Old Barn Audio (OBA) recently completed a virtual reality project for Highways England (which operates, maintains and improves the country’s motorways) in which an immersive environment is created with stereoscopic 3D headsets coupled with a mixed-reality sound system headed by Martin Audio CDD loudspeakers.
Two years after creating an immersive theater for SOMNAI at Clerkenwell, in central London, OBA (based in Tunbridge Wells, UK) again partnered with the same immersive audio production house, MagicBeans Ltd,, to deliver a similar environment for the simulation and training of Highways England personnel in order to give them real-world exposure to motorway scenarios.
The installation was carried out in a repurposed 30- by 8-meter rectangular office space in one of the organization’s warehouses at a new distribution center near Ilkeston in Derbyshire, and will move to a much larger dedicated VR stage being built once testing is complete. OBA project manager Neil Kavanagh explains, “The original installation, which also used Martin Audio speakers, was so successful that MagicBeans approached us again.”
He adds that OBA responded to “an immense spec,” including two rings of 12 Martin Audio CDD6 loudspeakers incorporating the manufacturer’s coaxial differential dispersion technology. The lower ring is set at 0.9 meters off the ground and the upper ring is at a height of 2.4 meters. Two Blackline X118 subwoofers are also employed to bring realism to the low frequencies, while six Martin Audio MA2.8Q amplifiers power the flown system, each loudspeaker assigned its own channel.
“We chose CDD because it is incredibly linear, and you can object-base the audio without any hotspots,” Kavanagh says. “Biaxial speakers would not have offered the same linearity.”
Despite the lack of ceiling height, he notes that the effect of the 3D immersion for simulation training is optimized once personnel don the sensor-equipped VR headsets. A MOTU 24AO 24-channel audio router sends out signals that can be placed anywhere in the sound field, in a mixed channel and object-based arrangement.
Meanwhile, the computer-based software engine driving the system — “Roundhead” — has been developed by MagicBeans. Explaining the brief, and the background to the project the company’s managing director, Gareth Llewellyn, says, “For the Highways England installation we were asked to recreate the complex and dynamic sound of a real section of motorway for training purposes.
“It’s important that this volumetric audio simulation has both the power and the subtlety to achieve the goal of a true-to-life reconstruction of this complex procedural sound field, as well as offering trainees a realistic visceral experience of working in these hazardous environments,” he continues. “We trust Martin Audio speakers to deliver the necessary punch and clarity to achieve these goals in this complex spatial audio environment. The Martin Audio installation offers the right combination of power, reliability, quality and price that makes this installation such an impressive and successful experience for client and end user.”