The Voice Of Democracy

When the process of government is inhibited because voices can't be heard, technology can help-whether it's electronic voting machines or a portable PA system amplifying the opinions of the people. But there is also a solution for occasions when the details of democracy are being hammered out in a meeting room environment.

The Capitol Area Council of Government (CAPCOG) in Austin, TX had been coping for too long with a single podium microphone for sessions with members of the public and no means of vocal amplification for government officials. With a single audiocassette recorder placed in the center of the room to record the chaotic proceedings, CAPCOG staff knew it was time for a change. The goals were to place microphones at each of the 16 government representative seats at a reconfigurable table, provide a podium mic for the public, and provide two separate zones of audio reinforcement-one each for the government and the public. All of this was to be accomplished in a room that measured approximately 40 by 20 feet.
Adding to the challenge were CAPCOG's stipulations on the project. "They didn't want any wires running anywhere in the room," recalled Joe Cabela, vice president of Austin's Music Lab, the systems integrator on the project. "There really wasn't any space to run wire, because the room has concrete walls, concrete floors and an acoustic tile ceiling. Secondly, the tables are rearranged for every meeting, so wireless was certainly the better option."

Music Lab took on the challenge of putting 16 wireless systems into one room, with the added caveat that the speakers weren't to be visible either. The company hadn't negotiated such a dense thicket of wireless frequencies before, but the audio components they chose helped to solve the problems.

First on the docket were the loudspeakers. "We chose Lowell's LT series of ceiling tile loudspeakers for the specific reason that they would blend in with the ceiling," Cabela explained. Lowell's 6-inch, 40W LT series ceiling tile speakers provide a full enclosure behind an inconspicuous ceiling tile. Replacing half a 2-foot by 2-foot tile or one quarter of a 2-foot by 4-foot tile, the ready-to-install system includes a speaker/transformer assembly mounted to a 1-foot by 2-foot sub-plate with fine-perforated grille and a built-in T-bar cross support that saves installation time by eliminating the need to field cut or mount an extra ceiling grid frame member.

The 70-volt audio system is powered by a QSC CX-302V amp, providing a foundation for improved sound in the CAPCOG meeting room. "The Lowell speakers sound really good," Cabela noted. "We've got six of those in that room and they cover it very well."

For microphones, Music Lab opted for Audio-Technica's 3000 series wireless mics. Employing a little mechanical finesse developed by the manufacturer, the lavalier belt packs for the mics were mounted under the table beneath each desktop microphone, transforming each goosneck mic into a wireless.

Finding 16 frequencies in CAPCOG's RF-abundant location right off the highway was tough, but Cabela said that the Audio-Technica mics offered plenty of options. "Adjusting that many microphones with speakers right above them was a challenge," Cabela recalled. "But with the Lowell speakers, combined with a Biamp VRAM system, we were able to eliminate any feedback issues with just minor adjustments of the EQ." Providing three bands of EQ at each mic with the Biamp piece provided additional peace of mind, Cabela said.

With the Biamp VRAM serving as an automixer, the rest was just fine-tuning of mic sensitivity levels. Three different considerations went into making the mic adjustments: speaking levels, cell phone frequency interference and the relation of the six Lowell LT ceiling speakers to the mics when the tables are reconfigured. "We had to take the microphones and pretty much walk every square inch of that room at the highest level and make sure there wasn't going to be a problem," Cabela said.

All this fine tuning on the back-end enables the system's user-friendly simplicity. "Everything is instantaneous when they enunciate into the microphone," Cabela explained. "There are no buttons to push. The mic will just open up, and the VRAM won't open anyone else's mic until the first person is finished speaking."

This capability wins praise from CAPCOG's transcription team, especially now that the meeting room's recording system has been upgraded to a Denon DN C550R CD-R/RW recording system, which automatically tracks the meeting in 15-minute segments. "They said that one of the most tedious processes is trying to transcribe what was said when there are three or four people talking at the same time," Cabela said. "Now they're catching everything said at the meeting."



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