With six main areas, three venues dedicated to live music, and approximately 130 zones of paging and background music, Hard Rock Park certainly takes the role of sound inside a themed attraction to a new level.When Hard Rock Park welcomed its first paying visitors in Myrtle Beach last month, it became the first all-new U.S. theme park to open for business in more than a decade. In the intervening period, an industry that had once provided AV integrators with projects of immense scale and complexity appeared to go strangely quiet-overshadowed, at least in terms of popular perception, by the big growth areas of education, government, corporate, and hotels.
It would be a mistake, though, to interpret theme parks' low profile as a sign of decline. On the contrary, says Nick Farmer, president of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), the sector has never had more potential. "As an industry, we do go through peaks and troughs," Farmer conceded. "But just because there are no new parks, doesn't mean there's no work.
Customers look for new rides and new attractions, and they can be marketed and promoted and pull in extra visitors. If you're a theme park operator and you don't have something new each year, you fall back.
"The number of brand-new parks opening every year is very small, so the vast majority of work is upgrading, adding new features, remodeling corners of the park-there's always that kind of work."
Turn Up The Volume
For those contractors who specialize in AV, and, more specifically, audio, the hope must be that a music-oriented venue such as Hard Rock Park will persuade other park operators to prioritize sound when they are designing the new rides they need to remain competitive. Peavey's Tim Tardo, who oversaw the development of some unique outdoor loudspeaker products as part of his work at Hard Rock Park, certainly believes this will happen.
"These guys are making the other parks aware of how important good sound is," Tardo said. "Historically, audio was the last thing to be considered and the first thing to be criticized. But things are changing. Already, we're seeing that some of the larger parks are making heavy investments in the sound, especially the themed rides or shows that are based around rock-and-roll."
With six main areas, three venues dedicated to live music, and approximately 130 zones of paging and background music, Hard Rock Park certainly takes the role of sound inside a themed attraction to a new level. The job of designing the audio system, including laying out the CobraNet network topology, fell to Tim Smith of Electrosonic, the main AV integrator for the project.
"MediaMatrix NION N3 processing nodes make up the bulk of the processing for the background music system," Smith revealed. "There are nine NION n3s at the head end that make up one large system for the distribution of audio throughout each of the six areas of the park, and the background music comes out of one central room and is distributed over fiber. At the other end we go out to our MediaMatrix CAB 4n units to breakout the analog for our amplifiers, and then to nearly 1,000 Peavey Impulse and PR Series loudspeakers that are weatherized for outdoor installation."
Peavey MediaMatrix NION N3 processing nodes make up the bulk of the processing for the background music system at Hard Rock Park. At the other end, MediaMatrix CAB 4n units breakout the analog for the amplifiers, and then signal goes to nearly 1,000 Peavey Impulse and PR Series loudspeakers that are weatherized for outdoor installation.
Smith added that while the huge number of audio zones may seem like overkill, they give the new park a degree of flexibility which will make a lot of operational sense. "There are no more than six speakers to each zone, which gives us the ability to narrow the system down when they have live shows come into the park. There are a dozen or so stage areas throughout the park where a band can set up and plug a mixing console into the MediaMatrix system. The speakers in that particular zone will then switch over to the live show instead of the BGM, so you have those speakers in addition to the system the band brings in. Depending on the band's crowd draw, we can expand or shrink the coverage area to either accommodate more people, or make it a little more intimate."
If America's newest theme park is blazing a trail for high-quality, high-flexibility audio, then America's oldest is doing its best to ensure it doesn't get left behind in the afterburn. With its ongoing program of technical upgrades and new shows, southern California's Knott's Berry Farm is proving Nick Farmer's point that theme parks need to keep innovating year after year.
Like Hard Rock Park, Knott's Berry Farm uses a CobraNet/MediaMatrix NION infrastructure for its audio distribution, ensuring that future updates and expansions can be handled easily. Most recently, the park has been making extensive use of Yamaha digital technology to improve audio quality in a number of key areas, as in-house audio specialist Larry McCoy explains: "Our main performance venue is the Charles M. Schultz Theater, where we have a Yamaha PM5D console at FOH. Show consistency is important to us, so the precision of digital recall of all parameters helps us to ensure that the guests get the show that they are paying for. The PM5D also interfaces easily with outside acts and FOH engineers, and is always rider-friendly."
aKnott's Berry Farm has no fewer than 14 different locations where bands need to be able to 'plug and play'-including its main venue, Charles M. Schultz Theater, shown here with a Yamaha PM5D console at FOH.
If there is a common thread linking Knott's Berry Farm with Hard Rock Park, it is that their requirement for high-quality audio extends well beyond the performance venues that have been designed specifically for reinforced sound. Knott's Berry Farm has no fewer than 14 different locations where bands need to be able to 'plug and play', leading McCoy and his team to develop their own standardized 'Porta-Rack' of audio processing around Yamaha 01V-96 digital mixing boards equipped with MY16-CII CobraNet cards.
"The 01v-96, with all the onboard effects and expandability, costs less than a quality 24-channel mixer with the out-board gear to support it," McCoy reasoned. "Also, we found it easier to train our technicians if all the sound boards were laid out the same way. Last but not least, the newer Yamaha compact digital consoles sound better than the analog equivalents that we used to own."
But while McCoy concedes that the automation options made available by digital technology are useful, the park never relies on them entirely. All of our shows have operators using the mixers who can adapt to different show conditions, such as rain or performer mistakes. The main feature that we like is the ability to recall different shows to accommodate the various situations we run into here on the Farm. We believe that a person behind the board enhances the guest experience."
Opportunity In Experience
It's that word 'experience' that is key here. If North America's theme parks are embracing high-quality audio as never before, it is only partly because their shows and rides demand it. Increasingly, it is because their paying guests demand it, having been weaned on a diet of good sound in places they visit more frequently such as bars, restaurants, and retail stores.
