Surrounded by deserts, canyons, and national parks, Las Vegas, the largest city in Nevada, has been known for many years as the holiday and entertainment resort in the southwestern part of the US. It’s no surprise that it’s become the home for the impressive immersive venue.

The Sphere project was announced in 2018, and had its inauguration on September 29th of last year. The 18,600-seat venue is the world’s largest spherical structure, including a 160,000-square-foot spherical LED screen and the world’s largest beamforming audio system, consisting of a total of 167,000 individually amplified HOLOPLOT loudspeaker drivers.

With the U2’s immersive experience ‘U2: UV Achtung Baby Live’ coming to an end at the beginning of March, further artists have been announced who will put their stamp on this unique live entertainment medium. Apart from U2 concerts, The Sphere’s agenda includes other innovative immersive proposals, such as Phish concerts with unique setlists and visuals planned for April or Dead & Company residency in The Sphere starting in May.

With dimensions of 366 feet tall and 516 feet wide, The Sphere is the world’s largest spherical structure. With all the visual and audio effects, it is definitely a top destination for all technology and entertainment fans.

We had a chance to talk to Michael Hlatky, Head of Engineering at Holoplot to find out how the sound system design process looked like.

AV Tech Magazine: Your company started in 2011, and only a few years later, you realized the biggest audio installation in the world! Can you tell us about the moment when the opportunity occurred and what your first thoughts were?

Michael Hlatky: Our work on Sphere started in 2018. We had our fundamental technological capabilities and system layouts, but didn’t have a product for live entertainment and were still a really small company. MSG approached us, saying they had a new project going on and thought we could be an interesting part of it. We met them a week or two later at Prolight & Sound in Frankfurt, demonstrated some of our fundamental capabilities and signed an NDA on the trade show floor. We were shown some of the initial plans of the building and it was clearly a big-vision concept that would be different to anything else out there. They asked if we think we can do it and we said yes.

It was very deep water for us at that point because we were in the middle of a billion-dollar project and we didn’t have the experience yet on how to navigate it. X1 was preceded by HOLOPLOT’s original Orion system, which was designed as a technology demonstrator that could show the fundamental ideas of the combination of 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis (WFS). We then developed X1 as a concert-grade version of it. We had to learn and grow up extremely fast.

Our mission was to build an acoustic prototype of X1 in just four months so the viability of a design proposal could be validated. We delivered against MSG’s brief, thanks to X1’s unique and unparalleled audio capabilities and HOLOPLOT was chosen as the exclusive audio supplier for the project. From there, its development was continued.

How was your solution different from traditional sound solutions, and what was your biggest advantage for this type of project?

We’ve combined sophisticated hardware design with proprietary software algorithms that allow you to tackle even the most challenging acoustic environments. In the case of Sphere the brief was to not only deliver studio quality sound for every seat, but also to hide the system behind a huge LED screen, something very difficult to achieve with conventional systems, as the obstruction diminishes audio quality. We developed proprietary algorithms that compensate for this loss.

Additionally, inside a spherical structure, sound waves are naturally reflected towards the center, affecting the distribution and quality of audio. Conventional loudspeaker solutions like line arrays lack sound control capabilities and fail to sufficiently prevent sound energy hitting reflective surfaces. This results in poor sound quality and distracting echoes.

To optimize intelligibility and quality, the HOLOPLOT system allows the user to designate all areas not regarded as listening areas, or areas that could cause reflections, as avoidance zones. This precise steering of sound on both the vertical and horizontal axes, allows the audio to be contained within defined zones. This way, undesired energy spill onto any room boundary is reduced, therefore significantly improving speech intelligibility and audio quality.

X1’s modular design makes it scalable and flexible, delivering revolutionary audio experiences in any given space – from London’s Lightroom, a 380 cap gallery space, to a 3,000 cap theater such as Beacon in New York in a L/R stereo configuration, or an immersive mega venue such as Sphere.

The about 18.000 seats spread over three tiers and a total distance of 110m (~361 ft) from the main PA make it an extreme challenge to provide consistent coverage from front to back, with no delay lines allowed. Thanks to our unique 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis technology, the HOLOPLOT X1 system was able to deliver just that: Perfect sound across the entire audience area. X1 was the only system able to provide high-fidelity audio for the entire audience area while also providing an advanced immersive toolkit to create creative effects.

The result is controlled, consistent, crystal-clear concert-grade audio that provides each audience member with exceptional sound and the ability to personalize the listening experience.

Can you give us a closer look at the audio installation in The Sphere and how the beamforming and wave field synthesis technologies helped achieve clear and even coverage within the audience and design an immersive audio experience?

The installed system at Sphere consists of the main Proscenium Array, the largest loudspeaker array in the world, as well as distributed arrays, referred to as the Environmental layer of the system, responsible for immersive effects.

