Overhauling Florida State Senate’s Sound System, Part 1

The Florida State Senate called on Music Masters to overhaul its systems. 2/12/2013 7:06 AM Eastern

Overhauling Florida State Senate’s Sound System, Part 1

Feb 12, 2013 12:06 PM, With Bennett Liles

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With every session, state legislatures have even more bills and issues to deal with and the need for modern sound and video systems is crucial in legislative bodies. The Florida State Senate called on Music Masters to overhaul its systems, and Les Stephenson is here to tell us all about it coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: Hi, Les. Thanks for being with us on the SVC Podcast from Music Masters down there in Tallahassee, Fla. Your outfit was called in for this sound system project in the Florida State Senate Chamber, so tell me about Music Masters.

Les Stephenson: Music Masters is a diverse place. We’ve been a business in Tallahassee since 1981. We take care of school instrument programs. We have a full professional audio and standard music instrument type stuff—guitars, amps, keyboards, everything like that. And then we have the pro AV systems group, which goes out and designs and installs sound systems, video systems, lighting systems, and control systems. We work with churches in the area, courtrooms, commission chambers, sporting facilities. So that’s the basic product group that we take care of, and like I said, it’s a pretty diverse mix when you put all that together under one roof. [Timestamp: 1:45]

Very diverse. A lot of things going on there. When you got a call from the state government, sometimes that’s bad news, but this time it was great news and a big project. What, exactly, did they tell you they needed in the State Senate Chamber?

The Senate system needed a complete upgrade. The need encompassed three general areas, which we identified as Senate business, live performance, and production. Senate business being the actual conducting of the Senate meetings and everything involved with that. Live performance being when they have a singer or a choir or whatever come in and for some special music for the Senate, we need to be able to accommodate that. And then the production, they have more and more people coming in with video presentations of this, video presentations of that, and so they need to be able to accommodate all of that. So that’s pretty much what was needed. Additionally, they needed to upgrade the video display in the president’s rostrum, so that became an important component about it. That was the basic scope of the job. Let’s start over and let’s get it right. [Timestamp: 2:49]

I know you had a lot to haul in and set up, and it was a pretty complex sound system. Were there any special challenges involved in working in the state capitol building?

Moving in was a little bit of a challenge. We had to get everything through security. They had to check everything. So you’re bringing in all this inventory and this and that and the other, it’s got to all go through the scanners and that takes a little time. Once we got everything moved in we were given access badges so we could come and go as we pleased. We had 24/7 access to the Chamber and that made it great. We didn’t have to clean up until we were done; that saved a lot of time. We had three weeks in a row to get the project done and there was nothing scheduled in there, so we didn’t have any conflicts going on in that regard. So they were very accommodating. They were excited about getting the project done. We were excited about doing the project, so it was all good. Wiring-wise, we had worked in the other end of the capitol last year. We redid that audio DSP system in the House of Representatives. So we were already familiar with the way the Chambers were built. They both are very similar in that regard, so we had a pretty good idea of what we were up against as far as getting in there and adding to the wiring harness, checking everything out, and making sure everything was the way they wanted it. And that all went pretty much as planned. So yeah, they were very accommodating, easy to work with, just great. [Timestamp: 4:17]

You’ve got this huge dome over everything, so how were the acoustics in that place?

For the most part, the acoustics were quite good. The dome, it’s interesting how that’s made. That’s actually a series of perforated metal panels that all go together to create that dome. And then on the backside of each one of those panels is basically a 2in. sound panel, so the whole dome is like a 2in. sound panel. Even with that much absorption, still when you get to the center of the dome, there’s definitely a collection point there where everything is amplified. So if you get out there with a microphone that can have some fairly interesting consequences. The gallery seating, which is on the second level of the Chamber, is where the public sits. That’s basically a circle that goes all the way around the Chamber, and behind the gallery is all glass. So basically you’ve got a glass circle and a second story that you’ve got to stay off of because you can definitely hear that pouring right back out into the Chamber. In the back of the Chamber is a press gallery, and that’s enclosed with about a 16ft.-tall glass wall, which there again is sloped down a little bit; it’s curved and it’s spilling right back into the Chamber. So you’ve got this probably about 200-degrees of glass enclosure around the top of the building that you definitely have to stay out of. Behind where the president stands, behind the dais in the president’s rostrum area, is a curved wood wall, which is about two stories tall. So that’s exactly opposite that glass wall from the press gallery, and so when you’ve got a bunch of circular stuff looking in and a dome on top, there is certainly some interesting challenges presented. But for the most part I think the acoustics are good and we didn’t have too many struggles with that. We took great care to design the system to stay off of all that glass and that way we wouldn’t be bouncing back into that curved wood wall, and with all of that taken into consideration, I think the acoustics worked out quite well. [Timestamp: 6:18]

Overhauling Florida State Senate’s Sound System, Part 1

Feb 12, 2013 12:06 PM, With Bennett Liles

Quite a bit different than installing in a performance venue, a classroom, or, say, a church situation. I did notice that you used the Danley Sound Labs speakers on this job. Why did you decide to go with those?

Great question. We were really looking for a speaker that provided a very high level of pattern control and vocally was just very natural sounding right out of the box. Danley seemed like a great choice. I’m a big fan of the full-range, horn-loaded concept that puts everything out at the same time and provides a very naturally phased, coherent end result. So that was what we were after, excellent vocal intelligibility, high level of pattern control. It seemed like a great fit. [Timestamp: 7:01]

So this is 7.1 surround, right? What put a surround sound system in a place like a Senate Chamber?

