digital lighting board

We Told You So

When I was creating this post and video, it was obvious that only one title would do: “We Told You So!” Please don’t mistake this for arrogance. What you are hearing is frustration. We have been telling people this for a lot of years.

digital lighting board

I had to go out last week on a site visit for a client for whom we designed a variety of systems some 15 years ago. The design included dimming and lighting controls. We did video. We did audio.  We did electronic acoustics. I don’t remember everything we designed for them, but it was a lot.  Absolutely for sure, as we do with all of our clients, we always warned them “You are getting all this new stuff and, if you’re lucky, it may last 10 years.” Sounds dismal, doesn’t it?  They just got new. They haven’t even had time to play with it and now we are giving it an expiration date?  Well, if we are going to do our job right, we have to tell them that! With upgrades, and plain old “wearing out” a day will come when things will begin to fail.

So, as the end user you have to think about a lot of things. Number one, we always tell people when they get an audio console, DSP or a lighting console, which has memory capability, they have to make incremental backups to USB drives. And by “incremental” we mean at least weekly.

So, over 10 years time that will be 520 back ups!  “That’s too much work” you say.  Well, how much will it cost you if you have not backed it up and with time it, most probably, will fail and no longer be usable?  The smart person who follows through and makes the backups will be able take that file and load it into another product of the same type. This will get you up running again.

That best-practice was the good way of looking at things, right up until Covid.  The pandemic added a new urgency to those methods, but we’ll talk about that in a minute.

So anyway, let’s get back to the client I was just telling you about.  First of all, the dimming system we recommended for the job was substituted to save money.

Sadly, they bought a product that we did not want to allow on the project. Unfortunately, New York State’s equal bidding process never takes into account serviceability and long-term reliability of equipment. Experienced consultants know the likely pitfalls and will guide their customers toward better decisions. Nobody asked us when the substitutions were made on this one.

So, as a result, the dimming system they have is now failing. To add to it, all of the lighting in their room is still incandescent because it was installed 15 years ago and LEDs pretty much didn’t exist at the time.  (The ones that did exist were pretty poor.) This is now an auditorium  where at any moment they could have a single-point failure, taking out all the lighting in their room. Any single point failure we mean the dimming rack control modules.

A typical dimming rack has lots of dimming modules and they just do what they are told. They get their signals from a brain ( control module). And if that brain fails, you are toast! All of your lights are nonfunctional.

That is one of those events that we were warning you about. We have always told people to buy the rack and buy a spare control module, as well. There are 96 dimmers in it. The chances of all of those failing simultaneously is relatively slim. The chances of the control module that runs the whole thing failing is a lot higher. So, please, just buy a spare.

At the time the cost of a spare control module was a few thousand dollars  on a multi hundred thousand dollar installation. Seemed like smart move to us. You put it in a box, store it somewhere, have it available for a time,  like now, where bad things are happening all over the world.

Of course, they didn’t do any of that. The other thing they did not do was make any backup to their audio console and, therefore, they weren’t saving backup files of what is in their audio console.

They now have an older digital console that is failing. It’s sad.

And there is the added problem of signal, which is how it gets from point A to point B. We’ll talk about that a little bit more in a minute. To recap, you have these single-point failures: the console dies, audio system is down, dimmer rack, front end dies. All are down.

As well as the digital signal processors that tune their line arrays. Same thing here. Speakers are going to last a long time. Amplifiers are easy to replace, and you don’t have to have the exact same amplifier that you had when you put the system in. The DSP is very specific and requires a file load. If the DSP fails all the precise tuning of the stem is gone.

They didn’t buy a DSP  either because the idea of having backups and support is not something that school districts think about for auditoriums.


So, they have this equipment failing and now that it has become a critical situation, so they came to us.

