Blackburn College Upgrades Bothwell Auditorium with Best in Class DSP Amplification from Powersoft

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Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems Completes Comprehensive Systems Implementation of 700 Seat Theater, a Choir Room and Smart Classrooms, as Enrollment Increases by 45 Percent

Recently, Blackburn College overhauled its entire A/V infrastructure with audio technology from Powersoft, enabling enrolled students to unleash their creativity using the same world-class technology

Powersoft's DSP has been a homerun for me every time. I have not gone into a place that I wasn't able to take care of and get it handled right.

Located in Southwestern Illinois just outside of St. Louis, Blackburn College is one of the oldest educational institutions in Illinois, providing a liberal arts education to students since 1837. With an enrollment just under 600, Blackburn College is one of only seven federally recognized work colleges in the United States, and has a particularly strong theater and performing arts programs. Recently, the college overhauled its entire A/V infrastructure with audio technology from Powersoft, enabling enrolled students to unleash their creativity using the same world-class technology they are bound to encounter in the real world.

The upgrade, which was completed by Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems (http://www.advaudio.com) of Peoria, IL, took place between July and September of 2014 over three main phases, which included a 700 seat Bothwell Auditorium, a choir room and several Smart Classrooms. The massive installation, which provides the Performing Arts department with the very latest in A/V functionality, coincided with a 45 percent enrollment increase at the college.

Blackburn College's performance cornerstone, Bothwell Auditorium, was originally built in the 1960s. The college uses the auditorium for multiple purposes — whether it is a rock concert or a visiting politician. The recent A/V work coincided with a revamp of the entire facility, including upgrading the audio system to a world-class level — capable of significantly greater intelligibility and DSP functionality thanks to Powersoft amplification.

"The existing system’s lack of intelligibility was a major hindrance to the PAC, and the front loaded boxes were just putting energy everywhere," recalls Ryan Winstead, Sales & Design Consultant of Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems. To remedy the situation, Winstead's team installed a PowerSoft M50Q HDSP & two Powersoft Duecanali 5204 DSP amplifiers, which drove a brand new left-right speaker array consisting of Danley SH 46s, SM60’s & TH115 subwoofers on each side. "Choosing Synergy Horn loudspeakers that achieve this degree of pattern control enabled me to use fewer amplifier channels than with a line array solution. We decided to employ a main stereo hang, supplemented by stereo down-fills & subwoofers. The powerful DSP of the Powersoft amplifiers made aligning & tuning the audio system a breeze. Everyone who’s mixed on it agrees, the rig sounds outstanding."

Stabilizing with Armonia and Powersoft DSP
"The intelligibility in the theater was inadequate, and the front loaded boxes were just putting energy everywhere," Ryan Winstead, Sales & Design Consultant of Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems explains. To remedy the situation, Winstead's team installed two Powersoft Duecanali 5204 DSP amplifiers, which drove the subwoofers and main mid highs in a left-right speaker array consisting of Danley SH 46s on each side. For the downfills, Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems relied on a single Powersoft M50Q four-channel amplifier, utilizing two channels for the downfills and the other two to drive monitor mixes. "Having point source boxes that shoot in the same pattern of the line array enabled me to use fewer amplifier channels. We decided to do left, right and main throw boxes."

This solution put every member of the 700-person audience into the same stereo field, covered by two main throw boxes, two subwoofers below that, and two downfall boxes — creating a 100 degree coaxial coverage pattern. With the Powersoft Duecanalis driving the loudspeakers, Advanced Audio & Lighting Systems was able to increase the overall fidelity and efficiency of the system. In particular, Winstead was pleased with the DSP: "I am able to insert a lot more filters than in another system, and still achieve my goals," he explains. "If I have a problem with the room — a node or a reflection for example — the DSP can be a lifesaver. And Powersoft's DSP has been a homerun for me every time. I have not gone into a place that I wasn't able to take care of and get it handled right."

Making a tough job easy with Armonia
Powersoft's Armonia software — and its ability to control a wealth of parameters over IP — was an important consideration in vetting the amplifiers against the competition. "We used Armonia to control the DSP," Winstead says. "We wrote some initial modules and loaded them into the software before we got to the site. Once we arrived, we fired up the software, got it connected and were able to tune the entire room in less than two hours, getting no less than 16 wireless headsets stable. And this was a room where we couldn't even get a single microphone stable prior to this."

Aside from the DSP capabilities, the sheer muscle of the Powersoft amplifiers made them an easy choice: "Powersoft's specifications are not inflated — I know what they print, they will deliver and this is not necessarily true with other manufacturers," says Winstead. "Not knowing where we are going to be with electricity is one of the factors that drove me towards Powersoft. Anytime you have a power issue where you know you might be a little light on electricity, the Powersoft units will handle this really well." Winstead states that the entire PA is now running off of just 80 amps, including monitors. "We have so much headroom, and we are in really good shape," he says.

In addition to the obvious power and efficiency benefits, there were also space efficiencies that became apparent during the installation phase: "In the backstage area, where the amplifiers are housed, there is a very limited amount of space," Winstead says. "I had to get the rack up off the floor in a swinging rack location. I had one little place where I could place an 18-space rack, and many of these spaces are already consumed with other gear."

Rich audio detail coming to life
Soon after the installation was complete, the installation team tested the audio by playing a segment from David Attenborough's BBC Life on the new 28-foot wide screen that had been installed. "It was this scene where a shark was eating a seal in slow motion," recalls Winstead. "There were these massive tympanies and thunderous low frequency rolls. There were audible gasps from the audience in the room and the theater director was very moved because it sounded so great. They were absolutely blown away."

The duration of the entire installation lasted from May of 2014 through September 2014 and was finished just in time for the new school term. "Everyone is really happy and their enrollment has gone up as well," concludes Winstead. "I have been back for a couple of training sessions and everyone says it's great. They have audio designers in for different theatrical shows, and they have all been impressed."

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Jeff Touzeau
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