Tag: chicago

Clearwing Productions Chooses Technomad for Phoenix Zoo Audio Improvements

Technomad loudspeakers enliven “water lagoon experience” for visitors while giving zoo long-term outdoor audio solution

BOSTON, October 16, 2013 – The systems design and integration experts at Clearwing Productions last year overhauled the Phoenix Zoo’s annual seasonal spectacular “ZooLights,” transforming a linear roadside display into an immersive, 360-degree audio and lighting experience that encircled the zoo’s central water lagoon.  The advanced audio system from Technomad performed so well that zoo officials opted to use the system year round, delivering multi-zone background and event music to visitors across the lagoon area.

Phoenix Zoo Powerchiton pole installation

The Phoenix Zoo initially hired Clearwing Productions to increase the production value of the annual lighting show, though the two teams quickly determined that the audio system was underperforming ­– not to mention falling apart.

“The Phoenix area is inundated with sun and UV rays, which is very tough on outdoor products,” said Nick Pitman, service and systems engineer, Clearwing Productions.  “The previous speakers were dry rotted or full of water, and most had cracks from UV rays.  They wanted something that would produce great audio and last more than a year.  That’s when we looked at Technomad.”

Technomad delivered an advanced outdoor audio solution comprising 24 loudspeakers, 12 subwoofers and multiple wired power amplifiers, all fully weatherproof to protect against UV rays and other outdoor elements.  The Clearwing design included 12 speaker poles surrounding the lagoon, each with two Paris weatherproof loudspeakers pointing in opposite directions from a height of 16 feet.  One Technomad Chicago subwoofer and two PowerChiton amplifiers were added to the base of the pole.

The PowerChiton amplifier modules simplified the installation for the Clearwing team and ultimately reduced project costs for the Phoenix Zoo, eliminating lengthy complex underwater wiring jobs to connect traditional indoor amplifiers to outdoor loudspeakers.

“We knew that we wanted an outdoor amplifier that was simple in design but offered longevity,” said Pitman.  “This solution gives us 120 volts and a speaker line output in a compact, outdoor-rated package.  One PowerChiton feeds the Paris loudspeakers and another feeds the subwoofer on each pole.  Most importantly, the PowerChiton design has no fans, eliminating any heat-related performance problems. They just keep working.”

The end-to-end distributed audio architecture includes Harman or BSS equipment to route, zone and delay signals for everyday use or special events as required.  Network protocol signals are converted back to balanced audio en route to the PowerChitons.  From there, the Paris loudspeakers deliver full-range musical reproduction with broad dispersion across the entire lagoon, with the Chicago subwoofers filling in the low end with additional bass output.

“The zoo had previously used rock speakers, and after the lighting upgrade they made it clear they wanted to add real audio,” said Pitman.  “The Paris loudspeakers cover the area thoroughly, while the subs emphasize specific points in the music or dramatic show scenes without pushing the bass to nightclub levels.  Everyone involved agrees that this was the most effective outdoor audio solution for the job.”


Technomad LLC, founded in 1995, designs and manufactures loudspeaker systems for the professional audio and security/military technology industries.  The company invented the first reliable full-range weatherproof loudspeaker and now offers nine models ranging in power from 60-watt loudspeakers to 1250-watt subwoofers — most available in Turnkey PA System packages featuring amplifiers, mixers and other signal processing equipment in pre-wired racks.  The company also manufactures a variety of audio infrastructure and communications equipment including playback and recording systems, weatherproof power amplifiers and turnkey remote audio systems.  Contact Technomad at 617-275-8898 or visit http://www.technomad.com for more information.

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Club Med Cancun Goes High Tech

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the October 2007 issue of Lighting & Sound America.

Club Med Cancun Goes High Tech

Brian Galante

The 2005 hurricane season will go down as one of the bleakest in history, as the list of named storms became so long that forecasters turned to the Greek alphabet. Hurricane Wilma, the last storm from the traditional alphabet, tore through the Gulf of Mexico early that fall, settling on top of the Yucatan Peninsula and barely moving for 48 hours. After making its exit, some of Mexico’s most famous resort areas, including the city of Cancun, were left battered and faced with a long period of rebuilding.

Club Med Cancun, with its shoreline location, was just one of many resorts that sustained heavy damage from winds, rain and an unrelenting storm surge. The club took the opportunity to rebuild its lighting and sound infrastructure along with much of its resort, favoring high-fidelity audio products and a lighting system that was easy to operate yet technically advanced enough to produce the right atmosphere in each room.

