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Beasts more fantastic after London Zoo Tannoy installation

The bird display lawn, rainforest life exhibit and penguin beach were some of the areas that got an audio upgrade by RG Jones

London Zoo has had the audio in four animal exhibits improved for its 1.2 million annual visitors by RG Jones over the last 12 months, with kit from TANNOY and Lab.gruppen.

RG Jones has been instrumental in a rolling program of integrated audio system upgrades at ZSL London Zoo over the course of the last four years, helping to create new exhibits as well as refurbishing more established ones.

“The original systems were well used and had become tired, so the plan was to move towards more robust equipment with better audio quality and functionality,” says RG Jones project manager Jake Miller.

Providing speech playback for amphitheatre are 10 TANNOY DI6 passive two-way surface mount loudspeakers with inductively coupled electromagnetic tweeters mounted on a single truss, and aimed for best audience coverage of the tiered seating. Powering these are four Lab.gruppen E8:2 amplifiers from the ultra-compact 1U rack height E series, a space-efficient solution with energy saving features such as the auto-switch off after 20 minutes of no signal, meaning that the amplifiers can be left on permanently to be activated when signal is present.

“This is one of the more versatile systems,” explains Miller. “This is more flexible to cater for the range of shows they present here. Last summer they used it for Jungle Jukebox, which is a full-on theatrical puppet show involving four presenters but no system operator, so it all has to be auto-mixed and run on one master volume. We are controlling eight amplifier channels going out front, allowing us to individually EQ the speakers and modify their gain.”

TANNOY’s DI6T model is equipped with an internal 100 volt line transformer with accessible tapping switch, which makes them more suitable for another exhibit at London Zoo with longer cable runs: the Bird Display Lawn.

Twelve TANNOY DI6T speakers, mounted on wooden posts and connected with steel wire armoured cabling run underground, cover the area. “Again, they’re wired to separate outputs on the Lab.gruppen E series amplifiers,” says Miller. “We have four zones in this system so that they can cue separate sound effects to different speakers.”

ZSL London Zoo keeper Helen Crookes adds: “We used to run our talk from Powerpoint, but now that we are able to put auto fades on clips we don’t have to manually turn it down and it enables the talk to run smoothly and professionally.

“As part of the talk, we like to distract the audience when our tawny owl makes her entrance – so we play a recording of an owl call on multiple speakers, ensuring the audience turns in the direction of each call and then we have their complete focus when she appears – it’s a fantastic way to engage with our visitors.”

The Rainforest Life exhibit features more of a distributed system covering the all-round canopy, where the TANNOY DI6 speakers are well hidden on the walls above the walkway but positioned right where the action is, and in sufficient numbers for good intelligibility. The presenter can freely move around with a radio mic to where the animals are, helped by the wireless aerials being housed in strategically placed plastic tubes.

At back of house there’s a custom RG Jones rack, housing a wireless receiver and a single IPD1200 amplifier. Miller describes the setup: “There is one channel of radio mic connected to a pre-amp going straight into an amplifier. We built a preset into the amp so if there’s a need for a reset, we can simply recall everything. The system is left on most of the time and it works efficiently. “

He adds: “The area was interesting to install as it was achieved with the animals in place. There would be a monkey running across the floor or perched just above my head so we had to be very sensitive. We work with the keepers to make sure our work has no impact on the animals.”

While at the Rainforest Life exhibit the rack was at back of house, the Pygmy Hippo exhibit required a different approach, incorporating the rack in a small cupboard located within the exhibit. This drives the distributed DI6 speakers around the walkways where people stand to hear a presentation on the hippos.

ZSL London Zoo’s lead presenter Olivia Neville comments that the audio setup works really well over the large spread-out area. “The pygmy hippos like their own space, and that’s why we have two paddocks. In summer when both hippos are out, the talk is really well attended so we use the elevated platform to ensure we can see the audience and the animals, but it’s flexible enough that we can walk round and do the talk from anywhere. The sound quality is very natural and not distracting at all.”

Penguin Beach, the penguins’ beautiful new habitat, is a very popular exhibit. “Penguins are susceptible to loud noise,” says Neville, “so even though it’s by far our busiest talk as we can have as many as 900 or 1,000 people here at peak times, the brief was to keep sound levels low but clear.”

Explains Miller: “We’ve got three zones here, one in the shallow seating area above the pool where we have placed the smaller DI5s on posts behind the audience. At the cabin, which has its own zone we have two discreet DIs, and around the walkways (where the majority of the people are) we have installed six DIs. We’ve taken a lot of care to face the speakers directly towards, and close to the audience. Again the setup is a radio mic running into a preamp and the IPD amplifier.”

With only two output channels on the IPD, how is the third zone driven at a different level? “100 volt line tappings – the TANNOY DI5s have the flexibility of the 100 volt line transformer taps built in,” explains Miller. “The speakers are EQ’d the same, but we use the 100 volt line transformers in the speakers to balance the levels over the whole area … We use 100 volt line systems for distance and the amount of speakers required. It’s designed exactly for these kinds of distributed installations on one circuit. You can load many speakers on a 100 volt line amplifier to cover an area.”