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Discussion Starter #1
I think well positioned different audio sources adds dimension and interest to a Yard Haunt. Especially since I'm adding focus to haunting my back yard; would love to have various audio sources. A few questions / comments:

1) To keep things water resistant / not worry about theft, I was thinking of purchasing a number of small boombox / CD units from thrift stores--ones that are, dunno, 5 pounds in weight or so, then wrap them in thin black trash bags to protect from the elements as well as hide them. By back yard is partially forested; don't expect any ToTs to walk back there. But would be cool to have the HM wolf howls or other strange noises emanating from maybe 4 units. Good idea? Other alternatives for speaker sources? I've seen a bunch for price range of $5 to $10 in thrift stores. A lot of them lack power cords and so can't always be tested; can't even often find one from another device to swap out. It's those small rectangular receptacles on the cord / power input.

2) For audio not requiring synchronization, I'll just have a CD playing on each unit that loops a track.

3) For audio I'd like synchronized, say, for "surround sound" I'd likely buy a bunch more of the "200 channel FM wireless transmitters" ($3?) from eBay and transmit to different FM channels for each unit. Couldn't be too far away. Other alternatives for syncing up audio sources?

4) My main question--how to author and then generate multi-channel sound tracks. In the other days, I'd use a cheap Tascam 4 or 8 track tape recorder--might still if there was a tape loop function on them. These days, I'd expect to use a DAW. Are there any cheap "nobody loves me" 4 to 8 output USB digital audio cards I should consider for a Windows box? I have a laptop and desktop computer, so I suppose I could buy a used internal card and install--but don't know how many outputs that would give me. Or B), could I author a 5.1 DVD for just the sound output--and what would I purchase to convert the digital audio out into 1/8 / 3.5mm outputs to feed into my FM transmitters? Cheap and simple rules the day here. Assuming I can use Audacity to generate regular multi-track audio. What free or cheap DVD authoring software, that includes sound, could I use?

The Haunted Mansion is very much enlivened, as well as other dark rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, buy multi-point sound sources, synchronized or not.

For sync'ed multi-track audio, thinking it might be *very* cool to have a bunch of things going on near the street on my front lawn, so ToTers would hear audio behind them as they approach for candy. I was very much blown away by the HM's stretching room effect; where if you linger before the staff kick you out, you hear awesome surround sound of bats fluttering in 360 degree coverage--but they use dozens of speakers--which you can often see in flash photos of the stretching room--this is at the Magic Kingdom. And also the gargoyles whisper and laugh and talk to each other very briefly. Very cool effect; subtle though because many never linger long enough to hear--they run to their Doombuggies.
 

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I wholeheartedly agree: source audio can be very effective.

I use a Mac, so I'm not going to be much help on sound cards or software. Audacity says it support multichannel, but never having done it, I'm not sure how you'd export a multichannel (more than 2) audio file. The WAV format spec (among others) does have support for multichannel though.

If you can figure out how, the surround DVD authoring route would give you 5 channels, and your DVD player could be on loop. You'd just need a surround decoder hooked to the DVD and running out to individual speakers (L, C, R, Ls, Rs).

You mentioned the ol' 4/8 track recorder route... you could maybe find a cheaper modern equivalent (Zoom, TASCAM) or USB audio interface that does multiple outputs.

I use ProTools with a MOTU828 audio interface that has 8 outputs, so I run audio to the dedicated speakers in the yard directly... usually pairs of cheap stereo PC speakers. I have a few Bluetooth JamPlus speakers with 1/8"/3.5mm aux inputs that have much better low end than the PC speakers.

Let us know what you decide on!
 

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A thought for the audio amp setup. I am using small footprint amplifier boards and adding a power supply. I then mount them in an outdoor enclosure that is watertight and lockable. I get the amp boards from Parts-express.com and the power supplies and enclosures from Holidaycoro.com. You can get a four channel amp on a single board for about $40, total cost less than $100 and will offer plenty of power for an outdoor use. The amps have RCA jacks for inputs and barrier strip for outputs.
 

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Back in the 90s I worked for a museum that had a really sophisticated multi-zone audio system that I had to repair from time to time. I seem to recall it was made by a company named SoundDesign and was incredibly expensive. The system drove all of the ambient and exhibit audio (stored on CD) via their proprietary CD controllers, dry contact input boards, mixers and amps to speakers located throughout the exhibit hall. It is quite dated when compared with today's technology, but a lot of the same principles apply to any multi-zone audio system.

