Rat Sound Systems has always been known for its innovation and creativity. From the beginning with their custom sound systems designed for the punk rock scene Rat incorporated innovations. Such as, hard for the punters to climb, beer and boot stomping tolerant stage monitors, system protection limiters that allowed the engineers to turn things up to “11” without blowing out speakers, and compact packaging that fit into a van. Back in the day Rat was solving real world issues creatively, such as power tapping live AC wires before the main building AC shutoff so when the cops showed up and killed building power to shut down the show, all power went dead except the punk rock show. More recently Rat’s focus has evolved into less questionable activities such as developing SoundTools line of audio testers and tools that just make life easier for sound techs and engineers. As much as Dave Rat has always enjoyed solving problems, his real passion has always been designing systems that sound great.
Rat Sound has recently taken delivery of a 36 box EAW Anya system and SoundGirls.Org tracked Dave down to explain this innovative system. By all accounts, it looks as if it sparks Dave’s two passions; solving real world problems and achieving a high level of sound quality.
SG: What makes the Anya different from other line arrays?
DR: There are currently many line array system options available and it seems a new one pops up every week or so. Each new system tries to push its assets while in my opinion L-Acoustics, K1, and the original large scale line array V-Dosc remain the barometers by which all line array systems are compared.
Rat made the decision 15 years ago to invest in a V-Dosc system. At the time there was no other system that could do what V-Dosc did. It was truly a revolutionary concept with real world advantages. The shows sounded better and were more consistent because the sound could be accurately focused to cover the audience area and the quality of the audio reproduced.
Line arrays also brought a paradigm shift in the way we set up sound systems. With the older ‘splay-arrayed’ PA’s, we would just guess where the best place to hang the system and then would run around raising and lowering motors, turning boxes up and down to try to adequately cover the venue. Now we use software, lasers and range-finders to map the venues in 3D. Then fly the system to very detailed specifications and the tiniest error in height or angle can result in what we now consider being a significant coverage issue. The improvements in quality and predictability we have realized since the “good old days” are quite astounding. That is not to say that line arrays are always a better choice than a horizontally splayed array or point source type system. There are application dependent advantages and issues with all sound system types.
The EAW Anya is not only a new system but also a new type of system. There are no vertical angles between boxes. The system can be flown first and then the sound coverage is electronically determined afterward. The vertical coverage is variable in real time, and like non-line array systems, Anya can be attached side by side to be horizontally splayed as well. I believe that these capabilities position Anya to have with significant advantages over other current systems in many applications.
SG: Are you seeing significant interest amongst your clients?
DR: I believe that early on there will be significant interest from clients where Anya’s unique capabilities provide solutions to recurring challenges. The system can cover 178 degrees vertical. That means it can shoot sound straight up or straight down and anywhere in between. This can offer some significant sight-line advantages and the ability to adjust coverage right up to the barricade below the system hang without using under-hung boxes. If the promoter decides to open up seating in the balcony after the doors are open, the sound can be adjusted to cover without moving or rehanging the system.
SG: Rat was involved in the development of Anya, what did Rat bring to the table?
Rat Sound and I have been involved in the development process of the system over the past few years, and it has been a truly exciting process seeing this seemingly farfetched concept develop into a reality. I am remiss to discuss specifics because so much was/is a true team effort. I came in after the concept to develop the system was established and was involved with many of the aspects dealing with the look, feel, and hands on interaction. EAW also brought in Jon Monson from Rat who was instrumental in many of the deployment aspects making sure the system is sound vendor friendly.
We both will continue providing input into the voicing, software and other features. I must say that working with the engineers at EAW is really fun, an idea or potential concept is forwarded, it then gets hammered out by each division. Is it important? Why? How can it mechanically be achieved? What are the sonic effects? Materials? Weight? Cost Size? Visual aspects? Then prioritizing and sometimes an impasse would be reached, so it gets put on the back burner, and a few days later someone comes up with a finesse-full solution. It is a truly collaborative process involving passion and patience. With the common goal of creating something amazing.
SG: Anya helps eliminate the room reflections – Will this change how the FOH engineer mixes, as they are no longer battling the room? How might this effect the stage, the ME, and artists?
DR: Currently with sound reinforcement technology as we know it, no system can eliminate the room, but some systems are better at minimizing room reflections than others. To be able to gain real time control over the vertical and to some degree horizontal dispersion is a huge step in the right direction. The ceiling is typically a huge reflective surface; unoccupied seating sections offer significant unwanted reflections as well. Also, to be able to expand and contract the distance covered in an outdoor venue can be advantageous in reducing off-site noise complaints as well as to minimize sonic overlap between multiple stages at festivals.
As far as the effect on stage sound, there are quite a few dynamics there. Some bands rely on the room reverberation while others would like to minimize it. Outdoors tends to be a whole different story. I would say the more factors we have in our control, the better. If a PA can improve audience sound but we lose PA sound that the band likes, I’d lean toward flying some side fills behind the PA to recreate it and everyone should be happy.
SG: Can you explain how this works?
