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Observatory and planetarium upgrades cinema with HARMAN

Stardome Observatory and Planetarium in Auckland New Zealand given an audio boost

Auckland’s Stardome Observatory and Planetarium recently upgraded its cinema and live performance venue with a complete HARMAN Professional networked surround sound system, comprising JBL Professional loudspeakers, network-connected Crown amplifiers, BSS signal processors and a Soundcraft digital mixing console.

Stardome organisers hired integrators Avid Automation and HARMAN distributor JPRO to deliver the system. The Stardome’s observatory opened to the public in 1967, while the planetarium – the largest in New Zealand – launched in 1997. The venue features a panoramic theatre with a full-dome concave screen, laser projectors and IMAX angled seating for an immersive 360-degree viewing experience. Doubling as both a cinema and live performance venue, the Stardome needed a versatile sound system to support a wide range of events. Additionally, since a range of staff members and volunteers operate the facility, ease of use was a top priority.

JBL AE Series loudspeakers were picked for the theatre’s surround sound system. JBL AM7215/95 high-power two-way loudspeakers provides left and right channels, while a single AM7215/26 loudspeaker with a 120- by 60-degree rotatable waveguide provides coverage for the critical center channel. JPRO and Avid Automation selected JBL AC18/95 compact two-way loudspeakers for the surround channels, as their enclosure design allowed for installation close to the ceiling. Additionally, three JBL VTX B18 18-inch subwoofers provide a solid bass foundation.

“The primary use of the system is 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,” said Darian Sundar, director, Avid Automation. “So, in addition to offering an accurate cinematic experience, the system needed to be capable of handling larger SPL to accommodate live performances.”

Paul Edlin, sales director, JPRO added: “JBL have an extensive range of purpose-built products that are manufactured in-house. The AE Series speakers are specifically manufactured for theatrical sound design and performing arts facilities, so we knew that they would suit the scope of this project perfectly.”

Two Crown DriveCore CDi 4|1200BL power amplifiers power the system, with pre-loaded JBL speaker tunings that allow the amplifiers and speakers to work in harmony. The amplifiers interface with a BSS BLU-806 signal processor via the Dante networked audio protocol, providing flexible signal routing and control, including the ability to interface with the venue’s fire evacuation system.

To provide operators with hands-on control over the sound in the theatre, Avid Automation and JPRO provided the venue with a Soundcraft Si Performer digital mixer. A Dante interface card allows the mixer to send output signals to the BSS and Crown backend, while a Soundcraft Mini Stagebox 16 provides additional inputs onstage for larger performances. Avid Automation collaborated with Stardome organisers to design a custom user interface to make the system easy and intuitive for staff and volunteers to use.

“A system of this nature is a significant investment,” concluded Darian. “The venue is open to the public with performances six days a week, requiring the system to work day-in and day-out. Localised support, reliability and versatility were key in our decision-making.”