To bring the energy and excitement of a typical basketball experience to an NBA season that was anything but typical, Firehouse Productions deployed two complete HARMAN Professional Solutions audio systems featuring state-of-the-art JBL Professional loudspeakers and Crown amplifiers.
Due to restrictions on large gatherings related to COVID-19, the NBA decided to proceed with the 2019-20 season without fans present. To safely accommodate players, staff and support crews, the NBA set up a strict isolation “bubble” at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. Teams began playing July 30 at the 8,000-seat AdventHealth Arena and 5,000-seat HP Field House venues with audiences of just a few hundred essential personnel.
To ensure uncompromised, high-impact sound for the dramatically reduced crowds, NBA officials turned to Firehouse Productions, who have been providing sound reinforcement for NBA games for more than a decade. To deliver a dynamic experience while retaining intelligibility under strict volume limits and preventing bleed onto the court, Firehouse Productions deployed JBL VTX V20 line array loudspeakers and VTX S25 subwoofers powered by Crown I-Tech HD Series amplifiers.
“The NBA has a very strict 85 dB limit on the PA system, so intelligibility becomes everything,” said Mark Dittmar, Vice President, Firehouse Productions. “When you can go up to 100 dB, you don’t need as much intelligibility, because you can just turn it up and people can hear it. When you have an 85 dB limit, that’s a very different game. You need to be intelligible above the audience sound.”
To ensure a high degree of intelligibility for commentary, court audio and music, Firehouse Productions deployed three hangs of eight JBL VTX V20 line array loudspeakers in each venue. With 10-inch Differential Drive woofers and D2 dual-diaphragm compression drivers, the VTX V20 provides impressive power output with ultra-linear frequency response and low distortion characteristics. The three-way design and Radiation Boundary Integrator waveguide provide broad coverage for the audience while preventing sound from bleeding onto the court, which had its own sound system. The ASM suspension system allowed Dittmar’s crew to deploy the sound system efficiently and precisely while following COVID-19 safety protocols.
“For most of my shows, and for the NBA in particular, I’ve been using JBL VTX V20 loudspeakers for a number of years,” said Mark. “With their intelligibility, size and power factor, they’re just spectacular. The 105-degree pattern really lets me cover a lot, and they sound great. Part of what I like about JBL is that it’s very consistent and reliable for me. I don’t have to worry about intelligibility or things like that, so I don’t have to get into a complicated design. I like to keep it very, very simple.”
To provide the same impact as a typical arena sound system with more focused coverage, Firehouse Productions added JBL VTX S25 subwoofers in cardioid configuration. Featuring two 15-inch Differential Drive woofers engineered for extra-long excursion, the VTX S25 provides industry-leading low-frequency output for its size, with extremely low distortion. Designed specifically for use with VTX V20 line array elements, VTX S25 subwoofers can easily be arrayed in a cardioid configuration to prevent low-frequency spillage outside the coverage zone.
“The subs are my favorite thing out there,” added Mark. “Up until I saw this product, I hated 15-inch subs. Then the S25 came out, and I don’t know what they did or how they did it, but it’s a huge amount of power in a very small package. I use it all the time. It’s designed to work with the V20s, and it’s got way more low-end than any double 15 I’ve ever worked with in my life.”
Firehouse productions selected Crown I-Tech 4x3500HD and 12000HD amplifiers to power both sound systems. Featuring BSS OMNIDRIVEHD processing with linear phase FIR filters and the acclaimed LevelMAX Limiter Suite, both models provide crystal-clear amplification with ample headroom. Network connectivity via HiQnet and Ethernet protocols provides a high degree of control and real-time diagnostics.
Having provided sound reinforcement for NBA games and all-star events for the past 10 years, Firehouse Productions maintains a solid working relationship with the organization. It’s this mutual trust, Dittmar says, that allowed his team to react quickly to the unique situation, designing and deploying the sound system in a short time frame with outstanding results.
“I’ve got a very long-standing relationship with them, and a heck of a lot of trust,” Mark said of the NBA. “If I say something, that’s what I’m going to deliver. If they tell me something, that’s not just them making up an excuse or something. We have a very strong working relationship together, and that allows us to take complicated, fast-moving situations and get really great results.”