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Audio Excellence at The Recording Academy

The Grammy Awards celebrate the best in music excellence, so it only makes sense that the event's producers would invest in top-notch audio technology for their new Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters.

CHALLENGE: Design and install a new sound reinforcement system and a conferencing system for a combo boardroom/performance space that meets the discerning standards of The Recording Academy.

SOLUTION: Balance high-quality AV systems with ease of use so staff members and visiting artists can use the space in their own way.

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You can't tell by looking, but this performance space at The Recording Academy's headquarters doubles as the organization's boardroom.

Credit: Courtesy Veneklasen Associates

The Grammy Awards celebrate the best in music excellence, so it only makes sense that the event's producers would invest in top-notch audio technology for their new Santa Monica, Calif., headquarters.

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (also referred to as The Recording Academy) is the epicenter for the Grammy staff. It's also home to year-round activities conducted by The Recording Academy, Grammy Foundation, and MusiCares. When AV design for the new facility began in the summer of 2008, the plan included the usual mix of conference rooms and offices. It also included the unusual: a combination boardroom and performance space used for meetings, VoIP audio conferencing, HD video conferencing–and live performances by guest artists. Ultimately, the design would have to balance the needs of some very different AV users.

The L-shaped combination room opens to an outdoor patio on one side, and is divided by a motorized partition that separates the boardroom space and the performance area on the other side. Tim Whalen, senior director of facilities at The Recording Academy, says the group had a similar combination room in its old headquarters, so they weren't exactly starting from scratch.

"We wanted to keep the access to an open patio, similar to the old space," he explains. "We took out existing windows and put in collapsible glass that can open up to the outdoors."

The boardroom/performance space is also adjacent to a kitchen, as well as the AV rack room. It's open for use by all staff members and includes a 7.1 surround sound listening experience in both configurations. So while it's a high-end AV space, the room's also meant to be enjoyed.

"The old space was limited on AV and had complicated technology. We addressed many of the flaws in the old system in our new design," says Jason

Gottfredson, senior AV designer with Veneklasen Associates in Santa Monica, whose firm provided acoustical, IT, and AV consulting for the new headquarters. "The priority was that the systems be easy to use–so easy that anyone could use it. But the technology also had to be the best quality available."

In the Boardroom

The boardroom configuration of the space measures approximately 50 feet wide and, when combined with the performance space, 55 feet deep. The visible audio equipment in the room reflects a longstanding partnership between Harman brands and The Recording Academy. Two JBL LSR6332 loudspeakers flank the LG Commercial 60-inch 60PG30FC plasma display at one end of the room. Overhead, eight JBL AC28 loudspeakers provide even sound coverage to the boardroom. Additionally, four JBL LSR6312P subwoofers are integrated into the millwork cabinets.

Behind the scenes, a BSS Soundweb London is used for audio signal processing, routing, and switching the presets of each room orientation. The sound system is powered by CobraNet-enabled Crown CTs series amplifiers. "We're dedicated to audio excellence and Harman/JBL has been a great partner for us," says Maureen Droney, senior executive director of the Producers & Engineers Wing, whose group gave input to Whalen about the audio system and how the room should sound.

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At the 30-seat conference table, 10 microphones lower from the ceiling to provide adequate coverage without cluttering the table.

Credit: Courtesy Veneklasen Associates

For presentations requiring a larger image, a Stewart Filmscreen 16:9 ElectriScreen is recessed above the plasma display and The Recording Academy employs portable Digital Projection DVision HD projectors. Video routing is handled by a Crestron QuickMedia system, allowing HD video distribution to all the displays.

The large, 30-seat conference table in the middle of the boardroom is often used for weekly Grammy Award show production meetings, as well as for audio and video conferencing sessions and other general purposes. "In the old boardroom, we had four microphones on 30-foot cords that we passed around the table for audio conferencing sessions," says Whalen, who adds that it made for strange noises and awkward pauses.

In the new boardroom, 10 Shure MX202 wired overhead microphones are attached to SRL-8 lifting reelers by Servoreeler Systems so that they drop down from the ceiling. Gottfredson's microphone design includes adequate coverage for the table without cluttering the tabletop with microphones.

