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Ask Slashdot: Overhauling an Amusement Park's Multi-Zone Audio Player? 120

mcmadman writes "The multi-zone audio player I'm working with uses an almost decade old card/software combo that is prone to crashes and other anomalies. I would like to know if there are open source (read 'free') or other alternatives that would allow multiple simultaneous playlists played through the myriad of audio interfaces out there. The line outs are then plugged into a CobraNet matrix, which handles the distribution of the music/sound to their respective areas. I'm looking at eight channels minimum, timed playlist start/stops, and triggered announcements. So far the only software and hardware I've found are proprietary broadcasting solutions which tend to be a bit heavy on the wallet or meant for home use."
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Ask Slashdot: Overhauling an Amusement Park's Multi-Zone Audio Player?

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  • by kalpol ( 714519 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @12:44PM (#39858623)
    I have no idea what I am talking about but what if you got a Linux box with 8 sound cards, configured 8 instances of Amarok to play, one on each output, and set up your playlists acccordingly?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    it might be possible to use to achieve that, simply hook up the outputs from an audio interface to the matrix mixer..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @12:49PM (#39858667)

    Bite the bullet and buy a device intended for this use, the Medialon Audio Server. It outputs cobranet directly, is easily integrated into control systems and supports elegant triggering of all sorts. Plays back from SSD drives.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by bhlowe ( 1803290 )
      You're missing the point.
      Instead of having the client spend a little more up front for something that already exists and works, I suspect mcmadman wants to kludge together a bunch of code that was designed for something entirely different, and charge for support. (Which is the GNU model for developers who want to make money using free software.) He should be able to milk this project for a year or two, or at least until management gets a clue. Have fun!
  • QLab? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @12:49PM (#39858669) Homepage

    I haven't used it myself, but I've heard nothing but good things about QLab [], which is a free download for MacOS/X. You might want to have a look at that.

    You might also have a look at Cricket [], which is commercial software but not too expensive.

    • I was going to recommend QLab myself. I use it for live theater and it is excellent. The free download only outputs 2 channels (but is otherwise fully functional for audio). It isn't that expensive to get the paid version that does essentially unlimited channels. It has MIDI integration for triggers and a variety of other features.

      I haven't found anything free that does what it does.

    • I also like QLab and use it for live theatre. Thinking off the cuff ... Each playback zone (park region) would be its own cue. QLab can handle multiple cues simultaneously. Set each cue to loop forever and direct each cue to a specific output channel. Cues do not need to be the same length. You'll need a QLab pro audio upgrade and a multi-channel audio interface if you want to stream more than two channels.
    • No. He's probably going to need paging stations and zones. What about echo cancellation boards? Possibly voip integration. What about facility-wide page ducking? Remote sources and destinations over CobraNet. What about interfacing with the (increasingly mandatory) voice evac system? What's going to interface with the wall panels and other misc controls?

      This is a job for a real, actual DAP, just like every other amusement facility, conference space, etc. in the entire world. They're purpose-built to

  • If you have eight channels... it sounds like at least a semi-serious setup. But if you are using Cobra net, you'll definitely be putting time into troubleshooting and maintaining that kind of a beast. Why not just buy some good new fashioned Airport Express devices to stick into each room, and broadcast the audio through there, maintaining it through iTunes? It would save the value of your time... which you could then for other stuff.

    Otherwise, get a Linux box, and stick some PulseAudio on there -- http:// []

    • by spikesahead ( 111032 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @12:58PM (#39858793)

      He's not trying to outfit a house. He's trying to outfit an entire amusement park.

      The scale is slightly different.

    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:14PM (#39858985) Journal

      I got the impression that the CobraNet end was fine and operational, but the head end was buggy. Once the audio hits the line out, the job is finished. He needs multiple audio feeds which can be overridden with alternate audio (?) at regular intervals (park tours are beginning at the visitors center), and an option to override with alternate audio, either pre-recorded (boat to the mainland leaves the dock at 1900 hours) or real-time (emergency everybody-run-for-your-life-the-T-Rex-is-loose), on all or a selectable number of channels simultaneously.

      Sounds like a real programming job!

