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Case Study: Phoenix Suns Arena, AZ

It’s been the home of the NBA Phoenix Suns since day one. What has changed recently is how the arena sounds, with a new sound system in place for day one of the 2021 NBA season. Designed by AV consultants at WJHW and installed by Pro Sound & Video, a Solotech company, a new L’Acoustics Kara II system is part of the $230 million update of the nearly 30-year-old arena. Kara II was chosen for its lightweight and powerful output capability. “We had to stay within certain weight limits on the steel for this project, especially since the system is designed to be pulled up and out of the way when touring shows come through with their own sound systems,” they explain. At the same time, this is a large venue—a seating capacity of over 18,000—“and the sound needs to cover the entire seating area and court. Kara II is not only compact and lightweight, but it also has a lot of power for its size. And it offers a lot of sonic transparency as well.”

With the number of fans in attendance still strictly limited per current safety protocols, acoustical reflection and reverberation from empty seating areas are a potential concern. “Thankfully, Kara II has a tight dispersion directivity and high degree of speech intelligibility,” Pro Sound adds. “Those have become more and more important in sports venue sound designs.”

The arena’s new system comprises six arrays of 14 Kara II enclosures for a total of 84 Kara II, plus a hang of four SB18i subwoofers flown in a cardioid configuration directly behind each Kara II array. In addition, there are 28 short-throw X12 coaxials deployed as a delay ring. All of these are powered by 43 LA4X amplified controllers—36 for the main PA and seven for the delays—providing over 170 channels of amplification. A single LA12X powers eight A10 loudspeakers positioned underneath the center-mounted scoreboard serving as court fills. Self-powered, coaxial 108P monitors are also installed in the new media editing suite to replicate the response of the Kara II main bowl system for accurate media reproduction.

The original design called for eight hangs of Kara. With last year’s addition of Panflex to the original Kara loudspeaker model, providing four-in-one directivity, Kara II became a “game-changer.” Now, one box could cover any audience geometry and offer consistent coverage and SPL distribution in four different directivity patterns. In its 70-degree configuration, Kara II packs a full 2 dB more than in 110 degrees. That prompted design changes that allowed just six arrays to fulfill the coverage requirements of the bowl.

Phoenix Suns management team decided to keep the extra boxes as onsite production inventory. As fate would have it, those extra Kara II enclosures came in very handy almost immediately when the NBA directed their teams to implement enhanced crowd-noise systems. The additional inventory, plus eight more enclosures rented from Clearwing Productions, now make up six hangs of six Kara II and are dedicated to the virtual crowd-noise system developed by Firehouse Productions for the NBA’s Orlando “bubble” last season, now in place at most NBA venues

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