Reaching Audio Nirvana: L-Acoustics Plays Starring Role In 2021 NFL Draft

The annual NFL Draft took place in Cleveland, Ohio, this year, allowing football fans to find out which franchises will be snapping up players for the upcoming season. Live sound vendor for the event was Houston-based LD Systems, which specified a comprehensive L-Acoustics system for proceedings. Here, LD’s audio department operations manager, Thomas Ruffner, tells us why this decision was a “no-brainer” in his pursuit of “audio nirvana”.

Held over three consecutive days and broadcast to millions of sports fans the world over, the event welcomed 50,000 fans on each day for the big announcements, followed by nightly shows from the likes of Kings Of Leon, Black Pumas and Machine Gun Kelly. The event was staged at the Draft Theater – a 200ft-wide by 220ft-deep by 80ft-tall half-moon structure created by Stage Effects – and comprised over 130 L-Acoustics enclosures, including 70 K2 systems

“For a job like this, an L-Acoustics PA system is pretty much a no-brainer,” says Ruffner. “As sound system designers and engineers, we want it to sound great, and L-Acoustics PA systems do just that. They simply sound phenomenal. And L-Acoustics PA systems are extremely rider-friendly, which is important to our clients. On any given job and given the right conditions, it’s certainly possible to reach a state I like to refer to as audio nirvana, where we are simply amazed by how good the PA sounds.”

One of the key challenges Ruffner faced was ensuring best possible audio performance without the systems interfering with the event’s visual element

“Considerations for the audio deployment on a job such as the NFL Draft can come secondary to the visuals in the minds of event designers and the needs of the broadcast,” he explains. “L-Acoustics is an excellent choice in these situations due to the many different configurations possible. From small, medium, to large format line arrays or a combination thereof, to variable dispersion patterns available with Pan-Flex on products like K2, Kara II and A15, to complex rigging scenarios, we always find a way to make less-than-ideal conditions work out great.

“However, I’d say the biggest challenge overall on a job like NFL Draft is marrying the needs of a huge corporate show with the needs of a huge rock show. On the broadcast side, we need excellent speech intelligibility; excellent gain before feedback for our podium mics and MC headset mics; and excellent sight lines to the set. We need to give priority to the needs of the broadcast in our design so making the PA heard but not seen is usually important. Conversely, on the rock show side of things, we need a system that sounds big and typically is big. The rock’n’roll PA designs usually do not have the same constraints regarding sight lines so for that application we would simply fly large left and right arrays.”

Key to the project was L-Acoustics’ Soundvision 3D acoustical simulation software, as Ruffner elaborates.

“The process starts by importing all of the 3D venue data, which needs to be all inclusive of the set design, LED walls and lighting elements for it to be the most effective. From here, we start placing sound sources into the model at our preferred locations while taking into consideration how the arrays may impact sight lines or rigging capacities. We can instantly see if a line array source will impact sight lines of a video wall or be overly obtrusive from a wide camera shot. Once we get the sources to the positions that we think will work both for the aesthetics, while giving us optimal sound.”

According to Ruffner, the results were emphatic, with both premium audio quality delivered on both the live and broadcast fronts.

“As expected, everything went extremely well and sounded fantastic,” Ruffner concludes. “The support we have received from L-Acoustics over nearly a decade of deploying their PA systems has been absolutely paramount to LD Systems’ success. It’s unlike any partnership I’ve seen with any manufacturer in the industry.”