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PA advice for school hall?

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PA advice for school hall?

Postby Mudchild » Sun Nov 06, 2011 10:27 am

People

Would appreciate some advice. My friend who works in a school wants to replace their crappy school hall PA & amp with something that, well, works. Just looking for something simple, good value, reliable and that will do the job (i.e. project speakers' voices adequately around a medium/large sized school hall.

I'm not that au fait with PAs myself, but said I'd do a bit of research.

Here's the details:

- no more than 3 or 4 channels needed - the most it would be used for is likely to be a stereo feed from a music source plus a mic
- might be worth considering 4 speakers, 2 on stands on the stage and 2 fixed up on the wall in the back corners?
- portability would be useful, if it could just be easily packed up to take away to do the school disco or whatever
- no bells & whistles needed. Just reliable and powerful enough to do the job.

Also, where is the best place to source such an item (UK), and presumably get educational discount?

Many thanks for any advice!
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:19 am

How wide, long & high is the hall ?
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby turbodave » Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:21 am

hi, It would be useful to know your budget as there are so many options out there. I would go for 2 active top speakers with 15 inch drivers. Manufacturers make stuff from as low as £200 - to £ 1000 + per speaker. There are also plenty of desk options from Soundcraft, Allen and Heath, mackie. Cheers Dave
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:26 am

Ive just installed two QSC K10's and a Ksub into a school last week (tops flown) very nice sound to be fair and they are over the moon with it.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby seablade » Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:41 am

Mudchild wrote:People

Would appreciate some advice. My friend who works in a school wants to replace their crappy school hall PA & amp with something that, well, works. Just looking for something simple, good value, reliable and that will do the job (i.e. project speakers' voices adequately around a medium/large sized school hall.

I'm not that au fait with PAs myself, but said I'd do a bit of research.

Here's the details:

- no more than 3 or 4 channels needed - the most it would be used for is likely to be a stereo feed from a music source plus a mic
- might be worth considering 4 speakers, 2 on stands on the stage and 2 fixed up on the wall in the back corners?
- portability would be useful, if it could just be easily packed up to take away to do the school disco or whatever
- no bells & whistles needed. Just reliable and powerful enough to do the job.

Also, where is the best place to source such an item (UK), and presumably get educational discount?

Many thanks for any advice!

Honestly, bring in a consultant. If you are doing an install and don't know what youa re doing, you may even be fixing the wrong problem, or at best part of the problem, for instance if acoustics are a problem(Which often times they can be) then no small sound system will be an adequate solution.

Now the standard disclaimer applies in that I work as a consultant on occasion, but I wouldn't say the above unless I thought you should.


- might be worth considering 4 speakers, 2 on stands on the stage and 2 fixed up on the wall in the back corners?

Perfect example. While doing additional speakers on delays can be beneficial, speakers in the back corners generally are far from it, as you will never get the timing even close to correct for most of your audience due to physics, and will likely only hurt your intelligibility.

Designing a system needs far more information than simply, 'medium/large sized hall' That could mean any number of things depending on who is saying it. Dimensions, shape, audience area, acoustical information(Wall materials, direction, etc.) all go into designing a system to provide proper coverage. If you are going to spend the money to get one installed, it is far better to spend more money once to get it done right, rather than spend less money multiple times and deal with the headache as well as the eventual larger cost, to get it done right.

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Nov 06, 2011 11:42 am

Mudchild wrote:People

Would appreciate some advice. My friend who works in a school wants to replace their crappy school hall PA & amp with something that, well, works. Just looking for something simple, good value, reliable and that will do the job (i.e. project speakers' voices adequately around a medium/large sized school hall.

If that is REALLY all that's required, a number of small speakers distributed round the hall, with suitable delays, may be the best answer. If the hall is also used for community events, consider hookng in a hearing-aid loop as well. As long as no-one tries to use it as a disco, it will last for years.

