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Outfitting Gymnatoriums: The Original Flexible AV Space

Outfitting Gymnatoriums: The Original Flexible AV Space

For the British International School of Chicago’s gymnatorium, Sound Production and Lighting utilized a dozen RCF C3110-96 speakers downfired from the roof joists, and they were able to zone the system into a number of configurations dependent on event and seating layout. The 10-inch two-way passive cabinets provided smooth coverage throughout the room. A main cluster of three Danley SH46 Synergy horns is designed to provide main coverage for the bleachers in theater mode. Zone control was handled through a Symetrix Radius processor, with a combination of Powersoft M Series and QSC CXD Series for power.

Consider the smooth fusion in this word: Gymnatorium. Part gymnasium, part auditorium, it sounds like an architectural relic from the Roman Empire. Of course, it’s anything but. As K-12 schools embrace technology in both classroom and curriculum, this original flexible AV space is being redefined. The evolution not only calls for new technologies, but it presents challenges and opportunities for manufacturers and integrators alike.

First and foremost, we should remember that gymnatoriums were not built for sound, but to house events of different types, from athletic contests to assemblies and convocations, said Ken Voss, manager of installed sound at RCF.

“The floor plan and seating arrangement for each event would change,” he noted, “so why not the sound system? So many times we see the multipurpose facility go with a single-purpose sound system.”

Solutions over the years have been to downfire wide dispersion loudspeakers from the ceiling rafters and trusses covering the entire floor space, a center cluster disbursing sound throughout the entire room, or two lines of cabinets running along the roof aimed strictly at the bleachers on either side of the court, leaving it hard to hear during an assembly.

“A critical issue in these types of facilities is the reverberant nature of the room itself, with hard floor and wall surfaces, high ceilings, and wood or metal bleachers causing acoustic reverberation that impacts intelligibility,” Voss said.

The flexibility and highly reverberant acoustical nature of gymnatoriums can render them highly challenging spaces for audio system installations. Yamaha’s solutions include its TF digital mixer with One-Knob EQ, allowing an operator to achieve great results with very little knowhow. ATR Treehouse of Providence, RI installed a Yamaha NEXO M6 system and a TF3 console at Pilgrim High School in Warwick, RI.

The flexibility and highly reverberant acoustical nature of gymnatoriums can render them highly challenging spaces for audio system installations. “Even experienced sound engineers can face challenges in providing intelligible audio in a space like this, so how can we expect students, teachers, or volunteers to achieve a great result?” said Marc Lopez, director of marketing for commercial audio products, Yamaha Professional Audio.

Yamaha’s solutions include its TF digital mixer with One-Knob EQ, allowing an operator to achieve great results with very little knowhow. “iPad control of digital mixers with the StageMix app can improve the accessibility of audio control from anywhere in the space if adjustments are needed on the fly,” Lopez said. “Dan Dugan AutoMixing (available on QL and CL mixers) can relieve the issue of achieving enough gain before feedback with multiple open microphones. Of course, simple Scene Memories have been a standard feature of our mixers since our first in 1987, allowing different configurations to be stored for the various functions taking place.”

In addition, Yamaha’s compact NEXO GEO M6 line array speaker system is conveniently small and lightweight, with a modular ability to adjust for best coverage and maximum coherence for challenging spaces, he said. “Even bass modules that mechanically and aesthetically match the full-range cabinet are available to meet sound requirements for more musical applications versus speech reinforcement.”

Just Dance
Audio requirements have moved from simple paging/announcement systems to speaker systems designed to reproduce high-energy dance routines for pom and cheer squads, said John Sexton, director of sales, Ashly Audio. “The added complexity of these systems requires that the end-user control systems remain user-friendly. Ashly has introduced the Ashly Remote for iPad, iPad Mini, or iPhone to control any of our network amplifiers with built-in DSP.”

In many elementary and middle school systems, the principal or choir director needs a hands-free sound system, he added. “Ashly’s Pema offers a four- or eight-channel power amplifier mated to an eight-in by eight-out digital processor. The Protea software offers two key features for hands-free operation, gain-sharing automatic microphone mixing, combined with automatic feedback suppression. They can basically turn on the lights and turn on the sound. When occasional live mixing is required but there are no experienced operators, we offer a network eight- or 16-channel remote fader bank in addition to our wireless Ashly Remote App.”

Beginner to intermediate sound system operators, including tech-savvy students, are at home on the Ashly Remote App, Sexton said. “They will also appreciate the features we have included in the new digiMIX24 24-channel digital mixer, which offers a combination of tactile control (Alps motorized fader, dedicated encoders, and knobs) with optional control from a 7-inch touchscreen or an accessory iPad.”

When an operator is not available, the digiMIX24 E-Z mode allows inexperienced operators to easily mix a preset number of inputs, outputs, and stereo main. “If they get into trouble,” he added, “they simply hit the restore button and the console reverts to default settings.”

Value Redux
Integrators could and should take advantage of new technologies that can be offered as value-added for a K-12 gymnatorium or cafeteria paging system retrofit.

“Old sound systems featured a rack of mono amps and weren’t very energy efficient,” Sexton said. “Today, we would replace this entire rack of amplifiers with a single eight-or four-channel amp that delivers 250 watts into a 70V or 25V line. Including the Protea DSP inside the chassis saves weight. Our new nX and Pema multichannel amplifiers feature Ashly’s EMS (Energy Management System). Our EMS implementation gives the client the ability to choose a sleep mode or standby mode to reduce energy consumption, depending on the amplifier platform they choose.”
Karen Mitchell is a freelance writer based in Boulder, CO.

Sound Advice

Some solutions to acoustical issues can be addressed in the initial design phase of the facility, said Ken Voss of RCF.

“In the construction process, consideration may be given to building materials,” he said. “Recent innovations include sound-absorbing concrete masonry block materials that provide the same load-bearing aesthetics, yet also offer round control designed to grab and absorb unwanted reflections.”

Another solution, he said, which is often seen in indoor tennis court-type facilities, are ceiling baffles that absorb sound, “although this can be an expensive solution that only resolves part of the problem.”

Acoustic panels on the walls can become expensive solutions as well, Voss added. “We had one high school that would print their team records, state records, and individual acknowledgements on custom panels and sell sponsorship to the panels, thus offsetting the costs. This was a unique solution and could be updated yearly. And hanging banners, as can be seen in many professional sports facilities, can actually assist in sound diffusion in the ceiling areas, reducing unwanted acoustical reflections.”

Something Else to Use in That Gymnatorium

Introduced at the Winter NAMM show, the new Harman Connected PA employs ioSYS technology in conjunction with the Connected PA mobile app to automatically identify and configure connected equipment. The app provides setup wizards for quick and easy system configuration, and offers access from a variety of devices, including iOS and Android tablets, Mac OS, and Windows. The Harman Connected PA brings together Soundcraft mixers, AKG microphones, dbx stage boxes, and JBL speakers that integrate Harman ioSYS technology to offer a flexible and scalable solution that makes it easy for customers to get great live sound.