They told us they had a $30,000 budget to do something but, here is a new wrench in the plans, there was Covid. With the supply chain debacle, most of the things that are needed to remedy their situation cannot even be purchased. There was the China problem, the people who went out of business problem, the “you can’t get parts for things” problem. So where it should have been doable, now our clients were faced with only $30,000 they could spend and $200,000 worth of problems.

With all of those obstacles in the way, it was time to figure out workarounds.  And we’ve been figuring out some pretty crazy workarounds for people lately to help them get past some of these things.

Workarounds are nice, if there are any.  Sadly, there will be no way out for a lot of people.

It is time to get back to some of the things we have been telling people for years and, from this point on, everybody should take this advice more seriously.

  • Get backup equipment.  
  • You just have to buy it. 
  • Do not delay.
  • Buy critical components.

Here is a real life scenario: there is an audio console with eight physical inputs on it and digitally up to 164 inputs coming in from stage boxes. I was out at another job site the other day where their stage boxes failed. That means that they have no physical connections at their console. They have stage boxes and they can’t get the stage boxes to talk to their console. (not all stage boxes speak the same digital language )

So those who have depended on only one way to get their system to work truly are in jeopardy. A catastrophe is lurking around the corner.

When the digital revolution began we would tell people “If you’re going to put in a digital console, leave your analog snake somewhere. You might want it.” I think I actually said, “Someday you might want this.”

Well, someday is now. If they listened to the advice, I could have walked in with some old whatever, like a Mackie 1604, and at least have gotten sound out of a system for them. Now they have no way to get signal from the stage to the booth because they wanted their analog snake gone. “It’s old technology. We need to get rid of that.

Enough ranting about that. So when you look at the single point failures in audio systems, you’ve got stage boxes, you’ve got consoles.

Let’s say you own a Behringer wing, which is working at the moment, and I back up files. The question is can I rent or buy a wing if I have to?

So, the first thing you want to think about is using equipment that is available on rental from people nearby who rent equipment. But unfortunately, in the bidding market, they can’t use that as a parameter for why you do or do not accept a substitute product. So, you might end up with, let’s say a lighting console that fails and in the future your files won’t go in any console you can rent. Now, being that things are DMX, in most cases you can usually get things up and running if you happen to be using CAN  that can be a little more difficult if your console doesn’t work well with the version of ACN that somebody may have installed.

But if you don’t have any of those options, you are just out of luck.  You have no lights. So, at that point you’re getting out candles or you’re getting out flashlights, which is lots of fun.

In many cases the average high school we do could have like $1.6 million worth of new equipment going into a project. And the backup equipment they ought to own is let’s say $35 – $40,000 but they don’t buy any of it. And then something like Covid comes along, which no one ever expected.  In this scenario,  manufacturers may or may not even survive.

Now let’s talk about that a little bit because in the middle of Covid (in our world we are still in the middle of it) we have multiple installations going on right now that are stalled waiting for key products to come in that can’t be delivered.

So let’s just say you had a very specific audio console that needed to be this many inputs to work with these kinds of stage boxes and let’s just say the stage boxes showed up but the console didn’t. And the stage boxes are Dante and the console you were going to get was Dante.

But now you can’t get that. So, now you have to buy another console somewhere or get a console that is Dante but maybe you can’t find one. And now you’ve got cat 5 wiring, which is great, but you own a bunch of stage boxes that won’t work with your console.

In the current climate, one of the new things is a new wrinkle beyond just backup. It’s the “which standards am I going to work with?” wrinkle. So if I’m going to work with old school DMX, which to be honest I think in a lot of applications is smart, if you don’t need tons of channels.  You won’t have to worry about a console specific ACN network and whether or not your system will talk to it, you can just hook up DMX and use anybody’s controller to get something to come on.

With audio analog snakes, they’re a great idea. Have analog backups running from your stage to your, your stage rack where, worst case scenario, you patch a bunch of XLR’s together and you can actually get sound out of things.

