Installed Audio Punches Out the Message

The new Long Beach Courthouse in California had extensive systems to provide clear audio throughout courtrooms and conference spaces.

There’s a common refrain among sound engineers that audio remains the red-headed stepchild in our video-crazy world, never getting enough love or the acknowledgement that those flashy and ubiquitous images have little star power without a powerful soundtrack.

The one place where acoustic design really stands out is in the universe of installed audio. These specially configured systems provide high-quality audio for a variety of spaces, such as corporate boardrooms, conference centers, performing arts venues, courtrooms, hospitals, museums, transportation hubs, campuses and multi-building facilities.

Systems integrator Advanced Broadcast Solutions, based in Seattle, emphasizes audio in its work because a gripping soundtrack can be the most attention-grabbing part of a broadcast or show.

Think Star Wars with the mute button on. If you can’t hear the message, it’s just a blank picture, said Mark Siegel, ABS president for sales.

“There are people who know audio and there are people who think they know audio,” Siegel said. “The difference is nuanced and it’s more an art than a science. It not complicated if you understand what you are adjusting.”

The biggest challenge with an installation project is comprehending the environment. ABS has sophisticated equipment to measure the dynamics of a conference room, hall or house of worship. However, Siegel has developed an ear for installation issues and can pick up many problems on an initial walk through.

“I can just walk into a room and sweep it,” he said.

That doesn’t mean that the right system has to be expensive—it just means that each space is different and you need to approach it based on the customer’s requirements and the exact space.

“We find the best solution and ask a lot of questions,” Siegel said. “Just because you spend a lot of money on audio equipment doesn’t mean you will get great audio performance. You have to understand it.”

INTEROPERABILITY

Revolabs Inc., of Sudbury, Mass., makes sure its audio solutions play nice with others, said Tim Droddy, the company’s business development manager.

“Because an installed audio system is meant to be a permanent installation, all the elements of the system will be very integrated,” Droddy said. “You may have equipment from many different providers, but it goes back to all the equipment working well together.”

Devices have to be fined-tuned, like the Revolab’s Executive Elite four- and eight-channel wireless microphone system. The system features defined audio pickup patterns, a wide signal-to-noise ratio, easy installation/operation and digital signal communication over wireless links. With the cloud server option, administrators can access information such as microphone status, audio and radio signal strength and system performance via a web-based interface.

The wireless mikes are a good fit for the governmental user, Droddy said.

“For one thing, a wireless system allows an agency to put wireless mike on table and not have to any trenching into the floors.”

Plus, the devices are highly encrypted and secure from an uninvited visitor who might try to eavesdrop on an agency meeting, Droddy said.

The company also offers a high-powered conference phone, the FLX UC 500 USB, which is designed specifically for huddle rooms, small offices and home offices. The device provides an embedded echo cancellation algorithm, while offering full duplex support for simultaneous audio capture and playback. Users can listen to external audio or link the system to a laptop or PC for use with applications such as Skype or Cisco Jabber.

Kramer Electronics, which has U.S. headquarters in Clinton N.J., offers the Galil family of speakers, targeted at transportation centers, hotels, educational facilities and large boardrooms. The Galil line offers ceiling speakers ranging from four inches to eight inches, and are available with either closed or open backs. The company also has a line of wall speakers up sized up to 6.5-inches. All Galil speakers include tapping transformers for widely-distributed public address systems.

LONG BEACH COURTHOUSE

When Los Angeles County recently replaced the 55-year-old Long Beach courthouse, officials turned to Biamp Systems, a networked media systems provider based in Beaverton, Ore. Highly audible sound, whether it’s witness testimony or juror instructions, forms the basis of the trial-by-jury system, and officials wanted clear, intelligible sound for the new courthouse.

The new Long Beach Courthouse in California had extensive systems to provide clear audio throughout courtrooms and conference spaces.

The Biamp’s Tesira and Audia digital audio platforms provide many customizable options. These included card replacement capabilities and a range of protocols (AVB, CobraNet, and Dante) in the same system and chassis. This flexibility also ensured efficient audio routing to several rooms on different floors in addition to clear paging capabilities.

A Tesira Server-IO provided the backbone for every courtroom audio system while the county installed five Audio EXPI-4 devices coupled with EXPO-4 and EXPI/O-2 units to provide staff members four portable video teleconferencing carts.

“With this type of installation, there are two major points: The system can’t break down and it has to have intuitive control,” said Justin O’Connor, Biamp audio and conference products manager.

“The system will be operated every day and not by somebody who is a technical expert.” O’Conner said. “A judge needs to be thinking about other things.”

Other vendors have products targeted at applications such as courtrooms and meeting rooms. For example, Polycom, of San Jose, Calif., has revised its NoiseBlock technology to increase audibility. It eliminates extraneous noises such as paper shuffling, crinkling food wrappers, keyboard typing, background conversations or city street noise.

END-TO-END SOLUTION

TOA Electronics, with offices in Secaucus, N.J., works to give customers a holistic solution to their audio, said Bob Tamburri, the company’s product and marketing manager.

“TOA has a broad-range, with products across multiple categories,” Tamburri said. “TOA’s core philosophy is to develop solutions that help users overcome common problems. With sound systems, these are things such as poor acoustics, intelligibility, room coverage, feedback and ease of installation and operation. All TOA products and systems are designed with one or more of these challenge criteria in mind.”

TOA technology comes in three common categories: microphones, speakers & mixers and PA/presentation systems.

The AM-1 steerable array microphone is designed for speech at presentation podiums and conference tables. The AM-1 is a smart mike. The digital processing allows it to calculate the source of the sound and then points the array towards the source, negating other extraneous sound sources (such as background noise) and minimizing feedback, Tamburri said. The AM-1 can also be set to focus on sounds that occur only within a defined radius, Tamburri said.

Unlike a typical single speaker box or array, which has a fixed dispersion pattern, the HX-7 Variable Dispersion Array Loudspeaker has a number of “cells” that allow vertical dispersion adjustments, Tamburri said. This flexibility gives it the ability to be used as a short-throw or long-throw box and it can outperform multi-box solutions that are many times its size and cost, Tamburri said.

MORE INFO
Advanced Broadcast Solutions: www.advancedbroadcastsolutions.com

Biamp Systems: www.biamp.com

Electro-Voice/Bosch: www.boschcommunications.com

Harmon's Crown Audio: www.crownaudio.com

Kramer Electronics: www.kramerav.com

Polycom: www.polycom.com

Revolabs: www.revolabs.com

TOA Electronics: www.toaelectronics.com

“In addition, it not only produces even coverage throughout the listening field, it also produces sound with much higher intelligibility and less distortion than typical speakers,” he said.

The company’s M-864D digital rack-mount mixer offers a compact, yet powerful mixing solution for most common PA applications. It incorporates DSP technology that helps it cope with two commonly encountered problems: Poor acoustics (due to room “resonance” effects) and feedback, he said.

“It also has an intuitive and user-friendly GUI software interface for adjustment of mixer settings and storing scenes or snapshots in memories which can easily be recalled for different events,” Tamburri said.

Recognizing that these systems will be used by customers have little training in audio and an immediate requirement to provide good sound on demand, companies like TOA work to keep the controls as simple as possible. Still, each room is its own acoustical universe, so designing the system for the room is the most important thing.

“The time and cost of dealing with less than perfect room acoustics can often be measured not in hours but days,” Tamburri said.

REMOTE MONITORING

Harman’s Crown Audio just released new amplifiers that offer networked monitoring. The DriveCore Install 4|2400N, DCi 2|2400N and DCi 2|1250N amplifiers are powered by the company’s DriveCore technology. The amplifiers offer networked monitoring and control capabilities via their primary and secondary Ethernet ports. The amplifiers are compatible with Harman’s HiQnet audio architect system control software and use a TCP/IP-based protocol.

“Crown is now able to offer a complete range of DCi network amplifiers for every networked installed sound requirement,” said Dan Saenz, business segment manager, “from smaller house of worship, restaurant, bar or retail installations to large-scale applications requiring multiple channels of high power.”

DEVIL’S SLIDE PROJECT

The Devil’s Slide tunnel project in California involved dozens of Electro Voice CDP 850T public address speakers placed throughout the tunnels.

Probably the sternest test of an audio system’s reliability is one used for emergency evacuations. Bosch Communications Systems recently adapted its Praesideo Mass Notification sound system, commonly used on cruise ships, for the evacuation-paging system in the mile-long Tom Lantos Tunnels. The tunnels were dug to replace the rockslide-prone Devil's Slide portion of old Highway 1, just south of San Francisco.

Because it is used for evacuations, the system must be reliable, said Barry Luz, Bosch systems applications specialist.

“It can’t fail,” Luz said. “Whether the signal just gets interrupted to a car crashes into it, the system has to continue to function. It has to be completely fail safe.”

Also, it must deal with the challenge of supplying audible messages into a tunnel, which have the worst acoustics in the world for audio communications, especially intelligibility, Luz said. The system is also smart enough to adjust for ambient noise levels. The new system is paired with 44 Electro Voice CDP 850T speakers, which produce a range of sound while being rugged enough to handle the damp, salt-coated environment, he said.

INTO THE FUTURE

Despite being the Rodney Dangerfield of technology (not getting any respect), installed audio systems are here to stay and the market is growing, said Droddy, of Revolabs.

“Because there is always going to be a need for conference rooms, there will always be a space for installed audio,” Droddy said. “We have seen a market change to more installations in smaller huddle rooms. Users are really looking for flexibility and ease of use. When it comes down to it, you always want to clearly hear what’s being said at the far end of the room.”

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