Ashly Audio Revamps Chicago Mall Sound System

Integrator Renaissance Communications Systems uses Ashly Audio products to completely renovate a 70s-era sound system at this classic Chicago area mall.

When a concert hall or stadium is in need of an audio renovation, it’s an easy call. Audio is front and center, and if the technology is out of date and insufficient, it will be obvious.

But audio quality also matters in places where it might be less prominent, albeit still pivotal to the experience of the space. For example, at a mall.

Westfield Hawthorn Mall is a classic mall in the Chicago suburb of Vernon Hills, Illinois with 180 retail spaces and 1.3 million square feet. Built in 1970, the mall retained its 70s-era sound system until recently, when it became strikingly apparent that the mall was in need of a complete audio overhaul. Enter Renaissance Communications Systems and Ashly Audio.

Ashly Audio is a 40-year-old designer and manufacturer of high performance signal processing equipment and power amplification for use in the commercial sound contracting and professional audio markets. Renaissance Communications Systems, an integrator located in the nearby town of Franklin Park, Illinois, took on the project and used Ashly products for almost every aspect of the audio renovation.

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Upon surveying the space, it was obvious immediately to Renaissance that there was a problem. The mall was having difficulty with its music, speech, and volume levels. It was going to be more of a challenge than they thought.

“Certainly, one big issue was the sound quality itself,” says Mike Shares, CEO of Renaissance. “The components needed to be modernized.”

The components he speaks of were extensive. The mall needed new ceiling speakers, modern auto-leveling control and multi-zone support. There were 13 zones based on location, purpose, and ceiling height. The mall was also having issues with the volume control.

“First, the system wasn’t zoned properly, so low-ceiling areas had to share the same volume with high-ceiling areas such that neither area could be ideal,” explains Shares. “Moreover, traffic in the mall varies widely; it’s very slow on a weekday afternoon but very busy on a weekend afternoon or in the rush up to the holidays. The management wanted the sound system to play at appropriate volumes without having to manually track it. They have enough other things to worry about.”

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Now, for the goods. Westfield Hawthorn Mall received two Ashly Audio ne8800M 8-In x 8-Out Protea DSP system processors and two 8-channel Ashly ne8250.70 network amplifiers. Renaissance also installed sensing microphones in several of the zones,which feed the pair of Ashly Protea digital processors, which analyze the ambient noise and adjust the music or paging output to hit the target sound pressure level.

A pair of Ashly ne8250.70 8-channel network power amplifiers deliver 250-Watts per channel to all thirteen zones while taking-up only 4 rack spaces, and nearly 200 full-fidelity Community D6 loudspeakers now deliver the background music & page with intelligibility.

“[Ashly’s] five-year warranty was a selling point for the client,” says Shares. “I have a good relationship with the Ashly support staff, and they helped with the most efficient plan for Westfield Hawthorn Mall. The ambient noise detection and adjustment feature in the Protea software works very well, and the fact that we could fit all of the processing and amplifier channels into just 8 rack spaces was great. That saves space and power consumption.”

The Westfield Hawthorn Mall project was so successful, Renaissance has already secured another mall renovation job, where Shares will again use Ashly processing and amplification to deliver excellent audio performance.