Sound Equipment for Dance Studios in the 21st Century
Feature Article In Goldrush Magazine, July 2006
By Kenleigh Hall. Now Published as: Dance Studio Life
“ Even the best teachers will find that quality sound equipment is an important part of a successful class.”
Dance studios are unique environments with specific needs for sound reproduction, which means that choosing the right equipment is important. Many factors affect sound quality, from the type of audio components to the size of the studio and kind of class being taught. Understanding these variables will help anyone shopping for sound equipment make the best decision for their environment. Even the best teachers will find that quality sound equipment is an important part of a successful class, so dance school owners need to know what to buy to maximize their students’ classroom experience.
The sound produced by a speaker relates directly to the acoustical environment in which it is heard. Because dance studios are full of hard surfaces and moving bodies, they present a challenging acoustical environment. Speakers that are designed specifically for use in dance studios will produce accurate, evenly distributed sound that’s exciting and dynamic without being irritating or excessively loud.
An average studio requires 50 to 150 watts/RMS of power per speaker. (“RMS” refers to the power level that the amplifier can sustain on a constant basis.) Speakers intended for dance studios are efficient, with clean, tight bass tones and well-controlled dispersion; consequently, they require less amplifier power to fill a studio with quality sound. Also, less amplifier power is required per speaker when multiple speakers are used.
Dance studios do not usually require “professional” amplifiers and mixers to obtain good sound. Modern stereo and surround-sound amplifiers designed for home use provide an easier and more cost-effective way for most studios to supply power to the speakers and accommodate CD and tape equipment.
The size of the studio and type and size of classes held in it determine which speakers and amplifiers are required for good sound quality. The greater the square footage, the higher the amplifier power and speaker capability must be. Ceiling height is another factor. In the average studio, ceilings are about 10 feet high. With 14-foot ceilings, getting a good bass response requires adding 40 percent more amplifier power (over the baseline 50 to 150 watts) and 40 percent more bass capability in the speakers. For 20-foot ceilings add 100 percent more.
Tap-dance classes require more power and speaker capability than ballet and modern dance classes for two reasons: one, because the music is usually played louder to overcome the sound of the dancers’ feet, and two, it often has a more prominent bass and rhythm line. Regardless of the type of class, a studio filled with students (say, 40 as opposed to 15) means that speakers and amplifiers need more volume capability because of the increased noise created by more dancing feet and because the bodies absorb some of the sound.
Surround-sound capability and subwoofers boost the performance of a basic system by creating a fuller sound.
Surround sound provides the excitement of an onstage performance by giving the music more dimension. It can also provide you with more sound for your money. With a four- or five-speaker system, each speaker can be smaller (thus requiring less power) than in a two-speaker system for that same studio. Also, the rear “fill” speakers can be smaller and less expensive than the front, or main, speakers while still providing a sense of space and excitement by filling the room with sound.
Often the most effective way to increase volume and bass output, in either a surround-sound or stereo system, is to add a self-powered subwoofer which has a built-in amplifier. Also consider adding one if you prefer to use (or already have) relatively small speakers in your studio.
PROFESSIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR PLAYING AND RECORDING IN THE STUDIO
Though seemingly outmoded, a turntable can still be an asset in the studio. Consider using one for recording only, rather than playing records during class. Transfer the music from records to CD or tape for studio use; doing so will minimize the space required for equipment as well as the wear and tear on the records. And playing class music on CDs or tapes allows for fast cueing.
Cassette decks are a popular choice for dance studios, for both recording and playback. Whether the original music is on CD, tape, or a record, a cassette deck with professional editing capability (speed control, deck-A-to-deck-B volume control, and accurate manual pause) is the easiest way to record seamless cuts and produce smooth, speed-adjusted transitions on the master tape.
Once the master tape has been created, you can record or burn CD copies or make duplicate tapes.
Professional-quality CD players
CD players with speed control allow quicker access to various music tracks. Using CDs can be advantageous because they are more durable than tapes if handled properly.
Professional-quality audio CD recorders
Component-type recorders are the best choice for making CD copies of master tapes as well as for compiling music collections. They are the easiest to use, sound the best, and produce CDs that are the most universally accepted for playback by a variety of CD players. This component fits into an equipment stack just like a CD player or tape deck.