Also, spend a few hundred pounds on a cheap combo amp and pair of speakers - look at the Thomann catalogue perhaps. You can let the kids play with this when they want to be loud. When they blow a cone (as they will) either let them try to mend it (no safety issues with passive speakers) or just buy a new one.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Raphbass » Sun Nov 06, 2011 3:37 pm

seablade wrote:If you are going to spend the money to get one installed, it is far better to spend more money once to get it done right, rather than spend less money multiple times and deal with the headache as well as the eventual larger cost, to get it done right.

Just to add to that - get it right the first time might even save money just on that original cost, let alone "multiple times".

I'll spare you the anecdotes but I've had a few cases over the years where I've decided to throw a certain amount of money at a problem, and a knowledgeable salesman has actually dissuaded me from buying the stuff I thought I needed, and saved me literally thousands, even when that salesman has lost out - the long term gain for them is I've recommended them to others and gone back to them for other stuff.

E.g. who knows you might find you don't need multiple speakers - but the only way to find out is to get someone to advise and maybe bring in stuff to try out, with a bit of prior knowledge as to what to try out.

PS whereabouts are you?
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby turbodave » Sun Nov 06, 2011 3:43 pm

I must reiterate that as good as any advice here is, your budget is necessary for us to pursue further. From my experience in these situations flexibility is the key. Do not, in my opinion , buy anything that is going to serve just one purpose and make sure that the gear is good quality. Active tops are a great compromise as they can be portable , robust and have inbuilt limiters, plus you can plug directly into them if need be , for outdoor events when 1 mic is required. Dave
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Nov 06, 2011 4:42 pm

turbodave wrote:I must reiterate that as good as any advice here is, your budget is necessary for us to pursue further. From my experience in these situations flexibility is the key. Do not, in my opinion , buy anything that is going to serve just one purpose and make sure that the gear is good quality. Active tops are a great compromise as they can be portable , robust and have inbuilt limiters, plus you can plug directly into them if need be , for outdoor events when 1 mic is required. Dave

Remember, this is a school. If you give the kids anything that looks like a PA they WILL run it too loud and WILL blow drivers. What he actually asked for was a voice-reinforcement system. Maybe this SHOULD be a one-job system, get something disposable for the disco. Hence my earlier reply.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby turbodave » Sun Nov 06, 2011 5:14 pm

Yep , I fully appreciate what you are saying, but you must remember that the OP doesn't know much about systems.I am currently speccing a PA for a secondary school right now, and as I previously posted ,good quality actives with limiting and even extra limiting at the desk is the way to go.(budget, budget, budget) I still reckon that they probably don't want a dedicated system for 1 job and a second for another. Too much money for that and not enough know how. Dave
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Nov 06, 2011 6:51 pm

turbodave wrote:I still reckon that they probably don't want a dedicated system for 1 job and a second for another. Too much money for that and not enough know how. Dave

Seems to me that is EXACTLY what they need. A fixed voice-reinforcement system for the hall that should last for ever. Plus a cheap-and-cheerful disposable portable PA for the kids to play too loud and run discos.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby turbodave » Sun Nov 06, 2011 8:16 pm

Yeah! In an ideal world with money flying around I guess you are right...but back here on earth we have to make do with 1 system that is adaptable and will last, not 2 half baked systems. Dave
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Mon Nov 07, 2011 10:18 am

I think with jobs like this you can easily over spec the system and waste time & money giving them something they just dont need...

The school i just done (oldest is child is 11) had a quote for the main hall come in at £23,000 lol lol lol WAYYYYY over spec'ed hence why they didn't get the job and we did - We got very good results with the kit we used and came in at under half that price

It can be tricky but try and find out what they WANT to spend
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Dave Rowles » Mon Nov 07, 2011 11:08 am

Unless you've got a private school with parents giving funding donations, then you can probably forget anything that costs over £3000, and you'll be lucky to have a budget that big.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby seablade » Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:33 pm

TSH-Tim wrote:I think with jobs like this you can easily over spec the system and waste time & money giving them something they just dont need...

