Issue 28

Rocking Hard

A new audio matrix with iOS control? Rock ’n’ roll!


17 December 2013

Text:/ Graeme Hague

It’s easy to take global franchises for granted and forget that some of these retail behemoths had humble beginnings – even almost accidental ones. Such is the case with the Hard Rock Cafe. The original venue was opened in 1971 by two American hippy-like chaps who lamented the lack of any decent burgers in London so much they decided to open their own joint. The official Hard Rock Cafe website doesn’t explain how the ‘Hard Rock’ name came about, but the venue quickly became the cool and groovy place for musicians and music-lovers to hang out. The first live gig was Paul McCartney and Wings doing a warm-up show before their 1973 UK tour. At some point Eric Clapton asked that one of his guitars be hung over his favourite stool to mark his spot (the rock ’n’ roll equivalent of draping your beach towel over the best poolside chairs – German readers take note) and, not to be outdone, Pete Townsend did the same. Yes, Fenders and Gibsons were cheap back then. The Hard Rock Cafe’s memorabilia collection is now up to 79,000 items worldwide and – we’ll do the math for you – the company has been in business over 40 years.

That kind of success doesn’t solely come from a couple of blokes who can’t stomach fish and chips wrapped in newspaper. Over the years the Hard Rock Cafe has developed a winning formula and company identity, and the latest example of that is evident at the Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, Darling Harbour.


Despite the name, the Hard Rock Cafe caters for a clientele beyond heavy metal fans and one of the problems that creates is providing a diverse Hard Rock “experience” for everyone, allowing for a range of musical tastes, all in the same venue. In particular, ensuring the different zones of background music and even live performance don’t overlap and interfere with each other. In general this is usually just a matter of volume and maintaining the required ambience of each zone, since Hard Rock Cafe sources all its music from a global server. Still, the capability to broadcast different content to the various zones or perhaps speeches and corporate presentations is a necessity, and must be ready to implement with a minimum of fuss and expertise required.

Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, Darling Harbour, has a capacity of over 500 people and includes several bars, an outdoor balcony dining area, a live performance area and a retail shop. In all, the refit determined there would be eight separate zones for broadcast. Getting the balance right throughout the venue is a priority for the Hard Rock brand, and the existing PA system  was deemed incapable of cutting the mustard (cutting the mustard – get it? It’s a burger joint, so… never mind). Sydney-based AV integrator VisionX was invited to install a solution, designed by principal ICT consultant Mal Barnes from Umow Lai, which is multi-disciplinary Building Services Engineering and Sustainability consultancy.


Mal had recently seen presentations and the specifications of the new Bosch Plena Matrix system and, call it Fate or just a happy coincidence, could see it was pretty much exactly what the Hard Rock Cafe needed. The venue required those eight zones of sound distribution and control – the Plena Matrix comes with an 8×8 DSP mixer plus a comprehensive loudspeaker processor.

No surprise, it’s never going to be quite that simple to spread a single system throughout one venue and guarantee the right results everywhere. Taking on the task of keeping the project on track was Bryan Davidson, Senior Engineer, Bosch Communications Systems, who oversaw the installation and fine-tuned the system EQ. The folks at VisionX are due a special mention, too. Due to the long operating hours of the venue the VisionX crew only had limited, late-night opportunities to get the work done. Let’s hope lots of good coffee was on tap.

For Bryan’s final setup, the Plena provides plenty of tools via a PC GUI connected through a network. DSP mixer input controls include multi-band equalising, gain control and dynamic range compression on each input. Output controls include multi-band equalising, filtering, dynamic range compression, delay and limiting, plus the ability to mix several inputs for up to eight outputs in real time. Any integrators familiar with these types of parameters will find setting up the systems relatively straightforward, then the results can be saved in Scenes that can be recalled whenever necessary. Advanced adjustments can be safely locked away behind a password, in case the kitchen staff decides to take DJ duties into their own hands.

Of course, the venue staff needs hands-on and immediate control of some aspects of the music and while Plena wallplate controllers are available, for this project Hard Rock Cafe opted for iOS devices and the dedicated Bosch Plena Matrix app. The advantages are obvious for tailoring the sound in each zone from deep among the Great Unwashed, although you probably wouldn’t want to let slip that you can tweak the sound system with the same iPad you’re using to take a drinks order. Everybody’s a sound engineer, right?


The Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, Darling Harbour, almost exclusively uses EV ZX1-i loudspeakers in all of the zones, mounted and focused to minimise overlap into adjacent areas. The EV ZX1-i is a passive two-way eight-inch loudspeaker rated at 200W and you’d expect it will keep most patrons happy, but after all this is a hard rock cafe and, let’s face it, ‘food’ is actually doof-doof spelled backwards (okay, twice) and some customers are going to order a side-dish of extra bass sometimes. The venue can serve this up in two of the zones using four EV ELX118 subwoofers, which are a passive 18-inch device rated at 400W.

Some of the features of the Plena Matrix system weren’t required at the Hard Rock Cafe, but they can be easily implemented in the future if needs be. For example, the system can be integrated with Bosch BlueLine Gen 2 motion detectors, powered by the amplifiers, and the system will automatically shut down zones that aren’t being used – something that will never happen at Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, Darling Harbour, but certainly can be a factor in other applications such as museum exhibitions or an art gallery. In an installed system with motion detectors, an associated Auto-Standby power management facility can result in significant savings in electricity costs and wear ’n’ tear on the equipment.

The Plena wallplates and call stations, as mentioned earlier, were eschewed in favour of the iOS app. Again, these can be easily added later since they require only Cat5 cabling making retro-installation relatively simple.


It’s interesting to compare the level of technology used in the Plena Matrix system to the kind of music technology the Hard Rock Cafe celebrates. Messrs Hendrix, Presley, Morrison and the like would surely be befuddled at the concept of their music being streamed from half-way across the world and distributed throughout eight different areas of a restaurant in Sydney, Australia. It seems anything is possible.

This does leave one final, very important question. With all this hi-tech, electronic trickery in place, does the Hard Rock Cafe deliver on that American-style burger that was so sorely missed back in 1971? According to Mal Barnes the burgers are indeed great.

The 500-capacity Hard Rock Cafe Sydney, Darling Harbour, comprises eight audio zones. The new Bosch Plena Matrix takes care of the loudspeaker processing. (Above) EV ELX118 subs provide the low end support..

Umow Lai: (03) 9249 0288 or
VisionX: (02) 8070 9309 or
Bosch Communications Systems: (02) 9683 4752 or


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