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The Art of Noise – Exploring L-Acoustics’ Soundvision

Scott Sugden • March 2019Power Tools • March 5, 2019

Fig. 1: highly detailed venue model of NYC’s Citi Field with Foo Fighters’ stage and system in place.

When L-Acoustics first introduced Soundvision in 2004, it was the pro audio industry’s first 3D acoustical modeling software capable of rendering extremely accurate predictions of a loudspeaker system’s audio coverage, including delays — in real time. Designed by two of the earliest members of the L-Acoustics R&D department, Christophe Combet and Christophe Pignon, the sophisticated program was dedicated to the acoustical and mechanical simulation of L-Acoustics WST line source arrays and coaxial point-source technologies, and it literally brought to life audio designs that had previously only been visualized in static 2D form.

Since then, L-Acoustics has spent the past 15 years listening to Soundvision users and continually refining it to be the fastest, easiest to use, and most detailed modeling platform on the market. The newest version 3.1.0 — which will soon be released for free download on the L-Acoustics website (l-acoustics.com) — combines the program’s best “tried and true” functions with a variety of new features to simplify and streamline the design process for its users.

‡‡         Room Modeling

From the simplest models to the most intricate designs, Soundvision is an accurate tool for predicting actual audio system performance. (See Fig. 1, above.) The program’s toolset of simplified profiles can allow even relatively novice users to construct a 3-D venue in just a few minutes with on-site measurements. And these relatively basic forms of geometry can be turned into highly detailed, complex models surprisingly quickly—complete with video screens, lighting trusses, and other production elements necessary to help best determine the optimal locations and heights of the loudspeaker enclosures.

The program also allows users to import 2-D and 3-D venue geometry from SketchUp — as well as CAD software and acoustic simulation platforms like EASE — and organize that data into groups with discrete color, transparency, and audience information. And the 3-D render capability of Soundvision is not deterred by extremely complex models — it can accommodate designs with hundreds of speakers and literally tens of thousands of surfaces just as easily as much more simple designs — so users need not worry about limiting themselves in terms of scale or detail. Many arena and theater models show every stair step, none of which hampers Soundvision’s ability to very quickly render a system’s performance.

‡‡         Extensive Database

One of the biggest ways to save time, of course, is to not have to model a space in the first place. Over the past decade and a half, L-Acoustics has built up an online database of literally hundreds of venues around the world that allow the insertion of a touring kit into a highly detailed, pre-modeled venue file. Engineers can quickly prepare and optimize their sound design variations specific to each venue. Thanks to the contributions of the Soundvision user community, touring engineers can accurately plan their sound designs and system optimizations long before ever stepping into their first venue.

‡‡         Headroom

Soundvision calculates the active working headroom of all speakers — both HF and LF — and does that from a perspective of signal. Because of the way that gain structure has been developed in Soundvision, you’ll know if the front-fills or delays will be a limiting factor for your P.A. prior to rigging. And it calculates that with the EQ station, and shows you the limit of the headroom in different bandwidths as well.

Soundvision also allows users to see things like arrival time or delays needed. You can see SPL and make sure that you have matched output capability of all systems in advance. The ability to see how much headroom level is available, as opposed to just saying that something has hit its limit, allows the designer to optimize system components well before the show.

‡‡         System Design

One of Soundvision’s key design tools is its ability to utilize any number of speakers in the same or slightly different spaces. As an example, you can easily have five different iterations of your arrays running at the same time, flip between them, and value-judge which one is performing the best. And within that, you can look at all of the gains and delays and do all of this pre-alignment, especially in terms of delay. It is far easier to hang a P.A. in Soundvision five times than at the actual venue.

Fig. 2a: Another stadium (in both Fig. 2a, above, and 2b, below) shows Delay mode between two sources, both high-res (Mapping mode, with color fields) and low-res (Coverage mode, with color dots)

Providing the ability to see the time alignment capability of the system is one of the many things that Soundvision does very well. And it can present the user hundreds of outcomes in a matter of seconds. (See Fig. 2A/B). You can visualize the delay arrival in hundreds of positions at once — as if you had 100 microphones connected to a measurement system out in the model’s “audience” — which can very quickly help determine if you’re adequately covering the areas you want to, and, just as importantly, avoiding those areas and surfaces that you don’t.

Fig. 2-B: Any area in red indicates an area where two speakers are heard at different times.

‡‡         Auto Tools

Among the most noteworthy upcoming “power tools” to Soundvision are the presence of two automated functions: Autosplay and Autofilter.

Autosplay is a mechanical optimization algorithm that automatically configures arrays based on the design parameters you give it, for example, what you’re looking to achieve in terms of target SPL in specific audience areas. What’s exciting about this is that the algorithms do what a very skilled human system designer would do—initially setting then refining the mechanical angles of the line source array enclosures as ideally as possible for the goals defined—but generally do it in 10 seconds or less, instead of 10 minutes or more.

Autofilter similarly takes over system tuning of the mid and high frequencies. This function normalizes the output of the high-end using the FIR filters that are available in L-Acoustics’ amplified controllers to optimize coverage and consistency throughout a venue with limited impact to resources.

The combined use of these two tools is meant to present you with a very good starting point — one where 90 percent of the mundane and routine work has already been done — freeing you up to spend more time tweaking and perfecting your system design, rather than setting it up. Of course, you always have the ability at any point to override Autosplay and Autofilter to implement your own design choices, if preferred. But these two tools work very well in tandem and are massive time savers that are unique to L-Acoustics in terms of system design software.

‡‡         Network Manager Sync

As Soundvision grows increasingly powerful and complex, L-Acoustics has conversely sought to make interfaces simpler. As an example, developers have now added a tool to synchronize Soundvision data (EQ, gain, delay, presets, etc.) with LA Network Manager 2, the L-Acoustics systems control and monitoring platform, to seamlessly communicate settings to the appropriate amplified controllers.

Another helpful tool comes as a result of this sync: Autoclimate. This feature allows you to automatically make system adjustments based on current atmospheric conditions, which are measured by a temperature and humidity probe plugged into L-Acoustics’ P1 AVB processor and measurement platform. The P.A. can therefore be climate-adjusted accordingly in LA Network Manager 2 without requiring the user to go back into the Soundvision model. Within this synced design ecosystem, all of these tools directly translate their information into the amplified controller software, maximizing efficiency when on location.

Scott Sugden is L-Acoustics’ product manager for the USA and Canada.

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