Since it first opened its doors to a small group of students in 1849, University College Cork (UCC) has become one of Ireland’s most prestigious seats of learning. With a number of large lecture halls, making sure students are able to hear information clearly is a challenge that has been met by the introduction of state-of-the-art microphone technology from TOA Corporation UK.
UCC was originally established to provide access to higher education in the Irish province of Munster. With just 178 students in 1900, UCC has grown exponentially, now offering a research-led curriculum through 120 different degree programmes. Now with 20,000 students, UCC is dedicated to providing an outstanding teaching and learning experience, and forging unrivalled links with business and the public sector. Amongst other rankings and awards, it has been named Irish University of the Year by the Sunday Times on five occasions – most recently in 2017.
The number of students isn’t the only thing to have increased at UCC and it has gone from having just one building to dozens, and from less than 20 staff to more than 1,600. Brian Bugler, UCC’s senior technical officer and head of audiovisual (AV) media services, states, ‘As the university has evolved we have tried to ensure that we utilise technology that enhances how information is imparted and received. UCC has a wide number of lecture theatres across its campus and ensuring that those speaking can be heard clearly has been a significant challenge.’
Like many other educational establishments, UCC had utilised a combination of wired gooseneck microphones that were sited on the top of lecterns and podiums, as well as wireless radio systems with lapel microphones to enable a lecturer to move around the teaching space.
Although reasonably effective, both variants have limitations. For instance, a gooseneck microphone has a very limited range when it comes to capturing and transmitting a voice clearly – an individual must speak directly into it in order to be heard. Not only does this greatly restrict a lecturer’s movement, due to the need to constantly reposition these devices they can also be prone to breakages. Although wireless microphones address these particular issues, batteries have to be replaced every day, plus lecturers have a habit of wandering off while they are still wearing them, which can be expensive and logistically problematic.
For a while Brian and his team installed handheld and gooseneck microphones which had rechargeable docking stations, hoping that they would solve these issues, but these also proved problematic because users didn’t re-position them correctly in the docking stations after use, so they couldn’t recharge. Also, even when the mic was correctly positioned there was often not enough time between lectures for re-charging to take place.
‘I decided to look around and see what was available that could better suit our needs,’ explains Brian Bugler. ‘I had always been impressed with the AV equipment that we had purchased from TOA Corporation UK in the past and have been acquainted with Malcolm Crummey, the company’s sales manager UK and Ireland, for a number of years. Therefore, I decided to invite him in to see what he could recommend.’
Leading by example
As the leading global manufacturer of cutting-edge commercial audio and security equipment, TOA Corporation UK has worked closely in the education sector for many years. Its public address and voice alarm (PA/VA) systems, digital mixers, amplifiers, speakers and conference systems, as well as microphone technology, have been extensively adopted.
Malcolm Crummey welcomed the opportunity to visit UCC, and comments, ‘The problem that Brian outlined was one that I had heard many times before from others in the education sector. It’s why we developed the robust and reliable AM-1 real-time steering array device mic, which simply allows the user to talk to their audience, not to their microphone, and eliminates the use of batteries.’
With dimensions of 484mm(w) x 22mm(h) x 65mm(d) AM-1 is equipped with a built-in sensor to detect and track sound sources, and captures voices clearly and continuously from either side, above or below. This frees the lecturers to move back and forth in the vicinity of the podium or lectern, turn or tilt their heads to address different sections of the audience, or gesture naturally without concern for the location of the microphone.
AM-1’s voice tracking microphone completely eliminates the interference and inconvenience of gooseneck or wireless microphones. It enables voice capture from up to 3m, tracking range angles up to 180° and, if required, multiple devices can be used in tandem to cover a wider area. Crummey adds, ‘Removal of the barrier between speaker and audience has benefits for all parties. AM-1 has been designed to be highly flexible and enable trouble-free setting and monitoring, which can be conveniently carried out using an Apple iPad that has a dedicated app or relevant firmware installed. What’s more, it has a number of intelligent functions built in, such as an automatic gain control feature that compensates for reduced volume variations, allowing sound levels to be consistent.’
After witnessing a demonstration of AM-1, Brian Bugler was instantly impressed and arranged to trial it in one of the lecture theatres at UCC in order to assess suitability and obtain user feedback.
‘I was instantly impressed with how easy it was to set-up,’ states Bugler. The app was incredibly intuitive and it didn’t take long before we were able to experience a sound quality that far exceeded what we had been used to previously. Just as importantly, the lecturers all enjoyed the ability to be able to move freely, communicate clearly and feel totally unencumbered by the audio technology they were using. Just as importantly, we will save a considerable amount of money by not having to buy batteries, which adds to the return on investment.’
With these ringing endorsements, Bugler wasted no time, placed an order and began an initial rollout of 12 AM-1 systems across various lecture theatres. With that now complete, he is getting set to add further systems throughout 2018 and concludes, ‘I have been incredibly impressed with the AM-1 mics and it is clear that TOA Corporation UK has put a significant amount of thought into the product and come up with a pioneering solution to a commonplace problem. Even now, several months after they were installed, if I visit one of the halls when a presentation is taking place, I am still impressed by the sound quality.
‘They have certainly been a game changer for UCC – well worth the investment in my opinion – and I am certain that other universities would benefit from them too.’