January 02, 2013, by PSW Staff
Already one of the largest facilities of its kind, Raleigh’s Museum of Natural Sciences recently completed work on an impressive new addition: the 80,000 square foot Nature Research Center (NRC).
Featuring state-of-the-art labs, research opportunities, and numerous interactive exhibits, the crown jewel of the new NRC wing is surely the SECU Daily Planet, an intensely immersive, three-story multimedia space that engages visitors with a flurry of sight and sound, while offering a powerful message about the wonders of science in our daily lives.
With its unique ellipsoidal shape and vantage points from a main level and two balconies, delivering audio consistently to all three levels presented numerous obstacles. Rising to the challenge were AV integrators Electrosonic, in partnership with Milford, CT-based SH Acoustics, who created a system centered around Renkus-Heinz’s Iconyx series steerable column arrays.
Designed to facilitate both pre-recorded and live content, the Daily Planet’s three-story visual display runs continually-projecting a variety of content to excite the senses. A small stage at ground level also allows for occasional live presentations.
The entire Daily Planet exhibit resides in a large, dome-shaped room with two balcony levels extending seven feet into its center. The three-level design allows visitors to choose from three unique vantage points as they take in any of up to 50 presentations that run throughout the day.
“Unlike similar spaces - for example, an Omnimax Theater - the Daily Planet needed to accommodate a variety of different formats, including lectures and live performances,” explained Steve Haas, Founder and President of SH Acoustics. “The room’s unique design and its numerous reflective elements created some unique challenges right from the beginning. We knew we couldn’t simply apply tons of sound-absorptive materials because deadening the room too much wouldn’t work well for lectures.”
As Haas observes, the Iconyx steerable beam technology would allow them to more effectively direct the output and avoid unwanted reflections, while at the same time addressing the unique acoustic requirements at all three levels.
“We decided very early that we wanted to create three different audio experiences on each of the three levels,” explained Haas. “In addition, each level needed to be surround sound, and most importantly, needed to ensure minimal interaction between adjacent levels and the rest of the room. This is where the Iconyx system was a no-brainer.”
The complete Renkus-Heinz loudspeaker complement includes eight Iconyx IC8-R-II steerable arrays for mains, augmented by ten SG61-2R powered two-way systems for surround, with three PN112SUB 12-inch powered subwoofers providing powerful low-end reinforcement.
Haas elaborates, “The first and second levels each include left, center, and right, as well as four surrounds. On the third level the dome is much tighter, so we opted for just left and right with two surrounds. For low frequencies, we placed all three subwoofers on the second level. There simply wasn’t enough room for discreet subs on each level, so we configured each one as the point sources for the adjacent levels, and delayed the LF signal appropriately from the first level, second level and third level. It actually worked quite well.”
Once installed, Haas and his team were able to take full advantage of the Iconyx system’s beam steering capabilities to dial in the perfect output at the ground floor and both balconies.
“We needed to make sure that we had a very tight pattern-at least vertically-so that the experiences at each level did not interact with each other in any appreciable way.” Haas explains. “We were able to get the second and third levels sounding fantastic with little difficulty. The first level was a bit more challenging, but the Iconyx beam steering, combined, with the careful addition of diffusion materials, made all the difference.”
After the system was configured, Haas worked with the museum production staff to save a number of unique output presets that could be easily retrieved to accommodate different program types.
“There are several different modes including a presentation mode and a media mode,” says Haas. “We even gave the producers the opportunity to have a secondary beam from some of the upper arrays-like from the second level down to the first level-in case they wanted a spot effect or some other secondary sound source.”
In the end the results speak for themselves. The new NRC wing and Daily Planet exhibits are big hits with museum attendees and management alike. And for Haas, this is yet another seemingly impossible acoustic challenge conquered through a synergy of great technology, real-world know how and savvy partnerships.
Haas sums it up: “We like challenges, and we have a very long history of working successfully with Electrosonic on unique projects like this. We absolutely love coming up with unique solutions, and as a technology partner, Renkus-Heinz has always been there with fantastic tools. They’re just great to work with.”