Sound Associates, Inc. of Yonkers, New York partnered with Metinteractive, which provides strategic solutions for architecture, communication and technology, on the world’s largest Meyer Sound PANTHER system at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Metinteractive was tasked with engineering the physical installation and coordinating with Geiger Engineers and rigging the new loudspeaker system, while Sound Associates worked with IATSE Local 13 Engineer Jim Pfitzinger and Meyer Sound Director of System Optimization Bob McCarthy to develop the system design.
Xcel Energy Center is the home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild and seats about 18,000 hockey fans. The new Meyer Sound system features 96 PANTHER large-format linear line array loudspeakers; it replaces an aging point-source system installed when the arena opened in 2000.
“The Minnesota Wild is a team with a bright future, so the Xcel arena wanted to upgrade its sound system, which was losing components and needed improved coverage and intelligibility,” explains Domonic Sack, Executive Vice President of Sound Associates, Inc., which was also charged with adding a new audio infrastructure and mixing boards.
“We talked to several manufacturers about equipment and attended a Meyer PANTHER presentation in Las Vegas that introduced the new speakers, which have quickly gained popularity in the touring market with Metallica and Ed Sheeran taking out huge PANTHER rigs. The loudspeakers are fully digital and self-powered, which solved many tactical issues for the Xcel arena, and their reduced weight meant we could hang a 12-box array on a one-ton motor. I suggested them to Jim [Pfitzinger], sketched eight hangs and called Meyer, which codified my hangs.”
Next, Sack had to find a company capable of designing the rigging for the new loudspeakers. “Metinteractive knows how to rig places like this. I’ve relied on them for years and knew that they’d be a great match for the job,” he reports.
“There are almost no limits to what our companies can do together,” says Jeff Mele, CTO of Metinteractive, which brought its expertise in construction engineering to a project implemented 130 feet in the air. “Sound Associates is one of the world’s strongest powers in theater, and we work extensively in the sports and large-scale construction markets. We’re both manufacturers, and Metinteractive is heavy on app development, control system programming and networking. As a team, there’s no problem we can’t solve. We’re more capable and agile than large AV conglomerates, which are often expensive, rigid and not very empathetic regarding clients’ needs. When a client works with Sound Associates and Metinteractive they get Dom and me, two of the companies’ most senior executives, working right in the field.”
“When companies don’t have a real personal connection to a project, the client is subject to a lot of shifting of personnel and responsibility until there’s no time left to do the job,” Sack notes. “Jeff and I are on site making decisions, which is especially important in the post-pandemic world where things evolve and change rapidly and you need a fast response.”
For the rigging design Metinteractive worked closely with Geiger Engineers of Suffern, New York, the structural engineers of record for the Xcel Energy Center at its opening. The arena features a shallow roof grid with an under-slung post and cable system to keep the weight on the roof light in a location that receives heavy snowfalls.
“We analyzed and checked the existing structure to confirm that it could support the weight of the new PANTHER system and checked all the components to make sure they were structurally feasible,” explains Karen Lynch, Principal and CEO of Geiger Engineers.
“This was our first time working with Metinteractive. They got our name from Xcel since we work with them to check loads and equipment as shows come into the arena. Metinteractive was very well organized and well prepared in presenting the new PANTHER system to be installed, and we worked well together on any required modifications.”
Sack, Mele and Pfitzinger assembled an all-local union crew for the install. “They were pretty fantastic to work with – not only good and helpful in many areas but also very enthusiastic about moving the arena forward with new technology,” says Sack. “Their energy was a big factor driving this project.”
The 2022-23 NHL season got underway last October with the old sound system still in use. Over a two-month period, when the Minnesota Wild played away games, Metinteractive began work on the rigging points, cable runs, lifts, motors and testing. They devised a unique way to use Delta bars to transfer speaker weight evenly from the one-ton motors when two-ton motors rated for this application were unavailable due to supply chain issues.
Before the Meyer PANTHERs arrived Sound Associates and Metinteractive got a preview of how the new loudspeakers would sound in the arena. “Two concerts were held in the space that brought their own PANTHER speakers, so we were able to see the potential of the equipment,” recalls Sack. “With the 96 boxes we were installing we knew there would be enough power for the arena to do anything they wanted.”
The companies used rooms in the adjacent Saint Paul RiverCentre Convention Center as a staging area during the install. “That helped tremendously,” says Sack. “We also pre-programmed the speakers there and tested them. When we finally went into the arena to hang the PANTHERs, taking the old system down went a lot faster than expected, which was a real testament to the crew. We made the transformation from the old speakers to the new ones in about a week-and-a-half.”
According to Sack, “the Minnesota Wild team just loves the PANTHERs and keeps turning up the ice speakers – the effect on the crowd has been enormous. The system runs at only 20 percent all the time with 18,000 fans screaming in stands, and it holds together beautifully.”
“It was great working with Metinteractive on this project,” notes Karen Lynch. “We have already gotten other jobs based on their kind words about us, and we likewise have recommended them to other venues. It’s good to have that kind of relationship after our first job together.”
\Mele notes that the trust that’s been established between Sound Associates and Metinteractive over the years goes a long way toward the successful completion of their joint projects. “In this industry, which has suffered from disconnected relationships and cumbersome processes, you need to take the client’s best interests into account. That’s the way Dom and his employees and Metinteractive and our employees collectively do business and deliver trend-setting projects.”
At Sound Associates Phillip Peglow was the Audio Programmer. Greg Downing was Metinteractive’s Project Engineer.