X1’s optimized coverage beams improve the performance and accuracy of sound delivery within a space, providing better audio quality that doesn’t diminish over large distances. An optimized coverage beam not only directs sound where needed but also avoids unwanted surfaces, improving acoustic performance and ensuring enhanced level and spectral homogeneity over the audience area.

Its air absorption compensation feature is specifically designed for long-throw applications where high-frequency sound propagation is affected by air absorption. Sophisticated software algorithms consider direction and distance of every beam, enabling users to achieve a balance between spectral uniformity and maximum obtainable sound pressure level – even over large distances.

The X1 system enables a lot of creative uses as well. It allows, for example, for multiple forms of content to be delivered simultaneously. Two people sitting in different seat sections could hear completely different things, such as different languages or instruments – expanding the possibilities for truly unique listening experiences.

3D Audio-Beamforming technology optimizes the level homogeneity and spectral consistency in each zone. Additionally, it minimizes the sound spill between zones. This unique feature not only provides excellent value in functional applications but also an unprecedented creative potential for designing multiple experiences within one room. The combination of 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis technology allows sound designers to create a virtual point of origin, and place it in a precise spatial location, meaning audio can be directed to the listener so that it sounds close, even though the source is far away.

What was the biggest challenge during the design and installation of the audio system in The Sphere?

One of the main challenges for our team was taking the extremely high-level project requirements and breaking them down into a product design and system concept that not only sounds and works perfectly but could be mass manufactured within certain cost parameters. To do this, we grew the development team from five people to more than 40 in just a year.

Sphere is the largest, self-supported spherical structure in the world. It stands 366’ tall, and has a 1000,000m3 internal volume. Its vast interior means sound must travel up to 110m to reach every member of the audience.

The brief for Sphere was to deliver crystal clear audio for every member of the audience, to completely hide the sound system behind a 160,000 square foot, curved LED surface and deliver even sound coverage across the entire venue without the inclusion of delay hangs that would obstruct the audience’s view.

Sphere’s Proscenium Array is mounted directly behind the stage, which thrusts out into the audience area. To account for the curvature of the Sphere, the Proscenium Array physically points down towards the stage, not up towards the audience area. Our 3D Audio-Beamforming technology compensates for this angle, digitally aiming the sound towards the audience.

By building arrays in two dimensions, we achieve control over breadth and depth simultaneously, allowing coverage over the large and complex audience area.

What unusual solutions did you introduce to achieve a good acoustic system and, at the same time, hide the speakers behind the LED panels in The Sphere?

We worked with MSG and SACO, who provided the LED screen at Sphere, very early in the project so they could make their screen as acoustically unobtrusive as possible. At the same time, we developed compensation algorithms to be able to counteract, as much as possible, whatever acoustic obstruction the screen would induce, creating a two-fold solution.

The entire X1 system inside Sphere is hidden by the supersized, curved LED screen. Despite its transparent nature, the screen still creates an obstacle for each driver signal to pass through, causing a loss of audio quality.

We developed proprietary compensation algorithms to retain the characteristic clarity of sound of X1 by compensating for the angle-dependent and frequency-dependent transmission loss created by the LED screen. The effects can be described similarly to those of a directional-dependent, spatial EQ.

The straight position of the X1 arrays keeps all sound sources (drivers) at a constant distance and angle relative to the screen. As a result, the transmission loss in a certain direction is the same for all drivers, allowing a uniform compensation across the array.

Holoplot’s X1 Matrix Array is a completely outstanding and technologically different product from what we have known until now. What are the desired applications for your products? (Where can its potential be fully revealed?)

HOLOPLOT technology addresses acoustic challenges for a wide variety of applications. We summarize these into the following market segments: Live, Experiential and Speech. X1 has been deployed across all these segments with great success. Notable projects include:

Masjid Misr

As one of the largest mosques in the world, the Misr Masjid project presented the unique challenge of delivering clear, intelligible speech to a congregation of thousands in a space of over 10.000sqm – without compromising the architectural integrity of the building’s mainly marble interior.

A conventional sound system may require upwards of 30 positions to achieve sufficient coverage and intelligibility within such a space. HOLOPLOT provided unmatched audio coverage throughout the mosque, requiring only nine loudspeaker array positions. Each array is mounted as high as 23m above the floor, concealed at a significant distance from the listener behind painted cloth or metal, rendering the entire audio system invisible to worshipers.

At Misr Masjid, X1 handled an existing reverberation time of six seconds, caused by both the marble interior and 60m high dome, managing not to excite the reverberant field – directing energy away from reflective surfaces and preventing the need for large amounts of acoustic treatment.

Lightroom, London and Seoul

Lightroom is an ambitious immersive arts venue conceived by award-winning design studio and production company 59 Production. Their ambition was to turn a concrete basement with 11m high walls into a smooth sounding gallery space without compromising 360-degree, full-height visuals on all four walls.

The team quickly realized that conventional loudspeaker solutions would need multiple wall cavities or mounting positions on all four walls to achieve the desired immersive effects. The space also has a reverb time of over six seconds and there is very audible background noise of projector fans.

