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Tannoy QFlex and VLS provide clarity and coverage for LA Natural History Museum

Tannoy QFlex and VLS provide clarity and coverage for LA Natural History Museum
Tannoy QFlex and VLS provide clarity and coverage for LA Natural History Museum

USA - The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) houses one of the most extensive collections of natural and culturally historic artifacts on Earth - over 35 million objects in all, some dating as far back as 4.5 billion years. Since opening in 1913, the NHM’s mandate has been to preserve, protect and research those artifacts, and to curate ever more immersive exhibitions in an effort to inspire "wonder, discovery and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds" in visitors.

With the 2013 addition of The Otis Booth Pavilion, which features a cutting edge AV system that relies heavily on Tannoy’s class-leading QFlex, VLS and CMS Series loudspeakers, the NHM has created a space that will allow them to do so more effectively than ever before.

Made possible by a $13 million gift from the Otis Booth Foundation and designed by CO Architects, the construction of the Pavilion was part of a comprehensive, decade long, $135 million dollar renovation that transformed the NHM into an indoor and outdoor learning hub. In addition to serving as an entryway and re-orienting the Museum toward L.A.'s Exposition Boulevard and a new 3.5-acre Nature Garden, the two-level space also functions as a venue for a variety of events and presentations.

Designed by Waveguide Consulting Inc. and installed by Sound Image Inc. (SI), the audio system inhabiting the Pavilion includes a pair of Tannoy QFlex 32 digitally steerable, multi-channel arrays, two VLS 30 passive column arrays and five CMS 601DC Dual Concentric in-ceiling loudspeakers for reinforcement of speech and program audio.

"We were asked to provide an AV system that would support a gigantic LED video wall and the entryway to the Museum," says Michael Di Santo, Waveguide’s LA-based senior project consultant. "It’s an everyday entry to the Museum, but they also use it for special events, so we designed an audio system they could use for presentations on either the upper deck or lower level."

Constructed almost entirely of 9x11-foot glass panes, the Pavilion is an extremely challenging space acoustically. "Essentially it’s a six-storey glass cube with a concrete floor," says Jerry Fleury, SI’s project manager on the install, "and there are two different presets, so, if someone is presenting from upstairs or downstairs, they can switch from one preset to the other between or during events."

Waveguide chose Tannoy’s QFlex and VLS arrays in order to maximize the Museum’s ability to control the sound easily and effectively. "We evaluated several speaker options for this challenging acoustical environment and determined the QFlex line arrays would be a good fit," Di Santo explains. "We looked at the software and the ease of setup and I contacted our engineers and said, Could we look into this? In the end, we chose QFlex because of their flexibility."

The VLS 30 arrays, however, were the choice of the designer of the audio system, Harry Allison, who is director of design services at Waveguide’s Atlanta headquarters. "The ceiling and south wall of the Pavilion have some acoustic properties, but the remainder of the space is all glass," Allison says. "So there’s only one hard wall between the museum and the new room. There’s also a ramp that connects the Pavilion to the existing building and a large landing where they’re going to hold events, but they can set up an event at either end of the room, so the system had to provide coverage and intelligible program and speech reinforcement for both levels."

That task was made more difficult owing to a variety of third party, solid surface actuators placed on the glass walls that provide a constant background of pre-recorded whale song throughout the space; an aural accompaniment to one of the main visual features of the Pavilion, a 63-foot long fin whale skeleton suspended from the ceiling. "The whale sounds are part of what makes the space feel alive," Allison says. "And they’re always going to be in the background, but there’s also a restaurant in the space so there was a lot of ambient noise that we needed to cut through."

The digitally steerable QFlex 32 and FAST (Focused Asymmetrical Shaping Technology) equipped VLS arrays provided an ideal solution in terms of both intelligibility and aesthetics, but Tannoy products were a natural choice for a number of reasons, Allison continues. "I have a lot of history with Tannoy. I know their engineering is solid and I’m also a big fan of the QFlex Graphical User Interface. There are other beam steering products available, but QFlex seems, to me, to be the easiest, fastest way to get the results we wanted."

The QFlex 32s are installed roughly 27-feet high on the upper level to either side of the entrance doors and the VLS 30s are hung on the walls to either side. "Typically, the VLS are used for program audio and the QFlex for speech," Allison says. "The Tannoy may also be used for the whale sounds. They have that capability and there’s a little of that coming through the VLS 30s, but for the most part a sub and the speakers mounted on the glass walls are used for that."

Consistency was a key driver in Allison’s choice to pair the VLS 30 arrays with the QFlex 32s. "I needed something that closely matched QFlex sonically and visually and I wanted to ensure that we could switch between them, one after the other or during an event, without people noticing. I could have covered the whole space with one line array in a corner, but we chose this solution to provide added flexibility."

Five CMS 601DCs are also installed below the ramp and landing roughly 10 feet above the lower level floor to provide additional sound reinforcement. The Dual Concentric configuration of the CMS 601s was a major factor in Allison’s choice of the product. "When I have the opportunity, I’ll use the Dual Concentric loudspeakers, but I use regular CMS or Dual Concentric CMS loudspeakers depending on how critical the listening environment is and how high the loudspeakers are placed."

Beyond Tannoy’s consistency and clarity, the high level of service the company routinely provides is another reason their products have become one of Allison’s go-to loudspeaker choices. That was particularly important in this case, he says, citing Tannoy’s willingness to send out a representative to optimize and tune the system. "I think it’s important to mention that because it’s something Tannoy will do. Normally, I’d be on site, but there was no way I could be in California at the time of this project and I felt confident that they wouldn’t leave until the room sounded great."

Tannoy’s PSU RS232 to VNET and VNET Interface Rack Mount also figure prominently in the level of flexibility the system provides, allowing technicians to control the loudspeakers from any data port linked up to the AV rack. Those ports came into play during the final tuning of the system, Fleury says, explaining that though he’d been working on the project from September 2012 to shortly before the grand opening in June 2013, he had yet to hear the system in action, fully tuned and with the beam steering finalized. "I set Tannoy’s tech up with a network connection, he showed me the software, then I let him do his work and I went off to do mine. Within ten minutes, I heard these two giant steps and the room sounded like a train station. Then I heard him steer the sound to the midpoint of the room and down to the floor space and suddenly it sounded like I was listening to a pair of near field monitors. I’ve never heard anything like it."

16th July 2014

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