The school i just done (oldest is child is 11) had a quote for the main hall come in at £23,000 lol lol lol WAYYYYY over spec'ed hence why they didn't get the job and we did - We got very good results with the kit we used and came in at under half that price

It can be tricky but try and find out what they WANT to spend

None of this is directed at you TSH-Tim, just is a response to what you stated.

That all depends, often times for schools etc. the real cost for the system isn't the audio components but instead is the control of the system. Most of the schools etc. over on my side of the pond do not have anyone on staff capable to run a sound system appropriately for even vocal reinforcement, so instead I have to spec out systems that can be turned on and run automatically with a simple switch or button, but still be flexible enough to handle the occasional act that does come in for assemblies etc. The control system in these types of installations can be significant depending on the needs of the school, and due to the cost of programming some of them, be a significant part of the budget.

This is also part of why advising on a full system design over the internet is a bad idea. Is the space only used for vocal reinforcement from a podium? From a wandering speaker? For choral concerts? For occasional acts that come in for assemblies? All of these are different needs and all need to be addressed from the initial design of the system.

Of course to be honest, hiring a contractor to also design your system has its own issues and dangers, examples, you are limited to what the contractor has accounts with manufacturers or distributors for, many contractors will decide on some components based off profit margins, etc. I got into consulting when I was asked to explain the difference between a $30k USD bid and a $140k USD bid from two different contractors to a church. I ended up designing their system for them, in total it came in a bit over $140k, but they were much happier with it because they never have to touch a 'mixing board' even though they may have limited control over the mixing system through the control system, but to get everything working at the exact same settings every time, they just turn on the system. Nothing that anyone helpfully 'changes' last beyond a simple turn off and on of the system and all the staff typically has to do ever is simply press a button and forget it. Works in that sort of space, but wouldn't work in many spaces. And one of the contractors that put in the original bid still installed the system in the end, they weren't bad folks, just weren't necessarily as familiar with the needs of that particular church and thus their basic design wasn't as good of a match.

For installs it shouldn't be a matter of 'good enough' but rather what is the best possible match for that particular space given needs, budget, and the space itself.

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Mon Nov 07, 2011 12:37 pm

Exavior Music wrote:Unless you've got a private school with parents giving funding donations, then you can probably forget anything that costs over £3000, and you'll be lucky to have a budget that big.

Dave two words... Nail & Head

It was a private school with the parents giving donations
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Mudchild » Mon Nov 07, 2011 7:03 pm

Firstly, I'd like to thank you all for your contributions! Very helpful.

Starting to research this has taught me that there is more involved than I thought. I figured I'd just get a few recommendations and sling something up easily. Not so! I'm more of a studio/recording geek than live sound nerd, so I didn't know how much I didn't know, if that makes sense.

I'm thinking I should recommend they get someone proper in to sort this for them!

On the other hand, it is worth remembering, the requirements here are pretty minimal.

We definately don't need to be going down the route of line arrays, delays or anything of the sort. We just need to get the headmaster's voice to the back of the school hall while remaining intelligible. A secondary requirement may be the occasional need to stream music from a laptop through it. That's it. Doesn't need to be pro, pimped out or mega powerful. It just needs to be some small sturdy unit with a pair of speakers that will project enough (I'm sorry I still don't have the dimensions of the hall) (or indeed the budget!).

The hall a largish, but not that large, echoey space, but not like a basketball court or anything.

Also, I think it's going to be more for teachers' use rather than pupils.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Mon Nov 07, 2011 7:06 pm

Alex feel free to send us an PM or email for some free & help advise
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Tue Nov 08, 2011 11:48 am

Mudchild wrote:We definately don't need to be going down the route of line arrays, delays or anything of the sort. We just need to get the headmaster's voice to the back of the school hall while remaining intelligible. A secondary requirement may be the occasional need to stream music from a laptop through it. That's it. Doesn't need to be pro, pimped out or mega powerful. It just needs to be some small sturdy unit with a pair of speakers that will project enough (I'm sorry I still don't have the dimensions of the hall) (or indeed the budget!).

