Washington, DC (May 8, 2008)–The Newseum, which opened in April, is an unusual new museum devoted to–you guessed it–news. Seven levels of galleries, theaters, retail shops and visitor services rise above The Great Hall of News, a 90-foot-high atrium that showcases breaking news. With 14 major exhibit areas, 15 theaters, two broadcast studios and more than 130 interactive stations, the museum turned to SH Acoustics of Milford, CT to be the project’s audio and acoustic consultant.
SH Acoustics president, Steve Haas, and his team rigorously coordinated their efforts with the museum designers, Polshek Partnership and Appelbaum, and also worked side by side with the project’s systems integrators Electrosonic Inc. and Communications Engineering Inc. to ensure that every aspect of the audio technology was properly implemented, and dealt with media producers to ensure that the content of the soundtracks that are produced and mixed in the “studio” translate well to the various acoustic environments throughout the museum.
Handling sound within the open, 90-foot high atrium was tricky, but Haas’ solution was to design a system based around steerable line array loudspeakers. Working with Dakota Audio, Haas designed a network of slimly-profiled speakers to precisely control how much sound is generated, and in what direction, based on the location of the performance or program source. In addition, to provide sound coverage to visitors utilizing the series of bridges that overlook the atrium, Haas specified over 100 different small, low-level, close proximity speakers, which were unobtrusively concealed in the bridge floors.
For the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, the challenge was to provide proximity sound at each of nearly 100 interactive stations that would allow an enveloping audio experience for the user, but wouldn’t intrude on neighboring stations. Haas and Dakota Audio developed miniature line arrays that were carefully positioned horizontally (rather than vertically) on either side of each station’s interior, to provide a stereo feel, yet keep the sound narrow and contained.
In addition to the galleries and ancillary spaces, Haas worked on the audio and acoustics for the Newseum’s multiple theaters, including the five Sidebar Theaters within the 8,000 square foot News Corporation News History Gallery, the Newseum’s largest gallery.
To create an intimate experience for audiences within each of the separate, but not completely contained, theaters radiating off the main area, Haas utilized a method called “enhanced stereo,” which allows for the primary sound to be delivered very “close to people’s ears” so that listeners experience fullness of sound without loudness. With thin walls, multiple adjacent spaces, and limited space, big traditional full-range loudspeakers were not an option within the theaters. SH Acoustics’ unique solution was to base all audio sources on activated sound technology; even architectural panels were transformed into sound radiators, including the actual screens.
The unique Robert H. and Clarice Smith Big Screen Theater required the delivery of sound in an enveloping manner in a room with a 100-foot expanse, while not bleeding into other rooms, and appearing to have come from the screen. To accomplish these goals, Haas used the proximity approach, the largest scale of this methodology he’s ever undertaken, which involved installing dozens of very small (2” thick) speakers, concealed in the floor below a walkable grating, throughout the seating area.
Overall, said Hass, “Our goal was to have the multi-sensory, emotional impact of each exhibit’s content be as seamless and as engaging as possible–presented flawlessly, and without being obtrusive. With such a breadth and diversity of exhibit spaces, effectively blending the audio and acoustic technology with architectural and aesthetic requirements was without question our primary mission.”