Held on January 28, 2018, this year marked the first time the ceremony was held outside of Los Angeles since 2003. Firehouse Productions was hired to provide sound reinforcement for the event, which included live performances by Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, Kesha, Bruno Mars and Cardi B, SZA, Childish Gambino and more. In order to ensure exceptional sound quality for both the audience at Madison Square Garden and the television broadcast, Firehouse designed a complete HARMAN Professional audio system centered upon JBL VTX Series loudspeakers and Crown amplification.
“When it comes to sound quality at the GRAMMY Awards ceremony, we have incredibly high standards,” said Michael Abbott, Audio Coordinator, 2018 GRAMMY Awards. “The HARMAN VTX system delivered incredible results, and in my opinion Madison Square Garden has never sounded better. It was one of the best-sounding shows we’ve ever produced.”
Firehouse Productions Vice President Mark Dittmar and Systems Tech Jamie Pollock began working on the design three months before the ceremony, which involved coordinating with the art and lighting departments to optimize the system configuration for the elaborate stage and lighting designs. Another primary goal was ensuring that the energy of the system stayed extremely focused to avoid any roomy or washed-out sounds for the TV broadcast.
Intelligibility and transparency were also key, since the system volume needed to remain consistent throughout the dynamic range of performances. Using a combination of VTX V25-II loudspeakers and the new VTX A12 loudspeakers for the main arrays, the Firehouse team created a system that delivered incredible clarity and precision, even at the lower volumes required for the television broadcast.
“The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences takes this show very seriously, and front-of-house sound is a top priority,” said Ron Reaves, Front of House Music Mixer, 2018 GRAMMY Awards. “The JBL VTX system was one of the best PA systems I’ve ever mixed on, it just translated so well to the room. I can’t say enough about the design and tuning of the VTX rig, because it was spectacular. The audience is made up of producers, engineers, and the world’s biggest artists—people who make their living listening critically to music. A lot of those same people came back and commented about how good the system sounded, more than I can ever remember. It was a huge win for Firehouse and JBL Professional.”
The HARMAN Professional audio system included two main hangs of 16 VTX V25-II loudspeakers per side, 14 VTX A12 loudspeakers per side, and nine VTX S28 subwoofers per side flown in a cardioid configuration. In addition, ten VTX G28 subwoofers were deployed in five ground stacks, 24 VTX V20 loudspeakers were deployed in six delay clusters, and 36 VT4886 loudspeakers were used for front fills. The entire system was powered by Crown I-Tech 1200HD and 4x3500HD power amplifiers in custom-built Firehouse racks.
“I’ve been designing PA systems for television shows for 18 years and this is probably the most successful design we’ve ever had,” said Dittmar. “The A12 loudspeakers performed great, and I’m a huge fan of the V25-IIs. We always go for an incredibly high level of intelligibility, but this pushed it to a level we’ve never heard before. It was a great-sounding show and it had impact, but it was several dB quieter than anything I’ve experienced in a long time. There was no need for it to be any louder because you could hear every S and every T, the diction was absolutely flawless. It was a perfect storm of things coming together to create an awesome experience.”