When Coquitlam Centre went shopping for a new audio system, they called Sound Solutions. The 910,000 square foot shopping mall located just east of Vancouver had undergone numerous expansions and renovations since its original construction in 1979 and the music and paging systems had not kept up. As we often see with large-scale renovations, speaker wires had been cut, speakers were removed or never installed in new areas, and some parts of the mall – especially service corridors – had no audio coverage at all.
Our solution to improve the sound quality in all areas of the mall was no small task: completely rewire and replace every speaker in the mall, and to double the speaker count in order to cover dead and nonworking areas.
We removed as much of the existing wiring as possible while we ran in new wire, and used custom green-coloured jacket wiring to make it stand out from the other wiring in the building. Every contractor doing work in Coquitlam Centre now knows that any green wire equals sound system wire, and not part of a computer network, fibre optic, security or telephone system.
Sound system features
The guts of Coquitlam Centre’s new sound system is a state-of-the-art Peavey Nion nE digital signal processor (DSP). The DSP takes all of the incoming music and paging sources and routes them to the appropriate speaker zones. The DSP also interfaces with the fire alarm system and allows the fire alarm bells to be temporarily muted so evacuation instructions can be announced. By default, and the fire alarm system automatically mutes the background music when ringing.
We installed three ambient noise-sensing microphones throughout the mall’s public spaces. These sensors automatically adjust music and paging levels depending on the noise levels produced by the number of shoppers in various zones of the concourse: more people means more background noise, and the music and paging levels nudge up to accommodate. The sensors deliver seamless adjustments to volume levels, without picking up brief noise level changes such as a package being dropped or a baby crying.
We set up the system into 12 zones. The DSP includes a zone monitoring system that automatically notifies Sound Solutions as well as the mall administration when a zone is impacted, such as if a speaker wire was accidentally cut. This maintains the integrity of the entire mall sound system and makes troubleshooting virtually instantaneous.
There are three microphone jacks located throughout the mall for a wired or wireless mic. For special events a select speaker zone can be shut off from the background music source and be switched over to the mic jack. The touch panel allows a user to turn these zones on and off, and volume levels may be adjusted here as well.
Finally, the entire system can be controlled via Wi-Fi and either a laptop or an iPad, so in Wi-Fi available zones within the mall, the system can easily be adjusted to accommodate various events and functions. The DSP system can be expanded to accommodate other features, such as automated opening and closing announcements, future expansion of more paging mics
The sound system uses a Peavey Nion nE Mediamatrix digital signal processor with 16 inputs and 16 outputs. The system has spare inputs, and can be expanded for even more inputs and output zones should the mall expand in the future. The system is controlled via a Peavey N180 touch panel, custom programmed for Coquitlam Centre:
Four four-channel, 1200 watt Crest amplifiers take the digital signal from the Nion DSP via CAT5 cable and power the speakers. These sophisticated amplifiers have internal signal sensing in case of failure of a speaker line, or tampering with the speakers or wiring. Information such as amplifier operating temperature, amplifier muting and level functions can all be monitored and controlled remotely as well. While all these amplifiers are located in the same rack, they can be remotely located from the DSP unit, with all four channels of audio going to each amplifier requiring only the connection of a single CAT5 cable. This reduces the cable runs needed, simplifying the installation and associated wiring costs. The digital switching nature also makes them more energy efficient, and they consume less power and generate less heat than their analog predecessors.
We replaced the 110 existing speakers of various makes and vintages, and added another 200 new ones. The new speakers in the main mall area use tuned backboxes for true high fidelity sound and paging, and with far better coverage than the old speakers gave. Custom trim rings were manufactured so that the new speakers would fit the old existing holes wherever possible. A two-way speaker design provides deeper bass and better high frequency response than the original single cone speakers.
With mall management not wanting to see any hanging speakers, we cleverly hid some wall sconce style speakers behind a drywall trough running down each side of the vaulted ceiling in one section of the mall. The speakers were inverted, so that the sound bounces off the ceiling and down towards the mall patrons. The speakers are invisible from the mall floor.
Fifty bi-directional speakers are used in the back service corridors to send sound down the hallway instead of towards the ground as the previous ceiling speakers did. This significantly improved sound intelligibility in the back hallways.
Getting it done
The installation posed a number of logistical challenges. As you would expect, most of the work was completed after hours. Coquitlam Centre has a unique design that includes a massive peaked ceiling running the entire north-south wing. We needed to reach dizzying heights to install the new speakers and had to rent an extra-tall manlift to reach these ceiling areas as the mall’s own manlift wouldn’t reach.
We ran across concrete barriers in the ceiling that were not accounted for, double layer drywall and some crawlspaces that had no access hatches cut in, all the result of numerous renovations and expansions over the mall’s 30-plus year life. Working closely with mall management and maintenance staff, all obstacles were overcome, and the mall is enjoying an intelligible reliable sound system with coverage that far surpasses the old system.