SOUND FX: "ELECTRIC" STEAM
The Whitby sound system is indeed
a 4-way speaker system! Although it is technically a monaural
system, any "voice" in the Whitby soundtracks can be
mixed and sent through reverbs, delays and flanger/phasing processors
for routing to separate amp/speaker systems all over the layout!
Shown here are the JBL 31/2" midrange (face down in the saddle
tank), and the two-way Motorola piezo tweeter system components
(face down in the cab, and face up in the stack), there is also
an external JBL 8" tuned port sub-woofer fed via an external
electronic crossover and power amplifier (not shown). A 9v battery
rides in the steam dome, and the onboard 9v receiver and amplifier
are mounted inside of the saddle tank/speaker enclosure. A live
mix of the mid range and high frequency cartoon "steam operation"
sounds (along with any ambient FX signal processing such as reverb
when the loco is in a tunnel) is broadcast to the loco using the
rails as the FM broadcast antenna. A wire receiver antenna is
hidden from view in the base of the saddle tank and running boards.
enclosure design for the Whitby existed even before the exterior
design was complete. In fact, the speakers were chosen and the
enclosure built first, the rest of the loco was built around these
elements and the LGB motor block. The smoke box, saddle tank,
steam dome, stack and backhead are all part of the overall enclosure
housing. These components were fashioned out of thick black PVC
pipe chosen in part for its acoustic dampening, and from solid
3/8" thick walnut, epoxied and clamped together. The saddle
tank and backhead were created from "annealed PVC" (that's
PVC pipe cut, heated, and then bent into the appropriate shapes).
Speaker system components were carefully chosen for
efficiency and their ability to speak precisely and efficiently.
At the heart of the Whitby's onboard audio system is a single
JBL Inc. T-105, 31/2" automotive drop-in replacement speaker
mounted face down in the botom of the saddle tank. I suspect this
speaker is no longer available, as at $50.00 a pair it's not likely
too many were ever sold. Still, like all JBL's, it is an extraordinary
speaker for its size, and virtually indestructible. I still have
the second one of the pair if it should ever become necessary,
but in hindsight I wish I had bought a case of them.
The complete loco audio system is a four-way system...
of sorts. It is an unconventional four-way system design for any
of several reasons. On board and traveling with the loco itself
are the T-105 and two Motorola Piezo (pronounced pee-A'-zo) Ceramic
tweeters, a cut-down KSN 1034A face down in the cab roof, and
a KSN 1020A face up in the diamond stack. Piezo ceramics, unlike
conventional inductive transducers, have no magnet or voice coil.
They are simply a thin ceramic wafer which expands and contracts
when there is an audio voltage present. Except for an electronic
crossover which processes the signal to the sub-woofer, the three
way loco speaker system operates on a full range amplified signal
without any active or passive crossover components at all. This
is due to the unique properties of the piezo ceramic transducers
which naturally roll-in at the higher frequencies all by themselves.
They are oblivious to low frequencies and therefore need no protection
from them. The T-105, like any cone, naturally rolls off at the
A JBL M-80, 8" tuned port speaker in a separate
enclosure working below 80 Hz serves as a sub-woofer for the loco,
and also the entire railroad. The Whitby sound system is quite
capable, but to say that it sounds natural all by itself would
be misleading. More about this later.
There are a number of nifty FX devices available that
can easily and automatically recreate the various delay/reverb
characteristics encountered on any railroad. These are usually
digital devices pre-loaded with algorithms that can simulate anything
from long distant discreet delays to the slap-back/reverb of a
tunnel interior, or most anything in between. For the Whitby loco
I chose a musical instrument analog tape loop delay with a built-in
spring reverb and a lot of noise (both electronics hiss, and Ampex
451 tape hiss!). Any sound that is sent directly to the loco can
be processed with any combination of echo, delay and reverb times,
and then mixed in along with the direct sound sent to the loco,
to simulate any ambience the loco might encounter. A separate
"free-running" digital delay only (no original sound,
just the delayed echoes) is sent to speakers hidden in various
mountain peaks and faces. When the Whitby speaks, everybody listens.
A similar system of distance enhancement is employed on the station
The Whitby Audio System Simplified
I'm not certain if they still
make the Transponder Animator, but Starr-Tec's sound system is
the only commercially available system that allows sound to be
completely created from an external fixed position on the layout.
This clever device broadcasts the signal up the rails to make
an FM "jump" up to an on board 9v battery powered receiver/amplifier/speaker
system. The idea is to eliminate the noise that is created by
"through-the-rails" systems (systems where audio is
impressed along with the DC power through the rails and loco's
wheel pick-ups), where dirt on even fairly clean track made loud
scratchy noises. The Transponder Animator eliminates the mechanical
connection noise entirely, but does require an external sound/program
source such as cassette players. Up to four monaural inputs can
be mixed and sent to the loco FM broadcast link, and/or to either
of two additional amplified outputs. The need to provide your
own program source (locomotive sounds) was most likely the reason
that this system did not gain more popularity, but is exactly
the reason I love it. I wanted to create each and every voice
with which the Whitby speaks, and moreover, optimize those voices
to literally leap out of the Whitby's three on board speakers!
Additionally, I wanted to be able to process those voices to sound
correct when the loco is in a tunnel, or squealing around a tight
curve, or crawling along a "solid" rock face. And, I
wanted to be able to do this "on-the-fly".
have collected or sampled a substantial number of steam and "steam-like"
sounds over the years. Some of these include waterfalls (for watery
steam hissing), an industrial water heater (for stunning boiler/burner
bottom end rumble), and several steam operated pieces of machinery
(for steam valve opening/closing and mechanical sounds). These
are then sampled into a digital audio workstation (DAWS) for editing
and for various forms of signal processing. The Whitby loco is
connected to the computer workstation outputs through an amplifier,
to the loco speakers directly, bypassing the broadcast loop. This
allows us to monitor the sounds through the actual speakers that
they will be played on every time it is performed, while we are
working on them! This is called a L.I.V.E(TM)
Mix-down (Listening Interpretation Via Event/Environment), a technique
developed by Fantasonics(TM) Engineering
for theme park attractions. Each voice is tweaked in the DAWS,
most often with 10 band parametric equalization. Anomalies in
the speaker system can be compensated for quite accurately in
this manner. The whole thing is tuned by ear, in that we simply
keep tweaking until each voice sounds real (and/or funny).
Once an individual voice is optimized, it is saved
as a sound file for eventual sampling into keyboard digital musical
instruments, or for compositions directly in the DAWS system.
Complete operating sessions can be "performed" on the
keyboard for MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) playback,
or composed in the computer for mixdown to a mastering medium
such as CD. Of course all this is much more involved than can
be described here, but this basic production sequence is always
External control, CD/sampler voice
Here at the house, I often play MIDI/keyboard
or Sound Designer II files directly into the layout broadcast
system. But for portability I do not want to drag the Mac G3,
MIDI interface, and keyboards around. For this reason I make CDs
which contain the various pieces of an "operating session".
The various pieces of a complete session are burned onto each
of three CDs in a way that allows cross-cueing (cueing the next
sound on one CD player while a current sound plays on another).
The third CD is allocated to "solo voices", such as
whistles, bells, blow downs, wheel and brake squeals, etc.
TO THE WORKS?}