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"Portable" vs. House System

Discussion in 'Sound, Music, and Intercom' started by lieperjp, Apr 7, 2008.

  1. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    Occupation:
    Teacher
    Location:
    Central Wisconsin
    I'm looking for the input of some professionals here. The tech head at my college is looking to purchase a new sound system for the auditorium. Currently, we have a "house" system that looks to be from the eighties, except the amp is only two years old. I don't know the model, but I can find out. We hired a sound/light firm to come in to look at designing a new system, but here's the catch - it would basically be a portable system designed for our auditorium.

    Basically, we already use a system like this. For everyday speakers, we use the 5-channel mixer (volume control only because there is no eq or gain adjustments) and then output to two speakers mounted above the stage behind a wire mesh and also to a DVD recorder. For large productions (talent shows, band nights, theatre productions) we set up two or four speakers just in front of the stage and run the sound through them from a board and amp that we set up from various locations. For less crowded events, we set up in the middle of the auditorium and run a 50 foot snake down to the stage or for really crowded events we set up the sound board in the back corner and run the mics and speakers through the boxes on the stage to the booth into a 15 foot snake to the board. If it is a small operation we use a 12 year old Yamaha amped output 12 channel, and if we need a lot of mics (usually for musicals and concerts - also usually wireless mics) we use a Mackie 36 channel into an amp in the booth to the speakers just in front of the stage.

    I and the other members on the tech crew want to put in a new house system using the Mackie, but our tech head insists on using the portable system. So the sound engineers are putting together a $15000 proposal for a system that won't be built in. What's your opinion?

    Note: One possible reason for this is that we cannot get a lift on stage or in front of the stage without taking out ten rows of (very heavy) seats by unbolting four bolts per chair. The closest we can get is about 30 feet back from the proscenium.

    Also, we have a large pipe organ (60 ranks) that goes over the wing on stage left and goes over about fifty seats (eight rows.)

    *edit* - it usually requires a crew of 3-4 people to set up for a talent show/ band night that takes 45-60 min set up and 30-45 set down. for musicals it's 2-3 people that take about 30 min a day for about two days - one for basic set up and one for fine tuning.
     
    Last edited: Apr 7, 2008
  2. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    The labor issue is what really does it, turnkey systems are great if properly designed. Most sound systems are designed for the average event that happens at least 1-2 time a month, rarely ever designed for that once a year blow out. Sounds like you need a better house system installed, and with that added outputs on stage to bring in a few more cabs if needed. Beyond that, a fixed mix location.
     
  3. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    We all would love a fixed mix location... but we set up in the middle when only the front half is being used. And we also take up two rows of seats by setting up tables over one row and sitting in the next- which we can't do when we have a full house like the show that's coming up in two weeks... ug. Six shows two hours apart in two days in a room full of 920 kids each show.
     
  4. lieperjp

    lieperjp Well-Known Member

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    And another thing I forgot to mention is that the auditorium - designed in the 1970's, will probably be remodeled (completely torn apart and rebuilt) in the next 10 years. Except for the extremely obtuse organ.
     
  5. hsaunier

    hsaunier Active Member

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    The largest issue to figure out is the primary intended use of the room. In our case we are a community performing arts center as well as a high school performace space. We had the fortune of designing the system during construction, and people that would listen, who had a long range vision. So our system will cover 85% to 90% of the tech riders from national touring acts. The pay off is two fold. 1: ticket prices to our customers are reduced since we do not have to pay for a system rental. 2: Our students use some to the most requested PA equipment in the entertainment industry. But that is our situation which was well defined at construction. Take a very serious look at how the room is going to be used, by looking into your crystal ball, and make your reccomendation based on those needs.
     
  6. museav

    museav CBMod CB Mods Departed Member

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    There are probably many factors to consider, not all of which may be technical. It definitely sounds like the general system performance and capability could be improved with a permanent system. Many of the technical considerations would be related to the physical space and range from the shape of the audience area and where you can locate speakers to the acoustical environment to what conduit, raceway and power provisions are feasible. Installed systems may also introduce some ADA and code compliance issues that a portable system does not.

    Then there are likely functional factors as well such as what type of events and clients the facility serves. As Hugh noted, for some facilities rider compatibility is a major factor, for others it is not a factor at all. For some, the ability to quickly change over between different uses, even in the middle of a run, may be a requirement. In many educational settings one goal is the ability to support basic events such as lectures with little or no technical staff being required.

