Using audio to create 5-star hostels at Combo in Italy
A new chain of upmarket hostels is using high-end audio to lure visitors in to three locations across
Italy. Paul Milligan speaks to those tasked with designing and delivering the projects.
When you think of hostels, the image in your head probably isn’t that appealing. They are cheap but functional places to stay and often the facilities (and comfort/ hygiene) reflect the low cost.
Out to change all that is Combo, a new chain of 5-star hostels in Italy aimed at “globetrotters, a cultural hub and a meeting point for citizens and travellers”. Combo has already opened its doors in Venice, Milan and Turin and plans to open in Bologna, Verona, Rome, and Naples. The concept of Combo is to combine hospitality and music, tasked with putting that idea into life was AV consultant Salvatore Brigaglia, founder of Avdicted. Tasked with installing the projects were integrators Acuson (for Milan and Turin) and 3P Technologies (Venice). Italian AV distributor Prase was also involved in the design and installation on the three sites.
Brigaglia had worked for the investor on a previous project and was brought on board to solve an early issue, “They were having a hard time because every installer they had spoken to was proposing digital technologies and all the projects were going to be very different. So I came up with a solution with Prase to introduce a county-wide solution, so that all the hostels could be made in a similar way. They also wanted to design them so the future management of the hostels had a good understanding of how to use the technology.” Right from the very beginning the concept for the audio for the Combo sites was different from the norm, as Luigi Schiavone, application support, Prase explains; “The concept was for the audio to be seen, so working with Salvatore we made several choices of products, the main one being Genelec, it wasn’t just a matter of audio quality, but a matter of design. It was strange from our point of view that audio had to be seen, that must be the first time we have been asked for that.”
Working with the architect Ole Sondresen, Brigaglia discussed the different areas of each site, to establish what happened in each one. In some areas there was a need for low level background music, in others there would be bands playing. There are also meeting rooms and conference rooms at each site, with stages for bands and areas for more chilled music. “The brief changed a lot since the first meeting because the client asked for something very different at the start, we really tried to make everything simpler with the technologies proposed,” says Brigaglia. “I had the chance to save a lot of rackspace using Genelec everywhere because it is active. We changed everything because the original proposal was the classic way of doing this type of installation – passive speakers, lots of amplifiers and the structures, particularly in Turin, were really huge so that wasn’t an option.”
The three Combo sites have music in every room. Each one has a well-equipped stage where local performers can use a Turbosound Liverpool line array with 18-in subwoofer and Shure 55SH mics. A PA for internal rooms, which has directivity control, can also be useful for reducing acoustic reflections even in reverberating environments such as the glass greenhouse in Milan. A combination of M32R live digital mixer and LabGruppen D Series amplifiers, with Lake processing, ensures a digital and direct connection to the PA and the possibility of extending live music to all audio areas of the hostel. In the summer, the audio can easily move outdoor with a Turbosound NuQ152AN loudspeaker and Shure QLX-D wireless mics. The design concept, by Brigaglia, is to offer as many flexible areas as possible, technology at Combo is often on the move, and has been designed as such. For these outdoor areas, with challenging acoustics, the sound diffusion is handled by SoundTube RS500 speakers.
Combo hostels also host meetings, workshops, events and talks, with the main conference room able to handle 60 people in Venice, 60 people in Milan, and 120 people in Turin. The rooms use Epson EBL1100U 6,000 lumens laser projectors, shining on ScreenInt Eclipse screens equipped with Matte White cloth, with a black back that prevents the possible disturbance of other light sources. The projector is also equipped with an HDBaseT input to speed up installation through the Atlona CLS0 series matrix, reducing the overall investment. Content for meetings is shared via Mersive Solstice wireless multimedia collaboration platform. Audio in meetings rooms is handled by Shure QLX-D wireless mics and six Genelec 4040 loudspeakers. Again, the concept is around flexibility, for example in Milan you can even rent the (visually impressive) laundry room. “Each hostel has one big meeting room and then some small ones, they can even rearrange the toilet if they want,” says Brigaglia.
One of the standout AV elements of the three hostels is the Atlas multipurpose room in Turin which boasts a Tannoy VX Series point source loudspeakers managed by Lab Gruppen D Series amplifiers equipped with Lake processing. Combo’s audio design is entirely based on Dante, using a dedicated network infrastructure built with Extreme Networks X440-G2 series switches. The heart of the system is a Biamp Tesira-Server equipped with a Dante card, which interfaces with all the technologies distributed
in the different environments, again to ensure flexibility. Shure network interfaces have been implemented in most of the rooms, allowing the staff to continuously redesign the rooms, which allows the staff to meet a myriad of client demands.
Day-to-day control of AV is handled by hostel staff using a Atlona Velocity centralised control system to control volume, switch on/off and other sound parameters in the different areas. IT is managed by the IT manager at each hostel. At Brigaglia’s request the AV is on a separate VLAN at each site, which were built by Prase.
The Velocity system is just the first layer of control says Brigaglia, there are three in all he adds, “Velocity is the main interface for the user i.e. a waiter who wants to raise the volume, they shouldn’t touch anything on a mixing desk, that’s the second level of control. That should be used by a more skilled person, who is there to play some music. In each hostel we also have a full Pioneer DJ console, so they can play music in these areas through the Midas desk. They can really do everything they want, but with different layers of control.”
The budget was not a barrier on this project because of a client who always prioritised audio quality, but also through Prase finding value where it could says Brigaglia. “There was no real balance between budget and quality, what some integrators were proposing was really expensive, but working with Prase I was able to cut the budget for the same quality.”
Flexibility, prioritising ease of use for end users and putting highly visible audio at the heart of each install are all clearly evident at the three new Combo hostels. Brigaglia has also ensured each hostel is futureproofed for the next decade too; “We used the latest technology and switches that can provide AVB or Dante, everything we have installed is 10Gb so everything on the project is good from now until at least 10 years’ time.”
Biamp Tesira DSP
Furman PL-8CE power conditioner
Genelec 4020CWM, 4040AMM, 4030CMM loudspeakers
Lab Gruppen GD40:4L, GD80:4L, D20:4L, E 4:2 amplifiers
LG SP-5200 speakers
Midas DL16, DL32 digital stagebox, M32R live digital mixer, DN32-DANTE expansion
Shure SM7B, 55SH, SM58, SM57, BETA 58A mics, ANI4OUT, ANI4IN audio
Sonos Connect player
Soundtube RS500B pendant loudspeaker
Tannoy VSX118B subwoofers, VX12.2Q loudspeakers
Turbosound TLX43 line arrays, TLX212L and NUQ118BAN subwoofers, NuQ152AN
Atlona AT-UHD-CLSO-612ED, AT-UHD-CLSO-612ED switcher, Velocity control
Epson EB-L1100U, EB-L1300U WUXHA projectors
LG 55UH5E-B B&H 55-in digital signage display
Mersive Solstice Pod Gen 3 wireless collaboration system