The world's largest cruise ship has set sail. In January 2004, Cunard launched the Queen Mary 2, the longest, tallest, widest, and most expensive ocean liner ever built. Too big to sail through the Panama Canal, the QM2 was built at the Alstom Chantiers de L'Atlantique shipyard in Sainte-Nazaire, France, at an estimated cost of $800 million with a classic design that evokes the golden age of passenger liners. How big is big? This ship is as tall as a 21-story building, and as long as four city blocks. With capacity for 2,620 passengers, the QM2 also has a wide variety of entertainment spaces. After all, you have to keep all these folks entertained.

Nautilus Entertainment Design in La Jolla, CA, provided entertainment facility design, including lighting, audio, video, rigging and special effects for over 40 spaces aboard the QM2, with Bill Havens, of NED's New York office, serving as project manager, and Alan Edwards, based in La Jolla, designing the audio systems and handling acoustics. Not a small task, as there is more audio equipment on the QM2 than most land-based performing arts venues.

“Our goal is to build in as much flexibility as possible, keeping in mind the budget and space restraints of the ship,” says Havens. “There is no time and no space to rent extra gear as you might do on land. So we look 10 to 15 years ahead and try to imagine what they would want to do in terms of entertainment.”

There are four primary entertainment spaces aboard the QM2. The first is Illuminations, a multi-purpose room that serves as a planetarium, a lecture/recital hall, and a movie theatre. The main lounge, or Royal Court Theatre, is used for live events and production shows, while the Queen's Room is a classic-style ballroom with a band shell for a small orchestra. The nightclub is called G32, which actually refers to the ship's hull number.

Floating Planetarium

Since Illuminations is a large, multi-purpose room, there are actually three sound systems combined into one large system. The first provides sound reinforcement for lectures, piano recitals, and other small events with a complement of Meyer self-powered speakers (CQ1 and CQ2) and Meyer USW1 subwoofers. The second system is a 5.1 Dolby digital surround system that can be used with DVD or VHS sources or a 35mm film projector. Third is a planetarium system with JBL loudspeakers for surround sound tucked behind a perforated metal dome. “When the space is used for a movie or a live event, the dome retracts into the ceiling,” notes Edwards. HMS in France served as the system installer.

Loudspeakers for the Dolby system include MacPherson Monoliths for the center channel right behind the movie screen. Ultra compact Renkus Heinz TRX61 models are the surround speakers, with RH TRX61 for fill-in in the back of the house, and Meyer's self-powered CQ2s for the left and right sides of the space. These are tucked behind a cloth mural located on either side of the screen. QSC CX series amplifiers are used for the MacPherson and Renkus Heinz speakers, while the use of self-powered boxes by Meyer reduces the amount of space needed for the overall system.

A central control room ties the three parts of the audio system together, with two Yahama DME32 digital system processors to handle routing, equalization, and delay. “This allows you to set the room into any one of its different configurations,” Edwards adds. A Medialon Manager Pro show control system tells the Yamaha processors where to send the sound via a series of pre-sets, with technicians using touch panel interfaces in the control booth and backstage.

“There is not lot of space for all this equipment considering the reduced footprint on a ship,” says Edwards. “We worked with the interior architects, Tilberg Designs, to incorporate the equipment as best we could in keeping with the architecture and the mood of the ship.” With this in mind, almost all the speakers are concealed in Illuminations, well hidden behind various decorative architectural features. This includes decorative half-curves in perforated metal, rather than a typical flat grille, covering the center cluster.

“It is unusual for one venue to have three systems as well as a dome, a full-size projection screen, and a small stage for recitals,” notes Edwards. “The largest challenge in this room was providing ultimate flexibility, and coordinating everything with the architects to get sound where you need it.”

Holding Court at Sea

The main lounge, or Royal Court Theatre, features a Yamaha PM1D console. “This is the best choice for this application,” says Edwards. “Many things the sound technicians would have to do daily can be stored in the console, giving them more time to concentrate on the live mix.” These tasks, such as patching, microphone levels, and EQ changes can be put into the console as pre-sets. The console “lives” in an audio position on the balcony level, in front of the lighting booth.

Integrating the audio gear into the Royal Court proved a little tricky. “The room is wider than it is deep,” Edwards explains. As a result there is a large center cluster with 13 Meyer UPA 1P and 2P speakers for near and far throw. Meyer UPM 1P and 2P units are placed around the room as well as integrated under and over the balcony. “The speakers are at the far end of a large hole in the ceiling and shoot toward the back of the house,” he says, adding that the grillwork is flush with the ceiling and painted the same color, which easily allows the loudspeakers to be concealed within the architecture.

Additional speakers in the Royal Court include two Meyer USW1P subwoofers on the floor inside the stage, with grilles on either side of the stage. An additional eight subwoofers are flown as part of the center cluster. “You can get a lot of sound from this system,” says Edwards. “The challenge was to make sure everyone was in a direct sound field. This helps overcome the ambient noise found on a ship.”

Audio processing in the Royal Court is via three Yamaha DME32 DSPs with a Medialon Manager Pro that receives and sends time code from a Tascam MX2424 hard disk playback unit, and synchronizes the audio cues with video, lighting, special effects, and rigging.

Dancing, Clubbing, and “Parking” at Sea

Designed as a classic, old-fashioned ballroom, the Queen's Room does not have a center cluster at all and MacPherson Monolith speakers are integrated into the proscenium arch of the bandstand. Small Tannoy speakers are recessed flush into the ceiling. “These help provide sound to the back of the room for people sitting at tables,” Edwards points out. “The orchestra is meant to be as acoustical as possible with reinforcement for the dance floor area. The ceiling speakers are more for distribution than reinforcement.” This room has a Yamaha DM2000 digital console.

G32 is also a multipurpose venue that primarily serves as a nightclub with a dance floor, as well as a place for a club band to perform. The room has four Meyer UPA full-range cabinets and two Meyer 650-P sub-bass cabinets. “This room is tied together with the Yamaha DME32 as well, which allows the system to be set up between the two different configurations,” notes Edwards. “When the club is in disco mode, all four UPA and both 650P cabinets are active. When the club is in band mode, a portable mixer on stage becomes active and two of the UPAs that face the band are turned off. This leaves the remaining two UPAs and 650Ps to act as the reinforcement for the band.”

Another venue of interest on the QM2 is the outdoor Lido “drive-in” movie theatre where guests see films from deck chairs rather than the front seat of a ‘57 Chevy. The Dolby 5.1 system here uses JBL Control 29AV weatherproof cabinets and SB210 subwoofers for the surround sound.

“You have to realize who is operating all this stuff,” says Edwards. “It might look like a bunch of top-notch expensive gear, but there is a reason for that.” One reason is certainly the small size of the sound crew (just two or three people) and the fact that they often have other jobs on the ship as well. “The crew is smaller than in a land-based venue with this much equipment. So we try to make it as simple as possible by automating as much as we can.”

Part of this automation are the Yamaha DME32 systems that provide ship-wide control. They are located throughout the ship, in every venue, from a card room to the casino, with AMX control panels in every conceivable place to allow crew members to easily control the audio.

Edwards also looks toward the future. “What is the room going to be used for down the road?” he asks. “You have to build in flexibility. If they want to change a wine bar into a card room, it is just a software change rather than a re-wiring issue.”

The YamahaPMD1 in the Royal Court Theatre also adds flexibility. “If they have a lounge act after the production show, there is no need to re-patch,” explains Edwards. “You can program the show in and recall it later. You do a sound check and you're ready to go. An automated console is very useful with the busy schedule on a ship. The automation allows the technicians to push a button rather than spend two to three hours on a show.”