The hall a largish, but not that large, echoey space, but not like a basketball court or anything.

OK. So, depending on HOW echoey, maybe a simple pair of cabinets at the front will give voice clarity at the back, maybe you DO need to look at distributed speakers with delays or line arrays. There's no point in sticking your heels in and deciding a pair of speakers WILL do the job.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby infiniteloop » Tue Nov 08, 2011 12:58 pm

A Line-Array system in a school hall for the headmaster to be heard at the back of the room..??? Seriously..??? Time to come back down to earth methinks.! As Mudchild says 'Doesn't need to be pro, pimped out or mega powerful. It just needs to be some small sturdy unit with a pair of speakers that will project enough' so to even suggest a line array system is ridiculous. I would recommend a medium sized active system (Mackie, JBL etc..) with a small 12-channel mixer (A&H, Mackie, Soundcraft etc..) which has minimal cabling & is quick & simple (even for teachers.!) to set up & tear down. Bearing in mind that when the system is to be used I'm assuming that there will be a considerable number of bodies in the hall therefore reducing the general echoey characteristics. Is it not possible to try different systems within your budget & see which one suits best.?
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby seablade » Tue Nov 08, 2011 2:05 pm

infiniteloop wrote:A Line-Array system in a school hall for the headmaster to be heard at the back of the room..??? Seriously..??? Time to come back down to earth methinks.! As Mudchild says 'Doesn't need to be pro, pimped out or mega powerful. It just needs to be some small sturdy unit with a pair of speakers that will project enough' so to even suggest a line array system is ridiculous. I would recommend a medium sized active system (Mackie, JBL etc..) with a small 12-channel mixer (A&H, Mackie, Soundcraft etc..) which has minimal cabling & is quick & simple (even for teachers.!) to set up & tear down. Bearing in mind that when the system is to be used I'm assuming that there will be a considerable number of bodies in the hall therefore reducing the general echoey characteristics. Is it not possible to try different systems within your budget & see which one suits best.?

Again depending on the acoustics of the room that may be usable, but may not as well. And in general for systems like this I wouldn't be looking at a standard analog mixer, but a rackmount digital mixer(You don't see these in live sound or studios, but things like the Lectrosonics DM84 etc.) that always restore their settings after someone 'helpfully' tweaks things would be a much safer bet, especially if they are only ever going to use one or two mics and playback. But again this all depends on the room itself and the needs compared to the budget of the school.

End of my point, don't try to second guess to specific given the few details we know of at this point. A line array system is not only overkill but likely a poor match I agree, but a decent delay system may not be either, again depending on the space involved. A single source(Be it line or point source) will have coverage characteristics that mean the farther back you go, the more spill onto walls assuming you covered the front appropriately, and thus the more issue with verb and less intelligibility. A line array does not get around this(Ignoring 2d steerable line arrays which are both limited in frequency response and expensive, as well as being a bit on the rare side, but even then there are limits due to lobar response)

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby grab » Tue Nov 08, 2011 5:50 pm

Digital mixer and the rest?! I don't like to disagree with people vastly more experienced than me, but I think everyone's *so* going overkill on this. All this guy needs is basic voice reinforcement for school assemblies. It doesn't need to be hugely loud and it doesn't need to be hugely hi-fi. And a typical school hall in the UK is not a huge space either.

Why not just suck it and see? Hire or borrow a little 200W-per-side PA system, and a little mixer and a mic if you've not got them. In an empty hall (the worst-case scenario for echoeyness), park the speakers against the side walls near the front of the hall and see how it sounds all the way round the place. Total cost will be an hour or two playing with the gear, and maybe fifty quid or so for hire if you can't scrounge it off someone. If it sounds completely rubbish then get the pros in, and it's cost you next to nothing to give it a go first. And if it sounds OK (and I strongly suspect it will be) then you're well ahead.

