The 5 Best Festival Sound Systems in Europe

Article by: Joe Gamp|@joegampjourno

Thu February 18, 2016 | 00:00 AM

We’ve all been there. You’re ready to watch your favorite act at a festival. The surroundings are perfect, the beer is flowing, your buddies are present and correct. And then...the sound comes on and it’s a total anti-climax. It's a lackluster representation of the act you've been dying to see, and it’s all due to sound restrictions – or, even worse, lazy festival promoters. However draconian the rules that are imposed upon festivals can seem, they're often in place to protect people residing in neighboring areas, plus there's also a recognized responsibility for organizers to protect the health of your eardrums.

But some festival sound systems still contain that crisp, delectable kick, the sound so thick and gorgeous that even the limits imposed by the authorities can’t tarnish the experience. Here, we’ve rounded up a small selection of our favorite European Festival sound systems, from capital city complexes to the rolling plains of the lush English countryside. 

Primavera Sound, Barcelona, Spain (June 1-5, 2016)

Primavera Sound 2015 Dani Canto   20

Spain’s most eclectic and diverse festival has a range of stages and spaces, catering for a myriad sounds and tastes. But in 2014, the festival debuted one of the most powerful commercial systems in the world, created by specialists Bowers & Wilkins and weighing in at a staggering four tons. "A lot of sound systems have a horn between the moving element and the air, which produces 'colourations' (the blurring of an instrument's original sound),” states spokesman Stuart Nevill of the system that was first premiered at Primavera Sound. At 30,000w – akin to a small jumbo jet taking off in your face – you'd probably want to think twice before being that guy "who dances in front of the speakers" or get yourself some earplugs made of lead.

Sonar by Night, Barcelona, Spain (June 16-18, 2016)

Sónar 2015 Sónar Festival   2
Photo by: Sonar Festival

Barcelona’s legendary festival is split into two sections: the intimate, chill vibes of Sonar by Day (set just off the busy and bustling La Ramblas district), and the gargantuan Sonar by Night program, which is set just outside the city at a decommissioned aircraft hangar. A sprawling, winding complex that houses tens of thousands of ravers, the Sonar by Night venue demands a weighty and formidable system to keep the many thousands of electronic music enthusiasts entertained. Enter the mighty L’Acoustics K1- K2 & Kara systems, powering the vast site throughout its split areas. Heritage acts like Kraftwerk and modern-day heroes such as LCD Soundsystem and Skrillex have graced the festival with their music, typically suited to a big stage, so demand for optimum, premium sound quality is high.

Noisily Festival, Leicestershire, UK (July 7-10, 2016)

Noisily 2015 Noisily   01
Photo by: Noisily Festival

Noisily – set deep in the Leicestershire valley woods – benefits from being one of the loudest and freest festivals in terms of sound. Their location deep within sprawling woodland surroundings means there are virtually no neighbors to worry about and therefore, no pesky limiters on decibel levels. Noisily brings a loud and proud aesthetic to all of its stages, bolstered by an unspoilt, un-tampered, Quadraphonic Funktion One system, which is said to be one of the clearest systems in the UK.

Boomtown Fair, Hampshire, UK (August 11-14, 2016)

Boomtown Fair 2015   46

This Alice in Wonderland-style festival is divided up into districts, all catering to different tastes and genres from across the musical spectrum. Besides the amazing replica city its crews studiously design and build every year, its pride and joy is the festival's L-Acoustics K2 & KARA systems, provided and run by AF LIVE (who also provide sound for the UK's Arcadia) on BoomTown's main stages. And bonus? There are even excellent Funktion One systems in the smaller, dance-centric districts. The sound can be kept to optimum levels within the site’s home of the Matterley Bowl in Winchester (a naturally formed amphitheater in the shape of a bowl, where the sound is positively affected within the acoustics of the site). When presented with restriction problems, the organizers, with AF LIVE, looked at ways to insulate any bleed of sound rather than compromise on quality, using silage bales to block the outside stages. They've also lined a large portion of the indoor venues with acoustic isolation panels to prevent noise escaping as well as careful pre-planning of the site to contain as much of the sound as possible. Proof that even the craziest of adventure playgrounds can require acute and rigorous planning.

Outlook Festival, Pula, Croatia (September 2-6, 2016)

Outlook Festival Benjamin Eagle   01
Photo by: Benjamin Eagle

The jewel of Croatia’s festival season, Outlook is a favorite amongst bass music connoisseurs. Set in and around a Roman fort in Stijin, Pula, this titanic bash goes full throttle with the best from drum n' bass, hip-hop, dubstep, and all mutations of bass in between. The main stages inside the fort itself are an experience for the sound alone, powered by L’Acoustics and Martin Audio Longbow systems for extra punch. Big and bashy music requires equally loud systems to give the sound proper justice. So, with around seven different suppliers of rigs across the site, the organizers at Outlook have evidently had their sound locked down from day one.

What are your favorite festival sound systems in Europe?