    This latter is a point that can cross into more a political consideration. Many school administrations look at theatres or auditoria and see a large investment in a space that is not used all the time and could potentially also serve as a classroom, lecture hall, etc. From the overall school's perspective this is often makes sense but such an arrangement also often results in the arts users becoming simply one of several users with the attendant scheduling and other potential issues associated with that arrangement. How well this works depends greatly on the administration and the individuals, however I have seen some time and labor intensive systems systems and practices maintained in use primarily because they discourage such potential shared use.

    Generally, installed systems offer many benefits for the audience and users but whether it be a desire to train students on portable systems or an attempt to maintain control of the space, there may be other factors to consider.

    The point about the facility being renovated in 10 years is an interesting one. When I first started in pro audio too many years ago it was very common to design systems for 25 year or even greater expected lives and the limitation was usually more the physical life of the equipment. With today's rapid changes in technology and user expectations it is often no longer a matter of physical life but rather of functional life and 10 years may be an acceptable life for many components in a sound system. Good planning can certainly address many of the more geenral issues and many of the individual components could readily be reused in the renovated space, but many aspects may be ready for updating then anyways.
     
  7. BNBSound

    BNBSound Active Member

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    I find myself loading my "portable" rig into a lot of theatres that have inadequate sound systems. Weather they're old and decrepit, or just not in a useful configuration for the show, it works out better to have flexibility.

    You say you like to mix from different locations. With a permanent installation you could still toss a snake out the booth window, but your racks would likely be bolted down in there. If your speakers are flown, you may or may not find them usefull for every production in that position.

    I'm likely biased because my business is adapting my rig to fit the room and the client's needs. It's just that I find when I'm mixing on a fixed system I'm always wishing I could change things around to work better for what I'm doing right then.
     
  8. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    My feeling is you should have a fixed system to cover most events. Now when you bring in that touring show or have the "big event", you should have options. I'm a big fan of pulling a ton of copper everwhere, even if it is not terminated into amps. Just get the copper in, you can rent the rest. There are also many places that have a snake ran mid house that can be pulled out of a vent and patched in, pretty sweet in my opinion. When they do install a system, make sure everything terminates into a patch, including monitor sends. If you can only afford 4-6 monitor channels, make sure they run lines for 12. Patch panels are your friend.
     
  9. TimmyP1955

    TimmyP1955 Active Member

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    If you can get a bucket lift onto the stage, you could use one to get where you need to install speakers flown (if the organ does not mess up the idea). Having them flown lessens the difference in distance between the closest folks and the farthest folks, meaning less difference in volume. Of course in introduces other challenges.

    If you use a mixer such as a 01V or LS9, you can put it in a permanent location, then mix on a wireless tablet or laptop from any seat in the house.
     
  10. mixmaster

    mixmaster Active Member

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    Our venues are set up similarly to yours. A small built in system covers the majority of the events, and our concert system moves between venues as necessary. While I wish I could afford to put a full concert rig in both venues, the budget doesn't allow it. The trick to making traveling systems work with a house system is careful planning. Often I've seen house systems that have hook-ups for a traveling systems to augment them. One venue I worked in used EV 12" mains (don't remember what kind). Under "normal" conditions they were used as a full range box, mostly for singer/songwriter stuff. For "big shows" they switched to a different preset on the system DSP, made a quick patch change on a couple amps, and plugged in some powered subs. In 15 minutes they had a 3-way rig set up for a smaller rock concert.
    About the consoles. I mix from the booth for smaller shows and the floor of the hose for bigger shows. I'm putting together a project for the next budget year that will include a new FOH console to cover both locations. I intend for the console to have a doghouse with a multipair connector. Both the house snake in the booth and the traveling snake will be terminated to match. Moving mixing locations will involve 1 big connection at each location instead of 32 sends and 6 returns every time.
    Installed house systems are nice, but there is a big advantage to mobile, flexible rigs that can move from venue to venue or get parted out to cover multiple events.
     
  11. BNBSound

    BNBSound Active Member

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    Now you're talking! Combine the best of both worlds, and give yourself the most options possible with your installed system. Buy copper now, it's only going up. It would be fantastic to work in a theater that had lines all over the place. Just plug in those extra cabs and go. Another good idea would be to rack up all the outboard gear in reasonably sized road cases with mass connectors. When you want to move the mix from the booth to the house, you leave all the tails connected, move the desk and then the racks and just pop them back together again.
     

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