If it does work, then try something like the active Studiospares Fortissimo 10". (Better to stick with active, so that even if some muppet drives things stupid hard, the speakers will protect themselves.) Add an extremely basic mixer with very simple controls, something like the Soundcraft Notepad 102 or 124. And you'll want some way of mounting speakers to the wall and angled down to cover the whole room - can't advise on that, bcos I don't know the H&S procedures for mounting 15+kgs of speaker above head-height! If that and the associated cabling all comes to more than £500-600, I'd be quite surprised.

Oh, and factor in a lockable cabinet to hide the mixer and the power switches, given that this is a school.

And that should leave money in the kitty for if/when you decide to get a nice PA system for proper gigs. Incidentally, if you ever do decide to invest in a nice PA, the first thing you should do is look at treating the hall to control the echo. Doesn't matter how good the gear is if the room is horrible.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby seablade » Tue Nov 08, 2011 6:00 pm

grab wrote:Digital mixer and the rest?! I don't like to disagree with people vastly more experienced than me, but I think everyone's *so* going overkill on this. All this guy needs is basic voice reinforcement for school assemblies. It doesn't need to be hugely loud and it doesn't need to be hugely hi-fi. And a typical school hall in the UK is not a huge space either.

I would recommend you look at what I actually mentioned. I was fairly specific for an example, though it isn't the only option, but it is not a digital mixer like you see in Live sound or recording, and I specifically said that for a reason. We are talking about an installed system for vocal reinforcement in a place that likely (Assumption on my part) has noone that knows the difference between gain and volume, that bringing the fader up is not the same as cranking the gain all the way up, and that the answer to a bad sound isn't just to make it louder.


Why not just suck it and see? Hire or borrow a little 200W-per-side PA system, and a little mixer and a mic if you've not got them. In an empty hall (the worst-case scenario for echoeyness), park the speakers against the side walls near the front of the hall and see how it sounds all the way round the place. Total cost will an hour or two playing with the gear, and maybe fifty quid or so for hire if you can't scrounge it off someone. If this sounds completely rubbish then by all means get the pros in, but given how simple your requirements are, I strongly suspect it'll be perfectly adequate.

Goes right back to what I said, pay the money get it done right the first time, and you can have a system that lasts 10-20 years before it needs work. Don't spend the money and you end up with a solution you may have to replace in 5 years at most, in many cases quicker than that.

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Dodger » Tue Nov 08, 2011 7:45 pm

No offence intended here sea blade (i appreciate your alot more clued up then me) but the teachers hopefully are not thick... if they are we have bigger problems them a poor sounding PA

with the OP's studio back ground im sure if needed, he could explain to a handfull of the teachers how to quickly set the gain and turn it up the fader? it isn't exactly hard. especially if they only have a very simple desk.

and given that he didn't mind doing the research im sure he would be happy to give them a 5 minute master class in live sound

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby seablade » Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:27 pm

Dodger wrote:No offence intended here sea blade (i appreciate your alot more clued up then me) but the teachers hopefully are not thick... if they are we have bigger problems them a poor sounding PA

It isn't a matter of being thick or not, it is a matter of what you have time to concentrate your time on, and basic sound reinforcement is typically not one of them in my experience. Again admittedly things may be different on your side of the pond than mine, but the OP didn't work at the school himself/herself and was looking for a friend. While giving a class on it is great, in my experience unless the people are using it on a regular basis they tend to forget quickly and one class just doesn't cut it for memory of something that is completely new for you. Heck most of the time I am happy if I can just get across how to talk into a mic to people.

Keep in mind I have taught these classes a lot in my career and part of my full time job now is teaching volunteers how to operate sound. I am also married to a high school math teacher and have to deal with this regularly as I get asked to help with things.

