The speed of sound

AUTHOR: Inavate

For some time, the Mugello circuit has been implementing an on-going update of its AV technology, in particular regarding audio facilities for the press and sound reinforcement for the contestants and the thousands of spectators who flock to the circuit. InAVate reports.

Originally a road circuit located in the beautiful rolling Tuscan countryside where the Medici family had its origin, the Mugello race track hosted its first motor race in 1914. Designed in 70's and later greatly remodelled by Ferrari, the present circuit is fully operational year-round, the regular test centre of Ferrari F1 and one of the most scenic modern facilities in the world. Thanks to wide run-off areas in the most demanding corners and an emergency service road all round the 5.2 km track, Mugello is also one of the safest.

The latest stage in the expansion of the circuit’s cutting edge set-up is the addition of a series of Community loudspeakers in several of the most popular spectating points round the circuit but this ambitious project began in the circuit’s press room and in and around the main building that hosts it, as well as the boxes on the ground floor, the commentary facilities above and the VIP zone on the top floor.

Veteran AV consultant Maurizio Montini, who is based near the venue, has worked with the circuit for about ten years and explains, "I was initially responsible for audio in the press room, and was then gradually involved in the other zones of the circuit. I also provide support at certain important events, but for this new project I wore two hats - firstly, as the circuit’s consultant, as which I had to find the best technology and products to meet the client’s requirements, and secondly as the local representative for some of Italy’s leading AV distributors, including Prase Engineering, which ensured the collaboration of a well-proven team of specialist technicians."

The initial difficulty on this project was realising exactly what the client required, as organising and running the technical aspects of a press room is a relatively simple job, but an entire racing circuit is obviously something else. Alarm procedure and specific acoustic and distribution requirements had to be completely understood.

Montini continues, "We then had to design a layout for the electronics required to meet these requirements - this alone took a year, with audio control facilities becoming increasingly capillary and flexible. After this was established, there were no other great difficulties involved, apart perhaps from aiming the actual loudspeakers in the various zones, when Prase Engineering’s experience stood us in good stead, with the addition of special brackets to ensure that the speakers remained precisely in the necessary position, since units feeding out such high SPL for long periods run the risk of gradually slackening normal mounting hardware and thus losing the correct positioning This input was passed on to the circuit’s AV installers, whose work we supervised, after which we carried out the final calibration of the system."

The Mugello circuit’s audio network is based on Biamp’s Audia platform and the setup currently consists of two Audia Flex CM in the main control room and another in the circuit’s speaker rooms, connected via Ethernet, plus two more in the VIP zone and press room, which communicate via Cobranet.

Although access is possible to the network from several points in the venue, the operational technical hub is the impressive main control room, from which the circuit’s AV technician  Fabiano Nardi (who, along with Alessandro Guidi and Roberta Ferrari of the technical department and Paolo Poli, CEO of the Mugello Circuit, is responsible for the circuit’s constantly expanding technology) is able to send and receive signals from all the zones connected via Ethernet and Cobranet. Very much a hands-on technician, as well as Biamp’s DaVinci GUI, which gives him access to all the networked controls, Nardi also helms a Sony analogue mixer.

Montini continues, "As opposed to other systems using Ethernet and Cobranet, Audia enables resources to be shared - so if I have units in various rooms and need further DSP for any zone because one unit is being used to the max, the system automatically uses the resources of the others, no matter where they are in the venue - this ensures incredible flexibility! The client opted for Audia as it also ensures true expandability through time – theoretically ad infinitum – in order to meet future requirements."

The upgrade in the press room, which has its own fully equipped control room, included thirty-three ceiling-recessed Soundtube CM 500 speakers, chosen for their aperture, ensuring even coverage throughout, in spite of a rather low ceiling. The system is divided into zones, so sound reinforcement is only used where required, excluding for example the registration desk area at the far end of the room.

The press room’s small control room, which was in a certain sense the beginning of the entire project, has a dedicated equipment rack which provides various facilities and is managed separately was far as signal communication is concerned

The exclusively appointed VIP zone can be used as one large room or divided into six separate suites, each with its own sound system (a total of twelve Soundtube CM 500 powered by a Biamp MCA 8150 eight-channel amplifier) and two large plasma monitors that enable guests to watch TV coverage of races as well as viewing them live, thanks to the privileged view of the circuit from the huge top floor windows.

However, both these areas are relatively simple when compared with the problems to be faced outside in the pit lane, box and starting grid zones, as Montini explains, "The boxes and pit lane were the first outdoor zones to be covered and, thanks to positive results obtained, led to the rest of the sound reinforcement project. In this first area, it was indispensable for the alarm tones to be heard perfectly by all concerned."

EN 60849 norms regarding sound systems for emergency purposes were therefore among the factors taken into consideration when designing this part of the sound system. The pit lane has twenty Community R.25-94TZ (powered by Bitter XV 1600 amplifiers) mounted on the wall outside the boxes and a series of compact Apart Mask 4T enclosures installed inside them.

When there is such high ambient noise - bikes, cars and crowd - ensuring sound is heard is not just a case of cranking up the volume, as Nardi explains, "You can’t win over a swarm of MotoGP bikes, so we decided to install a series of "sensors", which are in fact Inout SM1P wide-band omni-directional mics mounted in special casing along the pit lane wall and connected with the Audia. Automatic noise controllers with a preset threshold raise the volume when bikes or cars pass and lower it again when SPL drops. Montini and Prase Engineering’s Marco Cappellotto (also responsible for the technical and structural design of the system on behalf of the firm) fine-tuned this set-up at the last edition of the Ferrari Day.

On that occasion, top Ferrari staff hosting the celebrations also made use of the new sound system installed for the track and the public in the main stand at the starting grid/final straight. This consists in twenty-four Community R.25-94TZ, pole-mounted in pairs, with one facing the track and the other the stand seating.

Eighteen more of the same loudspeakers are used in the central paddock and other service areas on the opposite side of the main building from the track equipped with Community speakers include the medical centre square (four R1-94Z) and the area hosting TV broadcaster’s OB vans are parked (four R.25-94TZ)

A Community R.5 HP and relative R.5 Sub are mounted on either side of the podium and an R.25-94TZ flown behind it enables those taking part in the prize-giving ceremonies to hear what’s happening in spite of the thousands of fans below.

The latest addition to the circuit’s constantly expanding technology consists in Community loudspeakers in some of the most popular spectating points round the track. The Correntaio curve has eight Community R.25-94TZ, Poggio Secco and Materassi stands are both covered by Community R.5-94TZ (four and five respectively) and the Prato Straight/ Casanova/Savelli curve area has fourteen.

To avoid signal loss or interference over the longer distances involved, several Apart Buzz Stop units convert the audio signals, which are then fed along telephone lines to the amp racks, where they are reconverted.

Montini concludes, "The most fascinating part of this project is having such a large number of units connected to an Ethernet network and being able to control them all from several points simultaneously. An eventual fibre optic network round the track, connecting audio, video and other facilities, such as the "traffic" lights, would greatly facilitate the crossover to digital and it would then be possible, for example, to actually hear in the control room if spectators in any specific area has good intelligible audio, using the same sensor/mics as in the pit lane."