Some general comments:

I would avoid using any type of FM transmitter. The type that you are looking at are designed to work a few feet from the receiving antenna (e.g. for use in a vehicle). The audio fidelity is also very poor compared with a wired connection. Another consideration is that unless you live in a very remote location, your FM band is likely pretty full, so you probably don't have much open spectrum to use for your local sources.

As far as sourcing the audio, one thought is to use as many USB audio cards (~$5/ea) as you have output zones. On Linux, each of these will appear as a discrete output device as I imagine they would on Windows. For non-synchronized playback, this is as simple as picking the audio device your player application would use. For synchronized audio, you might want to look at Logitech Media Server and squeezelite. These are based on the software that powered Squeezeboxes that is now Open Source and community supported. It is possible to run multiple squeezelite instances on the same host, each bonded to different audio device (on Linux at least). You could either use an existing uber audio machine that sources everything, or discrete LMS server and WiFi/Ethernet-connected squeezelite players (Raspberry Pis work great as squeezelite players.) Squeezelite players can be synchronized in arbitrary groups to provide whatever multi-zone groups you want. I currently use LMS/Squeezelite and Squeeze Player (Android client) for my whole-house audio system and have it doing some pretty cool stuff.
 

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I use "Sound Mill" software ( http://breakthrusoftware.com/html/products/soundmgr/index.html ) which is a mult-zone audio player.

I bought a cheap, 10 port USB hub and 10 USB audio cards off of Ebay for cheap.
I also bought several 50', 3.5mm audio line cables (from Monoprice.com) to run the audio to powered, amplified speakers in the zones where they were needed.
 

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If you use a multichannel sound card you can map channels to different outputs in Audacity which would achieve the desired effect and be free. I did it last year to output tracks to different amps at the same time. here is a link showing how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zu37UaVlLJE
 
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Pyle PTAU45 plays MP3s from a thumb drive (hook up a mic and you can talk over the audio) WIRED to Pyle outdoor speakers. I've had frustrating results with wireless stuff. I use these for background audio and as an audio source for props. See "Prop Controls" here http://www.snydercentral.com/halloween.htm note: site construction and all Halloween stuff on hold due to wife's request to remodel a bathroom :-(
audio.jpg
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks to all for the great suggestions! Lots of good and affordable ones to consider

Hey, a little off topic, but as a Windows user (and Linux-capable, as I support some RedHat systems at work), but not a Mac user, is there any free or inexpensive software that will let me rip CDs from my collection more than *once*? I was hella pissed when Windows Media Player refused to rip the same CD to MP3s, or any other format, more than once--like it remembered it and forbade it. And since I'd misplaced the MP3s from the first rip, I needed to rip again. Not sure I want to install iTunes and get into the whole Locked In World of Apple--just don't get their Philosophy of no file browsers, etc (just inherited my wife's iPad "3" aka "the New iPad). It seems like a locked down device for getting content in or out of it unless you use iTunes.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Thrift vs. Pawn for battery operated boomboxes?

I've been trying to find medium sized battery operated CD boomboxes at thrift stores to help haunt my backyard. So far I have two--~$5 each. But they're small and not loud enough. I want to go as low-tech as possible for this. Synchronization may not even matter. Anyway, no luck with thrift stores--if I do find any mid-sized boomboxes, there is often no power cord to test--and I often look through other devices for sale for a power cord--no dice. Tried the small Walmart and Big Lots boomboxes that run between $20 and $25--they're the same volume (too low).

So... I've never bought anything in a thrift store. But wondering for those in Central North Carolina--or anywhere--are there:

1) Any good National Chain pawn shops that may sell battery op CD boomboxes at a good price (some significant discount off what I could buy new on eBay or Amazon)?

2) Any good local Pawn Shops in the Raleigh area that don't feel too "seedy"?

I'll keep all the other suggestions here and in other similar threads I've started. But really I'd prefer to use battery operated boomboxes spread throughout the back yard, wrapped in thin black trash bags, to provide more ambiance / points of audio.

Guess it would help to know how many of these boomboxes I need--then I could compare with new on AMZN using Prime Shipping, multiply by # of units required, then decide, ya know, hey, maybe my time is worth more than that. I've spent a ton of gas and logged a lot of miles looking for boomboxes at thrift stores all over the Triangle area in Central NC. It's a fun hobby, and I'm often looking for used CDs, shirts, etc. But still...
 

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Granted, the following discussion of PC-driven audio/show control is not low-cost, per se, but if one already has a PC and audio output hardware, the extra cost won't be too bad...

I am in the process of testing out my new show control software for Windows, which has been tailor made for haunts, holiday shows and other automated displays. This software allows one to design arbitrarily complex audioscapes for shows, using both multi-channel audio files as well as flexible, user-defined speaker configurations.