Sound Designer, Gareth Fry, suggested using a HOLOPLOT system. The designonly required two positions within the room, yet delivered more creative tools that could be used to generate immersive effects, providing the answer for the inaugural exhibit, ‘DAVID HOCKNEY: BIGGER & CLOSER’, but also paved the way for future shows.

Polestar 4 electric SUV coupé launch at Auto Shanghai

By harnessing the power of 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis, HOLOPLOT created an inspiring multi-zone audio extravaganza, with show visitors treated to a keynote presentation from Polestar’s CEO, ingeniously delivered via two dedicated listening zones, one for English, one for Mandarin Chinese – the world’s first-ever live simultaneous translations without the need for wearables. X1 also played a pivotal role in creating a captivating audio experience throughout the show, enveloping visitors in a discoverable sonic journey.

Marbella’s Starlite Occident 2023 Festival

Starlite Occident is a three-month-long extravaganza set in a transformed quarry. It hosts an impressive lineup of both English and Spanish artists. X1 was strategically deployed to overcome challenges posed by the venue’s unique acoustic environment, which included the quarry walls’ reflective surfaces in the amphitheater styled arena, steeply raked seating and a VIP area flanking the stage and positioned at 90 degrees to it.

The stage was quite low, which meant that deploying a traditional PA would have required the hangs to be positioned at an acute angle to ensure the audience at the back of the arena had a similar audio experience to those at the front. Another challenge presented by the venue was the VIP bar and seating area located on stage right of the main arena. The organizers naturally wanted to ensure this area provided a high-quality auditory experience, but it had proved difficult as it was positioned between a 45 and 90-degree angle of the PA hang. The HOLOPLOT system generated a targeted coverage beam from the right array of the main system, covering the VIP area without exciting the massive mountain behind it, ensuring a superior audio experience.

Buena Vista Social Club

Buena Vista Social Club at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York received rave reviews. A HOLOPLOT X1 system addressed the acoustic challenges inside the converted church theater and managed vocal presence amidst live percussion instruments with ease. The Atlantic Theater is a converted church, with architecture that poses acoustic challenges. Although it has undergone significant modifications to become a delightful space for any show, accommodating live percussion instruments on stage, including congas, bongos, and timbales, sometimes just six feet away from the audience, meant it became inevitably loud. Sound Designer Jonathan Deans was concerned about the vocal presence of the actors and needed precise audio control over the seating area, with vocal clarity amid live percussion being his main priority, which is why he specified HOLOPLOT.

A single central mono cluster of three X1 modules is configured horizontally, and exclusively designated for vocal reinforcement, utilizing the system in a unique, creative and impactful way.

At ISE 2024, you presented the X2 Matrix Array. Can you tell us a bit about its characteristics and planned applications?

X2 brings our revolutionary HOLOPLOT technology into a smaller form factor – the logical next step in an ongoing commitment to providing unrivaled sound control for more applications than ever before.

X2 is based on the same powerful combination of 3D Audio-Beamforming and Wave Field Synthesis, providing an unmatched level of sound control. Optimized for speech, the MD30 achieves significantly better speech intelligibility than conventional loudspeaker technologies that don’t provide control in both axes.

Every MD30 Matrix Array is capable of generating up to 12 separate sound fields simultaneously – each with its own content, equalization, level, shape, and position.

The MD30 comes with two modes that are enabled through software: The first provides maximum output at a frequency range of 140 to 18,000 Hz, making X2 the first choice for speech-based content. The second option extends the lower frequencies down to 80 Hz, enabling a multitude of use cases.

X2 is our second Matrix Array product. Each module contains 30 loudspeaker drivers in a matrix arrangement, each individually signal processed and amplified through powerful DSP and integrated electronics. Eliminating the need for external amplification racks and minimizing the infrastructure needed to accommodate your system.

Despite being packed with drivers and electronics, the MD30 remains compact and lightweight, easy to handle and install by a single person. With a depth of less than 14 cm, it enables unobtrusive integration and even flush mounting. The Audio Modules are housed in an exterior mounting frame with a sliding hinge mechanism and sophisticated cable management system that ensures easy installation and maintenance, saving you time and cost.

Multiple X2 Audio Modules can be arrayed horizontally and vertically to create differently sized arrays in either landscape or portrait orientation for limitless scalability and flexibility.

What are your plans for future product and company development?

HOLOPLOT is committed to radically transforming audio technology. We’ve rethought the underlying physics of sound reproduction, designing products that deliver pristine audio and provide infinite creative possibilities.

We support the boldest and most daring ideas. Sphere has highlighted the extent of what’s possible. Without X1 we wouldn’t have the same, quality listening experience in thai astonishing venue.

Our technology is being adopted across more and more market sectors, with examples mentioned above, showcasing the versatility and scalability of our Matrix Arrays. We’re planning to build on this with further global expansion and to support an even wider variety of applications, bringing superior sound quality to even the most challenging projects.

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