EASE Modeling for a Multipurpose Venue, Part 1

North Carolina’s Elon University had an auditorium designed for a its huge pipe organ, but they needed a sound system that could cope with its multi-use role. 2/14/2012 5:32 AM Eastern

EASE Modeling for a Multipurpose Venue, Part 1

Feb 14, 2012 10:32 AM, With Bennett Liles

Whitley Auditorium at Elon University with the Casavant pipe organ and the D.A.S. Audio Variant speaker array installed by Audio & Light.

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North Carolina’s Elon University had an auditorium designed for a its huge pipe organ, but Whitley Auditorium was being used for a lot of other events, so they needed a sound system that could cope with its multi-use role. They called Audio & Light for the job and Jim Hoyle is here to let us now how he tackled that project, coming up next on the SVC Podcast.

SVC: So Jim Hoyle from Audio & Light. Thanks for being with us on the SVC Podcast from Greensboro, N.C., and we’re talking about the new sound system installation in Whitley Auditorium at Elon University. We’ve had Audio & Light on the podcast a while back, but refresh our memory on the company and tell me a little about what Audio & Light does.

Jim Hoyle: Well, Audio & Light was started in 1984. We are mostly involved in AV integration, but we also offer live production services and we have a rental department for rental projectors and small sound systems and things like that and portable equipment. [Timestamp: 1:20]

OK and you were called in to do a complete sound system upgrade on Whitley Auditorium, and there are some challenging acoustics in there and a lot of different events the place is used for. So what was the situation? What did they want you to do when they called you in?

Well, Whitely Auditorium is a multipurpose space on campus. It houses a pipe organ, and the acoustics of the room have been adjusted for that, but they also use the room for lectures, student performances, guest performances, small ensembles. So it has to do triple duty, and of course the acoustics desired for an organ don’t really match up with the rest of those needs. The intelligibility—the room is very low and that’s something that they’ve been fighting against for years. When they have lectures if the speaker is soft-spoken, it’s almost impossible to hear them past the fifth or sixth row in the balcony even with the sound system they had. The former sound system had been in there for some time—10 years, I guess, at least. And was never adequate to really cover the whole room with sound, and of course they’re fighting the intelligibility problem. The device they used was a very wide throw device, so the critical distance was very short at not making it to the seating. So we’ve been talking about changing this room for a long time, and Rick Earl, the technical director at Elon theater department, finally got interested in the projects and—if we’re doing all these performances in Whitely, we need to fix this—and so we started talking about how would we fix it. And that’s where the design process started. [Timestamp: 2:48]

OK and that place is, I think, it’s something like 90ft. deep and 42ft. wide?

That’s correct, approximately 90x40.

OK and they’ve got a huge pipe organ in there, and that place is of course built acoustically just for that.

It is, yes. It’s a very live reverberant space. [Timestamp: 3:05]

OK, so you went in there and you had to get a handle on the exact acoustic situation and how did you go about analyzing the acoustics and the design of the room for this?

I created a model of the room in EASE, and it started playing speaker placements and using different devices and looking at coverage patterns and reflections and what was going on in the room. Rick Earl at Elon is a big fan of the DAS products, which we ended up using and we really liked the product as well. So we wanted to take a look at that, and we found one of their small line arrays that worked really well in EASE. It showed very even coverage from the floor even up into the balcony, so after modeling the room, and the room was not easy to model by the way; there are several architectural features there that are difficult: There’s a large dome on the center of the ceiling, 5ft. to 8ft. forward of where the speaker cluster hangs. So there’s a nice tool in EASE to help you design those kinds of shapes, but add a large reverberant space then putting a dome on top of it, you can imagine what we’re dealing with there. So we’re trying to keep energy out of the dome so that we don’t get any of those reflections bouncing all over the room. So we found a location that worked really well using EASE 26ft. off the floor. Actually about 1ft. upstage of the down stage edge of the stage allowed us to cover from the very first seat all the way up to the back of the balcony with this DAS Variant 25 line array. [Timestamp: 4:37]

EASE Modeling for a Multipurpose Venue, Part 1

Feb 14, 2012 10:32 AM, With Bennett Liles

Whitley Auditorium at Elon University

Yeah, the Variant 25s and those are powered locally, I believe.