In my software, a show consists of one or more scenes, where each scene is an independently running timeline, playing back animation data in synchronization with audio. Audio tracks can be added to scenes so that audio clips may then be laid out on their timelines.

Any Windows-supported audio devices may be used, where the individual audio channels can be repartitioned into arbitrary speaker groupings. For example, a 7.1 channel USB audio device could be split up into three stereo and two mono speaker groupings. Each scene of a show is assigned one such speaker group, to which its audio is output.

The user will have full control of how audio channels are routed and (re)mixed, from the source audio clip through to a scene's output speaker grouping. This design allows regular mono and stereo audio files to be easily used in more elaborate multi-channel audio designs, such as for special effect surround sound configurations. Also, the audio level is fully tweakable during playback at the Show, Set, Scene, Audio Track and Audio Clip levels.

Given that a show can be composed of multiple coordinated or independently running scenes (tied together with user-defined triggering logic), it will be easy to create any level of complexity required for a given show.

Ok. This is a bit of a tease, since the software is not quite ready for prime time (still debugging weird cases), but I just wanted to let you know that help is on the way for complex, PC-driven shows. I will let everyone know BIG TIME when it is finally available. Honestly, I'm having a hard time *not* talking about it now that it's almost available; especially when I hear cases such as yours, which this software was specifically created to address.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Sounds like a fabulous project. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with and how people will deploy it. I may stick with low-tech, but love hi-tech. The flexibility you're providing should make it a winner. Good luck with your venture.

Granted, the following discussion of PC-driven audio/show control is not low-cost, per se, but if one already has a PC and audio output hardware, the extra cost won't be too bad...

I am in the process of testing out my new show control software for Windows, which has been tailor made for haunts, holiday shows and other automated displays. This software allows one to design arbitrarily complex audioscapes for shows, using both multi-channel audio files as well as flexible, user-defined speaker configurations.

In my software, a show consists of one or more scenes, where each scene is an independently running timeline, playing back animation data in synchronization with audio. Audio tracks can be added to scenes so that audio clips may then be laid out on their timelines.

Any Windows-supported audio devices may be used, where the individual audio channels can be repartitioned into arbitrary speaker groupings. For example, a 7.1 channel USB audio device could be split up into three stereo and two mono speaker groupings. Each scene of a show is assigned one such speaker group, to which its audio is output.

The user will have full control of how audio channels are routed and (re)mixed, from the source audio clip through to a scene's output speaker grouping. This design allows regular mono and stereo audio files to be easily used in more elaborate multi-channel audio designs, such as for special effect surround sound configurations. Also, the audio level is fully tweakable during playback at the Show, Set, Scene, Audio Track and Audio Clip levels.

Given that a show can be composed of multiple coordinated or independently running scenes (tied together with user-defined triggering logic), it will be easy to create any level of complexity required for a given show.

Ok. This is a bit of a tease, since the software is not quite ready for prime time (still debugging weird cases), but I just wanted to let you know that help is on the way for complex, PC-driven shows. I will let everyone know BIG TIME when it is finally available. Honestly, I'm having a hard time *not* talking about it now that it's almost available; especially when I hear cases such as yours, which this software was specifically created to address.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
I use "Sound Mill" software ( http://breakthrusoftware.com/html/products/soundmgr/index.html ) which is a mult-zone audio player.

I bought a cheap, 10 port USB hub and 10 USB audio cards off of Ebay for cheap.
I also bought several 50', 3.5mm audio line cables (from Monoprice.com) to run the audio to powered, amplified speakers in the zones where they were needed.
Could you please post the item listings / model #s / or even just the search terms you used for both the hub and the USB audio cards? So I know what to look for. Sounds like a great idea.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I wholeheartedly agree: source audio can be very effective.

I use a Mac, so I'm not going to be much help on sound cards or software. Audacity says it support multichannel, but never having done it, I'm not sure how you'd export a multichannel (more than 2) audio file. The WAV format spec (among others) does have support for multichannel though.

If you can figure out how, the surround DVD authoring route would give you 5 channels, and your DVD player could be on loop. You'd just need a surround decoder hooked to the DVD and running out to individual speakers (L, C, R, Ls, Rs).
This would be ideal, as DVD players are cheap and almost disposable. The rub would be finding an adapter that splits the 5 channels into 5 separate 1/8" (3.5 mm) outputs. Or RCA outs would be fine too--easy to convert to 1/8" 3.5mm. Any product suggestions? Imagine there are ones that would convert HDMI out to individual 5 outputs or "optical out" that I see on some DVD / Blu-Ray players.

