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Audio Network Anchors Community College Install

?the fewer notes it takes to get your idea across, the more elegant the outcome. For the technology systems design and integration at the Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College's Metro Campus in downtown Cleveland, that adage proved its worth on a grand scale.


The Center for the Arts at Cuyahoga Community College includes several networked classrooms that can connect with studios and other resources.

Credit: Recording Arts & Technology at Tri-C

CHALLENGE: Build AV systems that connect economically within a college's arts center but also communicate campuswide and beyond.

SOLUTION: Adopt Aviom's A-Net digital audio networking platform to help ease installation and setup while minimizing cable runs.

Musicians have long abided by the maxim "less is more"– the fewer notes it takes to get your idea across, the more elegant the outcome. For the technology systems design and integration at the Center for Creative Arts at Cuyahoga Community College's Metro Campus in downtown Cleveland, that adage proved its worth on a grand scale as key choices reduced the need for cabling, conduit, and installation, thereby cutting costs significantly.

That's important when the AV/IT technology represents $4.5 million of the center's new $27-million, four-story building. The center includes two full recording studios, five production control rooms, seven advanced audio and video classrooms, dance and theater rehearsal studios, and seven video editing suites. It also features a multipurpose "black box" theater and video production soundstage, and it's designed to connect to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's archives and library, which also are in Cleveland.

Such a big project required a big team. The building was designed by architectural firm Robert P. Madison International to house the college's Recording Arts and Technology and Media Arts and Studies programs. Westlake Reed Leskosky (WRL) was the AV/IT consultant throughout. Walters-Storyk Design Group provided acoustic consulting services and designed the spatial layout for the recording studios and labs, as well as the music ensemble space and control room. Zenith Systems LLC (operating at the time as Doan Pyramid AV Solutions Group) handled the integration and installation.

"[WRL's] role was to translate the goals of the users and interface with the general contractor and audiovisual contractor," says Tommy Wiggins, director of the college's Recording Arts and Technology Program. "As a community college, we had one chance to get it right –really right–and WRL helped make that happen."

The project was completed in August and was ready for use for the 2009 fall semester.

From Anywhere To Anywhere

The central challenge, says Ray Kent, director of WRL's recently launched Innovative Technology Design Group, "was getting audio signals from anywhere to anywhere" throughout the 76,000-square-foot space. That includes allowing someone at a small 24-channel analog Mackie 1402-VLZ-Pro3 mixer at one of the student workstations in a classroom to access signals from the 48-channel Solid State Logic Duality analog console in the main studio control room. The task was made more challenging because WRL was brought into the project six months after construction had begun.

Drawing on WRL's architectural and engineering resources, Kent and his colleagues conducted a peer review of the plans to see how best to design a cabling infrastructure that would address what would be thousands of wire terminations throughout the facility. There would have to be separate conduit for the Redco-supplied microphone, speaker, line-level and power cabling, and each type would have to be separated from other types by specific values, based on WRL's experience with entertainment and educational technology space design. "For instance, you have to have at least 6 inches of separation between mic and speaker cable conduit to avoid 60-cycle noise getting into the signal," Kent explains.

At the same time, the designers were investigating a network-based solution for moving audio around the facility. They considered CobraNet, but Kent says they decided on Aviom's Pro64 network solution. "A combination of the network running on Cat-6 cabling, and movable rack I/O systems that could link any room with any other via the network core in the machine room was the way to go," says Kent.

A combination of point-to-point 50-micron, multi-mode fiber-optic cabling and Cat-6 moves uncompressed audio and video throughout the building via the Pro64 network. Ultimately, the design allows for connectivity throughout the entire campus because it ties into the school's main fiber network.

The Aviom network became the centerpiece of the facility's "less is more" philosophy. The finished network itself wasn't inexpensive, but Kent says other cost savings carried the day. In addition to using only one-tenth the copper cabling and conduit that otherwise would have been necessary in an analog distribution plan, he estimates the combined reductions in cost through fewer man-hours on site, less energy expended on the system installation, and reduced material needs put the overall installation cost 40 percent below a more conventional analog approach.

Nonetheless, there was plenty of cable to go around–417,000 feet of it altogether, according to the center's studio technical manager Mark Baker. Roughly 220,000 feet is dedicated to AV, including various 70- to 100-foot home runs between tracking and control rooms thoughout the facility. And even though much of it remains dark, fiber accounts for a significant amount of the pulled cabling, which will eventually move video around the entire campus when the budget for it is available.