The family resort offers a variety of clubs and restaurants to satiate both kids and adults. The open-air design through much of the resort presented many challenges for the audio integration team, which had to balance the desire for high-end audio throughout the club with the reality of Cancun’s harsh weather environment.

We have done plenty of installations in tough environments, but we have never run into environment as harsh as Cancun, said Bill Weir, Owner of Core Audio. Our challenge in these outdoor areas was to install loudspeakers that could sit in the bright sun and survive the ultraviolet degradation, not to mention the humidity and mineral content in the air the latter of which contributes to rapid corrosion. This all adds up to a highly challenging installation, unlike in any region I’ve experienced.

The Core Audio team, in cooperation with Whump Sound, a Los Angeles based dealer specializing in audio installations, led the systems integration. The central equipment room houses a Digigram digital distribution system that routes audio to eight zones, a combination of indoor and outdoor venues, each with a distinct personality. Technomad loudspeakers were selected for all open-air venues, partially due to the true weatherproof design of the loudspeakers. These venues include a mix of restaurants, bars and entertainment areas plus the valet greeting area in front of the resort.

The indoor areas used two other speaker brands: Altec Lansing for in-ceiling installations where architecturally required, such as in the gymnasium and the late night restaurant Las Cazuelas; and Core Audio’s self-designed loudspeakers for The Soluna, the main indoor dance club. The installations play to the strengths of each speaker, but all share one thing in common according to Weir: outstanding audio quality.

The broad dispersion pattern on both the Technomad and Core Audio loudspeakers require fewer loudspeakers per room. The wider audio dispersion eliminates the phasing issues that are common in large installations, where too many loudspeakers cause an uneven sound in certain areas, or a wishing sound as the patron walks through the sound field.

Many resorts of this size put budget over any other consideration when choosing equipment, and the audio reproduction at the end point is anything but musical, said Weir. Club Med Cancun uses a 24-bit distribution system that plays back high resolution audio files, and that fidelity is well represented in each zone due to the choice of loudspeakers. Core Audio uses a patented subwoofer technology that produces very high audio quality, and we were interested in working with Technomad because we wanted musicality in the outdoor zones. The range of products that can withstand the Cancun environment is very limited, and Technomad meets both the musical and environmental requirements.

The outdoor club environment in tropical locations poses difficult weather related challenges for audio integrators, notably ultraviolet susceptibility to loudspeakers, said David Meyer, Commercial Sales Manager for Technomad. While the weatherproofing aspect is important, it has to sound good regardless of the environment. You can deliver the most rugged, bulletproof speaker, but you don’t have anything if the speaker produces poor audio quality.

Audio distribution is handled over Ethernet, with numerous fiber optic hops across the resort property to extend distribution past the 328-foot limit of the Ether Sound protocol. The eight zones (expandable to 16) are interchangeable, meaning that a music stream can be changed to a different destination point through a simple switching system. Since Club Med Cancun is a family resort, the Digigram network also offers a paging system. Digigram ES220 two-channel transceivers are installed at each end point and can receive two channels of Ether Sound audio from an Ethernet stream. The pages can override the audio stream on the two-channel, mono audio design utilized in most zones.

Music streams can be localized to specific zones, or routed to all eight zones simultaneously. The resort leases a proprietary music servicing software that plays out from a central server in the control room and communicates with the Digigram system for distribution. On-site audio engineers can use Soundforge and Wavelap programs to produce personal CDs in the control room, and can interrupt the automated stream to any zone if they want to play the DJ role.

I’d say the most unique aspect of this project is the routing system, said Diaz. The Digigram system is powerful enough to interact with multiple speaker brands, and gives the on-site operator plenty of flexibility in playback. Even though we operated under a very tight deadline, the entire system came together in a very seamless manner.

The central indoor club is The Soluna, which offers an adult-oriented club environment typical of downtown Cancun. The music in this room is played back through Core Audio loudspeakers, with lighting courtesy of iDesign Productions out of Miami. The Core Audio loudspeakers deliver sound pressure levels of an active nightclub at a higher quality level than is typical due to several design features. A custom subwoofer with a quarter-wave resonant system extends the bass, and special two-way, non metallic coaxial compression drivers smooth the mid and high ranges. The loudspeakers are installed in a traditional four-corner configuration, the ideal setup for the enclosed, air-conditioned room.

