Audio guides or tours are great ways to bring history alive. They’re also a fun way to explore new places. Find out what makes them so special and why they’ve been around since the beginning of time:
The history of audio walks
Before the millennium most audio guides were delivered on cassette players in museum settings. There were also some instances of CD-based driving tours in the United States. With the advent of MP3 players, and perhaps most notably iTunes, downloadable digital audio guides became a reality.
The first such downloadable MP3 audio guides were developed by audiotrails.co.uk. These ‘audio tours of the moors‘ are available to download and enjoy whilst walking in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District in England.
Towards the end of the 2000s the first iOS and Android phones were launched. Apps and GPS functionality followed suit, opening up numerous opportunities to simplify the process of delivering audio in the correct place. Simple apps with keypads allowed museum visitors to tap in the number of an exhibit to learn more. Out of doors, GPS-triggering automates the process to ensure site-specific content can be played in the correct location. Both approaches use visitor’s own devices to deliver the content, ensuring the visitor is familiar with the hardware and the venue doesn’t have to pay for and maintain expensive audio tour guides that will quickly become out of date.
Today, many digital visitor experiences consist of multimedia guides, with text, images and video complementing audio content. AT Creative are an excellent example of a company that specialise in location-aware multimedia guides for natural and cultural heritage sites.
Why are audio guides important?
Anyone with a visual impairment might struggle with screen-based content. But audio guides also allow you to take in the scene around you without looking at a screen. Audio allows you to conjure up images in your own mind, which can create a powerful connection with a place.
An audio guide itself might just involve one person recording themselves sharing stories, but it could also contain:
- oral reminiscences/histories – first hand stories from people
- poems – from a bygone era or written specifically for the tour
- scripted drama – often utilising multiple actors
- sound effects – enhancing certain aspects of spoken word
- music – to create a certain mood
All of the above can be layered together to create an evocative experience.
Electronic multimedia guides
The latest in technology
Apps and handheld devices are the obvious choice for electronic guides, but there are other options too. Info Point delivers multimedia, site-specific content directly to visitors mobile devices without the need for downloads, logins, mobile data or the hire/loan of equipment.
Connecting to Info Point is a simple two-step process, using QR codes, and then visitors can engage with interactive tours that can contain audio, video, text and images.
Info Point is used in churches, museums and many outdoor environments to offer visitors a simple way to engage with stories. Info Point content is easy to update with changes going live at the touch of a button.
What does a great audio guide look like?
A great audio guide will developed with the target audience in mind and present stories in a succinct and engaging way. Sound effects and music will be used subtly to enhance the experience. The audio itself will be crisp with no extraneous noise or sounds to distract the listener. Likewise, consideration must be given to each point along the audio tour. Is it comfortable, safe and easy to identify for the listener to stop and engage with the audio? Ideally each audio file will last between 60 and 90 seconds, but longer files may work.
If you would like help producing audio or other interpretive content then please get in touch.
Guided vs self-guided audio tours?
You can quite beat a personal guided tour with a professional tour guide. They are there to answer your questions and respond to things as they occur during the trip. However, tour guides can be expensive and their availability is limited. Self-guided tours can be done at a time of your choosing and are a fraction of the price (or even free). As an organisation you can deliver a consistent message with a digital audio or multimedia tour.
How does an audio guide or tour work?
An audio guide consists of a series of audio files that are available to stream or download via a website, app or loaned handheld device. An Audio file (typically in the universal MP3 format) is listened to at a specific location and in some instances further optional audio files might be available for those who want to hear more about that particular story, or a theme related to it.
Towards the end of each audio file there might be a ‘tempter’ or question posed, or directions to the next stop. If the audio tour is packaged within a location-aware app then the audio will trigger automatically when the user arrives at the next stop. Text, images, video and other interactive features may also accompany the audio file if it is part of a more comprehensive audio guide.
Audio guides can be provided in different languages.
How do you make an audio tour?
Modern mobile phones and computers make it very easy to create your own simple audio guides. However, to ensure the best visitor experience it is recommended you commission an audio tour specialist who will not only know the best way to create an audio tour but will also have access to the best voice over actors and recording equipment. Finally, the work undertaken in post production should not be underestimated when aiming for a high quality output.
Talk to us about how to make your audio tour ideas a reality.
Recommended audio guides
Below is an eclectic mix of different audio tours that cover cities, national parks, market towns, forests, moorlands and bus and rail journeys – something for everyone!
1. The Alcatraz Island audio tour
The Alcatraz Island audio tour is one of the best you can experience. It was where Al Capone and many of the USA’s most hardened criminals were held between 1924 and 1963. Their life behind bars are brought to life by ex cons and former guards.
2. Plymouth Trails
Plymouth Trails uses real-time maps to guide you around the city. Each stop contains a mix of text, images and videos. The three core trails have an audio option, so that you can enjoy the views whilst listening to the content.
3. Time Traveller’s Theatre Trail
The Time Traveller’s Theatre Trail is a fun and immersive drama stopping off at 12 historic sites in the market town of Beverley. The app takes visitors on an expedition through time with actors Annie, Richard, Evie, Gordon and a host of historical characters, from Henry V to artist icon Mary Elwell.
4. The Aldershot and Farnborough heritage trails
The Aldershot and Farnborough heritage trails app reveals the military and civilian histories of these two neighbouring towns. Visit barracks and the site of the world famous air show and discover how it became the home of the British army.
5. New Forest audio tour
Enjoy an open-top audio tour safari of the New Forest on one of three bus tours that run through the National Park. The audio commentaries tell the stories of its people and places – with characters, sounds and music bringing the birds-eye view to life.
6. The Peak District
The audio tours of the moors were the first downloadable MP3 audio trails in the UK. Download them before you head off into the beautiful moorlands of the Peak District to discover so much more about their history.
7. The Heart of England Forest
The Heart of England Forest has three audio trails to enjoy, with changing seasonal content. Learn about the habitats, wildlife, and history of the Forest as you walk in the woodlands.
8. Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway
Sit back and relax as you clickety-clack along the 13.5 mile long Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway listening to a fascinating audio commentary – different in each direction – about the layers of history to the view outside the window.