DR: In simple terms, imagine that rather than having a bunch of separate speakers in an array, imagine that you have a long flexible ribbon that radiates full range sound out the front side of the ribbon. If you make the ribbon straight, all the sound shoots straight forward, but if you bend the ribbon so the top points up and the bottom points down, the sound now shoots upward, downward and everywhere in between. Now imagine that you can bend that ribbon to the shape of a “J” like a conventional line array, or have it pointing diagonally downward. Basically, the Anya system forms this electronically bendable ribbon allowing sound from the array to be concentrated or spread out vertically anywhere in a nearly 180 degree vertical area that is 70 degrees wide. The crux of the design and the reason that this control cannot be achieved by conventional line array systems, even if amps and processing were added, has to do with the driver size and spacing. To effectively variably control high frequency dispersion, you cannot rely on larger format compression and horn drivers. You must have a whole bunch of tiny little HF drivers. Each Anya box has 14 HF drivers each with their own amp and processor. Until recently, the technology to package this type of high density control and output in a portable configuration was just not possible. EAW has a youtube video that better explains the concept and technology.
SG: How easy it for the systems tech to set this up each day?
DR: EAW has done a good job with that aspect. First of all with all this complexity, it is critical to know every box is properly controlled. The Anya boxes are self-aware, and each has 4 infrared sensors that allow it to know which other Anya boxes are above, below and to each side. Once the array has been asked to “find itself”, it knows how many boxes are arrayed and the location of each box in the array including height, width and capabilities. There are several methods to control coverage but in its most simple form, put a microphone where you want the coverage to start, put another mic where you want the coverage to stop and tell Anya to cover the area between the mics.
SG: Anya seems to offer a lot of control over the rig to the engineer and systems techs. Can this control be utilized during the show?
DR: It is all about added control in real-time. “Hey, I am getting too much sound off the roof of this shed, can you clean that up and still hit the people in the back?” and this can be done mid show while mixing.
SG: If you make adjustments like that after you have tuned and dialed in the PA, how does that affect the tonal quality of the rig? Will it affect the system EQ
DR: From the system side, the effect should be minimal and the tonality should be very close to consistent. That said, any alteration of coverage will also alter the reverberant nature of the venue which can have tonal side effects. EAW’s software, called Resolution, is both used to create the 3D predictions for the system as well as control the system in real time. That means you can drop virtual microphones into various spots in the listening area and see a prediction of how the system response will be affected before or after making the change
SG: What does Anya is self-aware mean?
DR: Self-aware is referring to the implantation of the infrared sensors that allow it to determine the array size, configuration and exact location of each box in the array. Also there is a mic that allows each box to acoustically self analyze it’s own output and compare it to an internal response curve that was stored when it was tested at the production facility in Massachusetts. Pretty mind boggling stuff and just the surface of the capabilities have so far been implemented.
SG: Anya flies in a single column and in one configuration. Can you explain?
DR: Since there are no box to box angles the boxes all just hang in a straight vertical line, there is no “J”. There is no pull-back, but since there is no “j” shape, it allows multiple columns to hang side by side increasing horizontal coverage. Each cabinet/column is 70 degrees alone but 60 degrees when added to the next, so 3 columns attached is 120 degrees. We are currently putting together a proposal for a 360 coverage arena system using 4 hangs. Each hang is 3 columns wide.
SG: Each module has built in amplifiers. How heavy are these boxes?
DR: Each box is 285 pounds, 10,000 watts, 22 loudspeakers and the system can hang 36 cabinets deep at a 5:1 load ratio. That is a 54 feet high, 360,000 watts, 11,000 pounds hang for just a single column of Anya. Up to 5 columns can be attached to form a 300 degree coverage pillar weighing 55,000 pounds outputting an impressive 1.8 million watts.
SG: With all those amps in the boxes – what about failures?
DR: If there is a component or amp failure, Anya will notify the system tech via software and the tech then decides whether to have Anya electronically correct for the issue or not. Keep in mind, with most systems a few bad components are not uncommon and rarely noticed immediately. With so many amps and components in Anya, not only will failures be immediately noticed, but the impact of a failure will be less significant.
DR: There is a very interesting sub in development with similar capabilities, but I am not at liberty to share that info as of yet.
SG: What about the rigging system?
DR: Well, since there is no “J” shape, it is all just simple straight dead hangs; it rolls in on carts 4 high and clips together fast. Pull a lever, and 4 bars drop into the cab below, push a lever and they lock. Then lift it away. I pretty sure production managers will like the system. It should reduce load in times for sound and some of the mucking around and also the sound tech that normally has to get up at the crack of dawn with a laser rangefinder.
I think it is important to mention that in no way do I believe any sound system is a ‘be all to end all.’ I look at Anya as an exciting addition and compliment to the systems we offer and a unique unparalleled solution for many applications. It is not often that something truly new and exciting enters the large format sound system arena. I feel very fortunate to be involved with and in a position to embrace this new and developing technology. Hey, I kind of feel how I felt when Rat was investing early on into the V-Dosc and K1 systems, exciting stuff!
SoundGirls.Org would like to thank Dave Rat, Rat Sound, and EAW for taking the time to talk to us. We look forward to hearing and mixing on the Anya.