In a sense, we have come full circle here. After all, it was the theme park industry that acted as the catalyst for the development of many of the installed AV technologies that today's contractor takes for granted, and which have since found their way into more 'everyday' applications. TEA's Nick Farmer said, "Just as no theme park can survive without a strong retail component, so shopping malls want to learn from theme parks. Restaurants have passed a little, but 'experience design' still has a role to play there, in terms of creating an environment that engages people."
With so much 'experience' work now taking place outside of theme parks, operators now face a possible headache in terms of not being able to realize the upgrades that they need. "At the moment there is huge demand in China, India, and the Middle East; the amount of design that's going on is vast," Farmer reported. "The big players are becoming concerned that if all these designs get built, then there aren't going to be enough people in the world to build them. So we need to bring in more AV specialists who don't currently work in our field."
Above all, it seems, the worlds of theme-park management and 'experience' development are converging to create an industry that is not just more wide-ranging in application, but also more serious about what it does, as the examples of both Hard Rock Park and Knott's Berry Farm testify.
Venues don't necessarily want to simply imitate the major theme parks, says Farmer, "but they do want staff who smile at you, they do want those customer service values, they do want rides that are reliable and that can be upgraded into something that really immerses the visitor. It's all part of the industry growing up into something that isn't just frivolous entertainment. It's something that plays a key role in life."
New Outdoor Speakers 2008
The Technomad Noho weatherproof loudspeaker is part of the company's AS Series. The 12-inch coaxial full-range loudspeaker is often used in 2-to-4 loudspeaker, non-distributed high-volume output systems. This includes large mobile applications and outdoor high school and college athletic stadiums. The Noho carries an IP56 rating from the IEC for its protection against hazardous parts and water ingression. It has gained notoriety mostly because of its output and musicality for its size and its combination with the Technomad Soho subwoofer, a popular setup with mobile DJs.
Atlas Sound FAP 42T
Strategy Series II 4-inch 2-Way weather resistant speaker system with 16-watt 70.7V/100V internal transformer, combines coaxial loudspeaker performance with wide dispersion and easy installation. The FAP42T is for high-intelligibility voice, music, and signal reproduction in commercial, industrial, and institutional applications. Easy installation in drop tile or sheetrock ceilings via C-ring/V-rail tile bridge and dog leg mounting system. Front mounted tap selector switch for easy system tuning adjustments includes transformer bypass setting for 8 Ohm direct coupled operation. Four-pole detachable phoenix style connector allows easy pre-wiring.
SoundTube XT Series
SoundTube's XT Series outdoor speakers are designed for secure in-ground mounting with extreme-duty UV-, scratch-, and weather-resistant enclosures. Patented BroadBeam waveguide technology provides smooth 360-degree horizontal off-axis coverage; this reduces overall system costs because fewer loudspeakers are required to provide maximum coverage, SPL, and intelligibility. The XT550 and XT850 speakers are coaxial systems that include weatherproof polypropylene woofers with butyl rubber surround and aluminum dome tweeters with integrated horn and mounting bracket. A weatherproof 5-position tap switch offers operation for 25-, 70.7-, and 100-volt applications.
Community WET Series Loudspeakers
Community Professional Loudspeakers' WET (Weather Environmental Technology) Series features the WET2W8 system, used for entertainment systems, natatoriums, and cruise ships. This ultra wide, uniform coverage, black or white finish, glass fiber curvilinear-shape loudspeaker enclosure contains proprietary carbon fiber cones, Ferro fluid-cooled dual 8-inch cones and stainless steel hardware to brave the elements. Carbon fiber cones are lower mass, brutally strong, and very disagreeable to the pests.
OWI Landscape Garden Speakers
Landscape Garden Speakers feature 360-degree sound dispersion in traditional cone, oval, and octagonal designs. Available with 70 volt or 8 Ohm speakers and with optional 12v lights, these speakers deliver high quality sound while seamlessly blending in with the surroundings. The polyethylene enclosure is bug-, puppy-, and lawnmower-proof, and UV light resistant.
JBL Outdoor Loudspeakers
JBL's Control Contractor speakers pass MilSpec 810 and include IEC529 ratings ranging from IP-34 to IP-55, with optional accessories, including Marine Kits for some models, available to further increase the outdoor capability for especially harsh conditions. Speakers in JBL's AE Series, PD Series, and VLA Series are available in two levels of outdoor capability. WRC, with a rating of IP-55, is intended for outdoor placement where the loudspeaker will be sheltered from direct exposure to the elements. The WRX configuration is excellent for direct exposure to the elements or any extreme environment.
QSC AcousticDesign AD-S82/AD-S82H
The QSC AcousticDesign AD-S82 is a full range, surface mount loudspeaker with sleek, contemporary styling. The speaker incorporates QSC's IntelliDock intelligent mounting system combined with the advanced directivity rotatable waveguide. Available in black or white, these weather resistant enclosures can be painted to match any decor. With both high output and standard versions, the AD-S82 is a 2-way system housed in a ported enclosure made from injection molded, high impact polystyrene. This enclosure incorporates an 8-inch weatherproof, LF transducer with a heavy-duty double roll cloth surround.
Peavey Quadra 15P
The Quadra 15P powered loudspeaker is a flyable, bi-amplified system rated at 1,000 watts peak power and featuring a 15-inch Black Widow woofer and a 2-inch RX22 titanium compression driver. The Quadra 15P is capable of peak SPLs of more than 130 dB and has a frequency response of 54 Hz to 18 kHz. Also available in powered Quadra 10P and 12P models, and the non-powered Quadra 10, 12 and 15 models. It comes in black or white finishes.