The Soluna’s lighting system as set up by iDesign employs a scheduler for two different settings: House and Lounge. The programming is more intricate on the House setting, with more aggressive LEDs and stimulating, rapid lighting changes. The Lounge setting is gentler, with soothing, subtle changes. The programs change slightly by the hour on automated settings, and are barely noticeable to guests. The entire system uses an astronomical clock to calculate the exact time of sunrise and sunset each day.

The lights in the Soluna are very subtle for the first hour and add color and depth as the evening progresses, said Michael Meacham, Owner of iDesign Productions. A typical progression may add teals, magentas and ambers as the programs change. The automated settings also take the staffing situation into account. Since many of the employees work on a six-month term, it’s important they understand how to use the system. So we designed to be as foolproof as possible.

Meacham served as the lead designer and installer, bringing a team to the resort and focusing on key areas one at a time as the rebuilding process moved forward. His team integrated a Color Kinetics control and software system with LEDs as the foundation for the Soluna, with installations inside the bar and within soffits in the ceiling. Color Kinetics LEDs were also installed in an outdoor entertainment area that serves multiple purposes .Martin Mac 250 Kryptons and Washes were added throughout the Soluna for articulation.

The outdoor entertainment area, known as The Chispa, offers a movie theater and a performance area with an exceptional A/V and lighting system. The central kiosk area is peppered with palm trees that are lit using Color Kinetics color blasts. The LED fixtures for each palm tree are automated using a Martin Light Jockey control system, with 220 volt power lines providing juice to each palm tree. Like the Soluna, the lighting for this zone is customized to match the event, and can be manually operated on theme nights using a small 8-button switcher. Martin 250 Kryptons and Washes were also installed in the theater area.

We programmed white, stoic lighting for the palm trees on certain nights, but there are other theme nights that benefit from more intensive lighting, said Meacham. This outdoor area features an island where the resort hosts a circus that includes a giant trapeze. We took more creative liberties here: The colors move quicker, and the intention is to recreate the feeling of approaching a carnival. Whether you are inside having dinner, hanging out at the Chispa kiosk or having a drink at the pool bar, these lights are designed to invoke emotion as you look toward the island and see this giant, gorgeous structure lighting up the atmosphere.

The Chispa movie theater is perhaps the most unique aspect of the resort, and according to Weir, a one-of-its-kind system. The integration team painted one side of a three-story hotel building on the resort with retro-reflective, high-gain paint. Guests can sit on the beach or on bench seating in the pool area to watch movies projected onto the building.

A triple DLP 5000 HD projector, mounted in a protective cage on the beach, projects a 30-foot wide, 15-foot tall 16:9 aspect ratio image. Guests can take advantage of a Sennheiser RF headphone system with a broadcast range of 300 feet to watch the movie undisturbed, while those who want to enjoy the ambience can do so without the audio dominating the atmosphere.

DJs and performance groups can also take advantage of this outdoor entertainment area. A pair of Technomad Berlin loudspeakers was purchased for mobile events, and plug in to rack systems on the performance stage. The dedicated control room features an Allen & Heath GL2800 front of house mixer and processing equipment to assist with these live events.

The remaining room-to-room breakdown of Technomad loudspeakers include: The Pergola, a beach bar that features four Noho loudspeakers hung 9 feet above the crowd and two Chicago 15 subwoofers at two corners along the baseboards; eight Vernals in The Chispa and Las Velas, the pool bar; and Noho and Vernal loudspeakers in the valet area, which play back low volume music as guests enter the resort. Crown DSI series amplifiers are used to power the audio in each of these zones, offering full parametric EQ, crossover functions and basic signal processing. (A Rane RPM88 DSP is used to power the Core Audio loudspeakers in the Soluna.)

The Berlins were specifically chosen for mobile events because they are high quality, full range portable loudspeakers that can be used anywhere on the resort at a moment’s notice, said Weir. They offer a full range of sound with excellent bass response and a very nice tonal quality that is ideal for DJ sets. In the Pergola, the Nohos produce enough sound pressure levels at 1 a.m. so that people who want it loud can turn up the volume, but still produce a full, pleasing sound at lower volumes. This was the same idea we had for the Vernal 15 installation in the pollapa, with a higher emphasis on producing clearly audible sound at low levels for conversational situations.

All power and electricity issues were resolved in the early stages, although there were plenty of challenges. Meacham had an easier go of it with the lighting system.LED technology requires very little power, which makes our job that much easier. It is entirely possible that one of the four Mac 250 lights in the main bar took more power than the entire LED display in that zone, he said.