      • I got the impression that the CobraNet end was fine and operational, but the head end was buggy. Once the audio hits the line out, the job is finished. He needs multiple audio feeds which can be overridden with alternate audio (?) at regular intervals (park tours are beginning at the visitors center), and an option to override with alternate audio, either pre-recorded (boat to the mainland leaves the dock at 1900 hours) or real-time (emergency everybody-run-for-your-life-the-T-Rex-is-loose), on all or a selectable number of channels simultaneously.

        Sounds like a real programming job!

        You nailed it. The live 'emergency' paging is actually done in cobranet so only pre-recorded messages are required to play on trigger.

      • by adolf ( 21054 )

        I know you were trying to be a little funny, it doesn't sound like a real programming job, unless you consider configuring cron to be "programming."

        Instead, it sounds like a job for an Ashly Protea, or a Soundweb, or some other dedicated DSP hardware with simple digital IO (Peavey and QSC also come to mind) and decent configurability.

        And, since it's already running over CobraNet, chances are very good indeed that an appropriate DSP is already in place, and therefore free.

        So, for this project (as described b

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      You're suggesting Airport Express modules to avoid having to do troubleshooting?!? They're neat modules, but their tendency to suddenly decide not to respond to the discovery broadcasts randomly for a couple of minutes randomly prevents me from suggesting them as a professional solution.
  • Proffesional AV Gear (Score:5, Informative)

    by litemizer ( 661297 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @12:51PM (#39858707)
    I did AV for a theme park in '99, and have done AV for several themed restaurants since then. When you're talking about putting together a system that's expected to run without a hitch 14 - 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, it's a lot like putting together a server you know will need high availability and reliability. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by getting something mediocre to do the job. The rule of thumb in theme/amusement park AV is to use solid state as much as possible (minimize your downtime to the extreme). My personal gear of choice is Alcorn McBride ( They have an 8 track unit that would to what you need it to do. I've used several of the binloop over the years, and with a near zero issue rate (and what issues I did have were due to a missing firmware update). And as a matter of disclosure, I did become a dealer for them after becoming familiar with their gear on the '99 project.
  • When it comes to professional show control you really do get what you pay for. this is an integral part of your park, and it will be used by bozos. find a professional show control system and buy it. it'll cost a few thousand, but it will be far less likely to break if someone presses the wrong button.

  • by blocsync ( 320897 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:02PM (#39858847) Homepage

    First off, I've never done this with FOSS... That being said, I'm 100% certain it can be done..

    You need to accept a couple of things when planning to do this with FOSS:
        Remote management can be done, but will require someone who understands the way you set it up
        You will probably be custom scripting when your playlists start (cron?)
        Updates will require manual playlist modification (goes back to understanding how you set it up)

    For an amusement park, I think this is a bad idea... Not sure how big of an IT/Tech savvy staff this location has, but while they're looking to save a few dollars today, are they considering business continuity if you leave or if something happens to this custom system? are they planning to have regular backups done? are they planning for future expansion? etc...

    My personal advice would be to avoid broadcast software (Way overpriced for this).... What would be more reasonable is digital signage software... it's designed to do this with audio and video, but you don't have to use the video portions (of course, consider that a future expansion option)... If you want to stick with linux based, I know ParkMedia has a decent setup... If you're willing to consider other (windows) options check into CoolSign.... Those are just 2 that I've used for similar setups, but there are tons of options in that field, that do what you want to do, with easy user interfaces for changing/moving stuff around, and the ability to remote manage them... Also they tend to work in a client server setup, so you back up the server regularly and if a client machine fails you just replace it.

    Just my 2 cents, hope it helps.

    • Thanks for the insight. Digital signage IMO is another beast on its own. There seems to be quite a selection of different FOSS solutions [] to it.
      • No problem, just wanted to throw it in as an idea... I can say I've personally set up Digital Signage software as a method of mass deploying music to 100's of locations (hotel chain). It worked great, was fairly simple to maintain. But it can absolutely be it's own animal. Any way, I wish you the best of luck on the project, sorry I couldn't offer a solution that matched your needs exactly.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Multi Zone Audio Player is not just another media player. It's a music control center for a whole facility or building with many rooms, halls, corridors or another zones. It' a reply for a need in a real application rather than simply a new idea. It's designed to work in professional and commercial environment, not just to entertain one person behind computer. Multi Room Audio Player is designed to play multiple sound tracks into many audio cards (or zones) simultaneously

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      and no Paging override, like he mentioned was needed.

