Feature: Going for gold
Feature: Going for gold
While a new Chinese sports centre is providing a platform to take Olympic events to a new level, its Electro-Voice sound systems are doing the same for audio. Caroline Moss reports from Suzhou
The Chinese city of Suzhou is known more for its traditional gardens, nine of which have UNESCO world heritage status, than for its sporting facilities. However, the new Olympic Sports Centre could be set to change that. The sports centre, designed as a new city landmark, is based in a zone built to consolidate all of Suzhou’s sporting facilities in one new area, including the existing stadium which will be relocated from downtown. Sound systems for the sports centre’s three main venues, some of which will also stage music events, have been provided by Bosch China.
Built to a design by German architectural practice, Gerkan, Marg and Partners, the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre takes its cue from the Chinese landscape gardens that populate the city. A 47-hectare, publicly accessible landscaped park accommodates extensive sporting facilities as well as offices and a shopping mall. The three main sporting facilities – a 45,000-capacity stadium, indoor arena and aquatic centre – have been equipped by Bosch in a tender that was won by Hangzhou Tianlong Audio. According to the brief, all three venues had to meet the most stringent of standards to ensure the project got top ranking among Chinese sports facilities and is able to host international sporting competitions and other events.
Xianghua Zhou is one of the proprietors of the systems integration company, which is based in the nearby city of Hangzhou. Sporting facilities are becoming a bit of a speciality for the company, which recently completed work on the Shanghai International Circuit, the venue for the annual Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix. Hangzhou Tianlong Audio was employed on the Suzhou project as a subcontractor, working for the main contractor to provide and install the audio systems.
The main structures of the buildings were already in place when Zhou and his team started work in the summer of 2017. This included the stadium, which has the distinction of being constructed with the first single-skin steel cable network roof in China. While the visual aspect of this roof gives the stadium a distinctive and striking look, the practicalities of flying a powerful sound system from it presented some specific challenges. There wasn’t much that could be done about movement in the roof caused by heavy winds, which can add a swing range of up to 1.5m, but the effects of other extreme weather conditions have been mitigated by the installation of Electro-Voice EVH weather-resistant speakers which have been mounted on the lip of the roof. The speakers have been supplied in white, so the aesthetic qualities of the stadium roof have not been spoiled in any way.
However, the main challenge thrown up by the special roof was that it wasn’t capable of bearing very heavy loads. This caused problems, as the tender specified that all speakers should be capable of being derigged for maintenance at any time. Hangzhou Tianlong Audio worked closely with the Bosch team to come up with a solution for this. Their first design included lifting mechanisms to be flown at each point, but this would have added too much weight to the structure. The company played around with the design, changing it many times before finally hitting on an ingenious solution: they would design their own piece of lifting equipment that operates from the ground. Two such systems have been built and supplied, allowing the loudspeakers to be lowered to the ground by means of a motorised winding engine and raised back up on wire cables wound around a winch. This method of installation was inspired by the London 2012 Olympic Stadium which, like Suzhou, has a cable-supported fabric membrane roof, covering approximately two thirds of the audience area. The London stadium is installed with Electro-Voice EVH speakers, which have also been used in Suzhou.
A total of 80 EVH-1152S full-range, horn-loaded speakers have been installed on 40 rigging points around the perimeter of the roof, in alternate groups of three and one; the trio of speakers covering the spectators in the stadium seats, and the single ones – 20 in total – projecting sound outwards onto the playing field. The system was designed using EASE prediction software. ‘The general acoustics of the stadium were very good, and there were no major problems,’ says Zhou, explaining that coverage is even throughout the entire audience area.
The entire system is being driven by Electro-Voice TG7 3500 w/ch amplifiers, with audio transmission throughout the stadium via Dante. Cables to each speaker have been run through the roof of the stadium from amp rooms on either side, and Zhou estimates that at least 20km of Cat-6 cabling has been used for the installation.
