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Sound Advice

What’s A “Good” School Sound System Anyway? by Don Barber

The sound system purchase decision is often left up to the Principal or maybe the gym teacher, people who know what they’re about in the teaching profession but usually don’t know what to look for in a sound system. The drama teachers most often know about the visual elements of lighting, set, costume and make-up and the music teachers know about band instruments and singing but very little about what constitutes a good sound system for their needs.

St. Andrew’s College, in Aurora, ON, was in the process of outfitting two gymnasiums and a swimming pool with sound systems. They initially based their budgets on quotations from two local music stores, but realized that firms supplying car audio and home theatre equipment were not capable of specifying or supplying a proper system. They got a quote from a professional sound shop, but it was well beyond their budget.

All three spaces were specified identically even though the pool was much smaller and had only a nine-foot ceiling. The systems each consisted of four plastic 15″ boxes with about 1,200 watts of power, and an 8-channel mixer with slider volume controls – less than ideal in a sweaty gym environment and worse in a chlorine treated pool, because the open faders will tend to get dirty and corrode over time. They only needed the capability of controlling 2 mics and a CD player. A Symetrix 450 mixer gave them the control of a wireless and a wired mic and a CD player, with remote control. The built-in VCA controls of the 450 also gives them the remote volume control that they wanted. The plan to mount all those speakers on the far wall from the bleachers would have blasted sound all the way across the gym floor, reflecting off every hard and flat surface on the way. A single Soundsphere speaker was positioned right above the bleachers providing clarity and speech intelligibility at modest levels. They also saved about $6,000.

Don Barber is an audio consultant with Sound Design & Consultant, and can be reached by e-mail at don.barber@sympatico.ca.

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