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Sounds Good

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The Musical Instrument Museum Exhibits The Fine Art Of Sound

by Christopher Walsh

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The audio presentation in the galleries is delivered by Sennheiser’s guidePORT wireless information system. As visitors walk past each exhibit, they hear the audio live in real time from the video they’re seeing.

PHOENIX, AZ—Music is the language of the soul, an agent of change, a path to transcendence, and just plain fun. Surely the instruments of this phenomenon deserve a dedicated museum—right?

At last, they have it: the Musical Instrument Museum, a $250 million project founded by former Target CEO Bob Ulrich, held its grand opening April 24. Housing more than 12,000 instruments from every country in the world; five galleries focusing on different regions of the world, plus an Artist Gallery and Experience Gallery; a 299-seat performance theater and recording studio; and stateof- the-art technology throughout, the Musical Instrument Museum delivers a superior—maybe transcendent— aural and visual experience.

In the spirit of music’s omnipresence, the museum, designed by RSP Architects, takes a comprehensive approach to both instruments and musical genre and tradition, spanning kings to commoners.

Systems integration for the 190,000-square-foot, two-story Musical Instrument Museum was handled by the Tempe, AZ office of Escondido, CA-based Sound Image. Sales engineer Ryan Baumann was key to the multifaceted project’s design and installation, working with two AV consultants. “There’s the main building and the theater,” Baumann explained. “The main building consultant was Shen Milsom & Wilke, who did a lot of technology design for the building—not just audiovisual but also security and low-voltage cabling and data cable.

“The plans for their structured cable and security were kept mostly intact,” he added, and as the project progressed, the owner hired Sound Image for design/build on the audiovisual portion of the project. “So for the most part, the main building systems were designed internally by Sound Image,” Baumann said.

Auerbach Pollock Friedlander served as AV consultant for the MIM Music Theater, which spans both floors of the museum. “The design team was tasked with creating a beautiful, uncluttered, intimate space which would be capable of providing excellent acoustics for a wide range of performers, playing a huge array of instruments,” said Tom Neville, ASTC, principal for Auerbach Pollock Friedlander. “This was coupled with the need to capture performances for archival purposes without undue attention to the technology associated with recording the events. The design team carefully integrated speakers, moving variable acoustic panels, high-definition TV cameras and a host of other equipment into the space so that it was nearly invisible to audiences.”

The MIM Music Theater’s PA consists of Meyer Sound CQ-2 loudspeakers for main left and right; five Meyer MM-4XP self-powered miniature speakers; a third CQ-2 for cinema center speaker; two Meyer USW-1P subwoofers; and six Meyer UPJuniors for stage monitors. A secondary, removable speaker system, says Baumann, will be added in the coming months. Sound reinforcement gear also includes two BSS Audio BLU-160 signal processors, a Wohler AMP1A rackmounted monitor, an HHB CDR882 dual-drive CD recorder and Klein + Hummel O 110 monitors.

Video equipment includes three Sony BRCH700 HD video cameras, a Panasonic AV-HS450 production switcher, two MAXX 2400 HD video servers from 360 Systems, and Crestron Digital Media video switching to a Panasonic PT-DZ12000U projector.

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The MIM Music Theater’s PA consists of Meyer Sound CQ-2 loudspeakers for main left and right; five Meyer MM-4XP selfpowered miniature speakers; a third CQ-2 for cinema center speaker; two Meyer USW- 1P subwoofers; and six Meyer UPJuniors for stage monitors.

The theater’s control room features an Avid VENUE D-Show Mix Rack system—”something I’ve used several times before and is a piece I absolutely love,” said Baumann— with HD 64 Pro Tools bundle. Adjacent to the control room, a recording booth houses an Avid C|24 with Pro Tools workstation; two Grace Design m802 8-channel microphone preamps; Apogee AD-16X and DA-16X converters; an Apogee Big Ben word clock; and Klein + Hummel O 300 D nearfield monitors with O 810 subwoofer. “From an archival standpoint,” Baumann summarized, “they have high-definition, three-camera video and high-definition recording with a Avid system for any performance.”

“The synergy that evolved from the collaboration between Sound Image and Auerbach Pollock Friedlander,” Neville said, “helped produce a sophisticated design with subtle details that integrate technology and infrastructure seamlessly.”

The main building features some 400 ceiling speakers, primarily JBL Control 47s but also including Klein + Hummel CMS 62s and Armstrong A-50s. “These speakers dissolve in the ceiling,” Baumann said of the A-50. “You can barely localize them even when they are producing sound.”

In the galleries, each exhibit features an NEC monitor, ranging from 23 to 46 inches, that displays the particular instrument or musical tradition in its cultural context. “It’s not just a guy in a studio playing a trumpet,” Baumann said. “It’s a guy in a field in Africa playing a yellow squash gourd for some sort of ceremony.”

The audio presentation in the galleries is delivered by Sennheiser’s guidePORT wireless information system, with custom headphones— featuring the MIM logo—provided by Skullcandy. “The videos playing at each of the exhibits are streaming wireless audio through the Sennheiser system,” Baumann explained. “As you get within 10 to 15 feet of an exhibit, you start to hear the audio live in real time from the video you’re seeing. The big advantage for that is, you have a unique, unifying experience for any of the guests, whether they know each other or not. They’re seeing and hearing the same thing together.”


MIM will collect and display musical instruments from every country in the world, preserving, protecting, and sharing these gifts with future generations. Live performances by internationally renowned artists in MIM’s theater will give guests an opportunity to hear the music from every corner of the globe in an intimate, comfortable environment with superb acoustics.

Christopher Walsh ( is a New York-based journalist, musician, and recording engineer. He has covered music and professional audio for publications including Billboard, Pro Sound News, and Pro Audio Review for 13 years.


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