Compare this to a simple system where they come in and for the most part everything works, where they at most have a control for each channel, but more likely is just a master volume control for the simplest of systems, where every time they turn the system on they know it is going to be right back where it started when it was installed so getting a basic working sound is as simple as flipping one switch to turn on the system and it can't get screwed up by someone being 'helpful' that doesn't know the difference I explained above. Again a fairly minimal equipment investment with some time spent on the design can improve things dramatically and mean far less work down the road. But this is where having a consultant that understand the needs and can provide the best solution for the budget, can be very useful for this exact reason. I can design a system like this, as can any decent consultant, but for people that have never had to deal with the different needs an installation market provides it is very different and while they may think that putting a small mixwizard console is simplifying things for the school, it really isn't.

Of course that doesn't touch on speaker placement for proper reinforcement either.

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Tue Nov 08, 2011 8:41 pm

Having experienced trying to band aid a few school hall PAs over the years and having installed several systems into challenging acoustic spaces, I'm with Seablade on this.

A professional appraisal is by far the most cost efficient approach.

It's impossible from a discussion like this to know what would be best and that's exactly why any suggestions here are basically meaningless!

However, I would say that it would not be uncommon or over the top to look at delayed pairs. I would say any system needs to have excellent (lockable) protection. And because of ever-changing skills sets from students and staff, it needs to be very easy to run.

We installed a system yesterday into a large school hall (700 seated) for their prize giving ceremony, because they hadn't been able to hear any speeches made from the stage in years (through their in house system)! They were blown away that people could actually be heard at the back of the hall.

Actually the solution wasn't that hard and very much a compromise (relative to a permanent install), but it shows you what can be achieved if you know what you're doing! And how useless it can be if you don't!

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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby TSH-Tim » Wed Nov 09, 2011 10:24 pm

I think in the UK schools are quite happy with something rather than nothing..... If it works (by that i mean something comes out) there happy most of the time because they don't know better and they wont spend the money on doing it right anyway... it's all very sad but true
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Raphbass » Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:13 pm

The bit that still bugs me about this is the idea of the installed system being bundled off for the school disco every now and then. Not only is a disco a totally different requirement from speech in a hall, it's likely to get abused, and as I think someone may have said above, better to get something for the disco that's adequate for boom-thump duties but install the hall system so it's permanently fixed e.g. on wall brackets or whatever the professional advice is.

I can't imagine anything good for disco being good for school hall speeches or vice versa. A usable disco system can be had for peanuts, intelligibility in a hall is a more delicate matter.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby Raphbass » Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:40 pm

PS sorry, me again... Sometimes just decent gear can make the difference, without needing fancy technology, though I don't agree that we're necessarily "going *so* overkill", as we can't possibly know without seeing the hall. You can only know by getting someone in that knows their onions. A bit of trial and error is ok but if you hire stuff in as someone suggested above, you're spending money that you might as well spend on the expertise to get the right system for definite.
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Re: PA advice for school hall?

Postby infiniteloop » Sat Nov 12, 2011 6:41 pm

Bob...I see you're in New Zealand & Seablade...I'm guessing you're not in the UK either..?

From your posts I can only assume that the current financial restraints & severely limited budgets do not apply where you are. There's absolutely zero chance of any school (at least in my local area) even considering the services of a professional consultant, the money just ain't there. My kids primary school has a small vocal PA with 2 mics, as there's only 2 mics they only have 2 mic cables (no spare) so if 1 mic cable fails they either get someone to repair it or make do with 1 mic, it really is that tight. Recently I was asked to offer advice on a replacement PA and after sourcing some pretty basic systems for them told them it cost in the region of £800 - £1000, after which I was stared at in horror & dumbfoundment amid cries of 'seriously' & 'really'..! Things are the way they are, corners HAVE to be cut at every turn unfortunately.
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