CASE STUDY: Wisconsin State Capitol, Wisconsin

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When the Wisconsin State Capitol needed an audio system upgrade, officials turned to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin-based integrator Professional Audio Designs Inc. to design and install the system.

Over the course of the multi-phase project, Scott Leonard, Vice President of Professional Audio Designs, installed 141 Earthworks microphones in the Wisconsin Legislature in Madison, WI. There are 33 FM500 microphones in the State Senate Chambers, 27 FM500s in the Joint Finance Committee room, 27 FM500s in the Senate Hearing room, in addition to 52 custom designed handhelds and 2 FM500s in the State Assembly Chambers.

At the beginning of the project, Leonard had approached Earthworks with design requirements for a custom microphone solution. “For the State Assembly room, we had Earthworks make us 52 custom designed handheld microphones with low handling noise. The State Assembly was used to having handheld microphones on big goosenecks. We wanted something that worked better and had a smaller profile. These custom mics had no gooseneck with a small coiled cord mic cable, as sometimes the state assembly members want to take a mic out of a stand and hold it so they can turn it around and face toward the other members.”

Following the State Assembly Chambers installation, Leonard selected the Earthworks FM500 for the remaining rooms. “The first time I used an FM500 I was really blown away with how good the off-axis frequency was. Generally what people do is use a gooseneck that is too long to get the mic closer to the person speaking in an effort to increase gain before acoustic feedback. Then they have “P” popping problems, or the person is too tall or too short and they don’t adjust the gooseneck before speaking. In addition, they are usually speaking off-axis. What I like about the Earthworks microphones is that the off-axis response is very linear and natural.”

In his experience working with State Capitols, Leonard has found that they tend to go through a number of sound systems until they find something that works for them. “The older State legislatures are made with a lot of marble and are sometimes circular rooms. We use complex delays, localization of voices, and system optimization knowledge in order to provide excellent sounding sound systems in very poor acoustic environments.”

Leonard used QSC’s Q-SYS for digital signal processing. “In the State Senate Chambers we have 1,200 delay settings, and in the State Assembly room there are over 3,000 delay settings, so every microphone is delayed to every speaker simultaneously in a delay matrix. Even though we install high-end performing arts centers all over the country, I still think the systems in the Wisconsin Capitol are the finest systems we have ever installed, due to the way they operate in the environment. No matter who is speaking, the sound is comes from the person who stands up and talks. When they stand to talk, the speakers are pretty far away from the microphone; because the sound system is very linear in frequency response and the Earthworks microphones are also very linear in frequency response, especially off-axis, it sounds very natural. The Earthworks cardioid pattern is a vital part of this equation. Even if the members don’t point the FM500s directly in front of their mouth it still will sound very natural. So, they can get up and talk and not even have to worry about being picked up by the mic. The system really works superbly.”

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