AUDIO WITH A THEME
Nov 1, 2000 12:00 PM, Toni Flosi
When Riverside Park reopened its doors as Six Flags New England, it needed a new sound reinforcement system to match the level of excitement that the redesigned venue was supposed to bring its visitors.
Riverside Park, Agawam, MA, changed over last winter and reopened this year as Six Flags New England, complete with a Loony Tunes/DC Comics motif, several new thrill rides, and a totally revamped sound system. Beyond the dazzle of new facades and rides, visitors are treated to a high-fidelity sound system that replaces the old Riverside's horns-on-poles approach. With each themed area in the park complimented by its own sound track and most of the major rides featuring ride-specific music to build excitement while participants queue up and enjoy the thrills, music reproduction was a top priority.
Mark Jarrell, of Wassmann Audio Video, Whately, MA, designed the new sound system and managed the installation. Dave Bushey served as project supervisor for Wassmann's six-member crew, and Ed Bellerose served as lead technician. Wassmann was chosen as Six Flags New England's preferred vendor based on its 15 years of expertise in designing and installing audio, video and control systems in a variety of venues, including colleges, churches, corporate centers, concert halls and stadiums. Originally, Wassmann was commissioned to replace the sound system for the park's background music, but officials were so impressed by the results that they kept Wassmann on site to improve and create ride-specific sound systems as well. The bulk of the project spanned five months with the park stretching its budget to upgrade as many of the sound systems as possible.
The management at Six Flags wanted high-fidelity sound, something that was sorely lacking in the old Riverside Park. Volume was important but not the sole issue. Although various systems needed to get above the din of the crowd with a high degree of intelligibility, even more significant was selecting the right loudspeakers to meld into the scenery so that the all-important themed music seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. Architects originally designed many of the buildings without consideration for loudspeaker locations, so Jarrell and his crew spent serious time figuring out how to hide the loudspeakers in existing locations without compromising coverage, frequency response or aesthetics. For some venues, Wassmann hired carpenters to build custom loudspeaker boxes to match given facades. In many locations, loudspeakers manufactured by D.A.S. Audio, Valencia, Spain, were the right pick. Their small size coupled with high output allowed Jarrell to squeeze them into tight spaces without sacrificing performance. For landscaping and walkways, Wassmann used rock-shaped Rockustics loudspeakers and mushroom-shaped Soundscape loudspeakers to supplement overall park music and paging.
Wassmann Audio Video also had to wrestle with the existing park infrastructure. Although the park was originally built a century ago, much of the 4 inch (102 mm) conduit was laid during the last 20 years. The old loudspeaker wire ran great distances from the communications office through the conduit on 70 V lines, a system that Jarrell hopes to replace during the parks next renovation phase. As it stands, most of the park zones are still running on the 70 V lines. One exception is the new DC Comics zone, which takes a digital fiber-optic feed from the communications office and converts the feed in the zone for local amplification using Peavey CAB A/D and D/A converters.
The eight zonesEight zones comprise the background music system. With a few exceptions, each zone has its own themed music and its own volume control. Except for the DC Comics zone, all of the source material, processing equipment and amps reside in the centrally located communications office. Denon DN-620 CD/cassette decks play 7 hour mono CDs and feed a Rane DA216a distribution amp. The DA216a, in turn, feeds four Rane CP-64 zone mixers with ducking and two page inputs (each mixer controls two zones). On normal days, the distribution amp maps each themed CD to its appropriate zone, but on special occasions, such as independence Day, it can map one CD to the whole park. One 410 W Crown ComTech CT-410 amp bridged in mono drives each zone, except the DC Comics area.
Of the eight zones, the loudspeakers in the South End zone and in the Kiddieland zone were not replaced. These two zones are slated for future upgrade. As it stands, however, they serve as a real comparison between the old and the new systems. A direct contrast to the South End zone is the North End zone. This area plays generically themed music through one D.A.S. DS-8, one Community Wet 228 and two EAW UB22s. Additionally, 12 Soundscape ATS-360GT16-Plus mushroom loudspeakers fill in the gaps for their larger brethren.
A fan of D.A.S., Jarrell selected the DS-8s for their high fidelity and flexible mounting options. An 8 inch (20 mm) low-frequency driver and a 1 inch (25.4 mm) exit compression driver with a 2 inch (51 mm) titanium diaphragm coupled to a constant-directivity horn comprise the small, powerful loudspeaker. The DS-8's efficiency optimizes the bang-to-buck ratio for Jarrell. He selected the Community Wet 228 for the North End zone and elsewhere for its surprising bass response, its phenomenal weather resistance and the powerful Community horn that, according to Jarrell, "just pushes the sound out there." Both the DS-8 and the Wet 228 have tight pattern control.
"Pattern control is a big issue in the park. One of our goals was to minimize spill from one zone to the next so those visitors aren't subjected to a cacophony of simultaneous and differing melodies and rhythms. The DS-8 and the Wet 228 are precise boxes. We also used the DS-8s at the transitions between zones and are more than pleased with the results," said Jarrell.