      • To whomever makes the budget decisions: Good Fast Cheap, pick any two. Wishing for cheap and demanding the other two isn't very likely to succeed.
      • Like I said in a reply to an earlier post, the live 'emergency' paging is actually done in cobranet so only pre-recorded messages are required to play on trigger. So this could be one solution.
      • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

        Paging override can be done simply enough at the output end with amplifiers that have an input override. This is not limited to particularly expensive amplifiers -- the one I use every day [] has this ability and cost less than $100. Certainly they're going to want more than 50W/channel (except perhaps where the speakers are more or less right next to the people), but the point is that this provision exists in a lot of off-the-shelf equipment and its primary purpose is to provide a paging override in commercia

  • I agree, it sounds like you'd want something a bit more professional than random cobbled together solutions.

    That said, machines like the Raspberry Pi (or other small ARM based machines you might actually be able to acquire in quantity) might be one answer.

    At least, the ability to output a sound file from an SD card and have an editable playlist is a pretty low entry requirement..

    Just buy a dozen extras and swap them out if they die ..

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just buy a dozen extras and swap them out if they die ..

      That's really why buying something professional is probably the better option here. Professional audio control software and components are designed to be installed and ignored for years. Reliability is king with this stuff... and the companies who make it know it. Stick with tested products unless you've got a lot of flexibility/extra time and a boss/customer willing to accept a bunch of downtime while you iron out your hack/solution.

      • by satsuke ( 263225 )

        Oh I know .. it's hard to imagine a theme park that doesn't use commercial gear .. but that isn't the requirement laid out in askslashdot.

  • What are these 8 channels? How closely do they need to be synced up, a tiny fraction of a phase difference of a 44 KHz sine wave like professional audio music mixing, or just synced up close enough that park closing end of day announcements happen "around the same time, plus or minus a couple minutes" on every speaker? The first thing I thought of is 8 NTP time synced machines each running exactly one speaker plus (speaker-1) so when one crashes you cross connect speaker 6 to the Left output of computer 7

    • by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:38PM (#39859321)

      RAIN = Redundant Array of Ipod Nanos (or Inexpensive Nanos, since you'll be running off AC power you can buy the cheap ones from ebay with dead batteries instead of buy new)

      Buy more than 8 nanos... you need 8 just for background music for each zone. Other nanos do nothing but squirt out a single announcement one time when play is hit. Feed into big ole mixer. All done.

      Reprogramming by the end user is not much of a challenge assuming there exists at least one apple fanboy carnie. Another question that depends on your contract, are you trying to encourage substantial "long term support" or discourage substantial "long term support". A bunch of ipod nanos is not going to require much IT guy time, which is either a huge bonus or a huge epic fail, depending on your financial compensation plan.

    • by Ksevio ( 865461 )

      I can't speak for the submitter, but having been to an amusement park, I'd assume the 8 channels will be for 8 sections of the park, coming out of crappy speakers (outdoors bolted to buildings or in fake rocks).

      Probably going to want them all to be able to have separate music playing, but also the ability to do park wide events and make announcements randomly throughout the day with appropriate fading.

      The iPod system might be simple, but I don't think it'll cut it.

  • I'd like to be able to direct multiple audio streams to several devices. Such technology might be useful to the original poster as well.

    Is there a way to have a half-dozen audio output devices (USB audio devices can be cheap) and configure to which output device the sound from various applications should go? I've only seen interfaces for configuring where to direct all sound from a computer. Background music could go to one device, TV audio to the TV which is displaying the TV stream, system alerts to

    • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

      Look into jackd.

      Something to note with using multiple USB audio devices.. you run outa bandwidth. Expect to need to add a few USB interface cards.

      My current setup is kinda fun:

      I have:
      - a "main" PCIe sound card
      - my internal sound card
      - a USB guitar interface
      - and an auxilary USB sound interface

      I use jackd to manage the "main" card and the two usb interfaces.
      The internal sound card is alsa only.
      I have connected the line out of the internal sound card to line in of the "main" sound card.. this allows me to get

      • And in the good old fashioned open source sense you shared links to all your documentation..... and your control panel..... oh wait. :/

        • by Anrego ( 830717 ) *

          Wouldn't mind sharing it, but the control panel is so specialized it would be absolutely useless to anyone else.