So, it’s kind of interesting looking back at the many years we’ve told people this and everybody ignored us and now we’re being faced with multiple people contacting us. Very recently it’s been starting to happen with “I got this problem” and  “I’ve got that problem.”

I was just at one the other day, their digital signal processor on their PA system died. They never saved any of the files. So, they don’t know what any of the filters were when it was fine tuned by a bunch of experts years ago and they can’t get the DSP that was in their system anyway. Even if they had saved the files, they are still toast.

So if you own something that is using whatever filters, patching, whatever it might be, here is your homework (due immediately.)  Create Hard copy Excel spreadsheets of settings.  They’re a pain in the  to do.  Most consoles and equipment will not spit them out for you in any fashion. But having that information such as “how is my dimmer rack patched?” in a pinch is pure gold!  How is the DSP set up in my system? Hard copies are paper copies. And I know that’s like it, it’s like, they’re saying this ?  “You must be a dinosaur talking about paper.”

Trust me, it makes sense. I had one of our who clients contacted us where their DSP failed at a site  down in Washington DC.  We had to dig out a Windows 95 laptop to open the files, but we had copies of the files that they didn’t have.  So we were able to send them a hard copy spreadsheet of all the parametric EQ settings, delay settings, all the, all the tricks that were used to tune their sound system so they could get a new DSP and get it up and running again.

Time to Be The Champion

Please, I cannot stress this enough. Be the champion. Backup, backup, backup. Back up equipment, data hard copies, these are the things that save you and get your venue running when everybody else is scrambling.


Copyright AVLDesignsInc 2023+

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Liverpool CSD

Liverpool Central School District

AVL Designs Inc. first became involved with the Liverpool Central School District in 2007. We were asked to investigate echo problems in their auditorium. When someone would play a snare drum or any other percussive instrument on the stage, you could hear 7 to 12 discrete echoes that were hard to miss. It was like bang…… bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. Of course, this was a problem. The echo occurred in certain areas of the room, not every area of the room, but it was so noticeable that this defect got in the way of most musical performances.

We corrected this by testing the space and then placing specific acoustical panels on sections of ceilings and side walls, effectively eliminating those echoes. When you add absorption to a room, you lose some of the liveness. It is an inevitable trade off when getting rid of the echoes. You lose some of the reverberation. 

In the process of time, we talked with the school district about other corrections that were available in the realm of electronic acoustics, which we have done successfully for other schools. After meeting with the music department, we decided to implement an electronic acoustic system in the space. Due to budget constraints, it was ceiling installation only. No side walls, no stage shell, but it was designed to allow a much more immersive sound quality for certain kinds of music.

The room was lacking low frequency response. The reverb time was around one second in the midrange, and it needed the ability to go to higher reverberation times for certain styles of music and types of theatrical performances. Once the system was installed, the school was thrilled. They were so enthused about it that they became a major proponent of this technology, sharing their experience with other schools we met with in the future.

As 2016 arrived, a major renovation was planned for the Liverpool Schools. They were enlarging the entire auditorium, refurbing the music department and adding some additional rehearsal spaces. As a result of our prior experience and success with their existing auditorium, AVL Designs Inc. was brought in along with the architect, on the early stages of this project.

Electronic Acoustics added almost everywhere.

There were a number of goals for the project, the first of which was to include electronic acoustics in many locations. It would not only be the in the auditorium and on the stage, but also in the large rehearsal rooms for orchestra, band and choral ensembles.  That way the singers and musicians would be able to rehearse in environments similar to what they would experience in the auditorium.

Electronic Acoustics Explained VIDEO

So, that became the initial driving force for the acoustical design. We had to look at how to treat the main auditorium to get the reverb time low enough and flat enough that when we implement the electronic acoustics, there will not be significant problems with frequency balance and reverberation curves.

