Harley Owners Get Their Disneyland
How do you ensure a great AV experience in the midst of revving motorcycles? Integrator AATronics was up to the challenge when it took on the task of designing the systems for High Desert Harley-Davidson near Boise, Idaho.
CHALLENGE: Create a robust, targeted audio system in a reverberant environment filled with revving motorcycles.
SOLUTION: Ceiling-mount speakers with tightly controlled vertical patterns, aimed straight down such that sound waves bounce toward the listeners.
High Desert Harley augments its sales area for Buell sports bikes with a curved videowall built out of nine LG Electronics 50-inch 50PM1M plasma monitors. Sound is provided by two Bose FreeSpace3 speaker assemblies.
Ethan Wheeler, a design consultant for Boise, Idaho–based AV integrator AATronics grasped what the client was going for from the very beginning. “It's a Harley-Davidson shop—they're not known for their efficient mufflers,” he says. In other words, loud wasn't a problem.
“People don't come here just to buy bikes,” concurs Peggy Myers, the general manager of High Desert Harley-Davidson, located right off Highway 84 in nearby Meridian, Idaho. “They come here to hang out, have coffee, and trade stories. They come to live and experience the Harley-Davidson lifestyle—and music and a great sound system are important parts of their visit.”
Indeed, from the very moment customers step foot on the 54,000-square-foot dealership's parking lot, they're immersed in the so-called “Harley-Davidson experience,” with music emanating from 16 Bose FreeSpace DS 100SE loudspeakers mounted 12-feet high on light poles in the parking lot.
Of course, the tune selection is never easy listening.
“It's classic rock—what you'd expect to hear at a bike shop,” explains Wheeler, who oversaw the integration of $170,000 worth of sound and display systems within the motorcycle dealership's interior and exterior.
Once the customer enters the showroom, the song indeed remains the same, with the classic rock they just heard in the parking lot now blasting through four Bose FreeSpace 3 OMNI assemblies that are suspended from the open ceiling. Video, meanwhile, is everywhere they look, highlighted by a curved 3x3 display wall consisting of nine 50-inch LG Electronics 50PM1M consumer-grade plasma monitors designated to highlight Harley-Davidson's sport bike brand, Buell.
The emphasis on sight and sound comes directly from the dealership's owner, Dave Thomas, who saw the integration of AV technology as a way to lure a younger consumer to a motorcycle brand that has more direct appeal to the Baby Boom generation.
“The owner had a real understanding of what he wanted this space to be,” says Jack Hudnut, a Minneapolis-based territory manger for Bose who worked closely with authorized dealer AATronics on the Harley-Davidson project.
“Dave sees audiovisual technology as a way to bridge the generation gap,” Wheeler adds. “It's his dream to bring a younger audience into the dealership. He called it Disneyland for Harley owners.”
LIVING THE DREAM
Hoping to make Thomas' dream come true, AATronics jumped aboard in November 2006, just after ground was broken on the new facility.
Getting in early had its advantages. For one, before the general contractor poured the cement in the parking lot, AATronics was able to work with the project's electrician and ensure its speaker wire ran through conduit leading to light posts in the lot. This negated the need to establish separate, dedicated structures for the outdoor speakers.
Recessed flat-screens and Bose FreeSpace3 assemblies overhead made the immersive videowall jump off the design page.
The effect was achieved through tiered levels of speaker density, with fewer speakers in the outer reaches of the parking lot. Also, speakers were tapped at progressively lower levels of voltage the further out they are positioned.
Meanwhile, the weather-resistant Bose DS 100S speakers, which the company introduced around the time of the installation, could be mounted horizontally or vertically on the 18-foot light poles and provide 180-degree audio coverage.
Once inside the showroom, the acoustics became even more vexing, as AATronics engineers had to figure out how to integrate sound in an environment rife with reflective surfaces, from the glass windows that surrounded the large, warehouse-like room to the metal machines that fill it. And while the integrator spent many hours carefully calibrating the sound dynamics of the room to control reverberant conditions, figuring out proper volume levels—i.e., loud enough to overcome the sound of revving motorcycles—was tedious.
