Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now


Cruising cities: discover how the pro-audio industry is sailing the seas

Pack your suitcase for an adventure into the audio on the seas

Sarah Sharples gets her sea-legs on to see how the pro-audio industry is benefiting from the billion-dollar cruise-liner industry

The cruise liner industry is big business. Almost 23 million passengers worldwide are expected to sail this year and it is estimated that the market is worth US $40 billion (€35bn).

This means it’s a lucrative business for companies installing sound and communications systems, involving a lot of technology and big budgets. Refurbishments also play a big part.

Multiple theatres, cinemas and performance spaces in these floating cities mean it’s not one installation job, but many. Then there are the teams that have to do the change-overs between acts: one week it might be an orchestra in the main theatre; the next a DJ; the next, a cabaret.

All aboard!

Having spent 10 years working on ships and finishing up on the QE2 when it sailed to Dubai to be sold, Rodrigo Thomaz (pictured), who is now based at Audio-Technica UK, has done it all. This includes providing the audio for famous faces, such as Queen Elizabeth II, which he says was his most stressful gig.

“We are just talking about a simple PA system with a few microphones, however the pressure of anything going wrong and the logistics of all the security around the event, made this in my opinion one of the biggest challenges I had to deal with onboard any of the 17 cruise ships I worked on,” he says.

The biggest act, in terms of size that Thomaz worked with was the resident chamber orchestra at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Philharmonia Virtuosi. The orchestra came on board the Cunard Caronia for a two week cruise and performed daily, explains Thomaz.

“That was a huge challenge to properly capture each section of the orchestra, including the various soloists with proper mic placement and detailed mixing.

Then we had strike everything and get ready for the evening production shows with a seven-piece band, 24 backing tracks and 10 singers onstage.”

When it came to equipment, Thomaz says he always chose A&H Wizard mixing desks for the deck area and the various lounges across the ship. “They would just work year after year and they sounded great. Audio-Technica mics such as gooseneck and hanging models were my first choice for the theatre and the artist elite range for the band, but we also used other good brands depending on stock availability. I recall running around New York looking for vintage guitar amps for a Beatles tribute act and VOX AC30 always sounds great.”

Thomaz says working in the industry gave him access to all sorts of equipment as well as allowing him to see what happens behind the scenes, including the logistics of loading and unloading shows (like the tribute band pictured) and talking to stage management. He also loved the opportunity to travel the world. There were also some special moments on board, Thomaz says.

“I am from Brazil and my wife Gemma is from York in the UK. We first met in Alaska, I proposed to her using a satellite phone somewhere in the ocean near Australia, whilst she was cruising in Mexico. I love that!”

New installs

From 2016 to 2017, 15 more new cruise ships will come online, adding 39,500 to worldwide passenger capacity.

The world’s largest cruiser Harmony of the Seas (pictured right and top picture), which is three times longer than the height of London’s Big Ben and taller then the Eiffel Tower, is owned by the Royal Caribbean company, and was completed only recently. The ship, with its 10-storey slide and robotic bartenders, took its maiden voyage from Southampton to Rotterdam in May, with almost 6,500 guests on board.

Taking more than two-and-a-half years to build and costing US$1bn (£695 million), Harmony had sound, light and stage technology installed by VIDELIO-HMS, a year’s contract. Marco Baldin, director of commercial and sales manager, says it was quite a long schedule, but was in line with the expectations. “VIDELIO-HMS has done the engineering, the manufacturing, the installation, the commissioning and the set-up in all the public venues including the crew areas – almost 50 venues,” he comments.

Equipment was selected based on the areas, so big sound in large venues, such as the theatre and ambient sound systems for restaurants, Baldin explains. “On Harmony of the Seas, Meyer Sound has been the right choice for performance versus costs in the main theatre and the Studio B, while QSC Audio or Atlas Sound have been selected for smaller areas.”

Royal Caribbean also launched its new ship Ovation of the Seas, this year and Anthem of the Seas in 2015. At 167,800 tonnes, the ships are the biggest cruise liners ever built in Germany, and the third largest in the world, with Amptown System Company (ASC) responsible for the installation of the audio.

Malte Polli-Holstein (pictured below), ASC’s key account manager of maritime projects, says that when installing equipment quality and reliability are top priorities, due to the unique use and conditions on board liners. “The systems are currently in operation, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which means an excessive use in comparison to applications onshore. Further requirement to ASC are flexible service and response time throughout the world. Cruise ships continually change their positions and ASC has to deliver spare parts to the furthermost regions of the world in a short time,” he says.

Then there is the issue of cruise ships being made of steel: ASC has to come up with clever solutions with regard to installation and mechanical mounting, he adds. “The salty sea air is a further challenge for installing the products. The components must be ultra-weather protected by the manufacturer, a simple weather-protected certificate does not work. The sea air will cover the products and eat through them, and corrode them slowly… The system specialists take care with disassembling the loudspeakers and post-treating every component, applying special lacquers and exchanging all metallic components.”

Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas

The Ovation of the Seas (pictured in Hong Kong) includes the indoor active space called the Seaplex, which is also frequently used for partying at night. Polli-Holstein explains in the SeaPlex, there is a DJ cabin with plexiglass walls equipped with a Yamaha 01V96 audio console, two Pioneer CDJ-2000 CD players and Genelec monitors. “The sound reinforcement system involving Meyer Sound speakers ensures a sweeping party sound enhanced by six 600-HP subwoofers, eight Meyer Sound UPQ-1P wide-coverage speakers are distributed around the periphery to ensure a powerful sound. The wireless equipment provided in the SeaPlex is from the UHF-R series by Shure,” he comments.

Meanwhile, the two-floor Music Hall (pictured below) is the central event venue on board the ship and offers shows, comedy, and live music, and can even be reconfigured on demand as a large-scale discotheque.

Polli-Holstein says its control centre is equipped with a DiGiCo SD8-24 audio console and is located in one corner of the stage and dancing area so that it takes up as little room as possible. “Sound technicians can use an iPad connected to the DiGiCo console by wifi to adjust sound settings while listening to the sound in the middle of the public area. Meyer Sound speakers are everywhere.

The Royal Theatre on the Anthem was an equally complex installation, reveals Polli-Holstein. He says in the earlier days of cruise ships, ASC installed technology for classical theatre, where professional actors could show their performance. “Today we are confronted with the trend and the requirement of multiplex event rooms which work also for all-day operation. ASC has developed and installed a concept, together with the specialist planners from Meyer Werft and RCI, which provides a highly flexible infrastructure: The Royal Theatre of the Quantum class can be used from presentations, games, sales events, and auctions to movie showings, classical music, and stage shows.”

The Theatre contains two Meyer Sound line arrays with 20 M’elodie speakers and four Meyer 700 HP subs, with a further five compact MINA boxes as a centre cluster line array, he says. “Forty Meyer Sound UPJunior speakers have been installed by ASC as surround speakers and a delay line. The entire speaker processing is operated with three Galileo 616 speaker management systems. These include balance functions for the M-Series array products, have six inputs and 16 outputs, and offer a broad range of control options. Seven Meyer UP-4XP speakers have been installed for the front-fill.”

The upgrades

There are more than 400 cruise ships out on the seas, and this increasingly popular holiday option means modernising systems is also essential. To avoid any downtime, Fred Olsen Cruise Liners recently used the UK’s EW Production Services (EWPSL) to install Electro-Voice speakers, amplifiers and network, while at sea. The MS Braemar (pictured above) hosts live music, comedy, cabaret and full theatre productions in the Neptune Lounge, but unwanted sound transmission were affecting passenger cabins on adjoining desks above and below.

Paul Byrne, operations manager for EWPSL, said it was tricky to upgrade the systems while at sea, without interfering with the entertainment schedule.

“There was a lot of uncertainty in this installation,” he says, “primarily because it all happened at sea, which put a lot of pressure on our design team. Fortunately, our friends at Electro-Voice UK provided an ETX loudspeaker system as a temporary sound system.”

But not all liners continue cruising when it comes to upgrading. Last year, luxury cruise liner, the Aurora (pictured), owned by P&O Cruisers, underwent a £26 million (€30m) dry-dock refurbishment for three weeks. The ship, which was first launched in 2000, accommodates 1,800 passengers, nearly 1,000 crew members and has three swimming pools, a spa and health club, cinema, theatre and several entertainment venues. Audio consultant and designer Peter McBoyle from Ontario was brought in by FUNA International, which was overseeing the refurbishment.

One area that needed improvement was The Masquerade Lounge, the third largest venue on the ship and home to the nightly disco, as well as being used daily for live music, comedy, lectures, and other presentations. When not hosting an event, the Masquerade functions as a lounge and meeting point for guests. As McBoyle explains, the need for versatility played a role in his decision to go with Renkus-Heinz CF Series loudspeakers.

“They needed a system that could deliver high-impact musical performance from the small stage area for dancing and for live music, but could also function at lower levels for background music during the day,” McBoyle observes. “It also had to provide good intelligibility for spoken word performances. And it had to be consistent across the entire venue, without blowing anyone away.”

The Lounge (pictured) is fitted with left and right arrays of Renkus-Heinz CFX101LA modular point source line array loudspeakers. Groundstacked beneath the flown arrays are a pair of CFX 218S dual 18″ subwoofers to provide low frequency punch. Reinforcing the main arrays are two rings of delay fills.

Augmenting the main system, McBoyle specified four CFX121 cabinets facing inward onto the dance floor. “Those speakers are primarily used when the room is in disco mode, but they can also provide foldback for the dance floor area if needed,” he reports. A pair of CF121M cabinets are employed as stage wedges. QSC Audio amps powers the system. A Yamaha QL1 console handles the mix, connected via Dante to a MediaMatrix NION NX handling system DSP.

McBoyle says the installation was a challenge. “The dry-dock overhaul was only 20 days long, and that included almost every aspect of the ship. There were contractors everywhere, all working on top of one another. Speakers were being installed while the floor of the disco was being ripped out and restored.”

With global demand for cruising rising by 68 per cent between 2004 and 2014, it looks like the audio industry will continue to play an integral role in the growing industry. All aboard please!