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Meyer Sound System Best in Class at U of Washington
When the Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media ("DXARTS") at the University of Washington set out to upgrade its concert sound capabilities, technical coordinator Chad Kirby faced a tough assignment. The system's requirements were defined by two professors — Richard Karpen and Juan Pampin — who are both composers and researchers in computer music, and thus knew not only how they wanted the system to sound but also what specifications were needed to achieve that performance. In addition, the system had to be portable, easy to fly, and extremely consistent from cabinet to cabinet. Kirby did his homework, finding several options for the three of them to evaluate. When the grading was done, Meyer Sound was at the head of the class.
DXARTS's new Meyer Sound system is used primarily for computer music and experimental video concerts, as well as art installations. "These events," says Pampin, "present digital sound works, mostly created for multi-channel or surround sound configurations, which may also include amplified acoustic instruments. Other applications of the system include research in areas such as 3D sound reproduction — 'ambisonics' — and orchestral sound diffusion, meaning speaker arrays."
The number one priority for the new system, Kirby says, was that it faithfully reproduce the music. "It had to convey all of the detail and depth present in the computer music we play at our concerts and events. So we effectively needed musical instruments, not just PA loudspeakers." At the same time, because of the focus on multi-channel applications, Kirby says DXARTS needed a large number of identical transducers that they could space evenly around and above the audience.
As Pampin explains it, consistency is so crucial because in ambisonic applications all of the speakers, aligned in phase, work together to create the sound field. "So each speaker must have identical, smooth frequency response and broad dispersion, both horizontal and vertical, which is crucial for 3D sound reproduction." The technical specifications with which he and Karpen were most concerned included a uniform dispersion pattern across mid-to-high frequencies, low total harmonic distortion, and flat frequency response.
At the same time, weight and size were important issues, because the system was not intended for permanent installation but rather had to be portable to travel between several on-campus venues: the 1200-seat Meany Hall; the dry, rectangular Meany Studio Theater; and Brechemin Auditorium, a small recital hall. "These spaces range from very large to intimate," Pampin says, "so the system had to scale gracefully from small to large, loud to soft. And it had to be simple to set up in each hall by a few graduate students in just a couple of hours, as well as compact enough that we can store it easily when it's not in use."
The solution — a Meyer Sound system composed of 16 UPM-1P ultra-compact wide coverage loudspeakers and eight UMS-1P ultra-compact subwoofers — was ultimately selected after the evaluation of several candidates, including custom-designed and commercially available systems. Pampin says that "Meyer's UPM-1P and UMS-1P speakers met all of our needs very well," adding that the choice was clinched by a very professional on-site demo by local Meyer Sound dealer Dan Mortensen.
Pampin is particularly impressed with the performance of the compact loudspeakers in the largest of the DXARTS venues. "The shape, seating configuration, and materials of Meany Hall make it a challenging environment for surround sound," he says. "But our system responds quite well to this challenge, mainly by the use of many well-distributed and calibrated mid-level sources around the auditorium. Also, the light weight and small size of the UPM-1Ps make it very easy to rig the elevated part of the 3D sound setup."
Kirby, meanwhile, says there have been no problems with system set up and performance, and that the Meyer system provides "fidelity that was unmatched by the other systems. Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive."