DETROIT, MICHIGAN – APRIL 2012: The Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) is the second-largest municipally-owned museum in the nation. Its collection, which represents a balanced sample of the world’s cultures arrayed across centuries of human development, is valued at over one-billion dollars, and the DIA displays much of that collection in over one-hundred galleries spread across 658,000 square feet of floor space. Consonant with its cultural significance, the DIA hosts events ranging from art openings to private functions. One of its primary event spaces is adjacent to the galleries and recently benefitted from a sound system upgrade that centers on Ashly Audio’s PEMA integrated processor/amplifier and FR-16 network fader remote control.
“The walls, floors, and ceiling of the event space are solid stone,” observed Dennis Phillips, the owner of Phillips Pro Audio, the company that designed and installed the new audio system. “It’s an art institute, after all. But solid stone makes the space tremendously reverberant.” The previous sound system solution was to bring in temporary speakers-on-sticks for events that required music and/or microphone support, but because the room is 40’ x 50’, the direct sound was often overwhelmed by the indirect sound. Moreover, requests for sound system support began to arrive with ever-greater frequency, making the set-up/tear-down cycle an ever-greater burden. “They had passed a tipping point and wanted something simple, permanent, and intelligible,” summarized Phillips.
However, the requirements for intelligibility and simplicity are potentially at odds in a permanent system. Tuning a system for maximum intelligibility requires a set of tools encompassed by modern DSP. In the hands of a trained audio professional, those tools can yield pleasing, musical results. But in the hands of an individual whose expertise lay in other areas of human endeavor, those tools can be horribly abused, even when that individual has the best of intentions. The solution, of course, is to install a system with a powerful set of tools, but then to provide the well-intentioned lay users with only those controls necessary for day-to-day operation. Critically, they should be barred from accessing the full range of DSP tools available to the professional.
The combination of the Ashly Audio PEMA integrated processor/amplifier and the Ashly Audio FR-16 remote fader resolved that tension elegantly. The PEMA packs full, open-architecture Protea processing and either four or, in this case, eight channels of reliable amplification into just two rack spaces. The FR-16 (and its smaller sibling, the FR-8) provide user control via sixteen (or eight) integrator-assignable faders and buttons, plus a “master” (also customizable). The FR-16 and FR-8 receive power and communicate via Ethernet, which simplifies integration. Phillips designed a custom wall recess in which to house the DIA’s FR-16, along with an iPod dock and a CD/DVD player.
Because of the Ashly FR-16’s implementation, user control of the new system is simple. Each fader controls the volume of an input source, and each associated button toggles between mute and unmute [DENNIS – IF TRUE?]. Inputs include two wireless microphone systems, the museum’s central paging system, and various music/video sources. “It’s exactly what the DIA was hoping for,” said Phillips. “They have all the control they need, but no more. The faders are simple and intuitive. On our end, the system was painless to set up and worked as expected from the start.” Atlas FAT-series recessed ceiling speakers now distribute sound across the space, which dramatically improves the direct-to-indirect ratio, and thus intelligibility, throughout the event space.
Phillips was alerted to the integrated Ashly solution through the work of Mike Somerville, Michigan sales rep with McFadden Sales (Westerville, Ohio). “Mike is great,” said Phillips. “He keeps us up to date on the latest technology, and he provides with excellent recommendations when we request them. With the Ashly PEMA and FR-16, Mike came through again.” Because the PEMA and FR-16 are competitively priced, Phillips was able to provide this powerful solution while staying well within budget.