Olin Business School at Washington University

The Olin Business School at Washington University in St Louis was among the first US business schools. Its Knight and Bauer Halls (opened in 2014) offer large tiered and flat classrooms and converging on the Frick Forum, a three-storey glass atrium that hosts town-hall meetings, speakers and other events. Videos, sport events broadcasts and other programming plays on a 16ft rear-screen video system on the first floor. Except for video soundtracks, the accompanying sound system primarily reinforces speech.

Supplying audio to the first two floors was challenging, however, because of the architecture.

The ceiling-mounted point-source loudspeakers that were initially installed were inadequate: ‘The coverage was okay but the installers were forced to place the speakers behind the mic line, so they had problems with gain before feedback,’ says design engineer Tom Blake of systems integrator AVI Systems. ‘The way the ceiling was cut out for the atrium, there were very few good options, but point-source speakers weren’t the right choice.’

Olin Business School at Washington UniversityThanks to its long history of successful projects at Washington University, AVI Systems was chosen to design and build a new speaker system for the Frick Forum. In place of the point-source speakers, Blake specified a pair of Renkus-Heinz IC8-RN digitally steered arrays. ‘This was our third project with Iconyx speakers, and we had great results in the other two,’ Blake says.

‘We used Iconyx loudspeakers in the auditorium in the same building four years ago, when the building went up. The key is that the capabilities of this speaker fit the application.’ Since the main purpose was speech reinforcement, and the IC8-RN’s range extends down to 120Hz, subwoofers weren’t required.

Taking advantage of Renkus-Heinz’ digital beam-steering technology, the AVI Systems team was able to place the IC8-RNs in front of the mic line, ensuring the desired gain before feedback. ‘There are two coverage areas – the steps from the first floor up to the second floor, and the entire second floor that circles the steps,’ Blake explains. ‘We mounted the IC8-RNs left and right on the pillars of the second floor and split-aimed the beams to hit the steps of the first floor and the floor area of the second floor.’

Each IC8-RN generates up to four steerable beams with multiple acoustic beam centres and beam control down to 800Hz. Blake aimed the beams to precisely cover the steps and second floor while minimizing reflections off of the atrium’s extensive glass and other hard surfaces. The speakers’ 150° horizontal dispersion up to 3kHz (120° above 3kHz) enabled the system to fully cover the broad stairs.

A BSS Soundweb London Blu-806DA DSP manages the system, which also includes four Shure wireless mics and a Shure podium mic. ‘We’re going Dante into the BSS,’ Blake says. ‘But I ran analogue to the IC8-RNs, rather than Dante, because we also did 11 classrooms with full A/V control, and I didn’t have room to put the speakers on the network.’ Two password-protected AMX touch panels enable authorised staff to control the Renkus-Heinz system.

‘This project was mostly about coverage and gain before feedback,’ Blake summarises. ‘The Renkus-Heinz IC8-RNs accomplished both. The sound is clear and intelligible, and the only dead spots are directly behind the IC8-RNs on the second floor, which is entirely acceptable. The Renkus-Heinz speakers worked out perfectly, and the university is very happy.’

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