National Harbor - All Weather Audio

National Harbor, MD | June, 2009 - In the environs of Washington DC, a city whose climate embraces near-arctic winters and sub-tropical summers, the elements were top of the list for consideration when the sparkling new National Harbor – one of the largest developments in Maryland's history – was mapped out.

7.3 million sq ft of commercial space, hundreds of condos, four piers and two marinas make up the project, south of the Capital Beltway, and besides its long-term occupants its potential as an entertainment destination figured high on the agenda of the developer, The Peterson Companies.

The plans for the 300-acre, residential and commercial Potomac River waterfront scheme called for a large distributed audio system, branching out from a central plaza that occupies the riverside end of American Way, a broad avenue of shops and offices inspired by Las Ramblas, the throbbing Catalan heart of Barcelona, Spain.

Electrosonic was brought in to design and install an audio, video and lighting system that is both fully integrated and for the most part weatherized. The extensive, all-self-powered Renkus-Heinz system, with two PN102/LA-R-WR line arrays and 121 SG61-2R-WR distributed loudspeakers, is controlled by RHAON over Cobranet, while DMX lighting control and video data runs in parallel over the same network, the latter from a Green Hippo video server/player.

A Medialon Show Control system with AMX touchscreens allows simple day-to-day operation for National Habor staff, while for full stage productions on the plaza a digital mixing board can be plugged into the system in seconds. A Peavey MediaMatrix Nion system provides head-end DSP while RHAON is used to deliver precision digital audio to each individual loudspeaaker, with each cabinet's amplifier assigned its own IP address during off-site pre-programming by Electrosonic. As well as the obvious benefits of simplified cable runs and smaller conduit around the 1.5 miles of waterfront, the choice of self-powered loudspeakers eliminated the need for scarce rack space and extra ventilation in the facility's small control room.

The SG61-2R-WR self-powered loudspeakers, which are mounted on poles along the waterfront boardwalks and piers, are weatherized versions of the standard SG61. Gary Barnes, Electrosonic project manager commented: "They've got a nice, full sound to them for a small speaker." Weatherizing is an option for most Renkus-Heinz products and the company has long experience of the technique; it also has the advantage of operating a fast and efficient 'build to order' system for all but the simplest products.


Thus the adaptation of the SG61 to cope with the extremes of Maryland's climate was a familiar procedure for the Foothill Ranch factory's production department. It included standard moisture protection measures, plus a weatherproof, ventilated housing for each loudspeaker's rearmounted amplifier/DSP module.

This keeps the rain out, while allowing cooling air to flow in and out of the unit. "Weatherizing is one of the most popular 'standard' customization options we offer," comments Rik Kirby, Renkus-Heinz VP of Operations. "Our production system is set up specifically to easily accommodate special customer requirements – typically architecturally matched paint colors or textures, or specific mounting hardware. Adding weather resistance involves a combination of well proven techniques and materials, so extra costs are minimized, as is delivery time to the customer." Electrosonic system designer Yannis Cabolis also notes the cost benefits of designing and pre-programming an IPbased system; particularly when that same network carries lighting and video data.

"You can do the most painful part that comes from commissioning systems like that – walking around, things not being connected, things not working, amplifiers being off," he said in an interview for S&VC. The plaza is laid out to accommodate staged shows and movie showings using a retractable screen and a Christie digital projector, along with a weatherized Altman, Wybron and ETC lighting rig. The PN102/LA-R-WR line arrays here are mounted on hydraulic ladders, which, with part of the lighting rig, can disappear into underground storage.