Sennheiser and K-array Create State of the Art, Immersive Sound Experience at Hunt Library, NC State’s Pioneering ‘Library of the Future’
Premium Sound Plays Foundational Role in 220,000 Square Foot, $115 Million Learning Facility, Which Serves as ‘Technology Incubator’ For Students and Faculty
NC State is known around the world as a preeminent technology and research university, preparing thousands of students each year for the most demanding and creative high-tech careers on the planet. The University recently opened its pioneering, state of the art new learning facility and technology incubator, James B. Hunt Jr. Library. The new facility, which features audio solutions from Sennheiser and K-array, provides students and faculty with unmatched visualization, computing and collaboration technologies for advanced, next generation applications in engineering, computer science, textiles, design, and other disciplines.
Located on the University’s Centennial Campus and designed by renowned international architectural firm Snøhetta, the Hunt Library is meant to be a ‘technology sandbox’ — a place where innovative ideas can flourish and collaborative dialog can be exchanged without restriction. During the design phase of the facility, Sennheiser became an official ‘Powered By’ partner.
“We had to find the right technology partners that could fit into our vision,” says Maurice York, Head, Information Technology NCSU Libraries, NC State University. “The Hunt Library is an impressive building, designed by one of the best architecture firms in the world,” says York. “So performance and form factor were very important considerations for us all the way through. We wanted to create a sound environment that brought this incredible visual environment to life, so visitors would have that ‘WOW’ experience.”
Scott Frey of Pittsburgh-based The Sextant Group handled the A/V design and supervised equipment specification for the entire project, and the installation was handled by Tampa, FL-based integrator AVI-SPL, a company that was chosen for their knowledge in complex A/V installations: “AVI-SPL have a quality team in the field and were one of only a few companies that could fill the requirements of the project,” says Frey. “We were very confident working alongside them from the very beginning.”
The library, which is comprised of more than 220,000 square feet, had several dedicated spaces featuring large-scale visualization, interactive displays, 3D motion technologies and other visual elements that would be complemented by highly specialized audio componentry from Sennheiser and K-array. “Audio quality is always the first thing I consider, and then aesthetics follow closely behind,” says Frey, who identified K-array as a suitable solution following a visit to the K-array demo room at the InfoComm trade show in 2011. “The video componentry was the highest quality on the market, so I wanted to match this with the highest possible audio quality.”
Frey thought the K-array system would be perfect for the Library’s Game Lab — not only because of their sound, but because of their small footprint. “I had maybe 6” to work with for each speaker, and had to ensure the sound was paramount,” Frey recalls. “Those 2” linear drivers on the KK102 really sold me — a traditional loudspeaker would have been twice that size.”
After setting up a K-array surround system in the Game Lab, Frey was so pleased that he specified them for other environments within the Library as well, in addition to head-phones and wireless equipment from Sennheiser. Sennheiser’s Eric Reese facilitated demonstrations in several rooms that were still under construction at the time, including what would eventually become the Auditorium. “Even though we knew the acoustical properties of the rooms would change, it was important for us to be inside the building and inside those spaces,” York explains. “After we set up a 5.1 system in the Game Lab, we then went down to the Auditorium and auditioned several different types of music. The performance of the system just blew us away.”
There were five primary A/V environments the team focused on for the initial installation: the Game Lab, the Teaching and Visualization Lab, the Creativity Studio and the Audito-rium. Each space had a completely different technology focus and design program.
The Immersion Theater
Located on the main level of the library and just 40’ inside of the main entrance, the Immersion Theater serves as a presentation space for faculty to show off their research, and a space for students to discuss and review their projects. It features a 20’ curved micro-tile display wall as well as an intelligent but powerful sound system from K-array. “We originally thought of limiting the audio requirements to just voice reproduction, but after discussion we realized we needed a much richer sound environment,” York recalls. “Part of the acoustic challenge was that the space was open to the main traffic through-way. We had to contain the sound inside of the space so it didn’t bleed out into the reading rooms, but still provide an engaging audio experience.” The solution was to deploy several of K-array’s KV50 ultra slim line arrays in the ceiling, along with KU36 ultra slim subwoofers — which were mounted above the video wall. This combination created focused and powerful sound dispersion for those working in the space, without distracting students in the nearby reading rooms.
