“A system of this nature is a significant investment, with performances 6 days a week, the selected system would need to work day-in and day-out”
Auckland, New Zealand. The Stardome Observatory and Planetarium in Auckland’s One Tree Hill Domain recently upgraded its Cinema and Live Performance System with a 5.1 surround multi-purpose high-performance JBL AE Series sound system.
The new system was specified and installed by AV Integration company Avid Automation after they were called upon by the Auckland Observatory and Stardome team to provide a state-of-the-art sound system for the planetarium theatre.
Stardome opened to the public in 1967 as an observatory, while New Zealand’s largest planetarium theatre was added in 1997. The 360-degree panoramic theatre allows for a complete immersive experience with a full-dome concave screen on which 360-degree films are projected with laser projectors, IMAX model angled seating and the brand new JBL Professional AE series surround sound system.
“A system of this nature is a significant investment,” says Darian Sundar, Director at Avid Automation. “The venue is open to the public with performances 6 days a week, so the selected system would need to work day-in and day-out – so for Stardome and Avid Automation, localised support, reliability and versatility was key in our decision making.”
Leading specialists in sound system design and JBL distributor JPRO were chosen to assist with the supply and commissioning because of their product knowledge base and approach to the system design.
Darian Sundar continues “The primary use of the system would be to provide an immersive 5.1 cinema experience, but the theatre also doubles as a live performance venue for small bands and events – everything from strings to electronica. So, whilst having to offer an accurate cinematic experience the system would need to be capable of handling larger SPL to accommodate live performances.”
JPRO Sales Director Paul Edlin and his audio design team specified JBL AE Series loudspeakers for the theatre. “JBL have an extensive range of purpose-built products that are manufactured in-house. The AE series are specifically manufactured for theatrical sound design and performing arts facilities, so we knew that they would suit the scope of this project perfectly.”
“The HARMAN Professional range of products and JPRO were the only choice for us and our client to achieve all the objectives with minimal downtime. It is not only about the product; it is also about the knowledge pool that you tap into and the service you get.”
To fit in with the demanding schedule of the Stardome and minimise down time, the Avid Automation team were given two days to remove the old infrastructure and install the new system. Knowing that this would not be enough time AVID implemented all the new system cable infrastructure ahead of time after evening show times.
“We needed to be ready for business as usual Tuesday morning,” says Darian. “To achieve this the entire sound and control systems were built off-site at the Avid workshop. We essentially torture tested the system through multiple configuration modes such as it would be used in real day-to-day use – this is the only way we could be confident that any programming issues where found and resolved. The ability to plot all JBL speakers in a 3D model of the Stardome gave us the confidence that we knew it would work 100 percent. The translation into a real-life installation was incredibly accurate with very little tweaking necessary, saving us heaps of time.”
Due to the shape of the venue, all brackets and flyware were custom-built and physically attached to the exterior of the Stardome structure. The surround system comprises of 2x JBL AM7215-95 High Power 2-Way Loudspeakers for Left and Right, while a JBL AM7215-26 with a 120° x 60° rotatable waveguide provide accurate audio for the critical centre channel.
JBL AC18/95 compact 2-way loudspeakers were selected for the surround channels as their enclosure design allows for installation very close to the ceiling, providing a smooth, natural immersive audio experience throughout the intended listening area.
Three JBL VTX-B18 single 18″ high performance subwoofers provide a solid bass foundation for a ground-shaking experience.
“The cardioid sub array configuration is simply magic and is an integral part of the system design,” enthuses Darian. “It allows the performance volume of the bass to be focused into the room without sub-bass spill into the foyer and office areas.”
“The cardioid sub array configuration is simply magic and is an integral part of the system design.”
Amplification and system management is achieved with two Crown DriveCore DCI41200BL power amplifiers. “That allowed for an impressive mix of high-performance and ease of use. Taking full advantage of the preloaded JBL Speaker tunings allowed us to get the best performance not only out of the speakers but the amplifiers as well.
Additional audio system processing, including Dante distribution and interfacing with the venues fire evacuation system was achieved with a BSS BLU-806 signal processor.
The Stardome system is used on heavy rotation daily by various Stardome operators, including volunteers. It was essential that a user-friendly operating system was implemented that could be understood and operated by all. Avid Automation designed a custom touch panel interface known as ‘TP Mode’ that could be used to operate the system via the touch panel or switch the system over to ‘Console Mode’ where the Soundcraft Si Performer digital mixer was the main controller for live performance events.
The interface was designed in collaboration with the client to ensure it was easy and intuitive to use. Specific ‘dark mode’ colour palates were chosen to not only minimise light pollution within the observatory during shows but to also tie in with the Soundcraft Fader Glow colour coded layers of the Si Performer for continuity.
Darian Sundar concludes: “The HARMAN Professional range of products and JPRO were the only choice for us and our client to achieve all the objectives with minimal downtime. It is not only about the product; it is also about the knowledge pool that you tap into and the service you get and with this in mind everyone one benefitted.”