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High-tech Entertainment Meets Higher Education

Feb 15, 2007 5:43 PM, By Ben Stowe, system designer for NorthernLightFX

State-of-the-art sound and lighting system installed at North Dakota State College of Science facility.

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When the North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton, N.D., wanted to provide safe, on-campus entertainment and recreation for its 2,500 students, officials decided to convert an abandoned student center into a multi-function, high-tech facility that could be used for a variety of functions, including a study area, presentations, live bands, karaoke, and a nightclub area for on-campus dance events. For the facility, the college needed a powerful and quality sound system, and a gripping, versatile lightshow.

The system was designed and installed by NorthernLightFX of Bemdji, Minn., in cooperation with local technology contractor Mobile EFX. NorthernLightFX specializes in professional sound, lighting, and video systems and components, and designs and installs systems worldwide.

Planning the system design and installation began in the spring of 2006. Altogether, it was a project that involved five staff from NorthernLightFX—one system designer and four installers, as well as cooperative assistance from Mobile EFX.

The Challenge

There were many requirements the system had to meet, ranging from its versatility to the unique circumstances of its college location.

All the equipment needed to be versatile enough to facilitate the very different intended uses of the facility. Obviously, it needed to sound great and be visually appealing, but it was also going to be used by inexperienced college operators. Therefore, the system had to be nearly bulletproof and very easy to use, and completely secure when not in use. Like most schools, the college was on a tight budget, so avoiding costly repairs in the future was also a key concern.


The sound system for the student center consists of Community Professional Tandem Drive loudspeakers, which provide powerful output in a small box. There are two main loudspeakers and a horn inside each cabinet. They’re configured in a way that makes the box much smaller than a typical loudspeaker would be, so you get the output and the effort of those loudspeakers in a small, lightweight, and easy-to-fly box.

All amplification is provided by QSC, which has extraordinary track record for quality and reliability. Loudspeakers and amps can frequently be your weak link. For example, if a loudspeaker fails or is blown, it can be very difficult for somebody who is not a technician to go service that loudspeaker. The same is true for the amplifier. If your amplifier is failing, it can take out your loudspeakers, or even damage them. With the college on a tight budget, it was important to have quality components to avoid service costs or replacing components.

For the lighting system, Chauvet lighting systems were chosen specifically for their reliability, as well. The system includes six Chauvet Q-Spot 150s, four Chauvet Q-Roll 150s, four Chauvet DMX-750 strobes, four Chauvet 48in. blacklights, and four Chauvet TFX-1550CM color mixing stage washes. The lighting system is controlled by a Chauvet ShowXpress computer-based DMX system.

A DBX ZonePro signal processor provides the ease-of-operation and versatility the college required. The DBX ZonePro allows settings to be pre-programmed and recalled by simply turning a selector switch on a wall plate that triggers the preset scenes.

The signal processor provides the versatility for the system to do the job of four different systems with a quick, simple changeover between scenes. The campus could not afford to install four different systems, and it’s not really practical to do so. In addition, the most inexperienced user can easily turn the rotary selector from DJ to study hall. The programming that we’ve done does the rest.”

System Protection

To protect the sound and lighting system equipment and ensure the best performance, NorthernLightFX chose 20-amp PL-8 PRO II power conditioners from Furman Sound.

Combined with Furman’s ASD-120, the PL-8 PRO II conditioners allow for sequenced power conditioning both in the secure room where the amplifiers and signal processor are stored, as well as powering the DJ booth.

In addition to protection against surges and spikes, another important feature of the power conditioners is filtering, which is critical as it keeps sensitive electronic equipment performing optimally and eliminates AC noise. Noise affects virtually every element involved in a high-end audio or visual environment, and it ends up masking much of the detail needed for the best possible sound definition and resolution.

The facility is beneath the campus cafeteria, so there are a great many refrigerators and industrial motors on the power grid. These motors can produce transients and AC line noise, so filtering was key in keeping the system performing at an optimal level.


Security is also paramount on a college campus with a system drawing over 240 amps of power. Any college student would want to have a stereo that cranks out nearly 20,000 watts, so the system is activated by the Furman RS-1 keyed switch, allowing only authorized users to turn it on.

I can’t say enough about the keyed security of a system that draws more than 200 amps of power. This is clearly not a system you want unauthorized people to have access to, and the keyed activation of the power distribution simplifies and protects the entire process. One key turns on both the racks that are safely secured in an electrical room, and also turns on the power in the DJ/control booth.


The installation was completed in August of 2006, and the student center held the first official dance in the nightclub later that month. The system has received rave reviews from faculty and staff at the college since then—both for its powerful and crystal-clear sound, and for its ease of use.

The client is very pleased with the system, and so are we. I think the quality of the workmanship is as good as anything we have ever done. Combined with an excellent selection of reliable, high-performance components, this is a system we are very proud of.

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