Metal Sound in a Festival Environment

By: Sharon Stancavage Lighting & Sound America, October 2013

Creating a big sound for Orion Fest 2013

For many artists, summer translates into one of two things: participating in a festival or hosting one. Metallica chose the second route; last year, the group premiered its Orion Music and More Festival in New Jersey. For 2013, the festival was moved to Belle Isle, the island park located in the Detroit River. The event was comprised of five stages as well as a vintage horror memorabilia museum, a vintage muscle car show, and more. The main Budweiser Orion stage was provided by StageCo, of Manheim, Pennsylvania. “We’ve been using StageCo stages with Metallica for over 20-odd years, so we’re quite used to the size of it and know what it’s capable of hanging,” notes Paul Owen, vice president of Thunder Audio, of Livonia, Michigan, which handled the festival’s audio needs.

Specifications, Owens explains, “are not driven by the artist or the organizers; it’s driven by the parameters that we’ve ascertained over the history of working with them. We know what’s required. We know how much bass they need and how much coverage the sides of the venue require.” System details were specified by Greg Snyder, senior project manager and design engineer at Thunder Audio.

Although Thunder Audio handled the requirements for all stages, the main focus was on the Budweiser Orion main stage, which headlined the Red Hot Chili Peppers on the first night of the festival and Metallica on the second night. Three additional bands played on the main stage each day; a total of eight separate engineers at the front-of-house position.

For the main stage, Thunder deployed the VTX Series PA, which is JBL’s newest line array. “VTX sounds more like an old-school trapezoidal system as opposed to a line array,” notes Metallica’s system engineer Nick Mourn.

The VTX system of VTX enclosures and Crown I-Tech amplifiers
Metallica’s front-of-house sound engineer, “Big Mick” Hughes, echoes that thought: “It sounded a bit like an old [Harman] HiQ [trapezoidal] box system to me ⚊ it definitely got loud, sounded good, and was very powerful. It was quite windy that day, and it battled that quite well.”

Trapezoidal systems can provide great sound, but they also go hand-in-hand with lots of weight. In fact, many new line array systems are on the heavy side, which means load concerns, especially in festival situations with weight restrictions. Compared to other cabinets out there, the VTX could almost be called a lightweight. “Our VTX V25 enclosures are 182lb each, while most of our competitors’ cabinets range between 234 ⚊ 260lb each,” says Eric Friedlander, business developer for tour sound at Crown Audio. “That means a 20-cabinet V25 hang is up to 1,500lb lighter by comparison while offering higher power density and output due to the advanced transducer and power amplification technology employed.”

The VTX V25 enclosure weighs an average of 65lb less than those of competitors, making a 20-cabinet hang 1,300lb lighter.

The main left-right PA hangs weighed 3,800lb each and were suspended by a combination of one- and two-ton chain motors, which were supplied by Thunder Audio.
For the Budweiser Orion main stage, the main left-right PA hangs were 3,800lb each; they were suspended by a combination of one- and two-ton chain motors, also supplied by Thunder Audio. Specifically, there was a total of 64 VTX V25 (20 per side main L/R, 12 per side outfill LL/RR), 24 JBL VTXS28d 18” subwoofers (suspended 12 per side L/R), and 24 JBL VTXG28 dual 18” subwoofers (12 per side ground-stacked in an electronic delay steered [EDS] cardioid configuration). Rounding out the rig was a six-enclosure JBL VT4888 center-fill cluster, with six VT4888s for distributed front fill. “This is a very powerful system with over 1,300,000W. Clarity, frequency response, and control are flawless,” Snyder says.

As Big Mick discovered last year, the weight of the system has a definite advantage for end users. When shows were being filmed for the band’s 3-D film Metallica: Through The Never, he needed a powerful, yet lightweight, PA due to the ceiling’s weight restrictions. “The rig was very heavy before we put any PA in there, so we looked around, and the lightest box by far was the JBL VTX system,” he says. “It’s ferociously powerful, and it doesn’t weigh very much, so it made perfect sense for us.”

There are other advantages to the light weight. “You’re able to hang more cabinets and get more output, but if you hang fewer cabinets, you’ll also get greater output than with another enclosure,” Friedlander notes. Or, to put it another way, the VTX system provides more horsepower per pound.

The cabinets themselves are also physically more compact than many others. “At JBL, we wanted to keep this box as compact as possible, and we also paid close attention to how it fits in trucks as well as sea containers.” says Brian Divine, director of marketing for JBL Professional.

