Missouri Dept. of Conservation Save Taxpayers with Mackie FreePlay and ProDX

Nov 10, 2016
Image of the combined Mackie FreePlay and ProDX audio system used by the Missouri department of conservation

When one thinks of a state Department of Conservation, fish, forests, and wildlife come to mind, not AV. But as the Missouri Department of Conservation’s mission statement notes, the agency also must “facilitate and provide opportunity for all citizens to use, enjoy, and learn about these resources.” To meet this goal, explains Kansas City Region IT Field Support Specialist Jason Cobden, “We have office spaces where we hold private and public discussions and meetings, and we offer educational programs and inner city programs to get kids more involved with nature. We talk with other agencies about best practices. These programs often require AV support.”

That support is now provided by new mobile AV systems based on Mackie FreePlay Portable PAs and ProDX Wireless Digital Mixers. “We designed these portable AV systems to save taxpayer dollars,” begins Cobden. “The systems are built on carts with large LCD screens that you raise and lower. Each cart has a wireless lavaliere, a wireless handheld microphone, and a FreePlay. Since mobile systems can be used anywhere in a building, we don’t have to buy as much equipment.”

The key is the Mackie FreePlay. “It’s portable, it has unique features, it has built-in feedback suppression, and we can afford it,” avers Cobden. “At that price point, with the features it has, it blows away some of the really expensive stuff that we looked at.”

The FreePlay’s built-in feedback destroyer quickly proved its worth. “The feedback destroyer integrated into the FreePlay was critical because we wanted to move this system around a room depending on how it was being used for the day,” Cobden notes. “We did not want presenters to become sound engineers just to avoid feedback when using the wireless microphones. And the FreePlay’s feedback suppression is fantastic; it really works well.”

The systems’ signal flow, while non-traditional, is heavily focused on the needs of less-experienced users. “We’re trying to go for simplicity,” Cobden professes, “so the two microphones that belong to the cart and our source audio—a movie, the AppleTV, or a laptop—go to a video switcher that combines the audio signals. The combined audio is sent via HDMI to the video screen, which controls the sound level because when people see a TV, they instantly go to the TV volume control. We set the FreePlay level for the room, and then we adjust up and down from the TV. It’s self-service.”

The Mackie ProDX 8-channel digital mixer proved the final piece in the puzzle. “We had bigger meetings, with more people, so we needed more microphone channels,” Cobden relates. “And we needed more control. For these events, we run our mics to a ProDX 8, and we plug the main mixer outputs into the back of the FreePlay. Not only can we have more microphones, but an IT specialist like me can sit in the back of the room and control the ProDX mix with my iPhone and Mackie MixerConnect™ software.”

Wireless control offers valuable benefits. “If a presenter leans over to talk with a neighbor, I can mute their mic,” Cobden notes. “If they’re talking very softly, and they’re far from the mic, I can bump the level up. The ProDX mixer gives me the ability to control the system with the level of control of a fixed install but without the expense and complexity.”

Along with its AV applications, the FreePlay has contributed to the agency’s scientific work. “Our wildlife group uses a FreePlay to address large audiences at outdoor events. But they also take binoculars and a parabolic microphone that’s wired to the FreePlay into the field,” Cobden details. “Now they can watch and hear prairie chickens without getting close enough to disturb them.”

The Department of Conservation staff is delighted with the FreePlay- and ProDX 8-based mobile systems. “It’s a neat setup that takes advantage of Mackie’s unique equipment, and it’s cost effective, so it’s not hard for us to justify the purchase,” relates Cobden. “It has been very well received. We’re giving up our installed systems everywhere, except for our large auditoriums, because the mobile systems perform better. We’ll soon have more mobile systems for special events. It’s exciting!”

With the FreePlay bolted on top of the cart, the new systems have even earned a fond nickname, thanks to Cobden’s colleague Garret Albright: “Space Invader.” “If you remember the game Space Invaders on the Atari 2600 in the 1980s,” Cobden laughs, “the reference makes sense.”

Mackie’s free MixerConnect app is available for download on iOS and Android.