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Music Factsheet 17:
Sound systems in studios - Introduction
This article contains some practical advice on choosing and installing a sound system in your studio. No dancer will be inspired by tinny, flat-sounding music, so the most basic requirement for playback in the dance studio is that students can hear an engaging and dynamic sound above the level of ambient noise, regardless of their position in the studio. Amplification requirements will, therefore, be different for a room which is used exclusively for ballet and one which is also used for modern and tap. As a general rule, domestic hi-fi systems can be used in small to medium-sized ballet studios whereas large ballet studios and multi-purpose rooms will be better served by a more powerful PA (Public Address) system.
All-in-one portable HiFi systems
The simplest playback setup for a dance studio consists of a CD player or mp3 player, an amplifier and some loudspeakers. A standard portable HiFi system has all of these components in a single enclosure. Such a unit may be suitable for the very smallest of studios but would be limited in sound quality and power output.
Standalone Hi-fi components
A more effective system consists of 'standalone' hi-fi components or ‘separates’.
The first question you'll be asked in a hi-fi shop is 'How powerful would you like your system to be?' Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question. Amplifier power is measured in watts and there are so many ways of defining and interpreting amplifier power that these numbers can be misleading. A pair of fairly substantial (approx 30x20x25cm) mid-priced (£100 to £150) ''bookshelf'' hi-fi loudspeakers of at least 100 Watts RMS per speaker, combined with a similarly-priced amplifier of at least 40 Watts RMS per channel, should be adequate for most medium-sized studios.
Buy a basic model of CD player from a reputable manufacturer. The subtle improvement in sound quality from an expensive CD player will be totally lost in a dance studio environment. The option to replace just the CD player in a system of separate components is useful, as the moving parts in a CD player tend to wear out relatively quickly if it is used every day. (The occasional use of a lens cleaner will maximise the life of your player.) Amplifiers and loudspeakers, on the other hand, will often work perfectly well for ten years or more if they're not pushed beyond their limitations. If you hear distortion through your system (the sound appears 'fuzzy' and ill-defined), your amplifier or loudspeakers are being overdriven and the volume should be turned down. Particular care should be taken when using music with a lot of bass energy as this can be particularly damaging to loudspeakers.
PA (Public Address) Systems
A PA system is similar in principle to the HiFi separates system. The components tend to be more durable and higher-powered than their hi-fi counterparts and are therefore more suitable for noisy environments (tap and modern classes), large rooms, and situations where the equipment needs to be portable. They are typically sold in musical instrument and music technology stores and will be perhaps 50% more expensive than the hi-fi separates system outlined above.
Avoid the cheapest PA systems, which tend to be very limited in sound quality and are aimed mainly at DJs and aerobics instructors. You'll want quality as well as power for your studio so make sure you listen to your chosen system in the shop before you buy. P.A. loudspeakers are heavy and need heavy-duty wall mounts or stands. If you intend to move your equipment around, buy passive rather than active speakers as these will be considerably lighter. PA components tend to be reliable except when pushed to their limits. If your music system is going to be used by other teachers, you may want to consider an amplifier with a limiter to ensure your loudspeakers aren't driven excessively
Some brands to consider
Portable HiFi JVC, Sony, Panasonic, (Portogram for Varispeed equivalent) CD players Tascam/TEAC, Denon Hi-fi components Denon, Sony, Mission, JBL PA components Yamaha, Behringer, Peavey, Mackie
Please note that the above list is for guidance only. The RAD does not actively endorse any products made by these manufacturers.