The electronic acoustics system is based on Yamaha acoustic field correction devices. It is implemented with speakers located onstage, in overhead ceilings, in under-balcony ceilings, and on sidewalls. These systems are providing reverberation as well as early reflection support for the room. The system can also add voice lift to allow for events without sound reinforcement.

Bigger auditorium, curved walls and NEW balcony.

The auditorium was being dramatically enlarged, shaped with curved walls plus adding a balcony. To deal with that condition we developed a custom absorptive diffusive wall treatment. It consists of series of wells of different depths with perforated materials and solid materials, creating a diffuse sound field within the auditorium and generating a relatively low reverberation time for the size of the room. This design criteria was also used for the music spaces to produce similar reverberation curves for their base conditions. That way, when the electronic systems are commissioned, there will be tunings for each space that will mimic each other to the degree that you can mimic a smaller space to a larger space. In addition to the electronic acoustics and physical acoustic designs for this auditorium, AVL Designs Inc. was contracted for stage rigging, theatrical and house lighting, and sound and video in the space.

Huge Speakers? Here’s why …

One of the unusual features of the room is the incorporation of Danley Jericho loudspeakers. The Jerichos look huge and indeed are huge, but they are actually a replacement for line array technology that many auditoriums would implement, at a lower cost and a higher performance level. The Jericho combines a large number of drivers in a single large enclosure, creating an output pattern and sound pressure capability similar to a 12 element tall, mid to large scale line array.

Admittedly, it looks a little odd to have boxes this big in a high school auditorium however the pattern control over the wide frequency range of the speaker allows it to cover most of the main floor as well as the balcony without the need for other devices.


*We did, however, install over and under-balcony delay fill speakers. This was primarily for potential special effects for theater use, and also to add the few frequencies that would be missing as you go by distance to the back of the room.


The audio system is being fitted with an Allen and Heath D Live console, which is a substitute for a Yamaha console originally specified. (Due to Covid issues the Yamaha console is not currently available) The D Live is a great console and will do a fantastic job for the school in the new application.

Theatrical lighting consists primarily of Electronic Theater Control products and High End systems, with some Strand and Phillips fixtures as well.

Stage rigging is a combination of Brick House counterweights and Electronic Theater Controls Prodigy hoists.  The Prodigy hoists are used for onstage electrics, as well as a front of house moving head electric.  

All of the music rooms are used as green rooms, so we have a combination of intercom, call lights, and video feeds to each of those spaces from the main auditorium.

Quite a few of these systems are not fully online due to product availability problems in the current post-Covid world that we are living in. We hope to get all of them online toward the end of the year. The owner is very impressed with the space currently. They will be really excited when all of the final details are worked out. The transformation from the original room to what it is now is dramatic.


Copyright AVLDesignsInc 2022+


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In-Ear Immersive Monitoring

Those who follow us on YouTube have heard that we really like immersive in-ear monitoring, such as what is produced by the Klang products.  Their 3D devices return us to the ambience of sound that live performers really want to hear. Klang creates the pleasure of being surrounded by fellow musicians and hearing them naturally.  

 “This advanced technology, ironically, takes us back to a more “old school” feel on stage, where bands vibe off each other more rather than feeling separated and in their own little world.”  Becky Pell (Exceptional monitor engineer)

Watch our video demonstration of what Klang 3D In-Ear Monitoring can do:





Copyright AVLDesignsInc 2021+

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Audience mics in LARGE Spaces – VIDEO CONFERENCES


Picking up a large area with distant microphones naturally adds in the room sound (resonance) as well. Those who are in the room most likely think it sounds fine. Our brains process sound in a very sophisticated manner using both ears.  But that is not how microphones work.

The way a mic works compared to how our ears work can make a video conference sound like a subway tunnel when the sound in the entire room is picked up. Solutions to the problem are abundant. Sorry to say, though, that none of them are inexpensive. The better solutions involve audio intelligence in the mics.

Good – Better – BEST!