The audio installation proved far more complex, from the cleanliness of the power coming into the resort to more common grounding issues. We had to resolve numerable electrical engineering issues ahead of time, from improper load balancing in the main three-phase transformer to adding clean technical earth at multiple entrance points, said Weir. We removed a lot of the audio on common phases with large inductive loads, like refrigerator compressors. We also custom built resident filters with some of the power lines to filter out harmonics generated from motor noise in the AC system. It was pretty much a nightmare situation that required a lot of troubleshooting.

The electricity issues proved to be the only real undesirable aspect of the project, and the end result has been pleasing to everyone involved.

Contractors may view this as a standard design in terms of audio and lighting, and it is similar to what you see today in theme parks and large corporate installations, said Diaz. But the resort community seems ready to catch up.

Technomad Loudspeakers give T-Rex a new voice at Jurassic Park.

» More Information on Theme Park Audio Systems

When asked if he has finally tamed his T-Rex, Jim Schmidt, Manager of Sound & Video for Universal Studios Hollywood, comments, “No way. That was never our intention. We wanted to make him more threatening, ornery and angry sounding, so we could leave a lasting, terrifying impression on everyone who sees and hears him.” Laughing, Mr. Schmidt notes, “I want everyone who visits Jurassic Park to have nightmares about T-Rex after they leave here, and we absolutely accomplished that task.” The Tyrannosaurus Rex Mr. Schmidt refers to is affectionately known as ‘T-2’ by the technical staff of Universal Studios Hollywood. T-2 is the 6 meter tall, animatronics menace who resides in the climacteric indoor section of the newly opened Jurassic Park attraction.

T-2’s hovel is designed to resemble a recently evacuated and dismembered laboratory. When a boat full of spectators reaches a trigger-point on the track in this area, Earth-shattering footsteps from an unknown entity, start to reverberate out of the darkness, drowning out the evacuation klaxon and other equally threatening and intimidating sound effects.

Rapidly flashing strobe and emergency warning lights, shifting ceiling trusses and walls, the clatter of twisting and straining metal, venting mist, steam and smoke from shattered pipes and a contrastingly calm, recorded spoken warning announcement adds to the heightened air of foreboding. After only a few seconds, the boat full of spectators emerges from an obstacle of broken pipes and severed ducts, and is greeted by a series of blood curdling roars that have not been heard on Earth in some 65 million years. T-2 suddenly swings into motion. Lunging down and out of the shadows from behind a waterfall fed by shattered pipes, T-2 angrily cranes his neck out and viscously snaps his jaws within almost arms length of the hapless passengers. Just when the passengers believe T-2 will start severing heads, the boat in which they are riding suddenly plummets down the America’s largest water-ride drop to the soaking wet safety of the splash pool 85 feet below.

Mr. Schmidt notes, “Jurassic Park is really a technological wonder. Universal likes to stay on the cutting edge of new technology to prevent down-time and make sure the visitors are awe struck by the time they head home.”

When the entire system and waterfall is on, dew point in this section of the attraction is 100% for as long as 16 hours per day, everyday of the year, except Thanksgiving and Christmas – the only two days of the year the park is closed. Aside from the waterfall, a substantial amount of water mist and vapor is vented into the atmosphere from ‘broken pipes and valves’, to create a greater impression of damage caused by the T-Rex. Mr. Schmidt states, rather factually, “It’s not the healthiest place for loudspeakers. The mist, moisture and humidity in this part of the Jurassic Park attraction is overwhelming. The former sound system could not withstand this environment, and we were left no alternative but to replace it after only four months of service. It was vital we find a powerful sound system that could survive in this room.”

James Byron, president of Direction Sound/Vision of Los Angeles, was contracted by Universal Hollywood to provide the new voice for T-2. Many variables had to be taken into account aside from just the hostile atmosphere. The background noise from the waterfall, the sound of the boat on the tracks and the chain-pull mechanism, registers at a consistent 100 dB.

“When I first heard T-Rex’s ‘roaring’ sound effect through the former loudspeakers, he sounded a little weak”, notes Mr. Byron. “The waterfall and the sound of the ride were drowning out the T-Rex foot steps and roaring sound effects from the former sound system. Plus, there was a lot of sound cancellation caused by the sound of the falling water. Not only did the new system have to stand up to the hostile atmosphere, it had to overcome other sounds that could not be controlled or dampened.”

