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06 August 2009

Electro-Voice Sound SOARS At San Diego Zoo

The San Diego Zoo recently partnered with Natural Encounters, Inc. (NEI) to present a unique bird-themed entertainment experience at the Zoo’s Hunte Amphitheater. SOAR: A Symphony in Flight is scheduled to run for 17 months, and required the Zoo and the SOAR’s producers to invest in permanent sound reinforcement for the show.

CBC Technical, Inc. (Murrieta, Calif.) worked closely with Buck Tallman and Dave Brown from Quantum to design and install an extensive Electro-Voice sound system to provide high-resolution sound for the SOAR’s atmospheric soundscapes. Chris Batchelor, Sales Manager for CBC, comments:

“We’ve been supporting summer shows at the San Diego Zoo on a rental basis for the last few years with a system built around an Electro-Voice XLD compact line-array system. This year the producer of this new, permanent show asked me to put together a system that could provide sound from any point around the audience. Using a range of EV products, including weatherproofed Zx and Sx series loudspeakers, we took a different approach this year, designing what is basically a 7.1 surround sound system, a system that can direct sound anywhere, immersing the audience in the sounds of birds flying overhead. There’s even a scene in the show where the whole forest venue catches on fire – the flames start off in the distance and end up wrapping around the entire audience – it looks and sounds like you’re in the middle of a forest fire. There’s also thunder, lightning, and all sorts of other great effects, and we needed a system with the sonic ability to create a believable experience.”

During the summer months of its 17-month run, SOAR will perform two daytime shows and one at night, and will continue during the Zoo’s daytime hours as the show runs through the fall, winter, and spring. For a system to withstand the rigors of daily outdoor use for 17 months, the system needed to combine sturdiness, low-profile aesthetics, and excellent audio quality. The system at Hunte features Zx5 main loudspeakers, Zx1 front-fills, and Xsub and Sx600 loudspeakers as delays. Batchelor described how the CBC team arrived at the EV spec for the show:

“The priority for this installation was to make it seem like the technology wasn’t there so we could maintain as natural-feeling an environment as possible – a large, intrusive, technology-heavy install would’ve destroyed the ambience of venue. In addition to being low-profile, everything needed to be weatherproof, so we used the “PI” versions of the Zx and Sx boxes. The main Zx5 boxes flown in the trees surrounding the stage are in three-over-three clusters, and cover the amphitheater. Because the space is so steep, we added Zx1 front-fills to cover the near field seats. In addition, the Xsubs – two on each side – provide more low end than the venue is ever going to need! They definitely rumble when the thunder rolls through!”

“The boxes that surprised me the most are the Sx600 dual 12” / single enclosure line array boxes. We’d never used them before, and they offer a surprising amount of low-end sound for a 12” sub, and I was actually surprised with how much clean, high SPL they deliver. I can tell now why they’re popular for outdoor venues like this. And again, the Sx600s are the PI weatherized versions, because we wanted to make sure everything would run for at least 17 months without a problem. That said, we built-in either redundancy or full-time monitoring across the entire system.”

The system also includes two N8000-1500s digital matrix controllers, one primary and the other a backup, and 10 CPS 4.10 amplifiers running RCM-810 remote-control DSP modules, monitoring all system components to alert engineers before system glitches become real problems.

“This is a busy entertainment venue,” Batchelor adds, “and the entire system needs to run three to four times a day without any glitches; we’ve taken all the necessary precautions to ensure that’s the case. In addition to their remote control functionality, the CPS 4.10 amplifiers sound incredible, too. Plus their compact size allows us to fit this entire system into 24 rack spaces. That’s with 40 amplifiers! The power to footprint ratio is amazing. And all the amplifiers are also being load- and component-monitored, which makes this all even more impressive.”

The EV system at Hunte Amphitheater extends backstage, where CBC installed strategically placed compact, surface-mounted EVID 4.2 and EVID 3.2 loudspeakers, ensuring every behind-the-scenes bird handler and trainer doesn’t miss a cue. “This show is driven by music and video content,” says Batchelor, “so it’s very difficult to stop if someone falls behind. The EVIDs help everyone, regardless of where they are in the venue, to stay caught up.”

NEI, the San Diego Zoo, and SOAR’s producers are very pleased with the new system. Show Producer Steve Martin comments: “The sound system CBC Technical installed in our amphitheater exceeded my expectations. The quality of the sound is incredible … more like something I would imagine in an expensive indoor venue rather than our outdoor amphitheater. The speakers blend nicely in our natural setting and the 7.1 surround sound pinpoints our audio effects with precision that has all heads turning in unison. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of the system and level of support we have received from CBC Technical.”

Lisa Passamonte Green of Visual Terrain, Technical Director for the production, added: “CBC Technical was a valued member of the team and Visual Terrain enjoyed their collaborative spirit throughout the entire process. CBC was extremely proactive and ready to tackle every issue as they arose.”

“We expect the same quality that we get from every piece of EV equipment we install,” adds Batchelor, “but we were just amazed by how little adjustment we had to do to the system in this venue once it was installed. Minimal EQ tweaking was required, which is often the case with our EV gear; inherently good sound quality not only makes our jobs easier, it keeps our customers happy!”

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