Martin Audio's breakthrough Multicellular Loudspeaker Array (MLA) made its North American debut when 24 MLA enclosures and 12 MLX subs were rigged on August 11th at the Time Warner Cable Music Pavilion in Walnut Creek, NC - the first of 17 stops on a coast to coast U.S. tour with the Zac Brown Band in support of their second studio album, “You Get What You Give” (out 9.21, Atlantic Records/Southern Ground Artists, Inc.)
Designed to offer exceptional coverage in any type of venue, including the outdoor amphitheaters that made up the majority of the tour, the MLA typically took on the area covered by the shed roofs––with the usual in-house delay covering the lawn area beyond. “MLA would be responsible for the first 246 to 278 feet with an overall SPL tilt of 3dB…-1.5dB at the front (6.5 ft.), 0dB at mix (114 to 131 ft.) and 1.5 dB at the rear (246 – 278 ft.),” said Martyn “Ferrit” Rowe, Martin Audio Technical Training Manager.
The MLA system replaced the conventional touring line array after Jason Farah of Special Event Services informed production they had the opportunity to pioneer a game-changing system from Martin Audio. “Jason told me he had an early Christmas present,” recalls FOH engineer, Eric Roderick. “I was intrigued by the concept and couldn't wait to hear it.”
The difference was immediately evident. “The system sounded incredible,” Roderick declared, “and the subs were very smooth, tight and with great bass response.”
Jason and SES President Jim Brammer had also acted on trust based on a long and successful association with Martin Audio VP, Jeffrey Cox, and Rowe. The idea of giving the system its debut with a multi-instrumental band playing 15,000-20,000 capacity amphitheaters, was adopted after thorough evaluation of the system, as reports came back from the field while MLA was on tour in Europe.
Combining unique optimization software with a breakthrough cellular array design, MLA delivers even coverage from the front to the back of any venue, which has been unattainable with traditional touring line arrays.
Martin Audio R&D Director Jason Baird explains, “Our primary aim with MLA was to take the guesswork out of daily system design and enable the engineerâ€˜s mix to be delivered throughout an audience with precision, consistency and repeatability.”
The methodology was to replace this trial-and-error array approach with intelligent numerical optimization of the arrayâ€˜s output, based on a highly accurate acoustic model.
The multi-cellular format has six individual cells in each enclosure—each with its own onboard DSP and power amplification. A 24-enclosure array has 144 cells—too great a number to optimize manually or by ear. Therefore, Martin Audioâ€˜s Display2â„¢ system design software automatically calculates FIR DSP filters for each cell, and a redundant-ring audio network (U-NETâ„¢) downloads the settings into each array enclosure. Martinâ€˜s VU-NETâ„¢ software provides real time control and monitoring of the system.
"MLA is beyond anything I've ever experienced," said Cox. "After spending three days on tour listening to MLA's amazingly consistent coverage and what's easily the broadest stereo image of anything out there, I can honestly say MLA changes everything—it's the new standard for live sound performance and dwarfs anything manufactured today, by anyone, with its technology."
Eric Roderick and his PA tech Preston Soper sensed they would be pioneering something special when they made a careful evaluation of MLA prior to taking it on the road. “I had members of the [Zac Brown Band] walk the room to the incredible panning effects of Pink Floyd's Money—the classic Left/Right track—listening to every single detail in precisely the same mix, whether at House Left or House Right.
“So the band definitely knew what we were putting out there and everyone was really excited,” added Roderick. But “having the MLA changed the mix. I found a lot of things I needed to clean up because suddenly I could hear so much more detail—with different EQ cuts things started to stand out more.
“From the desk, the stereo image became so wide that I could spread things around in the mix without fear that someone wouldn't hear wherever they were sitting,” Roderick concluded.
Ensuring the success of the first nine dates was the expert mentoring provided by Ferrit, with both Roderick and Soper impressed with the speed and ease of tuning the multi-cellular elements.
“After conducting the room survey and initial Display2 optimization, I passed over to Eric and Preston and they â€˜got it' right away, explained Ferrit. “The rig went up very quickly, typically less than a minute per cabinet.
“The Display2 optimization process has MLA 98% tuned out of the box, and any alignment procedures are mainly to verify that the system is performing as expected. The EQ curve has remained more or less the same with just adjustments taking care of the humidity and temperature change,” stated Eric Roderick.
Soper adds. “This rig is every system tech's dream PA — the most sonically pleasing system I've ever heard. The Display2software does an amazing job in optimizing the frequency response and SPL through the coverage area, and the level of control, coherency and ability to start the next day where we left off the night before is amazing.”
After a break, the system will rejoin the Zac Brown Band tour when it resumes in September. “In fact we plan on making MLA part of the permanent package,” concludes Roderick.
For more about Martin Audio, please click to www.martin-audio.com.
Photos: Brendan Shanley