One of the main design objectives was being able to provide good quality AV playback, which to me is surround, or certainly, at least left/center/right. So why don’t I just make it surround and make it great? So we built a system that’s left/center/right, mid-field left and right, and rear-field left and right. Each speaker is individually powered and processed. We added a sub, so we got a low-end, you know; we’ve got a nice low-end support and it just turns out great. So keeping in mind you’ve got the senators in there and they’re all spaced around the room, and in addition to the AV playback, I felt like it would be great to be able to place each of them in the sound field. So the only way to do that is to have that flexibility built into the system, and that was the direction we headed with it. [Timestamp: 8:00]

So there’s a sub in there too.

Yes. We have a sub, a Danley-powered 18in. sub up in the projection room, and so that certainly enhances the AV playback and that’s why it’s there. Or someone coming in to sing with a track, you’ve got a nice, big, full-range sound without having virtually any visible size to it whatsoever. [Timestamp: 8:22]

What particular speakers did you use in there for the left/right and the surrounds?

For the left and right we used the Danley SM-60F. That’s a very compact, very high-powered, 60 by 60, full-range cabinet, and it fit perfectly. We were able to hide that behind the grid work in the lower part of the dome so you don’t even see it. We removed the grille cloth, we did some testing, and there was really minimal effect coming through the metal grid that was already in place. So we were able to hide that and you don’t even see it. Same with the surround speakers. We used the SH-100, which is a 110-degree by 110-degree, full-range horn-loaded product, and so we’ve got two of those in the middle of the room and two of those in the rear of the room. And then each speaker is individually powered and processed, do as well as being an AV playback concept, it also provides us the ability that each one of those speakers can perform just as the main speaker for that particular senator that’s standing over in that part of the room. It really makes the system very conversational because the sound is coming from where the person is actually talking instead of all of the sound coming from the same location up front. We thought that would be a great addition to the room for intelligibility and conversational quality, and the final product really proved to be the case. It’s very neat. [Timestamp: 9:45]

You have a speaker in each individual senator’s desk as well? That’s where a lot of complexity comes in. How does all that work? That’s correct. There’s a speaker in each desk and those were upgraded as well. We found a 5in. speaker, full-range, that goes all the way up to 7K that we were able to get through OAP. So we have 40 of those, one in each desk. Each desk is individually powered and processed, again through the MediaMatrix system, so we can actually control the delay time and the volume balancing of each desk individually. So as a senator stands up and they’re recognized, when they turn their microphone on, the MediaMatrix is programmed to retime align all the desks to that being the center point. It’s just like dropping a pebble in still water and watching the wave go out. So that’s how the sound is all programmed and time delayed. And there again, it’s amazing because you’re sitting there at the desk and you’re hearing this person talking from, let’s say, 40ft. across a room and it’s as conversational as if we’re just right next to each other. That was the goal. We just wanted a really conversational, natural-feeling, unamplified system. [Timestamp: 10:59]

How did you get the center speaker mounted above the Senate president’s desk?

Originally we were hoping to be able to hide that center speaker behind the dome like we were able to with all the other speakers. But once we got into the installation and we were able to determine that unfortunately that would require us to take the entire dome from the top of the ceiling down to the bottom throughout the whole front of the room in order to get to that and be able to pull that out and replace the other one. So obviously that was not an option. So what we did, there’s a projection room on the gallery level, which is like the second story of the Chamber. So we cut a hole in the top of the projection room and installed a new access door and then basically went up on top of the projection room and built a mounting system for the Danley SH-46, which is mounted up there. That’s the main center speaker for the whole system, so it’s mounted right up there. It looks right over the lip, right down on the floor, and it works great. Now that opened up an interesting can of worms because it looks like a speaker. [Timestamp: 12:05]

It looks like a speaker?

Yep. That’s right. A speaker looks like a speaker

What do you mean by “it opened up an interesting can of worms?”

Well, that looking like a speaker, and everybody came in and looked at it and they were like, ‘Oh, it looks like a speaker.’ So we got to figure something out on that. So we all looked at it and thought about it for awhile and determined the best thing to do was to build some custom side panels for it and paint it black and get a black grille cloth and then it would be black instead of white. That was a good call. So that’s what we did. It trimmed out very nicely and ends up looking like a really nice little custom installation for the speaker. [Timestamp: 12:42]

So a little impromptu exercise in creativity. That keeps things interesting. Now where are the amps in the MediaMatrix located?

All of the equipment is mounted in the projection room. [Timestamp: 12:53]

That’s a fairly old building. Were there any electrical grounding issues or, say, power limitations?

The building was built in the mid-70’s. Originally there was only one circuit for everything in the equipment room. So we provided a spreadsheet showing the loads and how much power we needed and how many circuits we needed. Division of Management Services, which does all the building maintenance, they came in and they installed the power for us and got us what we needed. So they were very good to work with on that. [Timestamp: 13:21]

Is there a manual control board somewhere around the clerk’s desk?

Yes there is. The entire system is integrated into a new Crestron system that we also provided, which provides three sound locations. The sound operator room on the second level has one of the Crestron panels in it. There’s a second 12in. touchpanel for sound operation, which connects down on the lower dais, so they can actually be out in the room with that one. And then there’s a 24in. touchpanel in the production desk that also provides a control point for all the sounds. So yeah, they’re well covered as far as different options on where to run things. [Timestamp: 13:59]

Well, Les, that’s a very interesting project and I know it vastly improved the sound for the State Senate there. And in part two we get into the Crestron control and the video system. We’ll see you then.

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