Belmont University in Nashville has made U.S. News and World Report’s “Most Innovative Schools” list for each of the last nine years and, certainly, one of its most innovative features is the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. In mid-August 2015, the college moved into the $87 million R. Milton and Denice Johnson Center, a 134,000-square-foot structure that provided a new home for Belmont’s music business, motion picture and media studies programs. Along with classrooms, labs, performance spaces, production spaces and research rooms, the college decided to include a 250-seat theater and mixing stage equipped with a Dolby Atmos immersive audio system that incorporated JBL loudspeakers, Crown amplifiers and BSS networked audio from HARMAN Professional Solutions.

Curb College is the world’s first and only university-based film program capable of teaching the process of developing and producing theater-ready films in the Dolby Atmos immersive format. “Curb College has always offered excellent state-of-the-art technology resources for our students, including the best of music production, sound stages, audio recording and editing,” said Dave Warburton, Manager, Recording and Film Studios, Belmont University. “With this latest expansion, we’ve greatly enhanced this world-class facility to offer advanced audio for film and film editing facilities with immersive sound production and editing, and a networked audio experience.”

The Dolby Atmos Rendering and Mastering Unit (Dolby RMU) allows faculty to teach the process of creating and compiling movies in immersive Dolby Atmos sound as well as traditional 7.1 and 5.1 surround formats. The system design for the loudspeakers alone presented some unique challenges, with the overall goal of providing maximum sound quality and flexibility.

“Often with school film projects and amateur productions, the audio is usually the first element to drop off. Student film courses at most schools don’t dedicate the time and resources to teaching and creating professional audio,” said Warburton. “Directors regard audio as half the film experience. Our goal is to give students the opportunity to work with the very latest in audio production tools and technology, and enable them to create projects that look and sound professional.”

University officials worked with Nashville-based AV Integrator, M3 Technology Group, which provided the systems, technologies and installation of the project. “Designing and installing the Atmos system in the Johnson Theater was fun and rewarding,” said Keith Martin, Senior Account Manager, M3 Technology Group.”

“Every speaker in the theater is independent, and we were able to create a completely immersive audio experience. With different imaging between all channels and speakers, you can make sounds come from an exact location in the theater,” said M3 Senior Designer Engineer, Todd Lewis, CTS-D, DMC-E.

The Johnson Theater features 34 JBL 9320 high-power cinema surrounds, five JBL 5732 3-way high-power ScreenArray loudspeakers and four JBL 4642A dual 18-inch bass reflex subwoofers. The entire system is powered by 14 Crown DCi Network amplifiers with a total of 64 channels, connected through BSS BLU-806 audio transport.

“We deployed a HARMAN-based system with JBL speakers, Crown DCi amplifiers and BSS BLU Link because it all works together seamlessly,” said Lewis. “Another huge advantage for a HARMAN solution is that the Dolby Cinema processors also use the same transport protocol. This makes the entire system reliable, efficient and easy to install and use.”

“Essentially, we daisy-chained all the Crown DCi network amplifiers, DSPs and Dolby processors on a loop with Cat6 cable between each box for access to the entire system. Except for a few analog input cables and speaker cables, the entire audio system is in the digital domain,” said Lewis. “We used Dante to integrate the Avid products into the BSS DSP, so everything is connected digitally.”

“At one point, we were challenged to come up with a ceiling mount solution for a few of the JBL 9320 speakers. We fabricated a nice mounting system that is completely flexible, allowing for angle changes and adjustments,” said Martin. “This turned out to be a great feature for this working classroom. If students want to work with how speakers are angled and mounted, and how it affects the room in either 5.1, 7.1 or immersive, they can make it what they need. It’s a very flexible sound system.”

A great deal of planning for audio transport infrastructure went into ensuring the entire facility had fast, flexible access to data. Treating each room of the four-story facility—theaters, sound stages, production suites, edit bays—as a network node, engineers were able to create a robust system to support the university’s current and future needs.

Many thanks to Dave Warburton, Keith Martin and Todd Lewis for their insights into the Dolby Atmos installation in the Johnson Theater at Belmont University. Are you an integrator who has brought advanced AV technology to educational environments? If so, share your insights in the comments.

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