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CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – JUNE 2010: The Shedd Aquarium, appropriately located on Chicago’s magnificent lakeshore, is the city’s most popular ticketed cultural attraction, drawing some two million visitors each year. But rather than rest on its laurels, the eighty year-old Shedd recently “re-imagined” one of its most popular attractions – the Oceanarium – transforming what was once an arguably dated approach to exhibiting the amazing skills of the ocean’s most charismatic creatures, into a full theatrical event, complete with lighting, video, and sound reinforcement in league with the best Broadway houses. But unlike those Broadway houses, the Oceanarium’s inescapable cement and “swimming pool acoustics” made achieving the same high level of audio fidelity vastly more challenging. Chicago-based independent audio systems designer Jonathan Laney met and exceeded that challenge with a full hemispherical surround sound system composed of the well-defined pattern control, musicality, and intelligibility of Danley loudspeakers and subwoofers.


a long time, one of the Oceanarium’s greatest features was also one of its greatest shortcomings. The enormous exhibit is situated against the east wall of the Shedd, and its main pool appears to merge seamlessly with an expansive view of Lake Michigan. The lake, like the ocean, is large enough that its blue waters in turn merge with the sky at the horizon. But ironically, the glare from the impressive lake view made it very difficult to see the animals in action!

“Shedd wanted to transform what had become a predictable routine into a fully-engaging story,” explained Laney. “To begin with, Chicago Flyhouse engineered a 170-foot, 8,000-lb. Roman shade and projection screen that rapidly – and dramatically! – descends at the start of the show, putting the impressive view of the lake on hold and transforming the space into a theater that is dark enough to make use of sophisticated lighting and projection. The shade was also designed to provide effective absorption, improving the acoustic environment, but the space is still an Oceanarium exhibit with lots of volume and reflective surfaces requiring the use of well-behaved loudspeakers.” Laney worked with David Wolthusen of AV integrator Roscor Corporation and with Scott D. Pfeiffer of Threshold Acoustics LLC.

Andy Park, artistic director with the Shedd, approached Laney with his vision for the new show, entitled Fantasea. A big part of what he hoped for was the intimate sound of a theater, with perfectly intelligible spoken word and punchy, crisp music. Moreover, the system had to be flexible enough to meet, not just the needs of Fantasea, but of all the future shows that the Shedd will dream up. “A line array wouldn’t work in this application,” said Laney. “The eight-plus cabinets required to get sufficient pattern control would extend too far below the roof, obscuring sight lines and video projections, in addition to being a bit unattractive. I needed something that was relatively small, but with great pattern control, musicality, transparency, and arrayability. The Danley products, with their Synergy Horn technologies met all of these criteria.” Danley’s patent-pending Synergy Horn technology represents a paradigm shift design approach providing unprecedented proper time coherence of multiple drivers covering multiple pass bands, full-range frequency response, horn loading and low-frequency pattern control.

Laney designed a full theatrical surround system, including hi-fi ceiling speakers for a truly immersive experience with flexible performance. The left and right speaker clusters are composed of two tight-packed Danley SH-50 full-range loudspeakers each, whereas the center cluster is composed of three. Two powerful Danley TH-212 subwoofers accompany each of the LCR clusters. Eight Danley SH-100B full-range plus subwoofer combos span the left lateral, rear, and right lateral positions. Five Danley SH-100 full-range units serve as ceiling speakers. Because many of the creatures in the Oceanarium are capable of making quite a splash, all of the Danley loudspeakers and subwoofers are fully weather resistant.

“I’ve worked with Danley before and knew what to expect,” said Laney. “But it is still remarkable to hear that kind of fidelity in the sort of space where you would never expect it. The LCR system is punchy and clear, and I deliberately chose speakers with very wide coverage for the laterals and rears. The SH-100B and SH-100 are very uniform on- and off-axis. The ceiling speakers are used for two purposes. Within the Fantasea performance, they are used for special effects, such as a rainstorm sound effect. They are also used for walk-in music so that we don’t give away the full impact of the surround system.”

At the front end, a familiar Yamaha PM5D digital console interfaces with a Yamaha DME64 processor to provide 32 output channels for tremendous creative flexibility. A Meyer Matrix 3 processor with CueStation software provides audio show control with full wild tracks playback and SpaceMap panning providing the ability to move sound anywhere in the hemispherical sound field. A Lexicon 960L multi-channel effects processor delivers stellar sound effects. An impressive rack of nine Lab.gruppen C68:4 four-channel, 1700 W per channel amplifiers ably power the Danley loudspeakers and subwoofers. Medialon software and hardware provides complete show control, including audio, lighting, and video cues. Two Christie projectors illuminate an immense 140- by 70-foot screen.

ABOUT DANLEY SOUND LABS Danley Sound Labs is the exclusive home of Tom Danley, one of the most innovative loudspeaker designers in the industry today and recognized worldwide as a pioneer for “outside the box” thinking in professional audio technology.

PHOTO CAPTION The A/V renovation of the Oceanarium at Chicago’s famed Shedd Aquarium features Danley weatherproofed SH-50 and SH-100 full-range loudspeakers and TH-212 subwoofers.