Audio

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.

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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:

Resources:  https://www.prosoundweb.com/a-natural-experience-the-upsides-of-immersive-in-ear-monitoring-for-performers-engineers/

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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.)

LOW END SOLUTION

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.

PROS and CONS

  • 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.

HIGH END SOLUTION

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 and CONS

  • 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.

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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.

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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! ]

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Copyright AVL DESIGNS INC. 2021+

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Sound In Schools – part 2 – You are part of the band!

In case you missed it=> Sound in Schools: part one

So, you have one mic sounding good. Now let’s start working with multiple microphones, multiple instruments. The nitty gritty of bad audio, if we  were to put it in a nutshell, is  the notion that if you get each channel sounding good by itself and then turn it all up, it will all sound great together.  Based on that premise, if you want somebody to sound more in front of someone else, you just turn them up, right?  Not exactly. Why not?  Because that is not how the human ear operates.

Discovering why sound in school auditoriums is often so bad, and how to fix it! #sound #AVTweeps #audio #performingarts #Highschool

Your ear can only discriminate a certain number of things at any given time. Try this for an example:  play a track of a bass player that sounds good, full and crisp. Now turn on a fan in the room. Bass definition drops off and, oddly enough, it sounds like there is no bottom-end. If, instead of a fan the sound interference was cymbals, it would be even worse. Multiple “anythings” have similar issues. Sounds mask each other.  As the engineer, you have to decide how to deal with that and make music out of it.

So, let’s just take a simple task:  two vocalists as opposed to just one.

Put two people up there and let’s say they have kind of similar voices and you have a hard time figuring out who’s who. When you listened to each voice individually they sounded pretty good – and then when you put them together it is just kind of two-dimensional.

You can’t really tell who’s who when they are singing at the same time.  Now, if they are in a duet or singing parts and they are breaking apart, obviously that changes. But when they are singing together, you’re not really hearing the voices independently.

One of the things people will do, if they are mixing on a sound system that is stereo, is to pan one person to left and the other person to right. And then, if you are sitting in the middle of the room, that really separates them.

In live sound, however, if you are sitting on the right or the left side of the room you won’t hear the other person very well at all. So that approach  is not a viable fix  unless your sound system is a type that hardly any average school has, where the left and right systems completely overlap the entire room and provide true stereo in all seats. [We can talk about why that is complicated to do in a different segment at some point.]

Most live sound is dual mono by default. Separation in the mix is done by other means.

So, let’s get back to the two microphones. We really need to mix them in mono because we need to be sure everybody in the room hears both singers, but we want them to sound distinct. So what should we do? We will take some frequencies out of one mic that we leave in the other mic to make them stand apart sonically.

Let’s say there is a male voice and a female voice. In this instance, the goal is for the male voice to stand out in the low frequency ranges but the female voice has some low frequency content. To make that work, we will pull some low frequencies out of the female voice which will separate the two.

Now, if we then listen to the female when she is singing just her part, we have to bring those low frequencies back in for a while to make her voice sound the way it should as a soloist. But when they go back to singing in unison, in the duet sections, we will have to pull her voice frequencies out to get the whole thing to work from that perspective.

So, it’s a constant movement, like playing an instrument.

You are not leaving things alone. The keyboard player doesn’t just play an F chord and that’s it. When they’ve got to play a B flat cord, they change to B flat. Channel equalization has to change in various songs and parts of songs. In essence, you are part of the band.

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Copyright AVL DESIGNS INC. 2021+

Did you miss part one? Catch up here>>> Sound in Schools part 1 Copyright AVL Designs Inc 2020+

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