North Carolina’s Research Triangle is recognized as a main center of gaming devel-opment, with one of the most dense concentrations of gaming companies in the U.S. NC State offers an undergraduate program that is focused on the entertainment side of gaming, as well as a graduate program that is focused on sophisticated applications like artificial intelligence, environmental simulations and advanced training platforms. The Game Lab, which doubles as a development lab and a place where students can take a break and play their favorite console games, features a 20’ wide micro display wall, which can be augmented into 80 disparate LED cubes - each measuring 10” x 12”. The multi-channel audio system features a 5.1 K-array set up with (3) KK102 line array elements, each comprised of (16) 2” neodymium magnet transducers and positioned horizontally at left, right and center of the display wall. Two K-array KK52s serve as rear left and right channels, and a 12” KMT12P ultralight subwoofer, mounted in custom cabinetry underneath the display wall, provides 600 watts of detailed sub-bass frequencies. In addition to the K-array, the Game Lab also features four channels of Sennheiser wire-less comprised of SR 300 IEM G3 transmitters, EK 300 IEM G3 receivers and RS 120 wireless headphones, in addition to several Sennheiser lavalier and handheld wireless microphones.
Teaching and Visualization Lab
The Teaching and Visualization lab is designed with similar design principles as an open, black box theater. “We wanted to create a room in the facility that was adaptable enough that we could constantly change it,” York explains. The room features an open infrastructure overhead, as well as exposed walls and flooring so pipe grids, cables, electricity and other items can be easily accessed and adjusted. Surrounding the room is a 270-degree projection screen, which provides an immersive, 3-sided wrap-around visual experience. Audio is covered with a 5.1 surround system from K-array, which includes three KK102 line arrays mounted horizontally in the front (left, right and center), and two KK52s for rear left and rear right channels. The sub-bass system, a K-array KMT12P, is mounted above and suspended from the ceiling deck. In mounting the speakers, integrator AVI/SPL deployed an intelligent clamping system enabling speakers to be repositioned as needed.
Similar in design to the Teaching and Visualization lab in its ‘black box theater’ approach, the Creativity Studio is a multi-collaboration environment designed for many people to use simultaneously. The space features (16) 10’ x 4’ whiteboard panels that can be moved, reconfigured or retracted to meet the specific needs of a project, making the room extremely flexible. Large screens on both sides of the room and two rotating walls in the middle enable it to function as separate rooms or as one large space. Two separate K-array 5.1 systems were deployed with a similar clamping solution as the Teaching and Visualization lab; once again, the KK102s were deployed for left, right and center, with the KK52s covering left rear and right rear channels. For sub-bass frequencies, two K-array KMT12Ps were mounted in the ceiling. “Since the room could be divided into two rooms, we wanted each half of the room to have its own 5.1 surround system; these can be tied together to make a 10.2 system if the full room is used. This is where the pipe clamping system helped so we could adjust and shift the set up as needed,” York says.
Another key space in the new installation is the new 400-seat auditorium, which is located just below the Immersion Theater near the entrance of the library. This theater features a 30’ wide screen — the largest projection screen on campus — complemented by a state-of-the-art K-array surround sound system. The auditorium is used primarily for lectures and as a classroom, but also doubles as an all purpose theater for ‘movie night’ and other campus activities. All of the K-array speakers are completely hidden from view, mounted in niches behind the screen and behind acoustic paneling surrounding the space. In the front of the room behind the screen are eight vertically mounted K-array KK102s positioned at left, center and right, supplemented by (4) KK102s positioned at rear left and right. Finally, (16) KK52s are positioned around the perimeter of the room, which help create an immersive and authentic sound experience.
For Frey, the project was a resounding success. “This was one of the best projects I ever worked on and I got top quality support from the NC State personnel, the design team, the integrator and of course Sennheiser. The quality demands of the project were very high and required the best efforts from everyone involved,” he says.
The Hunt Library helps NC State realize its vision of becoming among the most techno-logically innovative universities in the world, and serves as an important vehicle for re-search, learning, collaboration and experimentation. By implementing a world-class sound environment, the University was able to provide a more enriching A/V experience. “The installed systems we have right now are just the starting point,” York adds. “We are seeing lots of potential applications for different types of speakers and ways we can use them in the different spaces, since they each have their own character.”