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Richard Branson Does It Again, Opens Virgin Hotel

Billionaire entrepreneur’s latest endeavor boasts tablet check-in, a personal app named Lucy and a rugged 26-floor audio system.>

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Billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has accomplished quite a bit in his impressive albeit somewhat left-of-center career thus far.

After selling his profitable Virgin Records business, Branson started Virgin Airlines, often called a ‘party in the sky,’ packed with high-tech, purple lighting and in-seat amenities. He is also the brilliant and eccentric mind behind Virgin Galactic, a space flight endeavor he hopes will one day make space tourism as common as a family vacation.

It’s no surprise that he’s not stopping there. This past January, the first Virgin Hotel debuted in Chicago, and this brand new hospitality arm of the multi-national, multi-industry Virgin sensation is rising to the same high-tech standards of the others. The first priority in the development of the hotel was the installation of evolved and up-to-date AV equipment, and it’s evidence in the finished product.

Upon arrival, visitors check in at the reception desk with the touch of a tablet. Once in the room, they’ll find ‘Lucy,’ the Virgin Hotel mobile app that allows guests to integrate their personal device into the hotel room’s many functions. Lucy can change television channels, adjust room temperature, order room service and manage the music.

Get an inside look at the Virgin Hotel.

The hotel also needed a rugged system to handle audio routing and processing across multiple areas. New York-based El Media Group was charged with designing and installing the massive audio system, which spanned 26 floors including several bars and lounges on the 24th and 25th floors of the hotel.

El Media chose a Symetrix SymNet Radius 12×8 open architecture, Dante-scalable Digital Signal Processor (DSP) to carry audio throughout the hotel. Ernie Lake, co-founder and chief creative officer of El Media Group, recalls the final design and installation of the audio system taking place taking around six months prior to the hotel’s grand opening.

“The brief was pretty simple,” says Lake. “Essentially [the goal was] to deliver really high quality sound for both background and foreground music, including DJ sets. In terms of the audio processing, we needed to be able to operate three independent zones within the same space, but also combine them into one when required. Having used Symetrix equipment extensively in the past, we knew that the SymNet Radius 12×8 processor would be ideal for this task.”

SymNet Radius also delivered a sizeable input count, which was an important factor in choosing the product, according to Symetrix. But perhaps the most important quality this particular DSP brought to the project was its support for Dante networking technology. Created by audio networking provider Audinate, Dante is a combination of software, hardware and network protocols that deliver uncompressed, multi-channel, low-latency digital audio over a standard Ethernet network. It is perfect for applications in which a large number of audio channels must be transmitted over relatively long distances or to multiple locations, like at Virgin’s inaugural hotel.

“It’s a very powerful but simple-to-use setup that really accommodates our client’s needs,” says Lake. “SymNet Radius is absolutely integral to the design, and I am also pleased to report that this marks our first-ever Dante implementation. It works flawlessly and the programming was a breeze.”

The hotel’s high-end audio infrastructure also features Symetrix’ ARC-2e wall panel remotes, Lab.gruppen C Series amplifiers, and loudspeakers from Community Professional, On Point Audio and Tannoy.

“The [Symetrix] people there are incredibly knowledgeable; having never gotten off the phone without the problem being solved,” says Lake of the system and company behind it all. “Anything we need they are always there for us; for example, if we need a processor over the weekend they will ship it right away. It’s a great relationship.”

Check out the photos of Branson’s Virgin Hotel.

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