Among the key termination points in the cabling structure are the I/O panels in each classroom and studio space. They represent two levels of I/O complexity devised by the center's staff. Two larger production panels comprise two channels for intercom, AES/EBU send and receive, two channels of line-level tie lines, HD-SDI video send and receive, SMPTE send and receive, two fiber-optic tie lines, six Cat-6 tie lines, and two RJ-45 phone lines. The smaller production panels have a single channel of intercom, two channels of line-level tie line, HD-SDI video send and receive, SMPTE send and receive, and three Cat-6 tie lines.

The panels were a key element in the design, says Baker, because they allowed the Aviom system to be scaled back slightly, thus helping the project stay close to budget. "There could have been as many as five [Aviom] racks in each room," he says. "Having the right connections via the panels in each room allowed us to scale that back and put the Aviom gear onto rolling racks, which is a more effective use of the equipment. Now we bring it where it's needed when it's needed, instead of it being static."

Mixing It Up

Brian Yates, project supervisor for Zenith, is only half-kidding when he says he feared the company's staffers were in danger of lead poisoning from the amount of soldering they had to do, though the integrator did use more expensive low-lead and no-lead solder in many cases.

"There were thousands of man-hours of making connections," he says. In some cases the integration division borrowed manpower from the parent company's security installation division.

The largest of the three main classrooms at the center has 18 student workstations with a 14- or 16-channel Mackie 1604VLZ mixer, headphones, and talkback microphone. A second classroom has 16 stations with Avid C24 workstations, and the third has a dozen Avid Command 8 workstations. Students at their workstations can watch instructors and the content from the Panasonic TH-42PH11UK monitor via a Sony EVI-D70 PTZ camera mounted above the console.

All classrooms are fitted with Avid Pro Tools systems and Digidesign 003 rack systems, and have the ability to connect to the instructor's station and to various studios at the facility. Yates estimates that the larger classroom easily consumed around 30,000 feet of cabling.

The Network: "Simplifying IT For AV"

In the end, the Aviom Pro64 digital audio network achieved Kent's goal of connecting any room to any other room, routing 192 channels of microphone and line audio around the facility with low levels of latency–a critical performance factor for music and sound for picture. The system also distributes 16 channels of SMPTE time code.

"We treated SMPTE the same as line-level," says Jeff Lange, Aviom's applications support manager, who worked closely with the contractors and the center's leadership on the project. The network is also used to distribute the studios' cue monitoring systems throughout the facility.


AV consultant Westlake Reed Leskosky specified Aviom Pro64 networking solutions to connect any room on campus to any other room.

Credit: Kevin G. Reeves

Students can now monitor what's going on in other rooms because Aviom's A-16II personal cue mixing systems are integrated seamlessly into the Pro 64 network. The A-16II is part of Aviom's Pro16 A-Net streaming network system, originally developed to support its personal mixers on their own network. At the center, the 44.1/48kH A-16II mixers link with the Pro64 network, which operates at a higher sample rate (up to 192 kHz) via an Aviom ASI interface, which has four 16-channel Pro16 A-Net outputs and two Pro64 A-Net network inputs.

Lange says that the network significantly reduced the need for cabling while enhancing the flexibility of the entire signal path. "Rather than point-to-point, this system is point-to-everywhere,'" he says. "It's simplifying IT for the AV guys."

Kent agrees. "This system allows for high-quality uncompressed digital audio, SMPTE, and [word] clock to be distributed throughout the building over a Cat-6 network, drastically reducing the amount of conduit and cable a traditional analog distribution systems would have entailed," he says.

Moreover, the system's ability to autolocate devices on the network was also a big factor in getting the project finished on time and close to budget. "This system saved a significant amount of labor hours to install and required less time to set up and program because the Pro64 system self-configures," Kent explains. "IP addressing is out the window."

The center's directors plan to extend its reach throughout the community college's two other campuses using an extensive fiber network that was installed in recent years by Verizon. This will enable its theater and other media arts programs to tap into the network and the facility's audio recording and mixing capabilities.

"Cleveland is one of the best fiber-linked cities in the country," says Wiggins. "We now have a facility that can take us and the students well into the future." Baker agrees and adds, "This is the way the industry is headed–towards a convergence of AV and IT. It's all about the network."

Dan Daley is freelance AV writer and frequent contributor based in Nashville, Tenn.


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