Veneklasen and The Recording Academy chose a LifeSize Room 200 videoconferencing codec and Biamp AudiaFlex audio codec for powering meetings. The AudiaFlex also handles acoustic echo cancellation during audio conferencing.

"Biamp was chosen due to the quality of their AEC products and their VoIP interface card, which the BSS Soundweb did not offer" explains Gottfredson. "Features like acoustic echo cancellation and auto mixing make for a very clear conferencing session. It connects easily to the rest of the audio system via CobraNet, enabling music from the main system to be incorporated into the conferencing system, if needed."

To help with the ease-of-use issues, Veneklasen specified a Crestron TPMC-8X 8.4-inch wireless touch panel for controlling the boardroom AV. The AV consultant designed the graphics and functionality into simple presets for all levels of users. "The macro functions range from a simple task like listening to a CD, to a fully automated preset with lights dimmed and shades drawn for watching a DVD," says Gottfredson. "The goal was to make users unaware of the complexity of the system."

Navigating The HVAC

Getting to the perfect end state took work, though. For example, HVAC ducts and ceiling infrastructure in the main boardroom posed a challenge to Pro Sound and Video, whose Los Angeles office served as the AV integrator on the project.

"The alignment of the Servoreelers needed to be perfect so that each microphone traveled at the same rate of speed and all microphones dropped to equal trim heights," explains Shawn Siqueira, president of Pro Sound's California office. To do so, a laser beam was shot through the microphone hole in each ceiling tile to mark the attachment point for each microphone. Pro Sound also fabricated a custom L-bracket to hold each SRL-8 motor in place.

"HVAC was in our way for four of the 10 microphones, so we had to build a custom straddle under the HVAC to attach each motor," Siqueira says.

Pro Sound also installed 10 JBL Control 47LP ceiling speakers to provide audio at the far end of the room during conferencing sessions. "The HVAC ducting ended up being in the way of all ceiling cans too," Siqueira says, "so we swapped all speakers to the shallow version of the same manufacturer and model series."

The AC28 loudspeakers also took up a bit more real estate in the ceiling infrastructure. "These speakers are hung on U-brackets attached to the hard lid and to the underside of very expensive 48-by-48-inch ceiling tiles," Siqueria explains.

"The ceiling hardware and seismic bracing was challenging due to HVAC and other mechanical obstacles. We had one shot to drop our threaded rod down from the hard lid and then precisely poke it through the ceiling tiles for attachment to the U-bracket."

Ad Hoc Performances

In performance configuration, the space measures approximately 40 feet wide and features a small stage, a grand piano, and intimate seating. "The performance space reflects our organization–the fact that music is important to us," says Droney.

The Recording Academy wanted the basic technology in place so that an artist could come in–with or without an instrument–sit down, and perform. "The performance sound system needed to be very easy to use since we have no in-house engineer," Whalen says.

JBL AC28 loudspeakers anchor the performance sound system, with three Danley Sound Labs TH28 subwoofers installed under the stage. "The stage rise is very short–about 13 inches–and the Danley subwoofers had the sonic qualities we needed and were short enough to fit in that space," explains Gottfredson. The subwoofers' NL4 connectors are on top of the cabinet, so Pro Sound used right-angle connectors to ensure the cables didn't touch the underside of the stage.

Although it was a challenge to design for 7.1 surround sound in an asymmetrical room, Gottfredson says the complexity was worth it after hearing the results. Live performances can also be mixed in 7.1 with the stage microphone inputs and portable Soundcraft GB4-16 mixing console connected via CobraNet to the Soundweb processor. This setup allows for flexibility in placing the mixing console based on the preference of the operator or the room setup.

"The processing required complex programming to achieve the latest standards while maintaining ease of use," Gottfredson says.

Whalen says that he's heard nothing but positive feedback from the very discerning ears at the Recording Academy. "I'm most proud of the versatility of that space," he says.

Gottfredson agrees that the quality of sound is exceptional and credits his use of Bose Modeler and Bose Auditioner to model and listen to the room before it was constructed, not to mention the hours of tuning once the system was installed.

The AV systems for the boardroom and performance space were completed in March 2009. After a few weeks of tweaking, Whalen says that the room regularly hosts weekly production meetings and monthly performances.

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance AV writer and contributing editor to Pro AV.



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