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How Do I Create an Audio Exhibit?

Something we often take for granted in the world of interpretation is the process and equipment required when creating an audio exhibit. It’s obvious to us because we do it all the time, but when you think about it most people wouldn’t know where to start if suddenly tasked with creating an Audio Exhibit… this post aims to take a simple look behind the curtain and lay out exactly what is required when creating an audio exhibit…

How do I create an Audio Exhibit?

This is something many people ask, be it for museum, heritage or retail purposes. Working in the field of audio visual interpretation and design can make complicated things seem simple, it’s clear to us how you go about creating an audio exhibit, but for most people who visit a museum little thought goes into the equipment behind the scenes.

In reality, it’s actually quite simple, each of the examples pictured to the right have the same 3 elements in common. They use a;

  1. Player
  2. Trigger
  3. Output

These 3 things combined are behind almost every basic audio exhibit you’ve ever seen…

Edinburgh Zoo

6 Button Audio Exhibit with Speaker Output

Tildonk Experience Centre

4 Button Audio Exhibit with Headphone Output

Het Noordbrabants Museum

Audio Exhibit that autoplays content upon lift up of headphone

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1. Player

This is the heart of an audio exhibit, essentially it’s what contains and plays your audio files. There are a number of solutions you can utilise here however a Solid State player will be the most reliable. You’ll also need to decide what you intend to Output to and also what will Trigger your player (more on those two things next). 

At blackbox-av we have developed our own range of solid state audio players, the SoundClip. The SoundClip plays audio from an SD card, is easily programmed and can be activated (triggered) in various ways depending on the model. You’ll find the SoundClip in installations all over the world.

Pictured is the SoundClip-2. This can be programmed to either continuously loop content, activate content via up to 2 button inputs (in different ways, such as single track per button, next/previous mode to move through multiple tracks and so on). There are other SoundClips in the range which allow up to 16 button inputs…

2. Trigger

This is essentially how your audio is activated. If you have a purely looping exhibit then you won’t require a trigger. However if you have an exhibit that you want to be activated via human interaction, then you have a few options. 

Buttons are always a great choice – pressing a button to activate content is something everybody understands, you can also use multiple buttons to allow visitors choice of what they want to hear. There are however more unique options available, for example a pressure pad that when stepped on can act as a ‘trigger’ and start the Audio Player, or a PIR sensor which detects human movement and triggers the Audio player.

All triggers are essentially the same thing, they send a message to the Audio Player that it’s time to start playing content, it’s just the way this message is sent that changes depending upon your chosen trigger. Pictured is our small PIR and a standard black 16mm push button, however we have plenty more options available on our store, all of which are compatible with our range of SoundClip Audio Players. 

3. Output

This is how visitors listen to your audio. Your basic options here consist of speakers or headphones/handsets. Headphones are most popular because they ensure audio bleed is kept to a minimum, although speakers are often used to share audio with groups or used with atmospheric sounds.

Our range of headphones/handsets are used all over the world thanks to their great quality sound and tried and tested ruggedness, making them ideal for use in public spaces. Read more about our Armour Cable Headphones here.

What’s even better is our range of AutoPlay headphones (the HDH version is pictured) can double as a Trigger as well when used alongside our Audio Players – this means when they’re lifted off their unique magnetic holders, audio can begin to play and when returned the audio will stop.

That’s pretty much it!

Then you just need to build these 3 items into housing of some kind, be it behind a wall, a desk, a free standing unit or something more unique like the drawer system pictured here. This Audio Exhibit is made up of…

  1. A SoundClip-2
  2. A push button
  3. A SingleCup Headphone

But by building it into an interpretive unit which allows for artefacts and standard signage, it becomes a much more engaging and educational piece. Interested in creating a video exhibit? Read more about it here.

The 3 core elements stay the same…

…but the results can be very different, depending how you put them together. This example uses pretty much the same things; 

  1. A SoundClip-8
  2. 6 push buttons
  3. A through panel speaker

But by building it into a full sized graphic and using a speaker instead of headphones, the effect is very different and allows multiple visitors to enjoy the audio interpretation together. Click here to read more about this project.

4. Lighting

There are of course additional things you can do to be creative, for example all of our Audio Players have a lighting output as standard (whilst the SC-8L had 8). This means you can also activate lighting whilst triggering audio, which allows you to do some interesting things…

This is a standard spotlight that’s compatible with our SC range of Audio Players. You can also use other interesting things like coloured strip LED lighting that are able to create a great atmosphere.

