Meyer Sound Provides Immersive Audio for TED2024

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TED2024: The Brave and the Brilliant, held April 15–19 in Vancouver, Canada, marked the 40th anniversary of the celebrated conference that brings together the world’s brightest minds to share ideas, inspire connection, and ignite change. This year, the event elevated experiences for presenters and audiences alike with immersive audio support from longtime conference sound partner Meyer Sound.

For one week each year, the Vancouver Convention Centre is transformed into the TED Theater, a custom-designed, hand-built, 1,200-seat auditorium that hosts the conference’s marquee presentations. Meyer Sound‘s relationship with TED stretches back to 1992; the company has been providing sound in the TED Theater since 2019. Since then, the sonic presentation has evolved — adding delays in 2022 and VLFC very low frequency elements in 2023, and expanding to a 7.1 immersive system in 2024.

The system at TED2024, designed by Meyer Sound Senior Technical Support Specialist David Vincent, was anchored by two flown arrays of 12 LEOPARD line array loudspeakers, supported by three 1100-LFC low-frequency control elements and two VLFC very low frequency control elements for deep bass extension. Rings of UPQ-1P and UPQ-2P loudspeakers serve as delays, with UPM-1P ultracompact loudspeakers as lip fills and 32 MM-4XP miniature self-powered loudspeakers serving as floor fills. The new surround system centers around MINA, UPA-2P, UPA-1P, and UPM-1P loudspeakers. The system delivers an immersive yet intimate sonic experience in every seat, for every style of presentation, from spoken word to music.

The TED Theater serves as both a performance space and a broadcast studio of sorts since each TED talk is recorded. But whether providing sound in the room or to the truck, the number-one goal for the TED audio team — audio lead Michael Nunan, A1 Howard Bagley, and front-of-house mixers Alex Rodriguez and Michael “Woody” Dunwoody — is speech clarity.

“Overall, we need the sound system to be the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of PAs,” says Dunwoody, who handles musical performances and other presentations that focus on sound. “It needs to be able to adapt to not only the very wide variety of performances we see on a daily basis, but also provide the ‘Red Dot’ [stage mark for presenters] with as little PA energy as possible, while still delivering crystal-clear dialog to our audience.”

That’s trickier than it seems, Rodriguez explains, due to the diversity of experience in presenters, which range from world leaders accustomed to commanding stages to schoolteachers who have never worn a microphone. “If they’re not experienced speakers, they will speak really, really softly,” he says. “On the broadcast side, you don’t have an issue, because you can turn it up as loud as you want. In the room, it’s different because we have live speakers, they’re hanging on the roof, and we can only get so much headroom before feedback. That’s why over the years we’ve turned the system into a more distributed system, which meant basically adding a distributed layer on top of what was already there, which was a normal LCR system.

“A lot of the faders on my console go to each of these distributed — I call them rings, because we have a main PA, and then three rings of speakers — and I know that if I get somebody that’s really, really soft, I can turn down the speakers that are closest to them,” he explains. “And then the ones that are farthest, in ring two, ring three, I can turn those up on the fly.”

This year, TED introduced immersive sound, which allowed presenters to engage with the audience on a deeper level and transported audiences into a multitude of soundscapes. “We were able to take them across a desert, under an ocean, inside of a busy restaurant, and give them an experience of being ‘inside’ a song, as an artist performed live, in front of them,” says Dunwoody. That said, the team used surround effects to enhance the audience experience, not overtake it. “We asked ourselves, ‘Should it be on and in play the whole time? Our answer was a unanimous ‘no.’ The effect needed to be used tastefully and only when the show and content warranted it.”

“The audience doesn’t know what a 7.1 system is or a VLFC is,” adds Rodriguez. “The only thing that they know is that when they were here, it sounded really good, or it was clear, or it gave them the chills.”

As TED evolves and innovates, sound becomes increasingly vital in engaging attendees and creating memorable experiences. With Dunwoody, Rodriguez, and the entire audio team at the helm, with support from Meyer Sound, TED continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

“As an audio team, we are very proud of the reputation that we’ve worked very hard to develop and keep over the years; the team at Meyer Sound is critical to keeping that reputation high,” says Dunwoody. “Their system allows us to be flexible and adapt to anything and everything that TED can throw at us. And do it with the clarity and accuracy that our audience deserves.”

“TED relies on premium sound to share ideas,” says Mina Sabet, head of production for TED Conferences. “Without quality audio, the ideas would be lost, and Meyer Sound is the reason the audio is at the highest standard of quality in the theater.”