Story by Christopher Holder and originally featured in AV Asia Pacific Magazine September 2019.
Monash University’s Faculty of Medicine had its labs strewn across the campus and the consolidation plan started years ago.
The brand new BioLab building on the Clayton campus opened for business at the start of this academic year and it’s a doozy. Five floors of labs. Each floor can accommodate 240 students. Each floor can be divvied up into four zones.
“Some 12 different groups teach in here — pathology, histology, anatomy etc — and they all have different requirements,” explains Peter MacLean, Audio Design Manager & Lead Architect at the university. “The idea was to build a lab system that allowed us to share facilities among different groups and to meet all their requirements but also allow the flexibility of different groups using it at different times and different class sizes. There are five floors of labs: 240 students each that can be broken down into four zones of 60 students each; and can then be linked as a single 240-student teach space, two 120s, or four groups of 60 groups… at the press of a button.”
Of course, as lead architect and designer of the BioLab’s AV systems, what Peter is describing is precisely the aim and challenge confronting any superlab designer. The measure of success is largely down to how connected the students feel with the lecturer and the content. It’s a significant challenge regardless of whether you have one lecturer teaching 240 first-year students how to use their Leica microscopes, or if you have four distinct senior-student groups all slicing up a different part of a cadaver.
It’s something Peter and the academic staff discussed at length in the years of workshopping the best possible solution:
“Ultimately it’s about the audio,” concludes Peter MacLean. “It’s about speech intelligibility and connection with the academic. It’s about allowing the students to feel there’s a one-on-one relationship, even if there are 240 students in the room.”
AV designers have grappled with the audio zoning issue for years. Some have used headsets, where students dial in the relevant lecturer — great for museum tour guides, not so great for the students’ esprit de corps. Others have dabbled with highly directional ‘sound shower’-style loudspeakers which provide unbelievably good directionality but do so at the expense of a full frequency response. Still others have adopted an in-ceiling speakers over each table, but often suffer from an unacceptable amount of spill between zones in what’s unavoidably a highly reverberant (linoleum and steel) teaching environment — resulting in reduced speech intelligibility.
As for Peter MacLean? He buzzed EAW. Internationally, Monash Uni is EAW’s largest university customer, so the loudspeaker manufacturer and PAVT (the long-time Australian distributor) were quick to respond.
Peter described what he required: a loudspeaker that could provide students with a ‘nearfield’ audio experience regardless of where they were in the lab.
“EAW had an ideal speaker in the LS432,” recalls Peter MacLean. “It’s somewhat like a baby line array, featuring very tight control in one axis that allows us to offer very high intelligibility and very high connectivity with the lecturer – much higher than normal in-ceiling speakers – and their directivity help to isolate the sound between the adjacent zones.”
The passive EAW LS432i two-way enclosure features two four-inch drivers either side of a HF array of three one-inch soft-dome tweeters. The system maintains a well behaved nominal vertical coverage pattern of 20° to below 1000Hz.
“The LS432 has two major advantages over an in-ceiling speaker or museum-type speaker,” explains Peter. “It’s a much higher quality loudspeaker – it sounds amazing. The other key advantage is you’re only hearing the LS432 nearest to you, rather than the next row of in-ceiling speakers. This provides a far more intimate, nearfield experience for our students and improves that all-important speech intelligibility.”
Rutledge AV’s Project Manager, Nick Ryder, elaborates: “Ultimately, the EAW LS432i speakers were chosen due to their superior clarity and very tight angle of disbursement. This was following extensive EASE-modelling by the consulting engineers; and mock-ups and post-installation validation by Rutledge AV. Four speakers were recessed above each lab table and were fully zone-controllable. In total around 450 speakers were installed.”
The acoustics of the BioLabs play a role. Marshall Day did its level best to tame the otherwise hostile acoustic environment, rich in hard, shiny surfaces. The ceiling is replete with absorbent material and assists greatly, while the noise from the services has been kept to a minimum.
PAVT’s Technical Support Manager and Smaart black-belt, Ben Clarke, tuned the system.
“PAVT has always provided great service,” enthuses Peter MacLean. “And being one of EAW’s largest clients doesn’t do any harm! Ben Clarke went the extra mile.”
“Audio throughout the facility is supported by Powersoft Quattrocanali 1204-DSP-Dante amplifiers,” continued Rutledge AV’s Nick Ryder. “Maximising the system’s efficiency and reliability by implementing the EAW Greybox presets, which correct phase and magnitude response as well as system limiting and protection.”
Peter MacLean, Audiovisual Desigin Manager & Lead Architect: “Over the years I’ve learned that technology on its own is one thing but working with the suppliers and the manufacturers can really add an extra benefit to what you’re trying to achieve because they understand what our philosophy is and we have a shared history — you develop that relationship and they give you that extra support.
“My relationship with EAW goes back to 1995 when I bought the second EAW system in Australia for a large church. I EAW because they provided excellent sound quality but also because of the high speech intelligibility — much better than the other models at the time. I’ve subsequently used lots of different brands and models but as a university we have established a lasting partnership because EAW delivers a wide range of models that exactly suit our requirements.
“EAW provides great support and PAVT is particularly supportive in what we’re doing. PAVT provides not just sales support but technical support – helping us design our systems, design our EQ and our DSP standards. This way we can roll out systems — Rutledge AV as the integrator can drop in the files prepared by our AV engineers and we get predictable and exceptional results.”