SVS Unleashes Sounds of Cosmos in California Planetarium

Kurt Kruger, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) coordinator for Piner High School in Santa Rosa, CA, has been a huge fan of SVS speakers and subwoofers since he first discovered the brand researching HiFi system upgrades years back. When he came to SVS looking to install an immersive sound system as part of a new state-of-the-art planetarium the school was building, we jumped at the opportunity. The school and its attached “SPARQ” science center sought to create one of the most captivating multi-sensory planetarium experiences in the country and he knew crisp, clear, room-energizing sound would be critical.

After consulting with the SVS Sound Experts, the school installed an amazingly immersive 7.2 surround sound system featuring two Ultra Bookshelf speakers, one Ultra Center, four Ultra Surrounds and a pair of SB16-Ultra subwoofers to render the sounds of the cosmos for students and the public who use the facility.

To get more background on the project and how SVS is being used to serve the community, we interviewed Mr. Kruger, who is also the Planetarium and Observatory Director for SPARQ.

Photos courtesy of Mindy Breslin Photography

What is the SPARQ Center and how it connected to the school?

SPARQ stands for “Science, Position, Astronomy, Research, and Query”. Our center is part of the Piner High School and includes a planetarium, research grade observatory with a very powerful telescope, GIS (Geographic Information Systems) laboratory and other facilities that give students data collection opportunities they wouldn’t have otherwise. Our goal is simple - provide students with opportunities to collect their own data so that they may do science rather than listen to me talk about it all day. Science is a process, not a thing. It is a way to ask and answer questions in a reliable, repeatable, verifiable, peer reviewable way to discover truth, and our SPARQ center provides a wealth of resources for students and the public to do that.

Why did you think of SVS for this project?

I am, in my personal life, an audiophile. I enjoy sound and music and am well read on the subject. Your reputation is beyond reproach. Both your products and company reflect the values, attention to detail, and application of science and technology that we are trying to emulate in our SPARQ center to inspire and excite students about STEM so that’s really what made me start researching SVS as an option initially.

How are SVS speakers and subwoofers being used as part of an immersive learning experience?

Kids are very much into audio visual experiences, and traditionally, planetariums were just stars and astronomy, but now we can project three-dimensional images of all sorts of things that relate to biology and history and whatever else we want to teach. I’ll paraphrase George Lucas in saying that more than 50% of the experience of any movie or multimedia experience is in the audio, so we wanted a state-of-the-art sound system for our planetarium.

It’s a fairly large space so we went with a 7.2 array featuring SVS Ultra Bookshelf and Ultra Surround speakers as well as an Ultra Center and a pair of SB16-Ultra subwoofers. Most people, especially kids, have never heard a properly calibrated surround sound speaker system before, especially with the deep bass component. When they hear it, they love it. They respond to the immersive sound and it’s just amazing to see how interested they get in whatever is being shown.

Have there been any specific “subwoofer moments” that really got the attention of your audience?

Absolutely. One in particular that always gets a reaction is a video we play from the California Academy of Sciences called “Earthquakes: Evidence of a Restless Planet”. Most kids are used to really tubby or flabby low frequency output that they think is bass, but really isn’t. And when they hear the SVS subwoofers, and particularly feel them during the rumbling sequences of this video, they’re like, “Oh my Gosh!” It’s just a totally new experience and I’ve had so many questions from kids specifically about the subwoofers. They are just naturally drawn to the subs because of the sonic “Wow” factor they provide.

Given the shape of the room with speakers firing from nearly every direction, what effect has that created?

It’s a totally engaging experience, in fact, we call it our SPARQ Immersive Theater. I use a lot of IMAX movies and content that has been mixed incredibly well to emphasize “head-turning” surround sound effects. I totally pander to the kids and they just really react positively to an experience that’s as close to the real thing as possible. The loudspeakers are so crystal clear and have so much dynamic impact that it’s as good, and probably better than any commercial cinema that anyone has ever been to.

They look forward to going in there as part of their school day, and honestly, a lot of planetariums ignore the sound aspect, but I believe what we’ve created with the SPARQ experience is on par with the most expensive and sophisticated planetariums in the world when it comes to the audio, all thanks to SVS.

Are there any upcoming events the public can participate in?

We do STEM cafes where we have scientists come in and do lectures that sometimes integrate the audio system and I also do monthly planetarium/documentary shows. For anyone in our area, you can check out our full schedule here.

Anything else you’d like to share with the SVS community?

Yes, I just want to throw out a word of thanks to SVS President Gary Yacoubian an the entire SVS staff who were so helpful in making recommendations and just being generally responsive during this whole process. It’s rare in this day to have some in his position take the time to reply to a request like ours so it really speaks to what SVS stands for as a company. You really exemplify the way a company should be run.

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Mar 24, 2020