  • Give it a look. It ties into shoutcast and can do things on a periodic basis.

  • 1 linux box with 8 sound cards = 8 separate mp3 playback systems. a bit of PHP to make a web page to control it all and you are done. In fact there are tons of command line or service based mp3 player apps out there for linux that can run multiple instances.

    Because you are not going to find anything that is cheap and ready to go. You have to either spend the money, and yes the amusement park has the money to spend on it, contrary to what the managers tell you. Or you spend a couple months rolling it y

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      I'll bet few people have ever tried installing 8 sound cards into a single machine. I find that doing stuff like that almost always ends up with the machine not booting or half (or all) of the cards not working.
  • by MushMouth ( 5650 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @01:38PM (#39859331) Homepage

    Don't forget liability when the s$#! hits the fan and a lost child or evacuation announcement has to be made and the PA override fails. Rolling your own sounds penny wise pound foolish.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    For a Linux solution, I'd use PureData for the audio and triggering, and a M-audio Delta1010 for the 8 outputs.

    It will require learning about PureData, but it's a graphical modular, so not that hard. Also, it can run 'headless' and be remote controlled over the internet.

  • by OldTechGuy ( 1559745 ) on Tuesday May 01, 2012 @02:12PM (#39859697)
    I am always amused at the "i need an open source (read:free) solution" requests by folks who want to use it for their business. This is for an amusement park. I assume the park charges people for admission. They also charge for food, and to play the games, and so on. Yet, this guy doesn't want to pay for a solution to address his audio distribution needs. WTF?
    • I agree, this guy wants to piece together a system of at best 'as is' for warranty, put it into public space where real emergency announcements being delivered means someone lives versus death if the system decides it could only run for 87 days (82 more days than tested in a back server room for a week) and dies on the 88th day when the tornado decides to visit and no one can be warned to get to a shelter. Just what I expect when I lay out money to go for a ride, that free is driving. Even the mouse ears wo
      • by Svartalf ( 2997 )

        If you think that anyone is going to willingly own up to liability when the system fails (and even the pro-grade stuff can do that...) I've got some nice oceanside property on the middle of the Florida coast to sell you.

    • Why be amused? This is exactly what Slashdot has been advocating all these years - "don't go proprietary, don't be a slave to the man, roll your own, go F/OSS".

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      These articles come up when someone's old equipment fails and they go looking for the replacement and discover that it costs 3x as much as his department's budget for the entire year. Maybe his boss is really stingy with the money too. So he's got to figure out some other solution and posts to Slashdot. It's not like Amusement Park owners are known for their generosity.

      The best bet would probably be to try to convince whomever is in charge of the money that it is a safety issue and that they should ju
      • by flonker ( 526111 )

        Exactly correct. I'm trying to switch my life over to FOSS as much as possible, but trying to cobble something together is a bad idea. If your business relies on it, it MUST be robust. The easy way to check is, "How much would the business lose if it failed?" and "What are the odds of the COTS system designed for this task failing?" and "What are the odds of my homebrew system failing?" If the answers are A>cost(B) and C>>B, your answer is pretty obvious. Same goes for A>>cost(B) and C

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What you are looking at is show control software.

    Here is a free one that will do what you are looking for, assuming you have enough audio out channels in Windows.

  • You have two parts to your problem. Playing the actual audio files, and controlling when they will be played. There are many, many FOSS solutions for getting audio out of a PC with multitrack cards. Where things get messy is the control interfaces. Its going to be hard to find an interface that will do what you want for your price point. On the other hand, there are plenty of inexpensive (

    Check out Richmond Sound Design []'s offerings. They have a fairly robust audio and show control engine that can h

  • Use jack [] to get the various output devices into a single interface (I'm assuming this "myriad" has windows or Linux drivers) and then use any old sequencer to manage the play lists and announcements. You may find netjack can handle the distribution for you as well.
  • You should be looking at show control systems. I would suggest SoundMan server []. Interface to CobraNet can be achieved with card [] from AudioScience. A nice bundle [] of the two is sold by Richmond Sound Design

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.