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Powersoft audio enables ‘Learning in the Round’ approach at leading university

AV set-up prioritises student empowerment with Powersoft audio featuring as part of Learning and Teaching building transformation.

Monash University is the largest in Australia with established centres of academic excellence around the world, including eight in Australia.

The Clayton campus is the biggest, educating more than 30,000 students every year. First established in 1958, 20km south-east of Melbourne, the campus has recently undergone an extensive transformation of its Learning and Teaching building – with 65 formal and 60 informal newly equipped learning spaces spread over almost 30,000sqm providing a forward-thinking environment for campus teaching.

The AV set up is central to this philosophy – enabling teachers and students to engage with the technology intuitively, rather than it being a barrier to learning. Myles Fenton, capability manager audiovisual for Monash University, whose team lead on the AV design for the project, explained: “‘Student agency’ was at the core of our thinking: students have to feel empowered and comfortable to make their own decisions. They’re adults, they’re sitting in a space for three hours… if they’re waiting for permission to do everything then it’s not going to lead to great outcomes.”

Monash University worked with CHW Consulting to lock down a specification for the project to go to tender, and Rutledge AV won that process and was appointed as the AV systems seller and integrator for the project. Powersoft was made a key supplier in the AV mix, with its dedicated install multi-channel amplifier series, Ottocanali and Quattrocanali, deployed throughout Clayton’s Learning and Teaching Building.

In total there were 22 Ottocanali 1204 DSP+ETH, 10 Quattrocanali 1204 DSP+D (Dante), five Quattrocanali 2404 DSP+D (and two M20D-HDSP+ETH) were installed as part of a high-spec audio set-up, which puts the end users – the teachers and students – at the heart of the solution. Arthur Soh, Powersoft’s regional sales manager – APAC, commented: “Our advanced amplifier solutions are perfect for this kind of landmark education project. Offering ease of integration and improving system performance, the Ottocanali and Quattrocanali ranges offer premium sound quality, are highly reliable and are unrivalled at the price point.”

Nowhere is this more evident than in Learning in the Round, the centre-piece of the Learning and Teaching building which turns traditional approaches to education on their head. The AV actively encourages the educator to step out of their comfort zone, and the student to participate, share and collaborate. Based on the sound psychology of round teaching environments and the premise of creating a space where no one person has ascendancy – Fenton and his team set about designing the ultimate in-the-round learning space.

“The common shortcoming in other spaces of this kind is lines of sight issues which create a disconnect between the focus on the presenter versus the content,” said Fenton. “Our solution is an array of 98in screens, with a round central ‘map’ table sitting underneath, four floor-standing preview monitors allowing the presenter to be connected to the content without obscuring the view – and critical to maintaining the central focus is the high-spec audio system.

“We knew that round spaces have the potential to be an acoustic disaster. In our research we encountered a lot of distributed in-ceiling audio solutions which don’t cut it. It just sounds like the voice of God booming around… there’s no connection with who’s speaking. We had the space comprehensively modelled for speech intelligibility. We have acoustic treatment above and below the whiteboards around the perimeter of the room and incredibly dense acoustic treatment in the ceiling. The whiteboards are obviously highly reflective, so we’ve tilted those up so first reflections go into the acoustically treated ceiling. In the same way the octagon of screens is tilted down, both for better sight lines but also to break up those acoustic reflections.”

Ben Clarke, head of the technical support department at PAVT, distributor for Powersoft in Australia added: “The days of a pair of plastic loudspeakers next to a screen for programme and a bunch of ceiling speakers for voice are well and truly gone. The Learning in the Round was a big audio challenge because of its shape; the reverberant field will focus all the energy back into the centre and there will be various hotspots. Consistency is key – while also finding a balance in the investment across the three key aspects of good installed sound: speaker directivity, acoustic treatment and the microphone.

To address all of these challenges, the university opted for Shure ULX-D wireless across the campus, while selecting a high-directivity device with tight, controlled dispersion patterns (the EAW KF394) mounted above each display in the octagonal array. The KF394 was chosen because of the enclosure’s spaced pair of 10in drivers which help extend pattern control down into the midrange where the power frequencies of speech are. As downfill, the EAW VFR69 is used – paired with Powersoft’s Ottocanali or Quattrocanali multichannel amps – ensuring it shares a consistent sound with all the other EAW speakers on campus. The AV touchpoints are purposefully situated in the corner of the room to encourage the teacher to be out with the students rather than preaching from a lectern up front.

Beyond the Learning in the Round, EAW’s Greybox processing block allows for an identical amplitude and phase response in the smaller learning spaces as well as the high-spec theatres – with the ability to implement the filter set into the Powersoft amp natively. The integrator simply loads the preset and it will be sound optimised, correct and accurate no matter what loudspeaker category is chosen for a particular room or application. This supports Monash’s goal of delivering an equal audio and acoustic experience regardless of the space.

“The ability to install the EAW Greybox DSP presets allows lecturers and listeners to have a matched response across multiple different rooms with differing loudspeaker choices,” stated Clarke. “With the project team using Powersoft’s Armonía software for loading the EAW Greybox presets and final loudspeaker system equalisation, the room file is then saved for future service.”

Fenton concluded: “Our aim with this project was to provide the learning space of the future for our teachers and students to excel in, and help consolidate our position as one of the leading academic institutions in the world. The incredible audio set up plays a key role in this; students are more engaged than ever as they become immersed in the content which is offered up in an innovative way that encourages them to think differently.”