You can illuminate items…

… with spotlights. For example you may have audio content which relates to specific physical items in front of the visitor, triggering the associated audio track will activate a spotlight which illuminates the item. 

Or for this project where two spotlights are utilised to illuminate the bust of King Alfred the great. Using just;

  1. A SoundClip-2
  2. A push button
  3. A Speaker
  4. 2 Spotlights

A much more immersive and atmospheric experience was created, where the voice (acted of course) of King Alfred The Great emits from the bust, telling the story of his lie.

Or just create a spooky atmosphere…

…in this project for Dunster Castle a spooky atmospheric ‘ghost stories’ audio exhibit was created, using a; 

  1. A SoundClip-8
  2. 8 push buttons
  3. 2 through panel speakers
  4. A Green LED Light Strip

All built into a custom housing allowing people to sit in the alcoves and listen to the ghost stories. Visitors push a button to choose which story to hear, which then begins to quietly emanate from the alcove, while a spooky green glow appears.

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The only limitation is your imagination

As you can tell from above, the same 3 elements – Player / Trigger / Output when combined in various ways and built into unique housings, can create very different results. The limitation really is your imagination. 

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All-In-One Solutions

If you’re not able to build the 3 elements into a custom housing, or want something simpler to integrate with your exhibit, you can utilise a range of all-in-one solutions we offer off-the-shelf. These include anything from a simple PIR activated speaker, to free-standing button units or even period styled telephones. All of which can be customised to your needs. Some options are below…

Message in a Speaker

The Message in a Speaker (MIAS) is an all in one unit which includes a high quality JBL speaker and PIR to allow easy inclusion of movement activated audio in your interpretive space. 

With various play options including looping, single track, sequential and background mode, the MIAS is an incredibly flexible and simple to use device.

 

10″ Traditional AV Point

With a traditional feel the 10″ AV point won’t look out of place in any heritage site. Designed to allow simple access to audio and video files by visitors, the 10″ AV-Traditional allows access to 10 buttons of content, as well as 2 dedicated volume buttons.

All content is easily updated via a USB, with the 10″ screen presenting the button selection when not in use.

 

22″ Wall Mounted AV Point Modern

The Modern counterpart to the Traditional AV point, the 22″ AV-Modern presents HD Video and Audio in an all-in-one rugged yet sleek steel enclosure. 

As with the traditional range, the screen is utilised to present the button selection, with up to 10 buttons worth of content available, not including the dedicated volume up and down. All easily programmed via a USB.  

Period Telephone

The Period Telephone uses our unique Control Box to turn any phone with a BT plug (sometimes originals, oftentimes a reproduction) into an audio point. 

Simply dial a number from 1-97 to hear the programmed content. If the phone has a bell/ringer it can be set to ring every 1-59 minutes and play a message upon answer. 

 

Some of our work…

Here you can see some projects we’ve worked on that have used various audio techniques to bring their visitor attractions to life…

Porthcurno Telegraph Museum

Our Period Telephone Control Box was used to great effect alongside a reproduction Candlestick Phone to create a unique audio point at the Porthcurno Museum

Het Noordbrabants Museum

AutoPlay Single Cup headphones and SoundClip’s were used for the ‘Loving Vincent’ exhibition in this Dutch museum – activating audio interpretation automatically upon pickup of the handsets

Scottish Parliament

We turned this original Trench Telephone into an interesting audio point for an exhibition in the Scottish Parliament

Roskilde Museum in Denmark

A number of SoundClips with push buttons and single cup headphones were used to bring bi-lingual audio interpretation to the entire Roskilde Museum

Three Blind Mice Automata

Here the SoundClip-2 was used with an illuminated button to start an amazing Three Blind Mide Automata

Oasis Cardiff

Bespoke all-in-one audio units using the SoundClip-2 and Double Cup Armoured cable headphones were used in this pop-up exhibition

Edinburgh Zoo

The SoundClip-8 with 6 buttons and a speaker were built into this full colour signage panel to share animal ‘sounds from Sumatra’ with visitors

Hopefully this post been enlightening, if you have any questions at all about how to create an Audio Exhibit (or anything else for that matter!) please get in touch using the form below.

Or leave a comment at the bottom of the page…