Up in the control room, the mixing console is a Stage Tec Auratus Platinum. During most sporting events held in the stadium, the console usually receives audio signals from TASCAM and Pioneer CD and DVD players in the control room rack playing recorded music, and announcements via Shure wireless mic systems consisting of UA844+SWB antenna distribution systems, UA874 active directional antenna, SLX24 and SM58 handheld mics and MX418 goosenecks. The stadium is mainly being used for football matches, and has become home to a local team. Additionally, and befitting its name, the Suzhou Olympic Sports Centre can also accommodate all the different Olympic sporting activities, with a track circling the stadium pitch for sports such as running, hurdling, jumping and throwing events. The stadium’s PA system, therefore, will find most of its use in providing background music and speech for sporting applications, with its secondary purpose being for emergency evacuation and other announcements.
When the stadium hosts rock concerts, however, as well as the protective covering that is applied to the pitch and the stage erected in the centre, the audio system is expanded with the addition of a portable Dynacord Cobra-2 compact line array system, which can cover the entire venue, working together with the installed system. This portable system has been used for a popular TV show, Running Man China. Large touring productions may often choose to bring in their own systems, however.
In one of the distinctive, curved buildings that makes up the sports centre is a gymnasium, or indoor arena, with 8,000 fixed seats that can be expanded with portable seats stored underneath them to accommodate a total of 13,000. This venue is approved for CBA (Chinese Basketball Association) league games, the first-tier professional basketball league in China, of which Suzhou boasts a local team, the Jiangsu Kentier Dragons. The gymnasium can also be used for other sports, such as badminton and curling.
According to CBA requirements, a cuboid LED screen has been installed in the centre of the gymnasium which can be raised and lowered. So, this presented the main challenge when it came to installing the Electro-Voice X2-212/90 high-performance compact vertical line array system. ‘We needed to avoid hitting the LED screen but, by using EASE to predict the system design, this was a straightforward job,’ says Zhou.
A total of 70 X2-212/90 speakers in black have been installed here, divided into six hangs of eight, and two of 11, both flown in the centre of each of the long sides of the gymnasium, where they can focus more energy on the VIP seating areas.
This venue can also be used for musical events – a recent Jacky Cheung concert was held here – with a stage erected at one of the shorter sides of the gymnasium, above which a lighting rig has been fixed. Again, the sports centre’s portable system can be deployed here if necessary, but, quite often, supplementary equipment will be brought in by the production itself. However, Zhou is impressed with the capabilities of the installed Electro-Voice system. ‘For concerts, you definitely need to add subs in here of course, but this model is compact and powerful and has a very good performance at the low end,’ he says.
Amp rooms on each of the long sides of the venue are installed with Electro-Voice TG7 3500 w/ch amplifiers, and again the signal is transmitted via Dante. Up in the control room is a further Stage Tec Auratus console, while a Shure radio mic system is in use here as well.
Over in the 3,000-seat aquatic centre, which houses two swimming pools, two separate speaker systems have been installed, one for spectators and the other for the swimmers competing in the main pool. ‘They put on water ballet in this pool, so they needed to have an underwater system,’ explains Zhou.
Six Electro-Voice UW30 underwater speakers in white have been installed along each of the long sides of the competition pool, 1.2m below the surface. Hangzhou Tianlong Audio constructed special boxes with a grid to contain these 12 speakers, which have been hardwired into the pool via conduits that run below the poolside and up into the amp rooms, and are networked via AES digital cabling. Electro-Voice claims that these speakers are able to offer a fast transmission speed underwater courtesy of the patented structural enclosure which acts as a sound transducer. This waterproof enclosure also ensures that no metal parts are exposed, increasing the longevity of the speaker and allowing it to operate in deep water.
The audience system for the competition pool consists of 20 Electro-Voice EVH-1152S weather-resistant speakers, which have again been supplied in white to meet the high standards required for the installation. A cluster of three of these has been flown in the centre of each of the long sides of the pool, facing downwards to cover the audience. To the right and left of these central clusters are two further clusters targeting the audience, each consisting of two EVH speakers, while single speakers at either side of these focus on the pool itself.
Up in the control room, all sound sources – mainly prerecorded music for swimming competitions and water ballet, plus announcements – are run from a DiGiCo S21 compact digital console, with a Yamaha MGP24X installed for backup. Again, a Shure radio mic system has been provided here.
Outside in the commercial plaza, an ice rink in the shopping mall is covered by a sound system of Dynacord VL Series loudspeakers, which plays music for the skaters.
With the addition of its new Olympic facilities, Suzhou’s ambition to develop a new sporting zone is well and truly off the starting blocks.