Back in 1965, the Beatles played Shea Stadium. And to compete with the noise generated by 55,000 screaming youth, they pumped their music through a series of Electro-Voice LR4 column speakers. But to no avail. As Ringo put it, “From the count-in on the first number, the volume of screams drowned everything else.”
It didn’t take long for rock bands to play catch up. By the 1970s, the Grateful Dead had invented the “Wall of Sound,” then the largest concert sound system ever built. Designed by Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the Dead’s sound system brought together 604 speakers, generating 26,400 watts of power in total. Expensive and unwieldy, the Wall of Sound was short-lived, soon giving way to more logistically-feasible and cost-effective touring rigs.
From there, the quest for the perfect sound system–especially ones suitable to sustain large, outdoor concerts–continued. Bringing us to today. Above, sound engineer Dave Rat breaks down exactly how modern sound systems work, “and why modern music festivals sound so much better than they used to.” Mr. Rat has provided audio for the Coachella music festival since 2001. Ergo he knows of what he speaks.
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