It’s probably fair to say a poor atmosphere in a German football stadium already equates to something like being the world’s skintest millionaire. It is all very much relative.
Which only serves to put the experience facilitated by Monster at VfL Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Arena into proper context. Fifty subwoofers and as many speaker arrays, each meticulously tuned by Monster founder and CEO Noel Lee, deliver a stadium performance unlike any we’ve previously heard.
In synergy with a Philips-led light show, it’s difficult to imagine any player feeling ambivalent as he steps onto the turf surrounded by such a pre-match spectacle. Indeed, it has us imagining what the anthems of our own lowly pet clubs might sound like when rendered like this.
"The biggest system in the world"
Lee describes it as “the biggest audio system in the world, tuned by an audio engineer to audiophile standards”. But the journey began in Houston’s NRG Stadium, where the celebrated Californian hi-fi engineer was able to iron out some of the creases inherent in creating a sound-system for so large an auditorium.
“Let’s look at the issues: first you have terrible dispersion around the stadium, it’s a jumbled mess,” he tells us. “If you have multiple systems they interfere with each other, if you have fewer systems, fewer speakers, you can get a good sound centre and front stage - and that’s it. The object is to get great sound anywhere in the stadium. You have a home system or car audio system: you can take that and multiply it by a hundred times, trying to get good sound.
“The second major problem is the slap-back echo, because you have such a great distance and the sound is bouncing off a wall and coming back at you, so the only way to do that is to dampen it, which these folks haven’t consented to the money to do. So you have great sound but you have a lot of slap-back. Then you have with an audience and without an audience. With an audience is actually better because it adds to the sound dampening.”
Cavernous, like a cathedral
Indeed, by the time we get to experience the full effect of Lee’s system, the Volkswagen Arena is already pretty much full of Wolfsburg and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach fans, and the slap-back echo (likely also masked by almost 25,000 sets of lungs chanting to stave off the icy cold) is next-to inaudible.
What we do feel is the rumble of those subs, complemented by a startling level of clarity unrivalled by the often quite unintelligible PA systems we’ve faced on many an away-day.
But it isn’t all a case of problem-solving, as Lee explains the equal strengths of so unique a kind of workspace. “It’s an open stadium, but it adds to the cavernous effect, like how you play music in a cathedral.
“When you have something as big as a stadium, and you’re playing such a gigantic sound, when you first hear it you’ll say, ‘wow, I’ve never heard anything like that’. And that’s what I wanted to do, provide an experience in a stadium you’ve never heard before. You’re not going to hear it in your living room, you’re not going to hear it in your car audio, you’re not going to hear it in your headphones: only physically, a place that big can produce a sound that big.”
Designed around stadium sound
And the benefits will also stretch further than to the ears of football fans. “Usually when you’re playing a concert in a stadium, the sound is really harsh up front and by the time it gets to the seats it’s all kinds of contorted,” Lee tells us. “So there’s no way to get a good acoustic sound in a concert if you’re playing in a stadium, like you would in Carnegie Hall. But here we designed a system around stadium sound - it’s an audio and music experience unlike any other.
“You go to a game, you go to a concert, you want to have high articulation, high clarity, great balance, bass that’s not over-exaggerated but can really pump when it needs to. It needs to have very similar qualities to what you have in a fine audio system, except the place is big. If you hear a choir in a cathedral, it’s a very different experience - so that’s what I was trying to inspire”
So Wolfsburg certainly has the first such audio system, but we’re reliably told there will be more arriving around Europe soon enough.
Is it worth planning a trip to hear it for yourself? Most certainly, yes. Worth waiting until temperatures rise a little above freezing? We’ll tell you when we get the feeling back in our toes.