There are not many events that can boast an at home viewing audience at upwards of one billion people such as the legendary, annual New Year’s Eve celebration and broadcast from New York City’s Times Square. I had the privilege to attend this year’s event and get a first-hand, behind the scenes look at the incredible level of detailed audio support delivered by Maryland Sound International (MSI), including HARMAN audio gear from JBL Professional, Crown, and Studer.
For the past 20 years, MSI has been supporting the iconic, 100 year celebration. A striking part of any outdoor Maryland Sound install are their custom speaker towers, engineered to provide multiple fly points in an incredibly small footprint. Using eight of these, the crew is able to strategically deploy a carefully chosen inventory of JBL speakers throughout the area.
On the corner of each block is a tower, powered locally by a dedicated generator, with all amplification and processing housed safely in its base. The primary hangs consist of two flown JBL VerTec VT4880 subs with four VerTec VT4889 three way boxes flown below. The 4880 is a dual 18” box, with the 4889 packing in two fifteen inch dual voice coil woofers, four 8” dual voice coil midrange drivers and three 1.5” throat diameter high frequency compression drivers per box.
These towers might not look like much compared to the big long line array hangs you see flanking large festival stages, but when they light them up, it’s a lot of bang in such a small footprint. The key to all of the deployments here is one of the unique features of this event, and that is the extremely predictable nature of the crowd in attendance.
Audience members stay in predetermined & tightly controlled areas where audio can be focused specifically and deployed locally. This avoids aiming speakers at the endless amount of reflective surfaces lining the streets and keeps the audio from bouncing around unnecessarily in an attempt to cover every possible inch of the square.
It’s easy to picture the ball dropping like a big concert. You can easily imagine one person sitting behind a large console at front of house, pushing the limits of a big concert system and soaking it all in. But the reality in 2019 is more similar to a broadcast job, where many smaller systems must respond together dynamically to whatever is happening in each moment of the show.
Additional cabinets like the F35s are spotted throughout the area to fill gaps in the coverage. Clever deployments like the arrays of VTX V20s hanging from the corners of the control tower make great use out of the limited real estate in the square. Smart choices continue with thoughtful deployment of cardioid VerTec 4880 sub arrays behind the control position to help to direct low energy where it is needed, without letting it building up necessarily where it is not.
The individual performance stages, primary mix control, systems engineering and a number of other specialist roles are staffed with dedicated crews & all work in tandem to deliver their pieces of the puzzle to whomever is up and downstream in the signal chain. That signal chain itself is an impressive Dante deployment The scale of the Dante network highlights just how flexible a setup like this can be.
Starting from the control tower located between W43rd & 44th streets, the network goes out overhead in two opposing directions to the first set of towers, continues on to each subsequent tower along the route to 47th street before looping back through the towers on the opposite side of the street. This loop of primary and secondary networks coming from different directions helps to minimize the affect something like a broken cable or loss of power at one location would have on the rest of the network.
With this network, the control tower is able to handle all of the systems monitoring, control, and configuration. Directing all of the audio traffic coming and going & providing key mixes to the PA system, broadcast trucks, and any other destination that needs a feed is all done with help from the network. The ability to control and configure the Crown 4x3500HD amplifiers, located in each tower base gives the system engineers real time data for monitoring the output of the system throughout the event from one central location.
The primary console in use is a Studer Vista 5 SR, chosen for its excellent routing, group and matrix management that is crucial for a job of this scope.
Each performance stage gets its own dedicated MSI crew to handle and mix all audio for that stage. Local consoles, monitor wedge packages, all of the needed wired and wireless microphones, along with in-ear monitoring systems live discreetly under each stage. Local lighting and other production control positions for each stage all share this limited but crucial ‘backstage’ real estate. Each stage then connects back to control via the Dante network, providing flexibility in routing whatever feeds may be needed at each location as they arise.
The broadcast feeds are similarly handled. You can imagine mixing on a sound system deployed to cover a space this size, and suddenly a pair of handheld wireless mics light up with stand-up interviews roaming the square, all within the coverage pattern of your PA & already mixed when they arrive at your desk. Attention to detail, planning, and a serious understanding of how the show will flow through the night is the only way to get through a show and broadcast of this size.
Thanks to the entire crew at Maryland Sound International for sharing their work with us so openly. Their genuine drive to improve and do better every time they leave their shop is inspiring to watch.
I invite you to watch this behind the scenes video that describes this install in much deeper detail.