Yes, it’s a powered box. We used one sub, which is the 18A and six of the 25As underneath that. They’re all self-powered. We had the electrician install two circuits in the ceiling, which we can control the AC relay system from the booth. [Timestamp: 4:58]

Well, that would seem to eliminate a lot of the cabling problems and running cables through some places where maybe people didn’t want you to be poking holes in things.

Yes, we split the array into three zones for shading and adjusting the individual levels. So there were three signal lines that went up there to the cluster and the array and the AC was right there locally. It was all very easy to do. [Timestamp: 5:22]

After you analyzed the room and the acoustics, what was the most difficult part of this project? Was it the timeline you had to work in or was it the acoustics itself?

Well, speech intelligibility was really what we were fighting. They do some musical events that require amplification, small ensemble work. On campus, they have several groups that are a capella groups that use that space for performance, so we wanted to sound good for music, but the most critical was speech. They do a lot of lectures; they have a lecture series and bring in people from all over the world to speak on different topics and we really wanted that to be heard everywhere. So what we were really concerned with was speech intelligibility. That’s what we kept looking at; the placement of speakers made a big difference in the intelligibility. It was interesting how a small change would make a big difference, and EASE was a [great] tool to use to really see that. And after we got the model built, Rick Earl and I sat down and played with different speaker scenarios of speaker placements and different curves of the array; the array tool and EASE works very well and found what we considered to be the best spot for it—worked well. [Timestamp: 6:23]

I went over the website of the university and some of the ways they’re using Whitley Auditorium and I saw what appeared to be graduation ceremonies and musical performances, plays, and all sorts of performances, so it’s going to be difficult to make it sound right for all of those things.


And it looked as though it was in use very frequently. So were there any issues as far as the availability of the space during the sort of work dodging events in there?

There were some issues with availability. When we got the go ahead for the project, we actually ordered the equipment, had it sitting in our warehouse only to find that another department had scheduled the building for other events that we weren’t aware of or made aware of and we had to sit on the equipment for about a month before we had a week window to put it in. There was some sort of a departmental graduation ceremony. Obviously the room’s not big enough for the full graduation, but they do departmental ceremonies there, and there were a couple of those going on that week that we had hoped to install and another musical event that we didn’t know about, so we had to hold off for about a month until we had five days in a row where we could install the system and it actually ended up being over, I guess it’s called fall break. [Timestamp: 7:32]

Yeah, that seems to be the case on university campuses everywhere. I work at a university, and it always seems that each department is a separate kingdom unto itself and sometimes the communication isn’t universal on how facilities are going to be used, by whom, and when.


So when you were actually hoisting the speakers up there and rigging everything, how was the DAS equipment to handle and rig?

The 25A is a very small white box. The rigging hardware is very simple; one person could put the whole array together. The challenge here is the very high ceiling. I think the ceiling height, if I remember correctly, was about 40ft., and of course we had to get all the way to the ceiling to penetrate the plaster ceiling for the Aircraft cables to come through and support the grid through the array and we had to build a scaffolding; there was not a way to get a scissor lift or a boom lift into the building, so we had to build scaffolding, which took time. We took about half a day to put the scaffolding up and another half day to take it down when we were through. The whole process was done off of scaffolding, so it was a simple matter of a person up on top, a person on bottom, and a rope to pull the speakers up to the top of the scaffolding platform and then just clip them onto the grid. [Timestamp: 8:40]

Well, one thing about having the scaffolding in there, once you’ve got that stuff sitting there in such a relatively small venue, nobody’s going to come in and say, “Excuse us, but we need the room for an event today or tomorrow.”

That’s why we had to have it for five consecutive days. [Timestamp: 8:53]

Yeah, scaffolding would pretty much fill that place up.


OK, well, Jim it’s been great having you here on the SVC Podcast and in part 2 we’ll go over the mics and the mixer and sort of how they operate this system in the Whitley Auditorium. Thanks for being here to tell us how you got the system designed and everything installed.

Great. Thank you.

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