LEGOLAND Windsor invests in the future with EM Acoustics

Overcoming the somewhat inauspicious climate created by the global pandemic, LEGOLAND Windsor Resort has continued to invest in its infrastructure. Part of that investment has included the upgrade of their 4D cinema as well as the implementation of a brand new ride, the UK’s first Flying Theatre attraction, ‘Flight of the Sky Lion’. The new attraction forms part of LEGOLAND’s most recent development, ‘MYTHICA,’ an area that was inaugurated for the park’s reopening in early 2021. The LEGOLAND production team overseeing the design and installation of the new ride called on their long-term audio supplier and consultant, Dave Shepherd of D.S. Audio to ensure the audio experience was the very best possible. Shepherd specified a system based on EM Acoustics’ new flagship Reference Series R10 system.

Shepherd’s brief was straightforward enough — to design a world class sound system for the new Flying Theatre ride with consideration to budget and future technical expansion. Shepherd began the project by conducting extensive research on similar installations in the U.S. in order to improve on known issues, principally intelligibility. 

Following his research Shepherd decided on an EM Acoustics system built around a core of R10s.

“The ride includes a 15m high parabolic metal screen and three floors of moving gondolas to create an immersive flying experience through the new World of Mythica,” explains Shepherd. “With localised scent, water spray and wind devices on each gondola adding to the immersive experience, it was essential that the dynamic audio content be an integral part of that element, adding excitement yet feeling totally natural.”

Shepherd’s research had already shown that intelligibility was a known problem in some similar rides in the U.S., which meant that loudspeaker choice and placement were critical. “I recommended the R10s from EM Acoustics, as the almost clinical response of these loudspeakers combined with exceptionally low cabinet resonance compared to similar products, ensures the audio reaches the guests with minimal disruption from the perforated metal screen,” notes Shepherd. “As the ride building was almost a perfect cube with limited acoustic treatment, the chosen speaker had to do the vast share of the work in delivering intelligible audio to the listener,” he continues. “With a highly dynamic musical score and dramatic sound effects, it would be all too easy for the acoustics in the environment to impair the audio content, so speaker choice and placement were a key part of the design. The rigging flexibility, and choice of waveguides available as standard on the R10 also played a key role in them becoming the obvious solution.”

“We used a total of ten R10s distributed behind the curved screen screen in such a manner that we avoided any reflections from the screen itself (which was an issue in similar rides elsewhere) and were able to position the detailed audio exactly where it needed to be.”

To enhance the cinematic experience of the ride, three EM Acoustics S-218 reflex loaded subwoofers are placed in a steered cardioid format at the base of the screen to allow guests to experience the impact of the full spectrum of the orchestral score and the dramatic accompanying sound effects. A range of EM Acoustics DQ Series amplifiers complete the line-up. Reactions to the new ‘Flight of the Sky Lion’ have been nothing short of ecstatic with ‘amazing’, ‘magical’ and ‘incredible’ coming up again and again, while some have described it as ‘the best dark ride in the country’.

Matt Phillips, senior project manager at Merlin Entertainments (operator of LEGOLAND Parks) who was tasked with project managing the creation of the new MYTHICA area of the park, and in particular the ‘Flight of the Sky Lion’ attraction, is proud of what has been achieved: “We were challenged to enhance the audio quality of the new Flying Theatre experience we were delivering. 

D.S. Audio were recommended to me by members of the LEGOLAND Windsor team; it was apparent very early on in the process that they were innovative thinkers and would take care of the whole delivery from supplier liaison, to design, test and commissioning. The end result is absolutely world class — the EM Acoustics audio system designed by Dave Shepherd at D.S. Audio is simply breathtaking and I’m looking forward to working with him for future projects.”

Following the completion of the new ride, work began on upgrading the control system for the LEGO Studio 4D cinema, which had been in place since 2003 and was starting to show its age. In light of the roaring success of the audio system in the ‘Flight of the Sky Lion’, Shepherd specified the same Reference Series R10 enclosures for the main LR elements. — a choice that was wholly endorsed by the production team. These complemented the existing EM Acoustics EMS-159 centre and EMS-81 fill speakers that were installed a few years ago to replace previous failed components of the system. 

“The flexibility of the Reference Series as well as its slim profile allowed me to position them in a more suitable place than the existing speakers to give a more natural placement as part of the 15.1 system as well as giving a vastly improved sound,” remarks Shepherd. In addition to the R10s, two EM S-218 subwoofers were installed to upgrade the LFE element of the system and help rejuvenate the cinema for the modern audience.

“The uncompromising performance of the EM Acoustics products has bought new life to the 4D cinema that had run on its original system since opening as a theatre in 1996, and later converted to a 4D cinema in 2003.”

James Dobbs, Global Entertainment Manager for LEGOLAND Parks is thrilled with the results: “The decision to use D.S. Audio and EM Acoustics was an easy one,” he says. “We’ve been working with Dave Shepherd for many years now and we trust his judgement. The audio system in the new MYTHICA ride is nothing short of spectacular so it was a logical step to adopt a similar approach to the cinema which hadn’t really been upgraded since it opened in 2003. Rebuilding a cinema system with 15.1 audio required out-of-box innovation and thinking, something that Dave at DS Audio is well known for. Likewise, EM Acoustics have recently provided an upgrade at both our Harbour and Puppet Show venues and the sound reproduction at both of those venues is excellent; it made total sense that they would provide the speakers for the 15.1 audio at the cinema, just as they did for ‘Flight of the Sky Lion’. I’m pleased to say that the systems for both attractions have proven to be reliable, sound great and, in the case of the cinema, look great — which as a venue operator is all you can ask for.”

The flexibility of the Reference Series as well as its slim profile allowed me to position them in a more suitable place than the existing speakers to give a more natural placement [...] as well as giving a vastly improved sound.
Dave Shepherd,
D.S. Audio