Why Music Festivals Sound Better Than Ever: A Coachella Sound Engineer Demystifies Modern Sound Systems

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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Relat­ed Con­tent 

How the Grate­ful Dead’s “Wall of Sound”–a Mon­ster, 600-Speak­er Sound System–Changed Rock Con­certs & Live Music For­ev­er

One Man’s Quest to Build the Best Stereo Sys­tem in the World

An 82-Year-Old Japan­ese Audio­phile Search­es for the Best Sound by Installing His Own Elec­tric Util­i­ty Pole in His Yard

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.