to 50Hz, production decided to cut it at 60Hz-70Hz. “It was incredible how much bass was going out without the subs on,” said Olli Voges. “We played the test CD without the subs and no-one knew—until we suddenly switched them in. With 60Hz up in the air there's a lot of controllable sub energy flying around. But with two hangs of eight W8LC/LCD´s as outfills we wanted to achieve a seamless transition between them and the main array—and they can't go as far down as the MLA.”

Now both he and André Rauhut are assessing what the MLA system's potential might be during the festival season. “I think any system that can cover a 140m x 120m venue—the biggest place a band can play, venue wise in Germany—with no delays down the length of the room, would sound incredible in a field in the open air.”

For more information, call 519.747.5853 or visit www.martin-audio.com.

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