Technomad WeatherTech loudspeakers were demonstrated to Richard Ales, Senior Manager, Technical Response, and Ed Carri, Sound & Video Foreman, both of whom quickly determined they had found the solution to their dilemma. Mr. Carri is quick to point out, “The musicality, dispersion and projection of the Technomads is all very, very impressive. But it was the fact that Technomad loudspeakers are designed to meet military specifications, and survive in situations worse then the Jurassic Park installation. That’s what made them the obvious choice for the job. If they are good enough to be mounted on M-1 tanks for battlefield simulations, then they should withstand our theme park.

” Mr. Schmidt wryly points out, “Universal is really the proving ground for new products and technology. We burn it up, blow it up or try to drown it. If a product can survive this environment, it can survive just about anywhere.”

For an initial quick-fix, “and evaluation purposes,” stated Mr. Carri, two Technomad full-range Berlin model loudspeakers were ordered prior to tearing out T-2’s original sound system. Originally, the left Berlin speaker was hung in the waterfall. A huge cascade of water was pouring over this cabinet every day until it was repositioned two weeks later. The Berlins are now suspended in the huge mist cloud, only one meter in front of the huge, three story tall waterfall that recirculates hundreds of thousands of liters of water around Tyrannosaurus Rex, every day. Each speaker is approximately 8 meters above the floor, and approximately 18.5 meters from the spectators. When the two Berlins were powered up, they immediately penetrated the overwhelming background noise and projected the ‘T-Rex roaring’ sound effect at a level of 110 dB, 18.5 meters from the source.

According to Mr. Schmidt, “We’re lucky here in the respect we see all of the new technology first, but we are also pretty jaded by all of it. Granted, it takes a lot to impress us. It was really a sight to see all of the technical staff, and then the executives, with such broad smiles on their faces after they toured Jurassic Park with only the two Technomads plugged in. I was very impressed with the sound when I toured the attraction the day after the installation, as well. So happy with the results, we replaced the remaining T-Rex sound system with a distributed subwoofer system consisting of eight Technomad Chicago subwoofers and an additional four Berlin full-range cabinets.”

“Since the Technomad loudspeakers are so small and extremely powerful, a redundant system of two flown Berlins per side was the obvious way to go,” states Mr. Schmidt. “This assures that should a single Berlin loudspeaker stop working, for whatever reason, the other loudspeakers in the array would still function and deliver the high-impact voice of ‘T-2’. The additional two Berlins are kept as spares, but the system is performing so well, these spare units will probably find a home in another attraction before long.”

As a replacement to the original large subwoofer cabinets, Technomad suggested a distributed system of four Technomad Chicago model subwoofers, per side. By distributing the Chicago subwoofers on the platforms, on each side of the boat track, and position them to within 6 to 10 feet of the spectators, the effective sound pressure level is increased by 3 dB to 6 dB, doubling the actual volume experienced by the audience. T-2’s footsteps have become even more all-encompassing, menacing and ominous to the audience.

“After what we experienced with the old, large format subwoofers, a redundant subwoofer system, such as what Technomad offered, made the most sense,” said Mr. Schmidt. “Our old subs were positioned within the mist field, and I am sure that contributed to their early demise.”

The failure of a single large subwoofer cabinet greatly compromises an attraction’s overall impact, and disappoints many visitors, for many hours – or even days – until replacement parts can be acquired and the unit repaired. Mr. Byron of Direction Sound/Vision notes, “A user in this type of application does not realize just how dependent he is on a single large subwoofer until it fails. When the unfortunate happens, 75% of the low end extension of the sound effects is gone, severely limiting the impact of the attraction.”

Each Technomad Chicago sub consists of a 15″ and a 12″ driver per cabinet and they are very small, measuring in at only 83 cm high, 53 cm wide and 27 cm deep and they weigh only 42 kg. Should a single Technomad cabinet, or driver within a cabinet fail, the remaining 7 subs or 3 full-range loudspeakers within the system will keep SPLs high. “While the attraction is still functioning,” says Mr. Carri, “I can have two technicians come out of the darkness, between boats, switch the cabinets and eliminate downtime entirely. But, I am no longer worried about the Chicago subwoofers at all. All of the new Chicago subs are away from the intense, soaking mist field, thereby assuring they should last forever.”

“I needed a speaker that was bulletproof and could consistently perform while being hit with continuous blasts of water and steam -The Technomads fit those criteria. We’re very pleased with T-2 now that he has his new voice courtesy of the Technomad loudspeakers,” says Mr. Schmidt. “I like being in the position where everyone is asking me to turn down the volume.”