So, you have a couple of choices when you get down to the idea of “good, better and best” in a room. If you want good audience participation without spending a lot of money, the users must be involved. If you want your video conferencing setup to be “plug and play,” then it isn’t going to be cheap.

Any mic used close– headset or handheld – primarily picks up the voice of the person speaking with little of the room sound added in. When distant mikes designed for conference rooms are used, they do not do well in larger spaces..  If the space has sound reinforcement, it is an even bigger problem. Unless you get a mike with AI (artificial intelligence) and DSP (Digital Signal Processing.)


AUDIENCE Mics On Stands

  • Place handheld wireless microphones on mic stands in a few locations out in the room, gain structured to match what the presenter’s mic is doing. The audience mic is then automated so that it only activates when some gets close to it and is talking. Anyone with a question must walk up to a microphone. This system works reliably and is relatively simple.


  • Sounds Good.  Doesn’t t pick up random noises like coughing, etc.
    • Works with sound reinforcement used in the room.
    • On the negative side, people must get up to talk.


NARROW BEAM, AUTO Steered array Mics – WITH Built-in Intelligence

All beam-formed microphones use an AI algorithm to decide who is talking. If everyone in the room is polite, this works well — kind of like a zoom call where everyone has learned to wait their turn. If too many people talk at once, even this AI solution will have some issues as the mics track to whatever sound is loudest at the moment.

Many beam-formed mics pick up too large a section of the room at once, making the room sound hollow. Some use narrow tracking beams that move, so that only a small amount of room energy is picked up and a maximum amount of the person they are supposed to pick up.

This type of solution can have  limitations when you want to use loudspeakers within the room to amplify the presenter. You may run into problems in some spaces that are too large for the presenter to be heard without sound reinforcement. This is where a DSP and a presenter mike must also be included.


  • Pros
    • The entire room can be  picked up
    • Can be used with sound reinforcement with the additions of DSP.
    • Can sound pretty good and pick up an entire room
  • Cons
  • Cost – Mic plus DSP (digital sound processor) can be $$$ (Solutions that work well cost in the range of $ 15.00/sq ft covered or higher. (About $18 K for a 40 X 30 ft room).
    • If a room is small enough that it does not need sound reinforcement, the DSP could  be dropped.
    • The entire room is picked up – no control over who can or cannot talk.
    • Cost – Note* some mike solutions do not work with sound reinforcement for the presenter being used.
    • Mics automatically catch sounds. So, someone coughing etc…. becomes an active sound source.

Other alternatives that can be utilized involve operator interfaces. Say, for instance, you have a control touch screen in the room and a presenter is speaking on their microphone. When they want the audience to say something, they would have to press a button for audience response. Pressing that button turns off the presenter’s mic and turns on the audience mic.

The audience mic would have a series of DSP tuning filters, which is another piece of hardware added to the system which will help with the reverberation and the sound quality of a more general pickup microphone. This would have to be selected by the person using the room. And if they forget to de-select it, then the microphone they are wearing will no longer be active. That is where you end up with a hollow sound in the background, picking up the whole room the whole time while the presenter’s mic is off. 

Properly tuned a high-end system sounds like there is a sound man mixing the audio in the room, to the far side of the conference.



Copyright AVLDESIGNSInc 2021+

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SUNY Cobleskill auditorium renovation #acoustics #audio #lighting #rigging #design

State University of New York at Cobleskill

AVL Designs Inc. recently completed a multi-faceted project at the State University of New York at Cobleskill.

The project consisted of a renovation of a lecture hall and a gymnasium field house. The lecture hall space is now being used for more multipurpose events including music, standup comedy, small theater presentations and video conferencing.

SUNY Cobleskill auditorium renovation #acoustics #audio #lighting #rigging #design

AVL Designs Inc. was contracted by the architect to provide acoustic design, audio system design, stage rigging, curtains, lighting and controls as well as video presentation capabilities for their new lecture hall.