Cracked Axle Canyon, a Western-themed zone, plays mostly country music. Resembling a storybook Western town with old saloons and wooden facades. The anachronism of 21 superscript st century loudspeakers in a 19 superscript th century town required Wassmann to be creative in both disguising and hiding loudspeakers. Loudspeakers were hidden behind second-story porch railings and inside fabricated custom boxes. Once again, Jarrell used three Wet 228s, four DS-8s and a D.A.S. Factor 9T. Jarrell selected the DS-8s again for their long, precise throw. The Factor 9T, by contrast, has a shorter and wider throw making use of an 8 inch low-frequency driver, a 1 inch ferrofluid-cooled tweeter and a built-in line transformer. Four unobtrusive Rockustics loudspeakers placed strategically in planters and next to pathways compliment the larger loudspeakers.
Rides and shows"Before we renovated the sound system," said Jarrell, "the only speakers the park had set up for rides and queue lines were bandwidth-limited horns. They would barely eke through and basically were just used for paging. Now, with the new system up and running, the park has switched to themed music, making the whole amusement park experience enveloping. For Six Flags, we used two digital announcers, a CD player, and a varying number of new, high-fidelity speakers for each ride. One digital announcer gives instructions for loading and the other gives instructions for unloading. Each ride's operator also has a microphone on a separate channel to make special announcements or for emergency communications."
Wassmann specified Factor 9Ts for all of the new queue line installations. "The sound of the Factor 9T can't be beat," said Jarrell. "I heard the Factor 9T last year, and I've been using them ever since. They're more rugged than the standard fare and look sharper, too."
Wassmann used up to four Factor 9Ts on a given line. The longer the line, the more loudspeakers he used. He distributed the loudspeakers along the length of the queue line to maintain a constant volume. Additionally, he wanted to avoid delivering all the sound from one point, thereby blasting one part of line and leaving the other end straining the hear the message.
One of the most stellar attractions at Six Flags New England is the new Superman Ride of Steel, a 20-story roller coaster that achieves speeds in excess of 80 mph (129 kph) over its mile-long course. Because of the ride's popularity, the designers of Superman created an elaborate queue line. Visitors come off the midway, traverse through a building, exit the building and wind through an outside queue line before loading onto the roller coaster. This wait can, consequently, be quite lengthy. For this application, Wassmann selected a Rane CP-64 mixer to divide the long queue line into three zones so that visitors in one section of the line would not have to hear messages or announcements that pertained only to another section of the line. The first zone at the loading platform carries the background music, the operator's mic and the loading and unloading digital announcer. The building off the midway is the beginning of the second zone, and it normally carries only the background music for the ride through some existing JBL Control 28T loudspeakers. As the queue snakes outside, still far from the actual loading platform, background music and the operator's mic are patched in with anxious riders listening to music via three Factor 9Ts. A seldom-used third zone has its own mic and amp channel tied to four Atlas-Soundolier AP-15-T horns placed at the top of the ride's highest hill for emergency announcements and instructions.
Joker's Funhouse, an indoor ride that spins wildly on several axes, required one of the more challenging system designs. The park wanted intense music for the queue line that wraps maze-like through a hall of mirrors. Jarrell specified four Factor 9Ts to be hidden in the black ceiling along the length of the queue line. With only a steel support structure for mounting the Factor 9Ts, mounting off a steel support structure, the Factor 9T bracket swivel adjusts along both the vertical and horizontal axis independently, allowing the installer the ability to aim the speaker after it is mounted. By using this bracket, Jarrell eliminated the gymnastics some other loudspeakers require for this of installation. A looped CD with loading instructions burned in every two minutes plays through the Factor 9Ts at an impressive volume, powered by a Peavey UMA-150t mixer/amp. The actual ride itself features a high output system consisting of two Klipsch KP-362, three-way loudspeakers backed by a EAW SB-250 subwoofer powered by a Mackie 2600 amp.
There is also a live parade in which Loony Tunes characters dance and sing. Because the parade often sets the mood, the park wanted the show to generate a good deal of excitement. To create this outdoors and completely exposed to the elements system, Jarrell again chose Wet 228s. Three of them were placed on the balcony of a building opposite to the main gate. Jarrell then supplemented the low end with a weather resistant EAW SB48 subwoofer and extended coverage for the show with another Community Wet 228 placed farther down the midway on a delay line.
Winding upAlthough much has been accomplished this year, Six Flags New England is still a work in progress. The park plans to expand for another five years, and Wassmann Audio Video is planning to get the whole park off of 70 V lines and onto Peavey MediaMatrix fiber-optic digital feeds.
Ultimately, park officials are overjoyed with the new high-fidelity sound system with some offering the opinion that Six Flags New England has the finest sound within the Six Flags Theme Park family. Visitors are noticing and appreciating the change as well. The whole Six Flags experience now seems more authentic and transparent. For its part, Wassmann Audio Video looks forward to similar challenges down the road.