Sounding out festive trails in UK and Europe
Friday, 8 December 2023
tube-uk-christmas-at-dunham-massey-175-photo-by-kat-gollockOn the trail of Christmas at Dunham Massey (photo: Kat Gollock)
UK - Manchester-based sound design specialists and audiologists tube uk are supplying audio systems to eight popular Christmas trails throughout the UK and one in Germany this season - totalling an impressive 168 individual sound systems, consuming 1,681 loudspeakers.
Working closely with the production team from Culture Creative, a specialist in creating trail experiences and numerous other live events, Melvyn Coote and the tube uk crew have developed a fully weatherised distributed sound system hardware concept for trail experiences. They have also optimised techniques for delivering the very best aural experiences for these creative and entertaining festive events.
UK sites this year include Leeds Castle in Kent, Dunham Massey in Cheshire, Stourhead in Wiltshire, Bedgebury in Surrey, Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire, Chester Zoo and Heaton Park in Manchester, and Kew Gardens in London, which was one of the first sites to start the trend back in 2013 with their ‘Christmas at Kew’ concept.
The German trail, Weihnachts Wunderwelt, is located in Benrath, a large upscale residential suburb of Düsseldorf known for the 18th-century rococo Benrath Palace residence, complete with substantial landscaped gardens and lake.
Each location offers its own magical setting which is enhanced by lighting, sound, and some installations by UK-based and international lighting designers and artists.
For tube uk, some serious numbers are crunched - in addition to the 1,681 loudspeakers which are connected using approximately 41km of speaker cable, 166 mixing desks, 168 Walkmans, seven QLab machines for timecoded elements and 289 amplifiers are deployed.
All the kit is supplied out of tube uk’s base in Manchester. The equipment stocks have been built up as the demand for trail event audio systems has increased, explained Melvyn.
The Christmas at Kew trail is one of the longest in length at 3km - and it is also one of the best known and most popular, so Melvyn and tube uk were delighted to return for a second year, taking care of all things audio.
The sound system specifications on each site all vary depending on the size of the areas they are covering, the amount of audience expected in these spaces plus the complexity of the trail, and this year, between 12 and 28 systems were set up at each venue.
A typical distributed soundscape system for this application is designed to cover distances between 40 and 300m and comprises a small Yamaha MG06 mixer, a Behringer NX1000 amplifier, a Sony Walkman media player and JBL Control 1 speakers that will be placed between seven and 15m apart along the path.
Speakers are typically positioned on the floor to minimise interference between different systems and areas and reduce the general audio ‘travel’. For some of the gathering / eating / bar areas, slightly bigger 8-inch driver speakers on stands are used.
A series / parallel wiring technique is used so more speakers can be powered from one amplifier, reducing the amplifier requirements by half and the requisite cabling by approximately a third, and this also saves time in set up.
The tube uk team installs each system, loads the content onto the media player, completes the balancing, then conducts a walk-round with the client together with their production and site managers and representatives from - in this case - promoter RGL (Raymond Gubbay Ltd) a division of Sony Music as well as with the venue’s own events team. All of whom must be satisfied that the trail is working in terms of content and in terms of health & safety.
Any relevant notes arising from the walk-through are processed and the audio is tweaked. The systems are fine-tuned and checked for any environmental spillage or other unwanted interference, then handed over to the production run crews for the weeks that the trail is open to the public.
The most challenging site to install this year was Chester Zoo, which had to happen during its public opening hours, with no proper ‘quiet time’ available and no vehicular access apart from a 90-minute window in the mornings when they had to whizz around the site in buggies delivering as much of the kit as possible to the designated areas.
All other installation work had to be done on foot - resulting in a record of 49,000 steps clocked up in one day on this site! In fact, an average of 56 miles of walking over a three-four day fit up resulted in some fitter tube uk crew members by the end of the installation phase!
After Kew, the next longest trail this year is Bedgebury at 2.4km and the shortest is Benrath in Germany, which is 1km.
The German event brought different challenges including the joys of having to deal with Brexit paperwork, carnets, and the protracted timescales it takes to get kit in and out of the UK and across the borders.
On another environment note, when it is the second or third time that some of these locations are running trails, accurate virtual walk-throughs via Zoom or other VC platforms can also save time and boost efficiency and be very effective.
Melvyn comments: “We enjoy an excellent relationship with Culture Creative, and we all work very collaboratively on these projects and teamwork is a lot of fun as is seeing the end results and such a wide spectrum of people enjoying the experience of the festive trails.”

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