As guiding architect of the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson brought a vision to college life built around what he called an "Academical Village." Centrally located on the grounds of the university in Charlottesville, the UVA Rotunda is a stately domed structure used to host speaking events and boardroom-style meetings. Sound reinforcement naturally plays a vital role in giving voice to ideas and opinions heard within the space, but given the building's landmark status and historical significance, its implementation wasn't as simple as getting out a drill and running cable.
"When it comes to sound, the project was acoustically challenging," said senior engineer David Morris of the Whitlock Group, the Richmond, VA-based systems integration firm given the responsibility of insuring that all could be heard within the Rotunda. "There are numerous reflective surfaces, and you certainly can't avoid the huge dome overhead. While these features did indeed present difficulties, the real obstacle to completing the job was that there could be no components permanently installed in the space whatsoever. The historical setting had to be preserved at all costs, and that meant no cutting or drilling anywhere."
By necessity, then, all input had to be wireless, and the system's loudspeakers deployed as needed on portable stands. The university initially wanted all necessary rackmount equipment to be kept out of the room as well, but ultimately allowed a small amount of space for portable racks that could be rolled in and hidden under tables, then rolled back out when not in use.
"UVA wanted this to be an extremely functional room, even though historically its use has centered around a single individual addressing an audience," Morris further related. "Taking these needs to heart, we provided a systems capacity for up to 24 different speakers being present at once. The portable loudspeakers, of which there are four, had to be mix-minus and directional, because no one is ever sure what the room's layout will be from day to day."
Within the Whitlock Group's blueprint, input at the Rotunda is captured with the aid of 24 MX692 wireless boundary mics from the Shure Microflex line. Also featuring 24 Shure UC4 wireless receivers, the system was tuned using Shure's online Wireless Frequency Guide.
"You wouldn't think it out in the peaceful countryside of the Charlottesville area, but the region is right in the middle of a hotspot for HDTV frequencies coming from surrounding mountain communities as well as Washington, DC," Morris explained, still sounding surprised himself. "As a result, we had to deal with a lot of interference, all of which was easily resolved using Shure's frequency locator resources online. The MX692/UC4 combinations provided the performance we needed, and met our stringent aesthetic demands as well. UVA loves the fact that it can simply lay out the low-profile, unobtrusive MX692 mics wherever needed, then collect them all up when they're done."
Four Channels In Two Rack Spaces
"With only three small, portable racks, space was really at a premium," the Whitlock Group's David Morris said of the historically challenging UVA Rotunda install. "Wireless occupied two of them completely, leaving us with only one for everything else. To make it all work, we had to get creative, and one of the places we gained the most savings was in amplifier selection."
Lightweight and only two rack spaces high, a single CX404 amplifier from QSC's CX Series was chosen for the task. A 4-channel device capable of powering the portable system's four power-hungry loudspeakers at 250W per channel at 8 ohms, the CX404 brought both power and reliability to the Rotunda, and aided efforts considerably in reaching the goal of building a system that could easily be moved about by a single person.