Ark Encounter: an installation of epic proportion.

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By Mike Jonas. Photos by Aaron Wallace.

Clearwing Systems Integration provided a complete audio and video package for Ark Encounter, which opened on July 7, 2016 in Williamstown, KY. As the largest timber-frame structure in the world, Ark Encounter features a full-scale Noah’s Ark, spanning 510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high. It’s not surprising that this 7-story feat of engineering was quite possibly the biggest systems install in Clearwing history.

In March of 2016, just three weeks before installation got underway, we were contracted to provide audio and video for the project. Although it was one of the largest distributed audio systems we’ve ever installed, the entire process went extremely smoothly on our end. We took care to thoroughly plan out the system and installation with accurate drawings and to choose the right people for the job. We also worked closely with the client as the system was designed to ensure that we met their needs and expectations from beginning to end.

Every project has its obstacles, though, and this one was no exception. A few hurdles arose outside of our control, such as product delays and having no power to our equipment racks two weeks after commissioning was supposed to begin. However, we were able to adapt, fulfill our scope, and meet our deadlines.

In the first phase, it was necessary to distribute audio to nearly 200 zones park-wide, so the main audio system was built around QSC QSys, which, in my opinion, is the best DSP system on the market today. Processing is handled by a Core 1100 with a second Core 1100 for redundancy. Fifty QSC CXD4.3Q and CXD4.5Q amplifiers power over 500 QSC AD series loudspeakers.

All 144 audio input tracks to the system come from Alcorn McBride Binloops over Dante. They are then routed over a redundant QLan network to a total of eleven distributed amp racks located throughout the ark, grounds, restaurant, and guest services. The CXD-Q amplifiers drive 195 zones of distributed audio. Everything is fed over network with no analog cables running between racks. This saved a LOT on labor and equipment in putting this all together. If we had done this project five years ago, it would have required miles of additional cable, several additional racks of amplifiers, dozens of system processors, and weeks of additional labor. Thanks to today’s technology, a single redundant processor drives the entire system, handling hundreds of inputs and outputs with less than one millisecond of latency.

Multiple paging stations and touch panels allow the users to control and page throughout the park-wide system. There is also a Deck 1 Show system consisting of a variety of EAW speakers to provide a boat shaking storm effect that can be felt on the 4th deck.

The audio gear list is as follows for the Ark, Restaurant, and Grounds package:

  • (2) QSC Core 1100
  • (2) QSC I/O Frame 8S
  • QSC Core 500i (restaurant system)
  • QSC CXD4.5Q
  • (49) QSC CXD4.3Q
  • QSC TSC 7
  • QSC TSC 3
  • QSC PS1600
  • (500+) QSC AD-S4T, S6T, S8T and ADS52T speakers
  • (40) Soundtube Mushroom speakers
  • Alcorn McBride Digital Binloop 32 Track AV Reproducer
  • Deck 1 Show
  • EAW QX564i
  • EAW JF80
  • EAW SB2001
  • gruppen D200:4L


Video distribution over HD-SDI or Cat5 cable was not practical due to the distance limitations of those methods combined with the sheer size of the Ark. Instead, we distributed video content to 24 displays over fiber using an Extron XTP II Crosspoint 3200 matrix switcher, and I’m very pleased with how well the Extron fiber gear performed. Content came from Alcorn McBride AV Binloop HDs, and fed a variety of displays, including LG commercial displays and 8 Peerless IP68 rated outdoor displays.

The video gear list consists of the following:

  • Extron XTP II Crosspoint 3200 Matrix
  • (24) Extron XTP FR HD 4K fiber converters
  • Alcorn McBride A/V Binloop HD players
  • (8) Peerless 55″ Xtreme Outdoor Displays
  • (16) LG SM5B series commercial displays


The best designs and plans necessitate the right people to transform a vision to reality. As Senior Project Manager and System Designer, I was proud to work with an incredible team on such a large-scale project. Kurt Schnabel, the Account Manager; Trevor Powers, the Onsite Project Manager; and the crew of Dax Brems, Mike Covington, Calvin Henderson, John Jonas, Mik Moore, Chris Niles, JP Pritchard, and Jared Walther made this project a great success. I cannot thank them enough.

The extraordinary end result is a direct reflection of the ownership that we each took in this project. We have received so many comments about how great the system sounds, and that is largely due to the work of this talented group of people. It was an honor to be a part of such a unique project, and we look forward to working with the client on future phases of the Ark Encounter.

Clearwing project managers Trevor Powers (left) and Mike Jonas (right).

Mike Jonas is the Senior Systems Integration Project Manager for Clearwing Productions’ Milwaukee office.  Prior to joining Clearwing, he served as the Technical Director at Eau Claire Children’s Theatre for four years. Mike holds a B.S. in Construction Management from University of Wisconsin- Stout.