“The acoustics were difficult for two reasons,” Wheeler explains. “First, they didn't want the appearance of acoustical treatments all over their walls and ceiling. They very carefully designed each and every display wall, and the open ceiling was not to be tampered with. Second, the volume of space would have required an enormous amount of treatment, at an enormous cost. They simply did not have the budget to make the shop a good acoustical environment.”
AATronics' compromise solution was to use speakers with tightly controlled vertical patterns, mounted above and firing down. The acoustical energy from the speakers is directed down toward the sales floor and not at the walls or glass. Consequently, the majority of acoustical reflections in the room are those that bounce off the floor and are directed upward.
“Listeners don't perceive the short first-order reflection off the floor as an echo,” Wheeler says. “And third-order reflections and beyond don't have enough energy left to do much damage. This is not to say that the shop is an ideal listening environment. It is a loud, energetic place. They frequently start and rev bikes for customers, creating a sound louder than they would ever allow music inside. But overall, the experience seems just right for their intended clientele. It's a bit rough, a bit edgy, not what you'd expect at say, a Lexus dealership, but just right for Harley-Davidson.”
MODES OF LISTENING ENJOYMENT
All audio and video originate from a Middle Atlantic WRK-44SA27 equipment rack, stored in a data closet adjacent to the upstairs administrative offices. Here, audio from numerous playback sources is routed through a Bose ControlSpace ESP-88 sound processor, with an AMX NI2100 NetLinx controller dictating a variety of pre-programmed audio- and music-source modes.
“There's a relaxed mode, which is more quiet for when employees arrive in the morning,” explains Joe Colley, another AATronics design consultant who worked alongside Wheeler. “Then there's a normal mode for normal business hours. And on Saturdays, when they have big events, they'll select high-energy mode. The AMX controller allows them to control that with basically a push of a button.”
Notably, dealership owner Thomas made clear at the beginning of the project that not only must the AV system be very simple for the employees to turn on and off, and configure, no touch panels were to be used.
“Touch panels not only cost quite a bit, they also look expensive,” notes Wheeler, explaining the client's rationale. “They wanted a nice system, but they didn't want it to give off to the customer the kind of super-fancy [aesthetic] you'd see at, say, an Aspen resort.”
Instead, AATronics created custom control devices out of AMX Mio Classic 8-button and 16-button panels. Other than adjusting music-source and volume modes, there isn't much for dealership employees to do, since the audio system is uniformly zoned throughout the huge facility.
“They could have zoned the heck out of it if they wanted to, but they chose to have a common feed throughout,” Wheeler explains. “The only exception is the customer lounge, which has a 60-inch [LG 60PC1DC] plasma display in it. If customers want to watch, say, a football game in there, they can easily switch over the audio to the dealership's satellite TV receiver.”
Just as music is ubiquitous throughout the dealership, so is “HDTV”—short for Harley-Davidson TV, the oft-updated corporate sales content—playing on myriad LG plasma and LCD video displays. From the reception desk (60-inch MU60PZ95V plasma), to the parts department (four 42-inch 42PM1M plasmas stacked two by two), to the urinals in the men's restroom (two wall-recessed 20LC7DC 20-inch LCD monitors), the dealership can pipe a loop of Harley-Davidson messaging virtually anywhere. All the video originates from a proprietary receiver stored in the equipment rack.
Music from the parking lot follows customers into the Harley-Davidson showroom over Bose assemblies that hang from the open ceiling.
Perhaps the most eye-catching of all the dealership's video displays is the curved 3x3 Buell videowall, which plays an action-packed, engine noise-filled reel from a Denon DN-V200 DVD player. The wall's curving effect was created by recess-mounting the outer two vertical rows of 50-inch LG flat-screens so that they're slightly angled in from the center row. Creating the custom steel rack that would support these monitors—and getting the mounting angles just right—was achieved “through much CAD work,” Wheeler explains.
Above the video wall, two dedicated Bose FreeSpace3 speaker assemblies help create the experience. “It's designed so that, if you're standing in front of it, you feel like you're riding through the mountains,” he notes.
So after all this stuff was installed, did it achieve the owner's objective of making Harley-Davidson more appealing to younger bike riders?
“It did work,” Wheeler adds. “They sold one of our project managers a bike.”
Daniel Frankel is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.