Although the boxes are compact and lightweight, the sound isn’t. “I was probably at about 108 A-weighted and 120 C-weighted, and the system handled it easily.” Big Mick notes. The VTX V25 is loaded with three of JBL’s proprietary D2 dual-diaphragm drivers, which, when coupled with its third-generation waveguide design, is said to provide perfect vertical coupling from 0 ⚊ 10° between enclosures combined with stable 90° coverage from 250Hz to 16kHz. “The D2 is comprised of dual, annular ring radiators that provide high power handling and SPL output plus extended high-frequency performance with significantly reduced distortion in comparison with conventional dome compression drivers,” Divine says. “The drivers are pretty unusual,” Big Mick adds. “I’ve seen one cut in half, and it’s very impressive; it’s like a jet engine.”

The VTX V25 is loaded with three of JBL's D2 dual-diaphragm drivers, providing vertical coupling from
0 ⚊ 10° between enclosures combined with stable 90° coverage from 250Hz to 16kHz.
To cover sub-bass content, the VTX system has two varieties of subwoofers: the suspendable VTX S28 and the ground-stack-only VTX G28. These subwoofers are flexible by design and can be deployed in a variety of array types, including ground-supported of flown cardioid configurations.

Proper cardioid subwoofer behavior is easily achieved by facing one out of every three cabinets backward and then selecting the proper DSP setting in JBL HiQNet Performance Manager. “It cancels the noise behind the subs. I have a singer who hates subs on stage. If he sees subs directly in front of him at the center microphone, then they better be running cardioid because he’s going to feel that behind him, and he hates it,” Big Mick says.

The S28 and G28 both feature JBL’s Differential Drive technology and are loaded with two 2269H 18" transducers. Each transducer features dual voice coils and dual magnets with 2,000W continuous power handling (8,000W peak) 3.5” peak-to-peak excursion capability, enabling extended low frequency response and extreme SPL output. “We design and build our own transducers, which means more freedom to truly optimize system performance since we have the ability to create individually customized parts,” Divine notes.
Working with the JBL VTX system at the festival were 96 Crown I-Tech l-T12000 HD amplifiers. “This is our seventh-generation Class I amplifier,” Friedlander says. “The I-Tech HD series of amplifiers is covered by multiple patents and features a studio-grade BSS Omnidrive HD DSP front end that runs natively at 96kHz. The audio signal comes into the amplifier, and, because of our advanced input DSP and Class I output stage, we’re able to reproduce the input to the amplifier with a greater degree of fidelity and efficiency than competing designs.” I-Tech HD series amplifiers also feature a touch-screen LCD monitor for diagnostics; a global-ready power supply; analog, AES, or CobraNet inputs; and fully networkable Ethernet system control. The I-Tech I-T12000HD amplifiers used on the Budweiser Orion main stage have a rated power output of 4,000W per channel into four ohms and are covered by the Crown five-year, no-fault, fully transferable warranty.

The JBL VTX system is based around three components: JBL VTX loudspeaker enclosures, Crown I-Tech HD amplifiers, and system management via JBL’s HiQNet Performance Manager software. This template-based program lets system engineers easily create their ideal system on the computer and then watch it come to life at the venue. Mourn notes, “We're able to get this all put down before ever showing up ⚊ once you get your design, you're able to go on site and build your reality, which is very similar to your calculations. With the Performance Manager Software, we’re able to lay out the specifications of the design and do line array calculations, array shading, and equalization.” The software is, of course, extremely user-friendly. ”We designed this software interface specifically for the needs of the marketplace to save time on load in and have the information required for system tuning and operation that users need at their fingertips," adds Friedlander.

The JBL VTX system is managed via JBL's HiQNet Performance Manager.
Thunder has been working with the VTX system since last year. “We first used it on Metallica's 3-D movie with great success. It's a new system that we’ve acquired, and we believe very strongly in it. lt’s far more powerful, and it fits the genre of music that we have in our company," explains Owen. Big Mick adds, “The VTX system fits Metallica’s sound very well. Like with most PAs, some people are going to love it, some people are going to hate it, and what suits one band won't necessarily suit another band.”

Overall, Orion Fest went smoothly for all involved. “We came in on Thursday morning, and although the load in was very short, we were able to get a line check later in the day,” explains Mourn. In fact, one of the biggest technical challenges was related to transportation. Owen explains, “There's only one road in, so therefore trucks have to be brought in at the appropriate time rather than simply sending all the trucks straight in and unloading at the site. But all in all, C3, the promoters [from Austin, Texas] did a fantastic job of organizing the site. It was a very comfortable environment to work in for the weekend.”

Beforehand, Orion Festival estimates were at around 40,000 people throughout two days, which is what was expected by promoters, and, according official reports, that number was reached. Although the official word is that they are currently in the process of deciding if the festival will return to Detroit next year, they do have a three-year agreement with the city. Outside of a few early glitches getting fans to the island, Belle Isle and Detroit might tum into Orion Fest’s permanent home.