Computer-based CD recorders
CD burners are very useful for altering the speed of and cutting music for dance programs. Consider trying a friend’s or associate’s CD burner to determine whether you prefer working with it or a professional editing cassette deck to make your masters.
Specialized CD-burning software
Software for editing and mastering dance programs is now available at a reasonable cost. It allows you, through your computer’s line-in, to convert audio tracks from cassettes, records, and outboard CD players to CDs or mp3 files.
Mini-disc (MD) players and recorders
This type of equipment has neither the sound quality nor the universality of playback that the CD format does.
Mp3 players and recorders
Mp3 equipment uses minimized information to store and play music, enabling you to save thousands of pieces of music in a very small space. The minimized-information format, however, substantially reduces the sound quality. Ask yourself if you really need that much music from a single source. If you do, then before converting the music to mp3 files, preserve the sound quality of important music and dance programs by saving them to CD or tape.
Wireless microphones allow you to give instructions, without having to shout to large or loud classes, while you’re dancing or moving about the studio.
A mixer is not required—or even desired—in a dance studio except when you’re using a microphone, in which case it is a must. It enables you to play music from any source while simultaneously speaking on the mic through the sound system. A simple, high-quality mixer is easiest to use and provides the best sound for the money.
A remote can be very useful in a dance studio for pausing the music, selecting tracks on a CD, or adjusting the overall volume. Standard handheld remotes are usually the most reliable and durable for use in a dance studio.
ADDITIONAL EQUIPMENT FOR USE OUTSIDE THE DANCE STUDIO
Most indoor venues provide a sound system for your use with recitals and presentations. Nonetheless, whenever possible, it’s best to bring your own CD player or tape deck so that you can use equipment you’re familiar with.
Check with the venue ahead of time to determine whether bringing a complete sound system is preferable.
If you do plan to provide your own system, the majority of small venues require the same kind of sound system as the typical studio. A large auditorium or ballroom will require the addition of a more powerful amplifier and larger speakers. Outdoor recitals and presentations usually require more bass output and amplifier power than indoor settings do.
These deep-bass speakers can sometimes save the day when you need to supply your own equipment for a large or outdoor presentation. Consider adding one or two of them to your studio sound system (particularly if you can bring four or five speakers from your studio) in order to increase the system’s overall sound-delivery capability.
Monitors, typically placed at the front or along the sides of the stage, are often needed to provide audible sound for the dancers onstage. If you’ve had to obtain a more powerful amplifier and larger speakers for the audience at a large presentation, you can economize by using your studio amp and speakers as the monitors. Here’s how: If you’re using a mixer to operate the main/audience amplifier and speakers, connect your studio amplifier and speakers to the monitor or the auxiliary output(s) of the mixer. If you’re using a home-type receiver/amp as the control unit, connect the monitor speakers as you usually do. Then connect the larger speakers and more powerful amplifier (with its own volume controls) that you’re using for the audience to the tape/record outputs of your receiver/amp. This will allow you to independently control the volume of both the main audience speaker(s) and the stage monitor speaker(s).
Floor microphones are important for large or outdoor recitals when tapping needs to be amplified. Specialized “pressure zone modulation” mics, or “boundary” mics, are designed to be placed directly on the stage floor to pick up the sound of tapping feet. When using only one mic, place it toward the back of the stage so that the tapping that would be least audible to the audience comes through the speakers.
DISCUSS YOUR NEEDS WITH A SOUND-EQUIPMENT SUPPLIER
When shopping for sound equipment, describe the size and configuration of your studio, the style(s) of dance you teach, and any specific requirements for recording or playback. Mention any equipment you’re currently using. Sharing this information with the vendor who is helping you put together a new system or upgrade an old one will help you obtain the best sound for your studio and the most sound for your money. Don’t forget to anticipate possible needs beyond your current ones: Do you expect to have larger or different kinds of classes in the near future? Also ask how you can efficiently expand your sound system for larger recitals and presentations.
Copyright 2006, Kenleigh Hall, all rights reserved