Audio in Sports

What does the future hold for stadium sound? Inside T-Mobile Park’s d&b overhaul

Seattle’s T-Mobile Park stadium, home to the Mariners baseball team and multi-purpose venue for everything from live music to corporate events, recently underwent a major audio overhaul, with the installation of a new d&b audiotechnik xS Series loudspeaker system. We hear from senior design engineer of large venue sound, for production firm Diversified US, Jeff Sanderson, about the change in approach to stadium sound since the venue opened its doors back in 1999 and why the d&b system was the ideal fit.

“Large-scale stadium and arena sound is vastly different now than it was 10 years ago,” explains Sanderson. “With a 40,000+ seat stadium like T-Mobile Park, the biggest consideration is speaker placement for coverage, throw distance, building structure, HVAC; a lot of areas come into play. The fan experience was key.

“Baseball and even football have pre-recorded music, but major outdoor sporting events and tours need to tie into a rig to support the venue and achieve high sound quality for both the venue, fans, and Diversified clients. Even for events that are beyond baseball, concert and corporate events, consideration needs to be given to the full system, concourse, announcements, etc.”

According to Sanderson, who was the original system designer for the inaugural T-Mobile Park audio installation 22 years ago, the average lifespan of a sound system in such a venue is around 10-15 years. The new system, he says, has been some eight years in the making, with the Mariners seeking to ensure they decided on precisely the right outfit for their needs. In 2020, the d&b xS-Series was chosen. So how did they arrive at that decision?

“We did an upgrade for the Anaheim Angels which is all d&b, so we took the Mariners crew down in 2018 to give them a demo during a game time experience,” Sanderson elaborates. “We were demoing systems, head-to-head between two companies [d&b and the Mariners system at the time] but in the end, the client really leaned toward d&b.

“During the demo process, the quality differences blew the client away providing an unmatched fan experience which was our ultimate goal. Musically, it required very little adjustment. More fine tuning with the roof open and closed was required, and to maximize quality throughout the space. Over the years, the biggest change is on the audio network side via Ethernet, control, etc. Now we have a fiber backbone to control systems, with no hums, etc. which is nice. Using the Q-Sys plugin, all the tuning and adjustments for system EQ is controlled through the Q-Sys.”

The systems upper deck arrays are made up of an 18S-SUB mounted together with 24S point source loudspeakers for the front, 12S-D down and 12S-D rear-firing cabinets. There are 35 total positions in the upper deck layout, and more than double the number of subwoofers included in the previous system. A VLAN carrying Q-LAN and Dante are on the same network. Meanwhile, 24S and 12S-D point source loudspeakers support the lower seating area.

“We were really excited to see it in action once baseball opened back up,” says Ben Mertens, Seattle Mariners senior director, productions. “The original system, which was installed when T-Mobile Park opened in 1999, had served its purpose and it was time to upgrade to something that would enhance the fan experience and give us more control over the sound profile for ballpark events.

“Working with Jeff Sanderson and his team at Diversified, we were able to use the existing footprint and add speakers without impacting sightlines. The upgrade in the audio experience has helped T-Mobile Park stay current with more recently constructed venues and provide the kind of experience our fans expect.”

Crucial to the incorporation of the xS Series, says Sanderson, was the flexibility of the rotatable horns, which allow the loudspeakers to be deployed in either orientation, while the cardioid subwoofer technology provides low frequencies where needed - not behind the system. The 12S and 24S loudspeaker enclosures are also ball impact resistant, according to DIN 18032-3 for sports and multipurpose venues.

“U brackets used from d&b are another cool thing; we worked with them for color choice and custom hardware,” adds Sanderson. “The loudspeakers are weather resistant and a special version for stadium use in salty air, direct sunlight, and all weather-related elements. Even the color delivered was spot on – the same shade of green used on seats, outfield walls and other areas of the ballpark.”

Furthermore, elsewhere, Diversified installed brand-new fiber throughout the installation. The company worked directly with the Mariners IS department for a separate network island that is not part of a conversion network, which is vital on the audio side. For servicing, the user can remotely access the computer and core to address any issues if necessary. SMAART was used for time alignment.

“The d&b DS10 Dante based interface provides AES outputs for the amplifiers to receive signal,” Sanderson continues. “Q-Sys is being used by the front of house engineer for game time operations and troubleshooting. Should there be an issue, we have ways to get into the guts of the system to diagnose the problem.

“Pattern control is especially important in stadiums. The retractable roof at T-Mobile Park can be highly reverberant so we developed a high-density system, getting speakers as close to listeners as possible.”

He concludes: “The experience working with d&b audiotechnik was incredible from my standpoint; we collaborated together even with the time difference between Germany and the West Coast.”