When the Wisconsin State Capitol was looking to upgrade their audio system, they turned to Wauwatosa, Wisconsin-based integrator Professional Audio Designs Inc. to design and install the system.
Scott Leonard, Vice President of Professional Audio Designs, has installed 141 Earthworks microphones in the Wisconsin Legislature in Madison, WI. “There are 33 FM500 microphones in the State Senate Chambers, 27 FM500s in the Joint Finance Committee room, 27 FM500s in the Senate Hearing room, in addition to 52 custom designed handhelds and 2 FM500s in the State Assembly Chambers. At this point every wired microphone in the entire Wisconsin State Capitol is Earthworks.”
Leonard largely attributes the improvements in the State of Wisconsin Capitol sound systems to Earthworks microphones. “I can tell you that the Earthworks microphones are the key to the success of all of the State of Wisconsin Capitol sound systems. When we upgraded the assembly to the Earthworks custom handheld microphones and re-tuned the sound system, to me the sound system just came alive. It sounded so much better. Just changing the microphones made such a huge difference in that system and the State of Wisconsin people were very pleased with it.”
Back when the project began in 2012, Leonard approached Earthworks with design requirements for a custom microphone solution. “For the State Assembly room, we had Earthworks make us 52 custom designed handheld microphones with low handling noise. The State Assembly was used to having handheld microphones on big goosenecks. However, we wanted something that worked better and had a smaller profile than a standard handheld microphone. We talked with Earthworks and asked them to make a smaller profile lightweight handheld microphone. These custom mics had no gooseneck with a small coiled cord mic cable, as sometimes the state assembly members want to take a mic out of a stand and hold it so they can turn it around and face toward the other members as they stand at their desk.”
Following the State Assembly Chambers installation, Leonard selected the Earthworks FM500 for the remaining rooms. Leonard explains how the FM500 plays a critical role in capturing speakers who tend to move around in front of the microphone. “The first time I used an FM500 I was really blown away with how good the off-axis frequency was. Generally what people do is use a gooseneck that is too long to get the mic closer to the person speaking in an effort to increase gain before acoustic feedback. Then they have “P” popping problems, or the person is too tall or too short and they don’t adjust the gooseneck before speaking. In addition, they are usually speaking off-axis. Many cardioid microphones do not have a linear off-axis frequency response, and their cardioid polar pattern is also extremely non-linear. So when you talk into the side of the microphone and turn up the gain, it is not going to sound as natural. What I like about the Earthworks microphones is that the off-axis response is very linear and natural.”
In his experience working with State Capitols on new sound systems, Leonard has found that they tend to go through a number of sound systems until they find something that works for them. “We at Professional Audio Designs used some ideas and concepts that we already had in our virtual electronic acoustics work utilizing complex delays, localization of voices, and system optimization knowledge in order to provide excellent sounding sound systems in very poor acoustic environments. The older State legislatures are made with a lot of marble and are sometimes circular rooms, which can be very difficult acoustical spaces.”
Using QSC’s Q-SYS for digital signal processing, Leonard designed a custom system for the Capitol. “In the State Senate Chambers we have 1,200 delay settings, and in the State Assembly room there are over 3,000 delay settings, so every microphone is delayed to every speaker simultaneously in a delay matrix. Even though we install high-end performing arts centers all over the country, I still think the systems in the Wisconsin Capitol are the finest systems we have ever installed, due to the way they operate in the environment. No matter who is speaking it all sounds like the sound is coming from the person who stands up and talks. When the members stand to speak they are pretty far away from the microphone, and because the sound system is very linear in frequency response and the Earthworks microphones are also very linear in frequency response, especially off-axis, it sounds very natural. The exceptional Earthworks cardioid pattern is a vital part of this equation. Even if the members don’t point the FM500s directly in front of their mouth and speak off to the side it still will sound very natural. So, they can get up and talk and not even have to worry about being picked up by the mic. The system really works superbly.”
Leonard offers his final thoughts on the Wisconsin State Capitol installation: “When using the Earthworks microphones, you can really hear the difference. The microphone plays a huge part in the sound systems, so when you have better speakers with improved coverage and modern DSP advantages in these types of systems, the microphone really makes a difference.”