IntroductionWe recently acquired a variety of SMART Classroom tools including a SMART Classroom Audio system. We already have several rooms outfitted with FrontRow classroom audio systems, and have been mostly pleased with their performance.
InstallationThe system includes four wall mount speakers (or ceiling mount speakers), IR receiver, IR microphone and charger, and control box. When unboxing and checking the installation instructions, it didn't take long to hit a snag. The IR receiver is designed specifically for rooms with drop-ceiling tiles. Our classrooms do not have drop-ceilings, and the room we were installing in has a very high (over 17 foot) ceiling. The local installer we use for AV systems had not installed a SMART Audio system before and had a couple of ideas, but couldn't guarantee that the receiver would be effective.
The room was to be a SMART room, so a SMART technician came on-site to provide some guidance. We had already installed a new 800-series interactive board with the UX60 short-throw projector. The technician recommended installing an arm above the projector that would extend from the wall roughly two feet, and suspend the receiver from the arm. The receiver is quite light, so the arm doesn't need to be fabricated from a particularly heavy material.
|The custom arm supporting the infrared receiver.|
Sure enough, once everything was installed, the receiver worked quite well. It is unfortunate that SMART doesn't include such an arm, or give instructions in the manual for this type of install. Having to manufacture a custom arm to support the receiver adds quite a bit to the installation cost.
Microphone and InputsThe included microphone is a blocky device with volume buttons, a mute button, and two 3.5mm RCA jacks on either side. There is an additional, unlabelled button that is apparently for use with a school-wide system, but otherwise doesn't do anything. The microphone sits inside a rubber sleeve that, unfortunately, covers up the labels on the two RCA jacks. One jack is a mic in, while the other is line-in. This is useful for quickly amplifying your MP3 player or phone.
|Microphone with the lanyard clip attached, and the belt clip on the right.|
|Pull the microphone lanyard tight to avoid noise from the microphone rubbing on your shirt.|
The control box has two pairs of 5mm RCA (red/white) inputs. If you are installing with a projector that passes through audio (like the UX60), you can run the output from the projector to one of the inputs. We have a wall plate with another set of RCA connectors that can be used to plug in any audio source (MP3 player, stereo system, etc).
|This set of RCA connectors runs to the projector. The projector passes the audio through to the classroom audio system.|
|From left to right: HDMI to the projector, 5mm RCA to the classroom audio, and VGA to the projector.|
The control box also has a USB cable that will work as a standard USB audio device when plugged into a computer. With a clean install, the only two parts of the control box that the user needs to worry about are the power button and USB cable.
|The control box.|
All of the audio inputs will play simultaneously, enabling various voice-over activities (like karaoke). Overall, the audio input options are remarkably flexible.
Audio QualityThe sound quality of the speakers is quite good, maintaining a consistent tone and volume throughout the classroom. Although there are four speakers (two on each side of the room), they do not produce surround, or even stereo, effects. It is important to remember that the purpose of classroom audio is to ensure everyone is the room is hearing the audio equally well.
IntegrationAs mentioned, the audio system was installed along with an 800-series SMART Board and UX60 short-throw projector. The UX60 has inputs for HDMI, RCA, and VGA. Additionally, the extender for the 800-series boards enables USB audio through the same USB cable used to connect the board.
I connected various pieces of equipment in a variety of ways. A Kodak Play camera sent video and audio over HDMI. A computer sent video over VGA, while the single USB cable to the SMART Board enabled both the interactive board and audio. I was able to plug my phone into the 5mm RCA wall plate (with an adapter), and into the line-in on the wireless mic and play music. I connected an XBox 360 to the RCA (red/white/yellow) connectors, and started playing. Everything just worked.
|Complete system: infrared receiver above the UX60 projector, SMART Board, and classroom audio control box underneath and to the left.|
I only had a couple of issues with the SMART Classroom Audio system. First, SMART needs to include an arm for mounting the IR receiver to the wall. Second, the microphone needs a better lanyard solution, and the rubber microphone holder shouldn't hide the input labels.
Once everything is installed, and you are familiar with the microphone, everything just works, and works well. Honestly, the biggest challenge using the audio system is remembering to turn it on.