Again, would love to author for DVD 5.1--keeping it very simple and not requiring a computer for set-up and playback.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Could you please post the item listings / model #s / or even just the search terms you used for both the hub and the USB audio cards? So I know what to look for. Sounds like a great idea.
Could anyone recommend cheap models of external USB sound cards? Any good ones on NewEgg.com for example? (I've got about $20 worth of store credit there). What price should I expect to pay? Don't want to mistakenly purchase just a USB to mic / audio out adapter. Want actual ability to output new, separate audio L/R output while my laptop's internal sound card is outputing separate L/R audio.

The listings are confusing to me. Again, hard to tell if what's being sold is just a USB sound card *adapter*--giving you a more convenient location for audio in / out jacks. Vs an actual USB sound card chip that can be used to output new, separate audio tracks. I do actually like the cheap FM transmitters I have, thanks to Dave In The Grave.
 

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Hey Mike, found some things on eBay that might work for you if you go the DVD out route. I find some of the prices suspiciously low, so yeah: do your DD :) NB: All of these outputs need to go to powered speakers or be amplified in some way.

This box looks like it can take the optical output from a DVD player and send it out 3 stereo 3.5mm outputs.

This module splits up an optical stream into individual RCA outs. ~$40

Good luck, and of course let us know how you get on! -n
 

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Hey Mike, found some things on eBay that might work for you if you go the DVD out route. I find some of the prices suspiciously low, so yeah: do your DD :) NB: All of these outputs need to go to powered speakers or be amplified in some way.

This box looks like it can take the optical output from a DVD player and send it out 3 stereo 3.5mm outputs.

This module splits up an optical stream into individual RCA outs. ~$40

Good luck, and of course let us know how you get on! -n
Thanks Neverhart. Those look interesting. Will definitely let folks know what I eventually do.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Could anyone recommend cheap models of external USB sound cards? Any good ones on NewEgg.com for example? (I've got about $20 worth of store credit there). What price should I expect to pay? Don't want to mistakenly purchase just a USB to mic / audio out adapter. Want actual ability to output new, separate audio L/R output while my laptop's internal sound card is outputing separate L/R audio.

The listings are confusing to me. Again, hard to tell if what's being sold is just a USB sound card *adapter*--giving you a more convenient location for audio in / out jacks. Vs an actual USB sound card chip that can be used to output new, separate audio tracks. I do actually like the cheap FM transmitters I have, thanks to Dave In The Grave.
Would be fun to try a few cheap external USB sound cards. The one I bought from New Egg for ~$9 was, sure enough, not a sound card at all; just a USB to external mic input and 3.5 mm audio in... All it did was cut off and divert sound from my laptop's soundcard--it would not let me send output from another media player

How cheap is cheap for a true external USB 2.0 soundcard? And can anyone share model names / prices?
 

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For testing I bought two USB audio devices: a Vantec USB External 7.1 Channel Audio Adapter, and another "generic" device (Optimal Shop) of the same ilk, but in a colored aluminum housing. Both were around $20 buck. Both have worked well in providing more output (and input) audio channels. The devices I tested had mic/line in, headphone out, SPDIF in and out, as well as 4 stereo jacks that bring the various 7.1/5.1 audio channels out. (These channels need amplification, of course.) Given the jacks out, one would not need the device listed above that converts an optical multi-channel SPDIF/HDMI/what-have-you to jacks. With my software I've driven multiple audio channels across these separate devices all at once (i.e., Windows is up to the task, if your software is). I believe both also worked with the built-in Windows drivers. (I avoid 3rd party drivers like the plague.) I am on Windows 7, btw. These device exposed themselves as full-fledged audio devices to Windows.
 

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Could you please post the item listings / model #s / or even just the search terms you used for both the hub and the USB audio cards? So I know what to look for. Sounds like a great idea.
Sorry, I didn't see this until now.

This looks like the exact USB hub I use:
http://www.amazon.com/Port-USB-2-0-Adapter-Black/dp/B007EHK49Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1438613349&sr=8-2&keywords=usb+hub+10+port

These should work for the sound cards:
http://www.amazon.com/Sabrent-Virtual-External-Surround-USB-AUDD/dp/B00D69U1B0/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1438613422&sr=8-5&keywords=usb+sound+card
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Thanks dpeterson and Abunai. I'll look these models up. Sucked getting something from New Egg that was merely a USB to external mic / headphone jack; but not a huge deal since I didn't spend much.
 
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