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Audio Technology Transforms Museums

Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley

Integrating sound into modern displays calls for innovative solutions.

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Sound is critical to the Harley-Davidson Museum in downtown Milwaukee. In fact, the motorcycle maker once famously tried—and failed—to secure a copyright on the exhaust sound of its motorcycles. So Communications Electronic Design (CED) of Louisville, Ky., was not surprised when the museum's content design called for 72 channels of audio throughout the 350,000-square-foot facility.

In response, the company created an interface for a Richmond Sound Design AudioBox AB64 audio server that serves as an advanced matrix router, sending any input to any amplifier or loudspeaker destination throughout the facility. It also allows individual control over input and output levels, crossfades, and equalization via an AMX MVP-8400 wireless touchscreen panel. That panel will allow museum management to adjust individual levels and sonics for the first few months after opening as crowds in the museum—a large, open steel-and-concrete space with no shortage of sound reflections, which Harley specifically wanted to create larger-than-life engine sounds—ebb and flow.

"Once they establish the relative levels for various crowd sizes, we can program the presets into the server," says Mandie Clark, CED design engineer on the project.

Since the client didn't require a high degree of isolation, sound reproduction was dictated as much by aesthetics as sonics. JBL Control 126W speakers were used throughout the installation. Paintable cover plates were used when needed to blend into the d├ęcor, such as the bright orange color used in the Engine Room, where visitors can listen to various tunings of that famous throaty roar. An M-Audio BX10 subwoofer was added to that part of the exhibit to enhance low-frequency reproduction.

The Harley-Davidson Museum is a good example of how lack of isolation can be used to make a visit to the museum a shared experience that heightens the effect for visitors. All of these museums reflect the fact that, regardless of how you immerse the patron—as a group or as individuals—audio has become a key component of any exhibit.

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