Before and after photos show you the extent of the renovation, which was substantial.  In essence, it was a “full gut” of the space.

The gymnasium/field house had two issues. One was extremely live acoustics making the room unsuitable for many uses. Graduation and other events are performed in the gymnasium and the sound quality was quite poor. The primary reasons for this were twofold. One contributing factor was the acoustical condition of the room and the other was the sound system itself.

The old system suffered from poor intelligibility due to comb filtering. This was a result of a poor design not poor devices. The new design includes Danley loud speakers which are used for both bleachers and general court area audio. A fully distributed system over the court is used for events such as graduation. Acoustical treatment has been added throughout the gymnasium to reduce reverberation time and to minimize first reflection energy from the sound system.

Both spaces were ready for use early this year and have been well received by the clients and their guests.


Copyright AVLDesignsInc 2021+



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Sound In Schools – Why It’s So Bad

So, today we were at a school that wanted a review of all their technical systems: stage rigging, lighting, audio, video, curtains – everything.

As usual, the first thing that we found was unsafe stage rigging as well as unsafe stage practices such as building sets, suspending sets, etc. [Which is the subject of another little article: Sound in Schools Part 2]

The next discovery was lack of skills in knowing how to do lighting.

But the number one thing that came up, and it almost always does, is bad audio. Years ago someone wrote a book with the title “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death” [authors Don & Carolyn Davis] Yes, bad sound is a universal problem and, truly, the number one complaint from schools for their theater productions, as well as for just day-to-day meetings, lectures, etc.  No one can seem to get audio to work. So, why is that?

Audio is not a Technical Skill

We were trying to explain to them why it is so difficult to get audio to work. And the first misconception that they had, as well as everyone else seems to have, is that audio is a technical skill. Audio is not a technical skill. Audio is a musical skill and, unless you have musical capabilities, you are never going to successfully do audio.

What do we mean by “musical capabilities?”  It means that running audio for any kind of function is similar to learning how to play a musical instrument. On an instrument if you play something in the wrong key everybody knows. It is immediately apparent. They don’t look at you and go “gee, I wonder what is going on with that instrument?” They just go “He’s wrong. Let’s fire that guy.”

In audio, when people get bad results whether its poor tone quality, muddy sound, feedback, screeching – take your pick of aberrations that people get –  it is all bad sound. When people look at how to get this to stop, they think somehow that there is a magic fix to it. Usually, they think it means buying new gear. Wrong.

People assume that in all circumstances getting new gear will fix all audio regardless of who is using a mic, how they are using a mic, what their voice sounds like, what else is going on in the room, etc. That simply is not the case.

Another thing we hear a lot is directors telling their sound people to “get it set” and just leave it alone. Sure, if everything else doesn’t change at all ever. That scenario hardly ever happens.

So, the first misconception is that the fix is a technical skill. It is NOT. It is a musical skill! So that means the person doing audio should be able to play an instrument. They need to be constantly staying top of the changes happening on the source end, level, EQ, etc….on the fly.

That person has to be able to identify frequencies by octave band, at minimum. Third octave band would be even better so that when they hear something they will recognize “ oh, that is this frequency that is out of control. I need to fix that.” 

So, that is the first set of skills. Develop self-ear-training. Ear training is best learned from a musical perspective. You can teach it to a technical person who is non-musical but it is a lot more difficult.

So you get this person, now, and you get him/her to the point where they actually have an idea of what certain frequencies sound like. That way when someone is performing and the sound person hears something they don’t like, they can say “oh, that is 250hz, if I can take some of that out they will stop sounding so “chesty” and the audio quality will be better.”  Or “that squeal I am hearing is 8khz. I can pull the filter out and get rid of the feedback problem.” So they’ve got that skill, that’s great. You are on your way.

That is one microphone, one person. [More to come in our next installment: Sound in Schools Part 2! ]


Copyright AVL DESIGNS INC. 2021+

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