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Sound system throughout hospital - controllable via pc, tablet, smartphone

Posted on 2014-01-27
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Last Modified: 2014-01-29
Hi all

I don't even know what I am asking for here so please be kind.

I need to come up with a solution for piping music throughout a hospital.  hallways, offices and general areas.

Firstly, I can only guess there will be 50+ speakers involved.  What kind of hardware solution would I need to power all those speakers?  (including consideration for distance)

Secondly, I expect we will be streaming music from something like spotify, perhaps internet radio or cd collections (converted to mp3) - any thoughts/ideas would be appreciated.
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Question by:benfixit
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LVL 83

Expert Comment

by:Dave Baldwin
ID: 39813873
You need to consult with a sound contractor to do this.  In particular, one who has experience in this situation.  Sound distribution in a situation like this is Not like your home stereo.

In addition, if this is in the US, you will need to pay fees to BMI or ASCAP for broadcasting copyrighted music.  It is not free and they will take you to court.  And win.

You might be able to run it thru the paging system but you would have to consult the manual for the system and make sure you don't interfere with the paging.  Also see if there is already a sound contractor for the system.  You don't want a bill from them to 'fix' whatever they think you might have done wrong.

And if it does go thru the paging system, internet access is probably undesirable.  You don't want anyone hacking the hospital paging system.
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Accepted Solution

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BillDL earned 500 total points
ID: 39815933
If you are in the UK you would normally need a licence from the PRS (Performing Rights Society):
http://www.prsformusic.com/Pages/default.aspx
but they can use their discretion for certain "healthcare" facilities:
http://www.prsformusic.com/users/businessesandliveevents/musicforbusinesses/Health/Pages/health.aspx
In the case of a hospital where the music was not intended for therapeutic purposes, I'm pretty sure a hospital would have to pay for a licence.
http://www.prsformusic.com/users/businessesandliveevents/Pages/PRSforMusicchargingpolicies.aspx#2

The PRS have a specific licence for "hospital radio":
http://www.prsformusic.com/search_results/Pages/default.aspx?k=hospital%20radio
and I'm sure you will have a similar licence in other countries.

International collection agencies (hang the mouse over the countries or continents on the map for details):
http://www.prsformusic.com/international/Pages/international.aspx

  The National Health Service hospitals in the UK tended to have their own "hospital radio" that was only piped through sockets on the wall next to the oxygen supply and filtered electrical wall sockets, and patients had to buy disposable headphones to listen.  I believe that many have now been modernised to allow patients to plug in MP3 players, but I don't think the music system is very widely used by patients these days because each room and ward now has a flat screen TV with Freesat channels.

The BP gas stations in the UK all play exactly the same music from a long playlist which just loops endlessly.  There must be some kind of financial benefit to them by choosing a fixed playlist (perhaps royalties all agreed and paid up front thus negating a licence), and maybe that's something that could be checked out.

One other consideration is the careful selection of suitable music.  It would hardly be appropriate for patients or relatives in the oncology wards or rooms to be subjected to a song like "Seasons In The Sun", and the theme tune from the old TV series M.A.S.H. and Queen - Who Wants To Live Forever, would be pretty tasteless in the ER.  You really wouldn't want to play a song like THIS where patients or relatives in the psychiatric wards would be exposed to it.

Of course, you can find health-related connotations in a huge number of songs because music is emotive and about real life, but you have to be very careful in choosing appropriate playlists that are suitable for all ages and would not be overtly distasteful to most people in a hospital environment.

When it comes to hardware, I agree with Dave Baldwin in suggesting that you employ a specialist company for this.  There are a lot of issues to consider, such as whether the "tannoy" speakers can be re-used and if not, where and how to mount new speakers and wiring.  If speakers are wireless, then they need to be on a wireless frequency unlikely to interfere with or suffer interference from other electrical and wireless systems in and around the hospital.  Sound insulation or damping may be a consideration where sound bleeding into quiet areas would be undesirable.  I would have thought that cabling in any public building like a hospital would need to meet certain standards regarding combustibility or the level of noxious smoke that would be emitted in the event of a fire.

From my limited experience, I believe that "wired" commercial background audio systems use amplifiers that output a much higher voltage level into the speaker cables than any domestic sound system, and that the speakers have transformers/attenuators in them to step the voltage back down.  That way you can use much longer cables and have them a bit thinner.  You are therefore not dealing with skinny 2 core figure 8 flat bell wire, but instead thinking of double insulated and shielded cable to safely carry something like 100 volts.

Sticking half a dozen small and aesthetically pleasing white speakers onto brackets or into the ceiling and wiring them back to a small power amp is fine for a dental surgery, but a hospital environment is quite different and really needs an experienced consultant, for example a company like this in the UK:
http://www.abletek.co.uk
They actually sell DIY systems for PA, Tannoy and Background Music (BGM), and offer some very general guidelines.

Another aspect is whether all the music will be suitable for all areas.  "Healing Through Music" is big business and, whether or not you believe the hype, you would have to consider the potential legal aspect of doing the opposite.  These days litigation us so riduculous that I could envisage a claim that repeated exposure to "elevator music" at a vulnerable time caused the claimant's relative to exhibit suicidal tendencies.

Even if you aren't ready to embrace a large "jukebox" thing that looks like a cross between a giant toilet roll and a park bench, and which may fool people into thinking that it vends something through the ports at the sides, the principe of this:
http://www.aestheticaudiosystems.com/serenity-listening-system/
is that you can have different types of music in different areas and that it creates a less directional and more ambient sound than having small speakers focused into a room.  If you have the clarity of audio in a 3-D spread like the (very good but very expensive)  Bose Wave System, you can keep the volumes lower and the music will be less annoying.

Anyway, these are just some of my ideas for your consideration, but be aware that I believe background music to be counter-productive in a lot of environments where a high level of concentration is required, and this includes medical staff :-)
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LVL 83

Expert Comment

by:Dave Baldwin
ID: 39815964
Bill makes good points.  Virtually everything that is installed in a hospital has to meet some kind of health safety standards and be inspected to meet those standards, probably on a yearly basis.
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Author Closing Comment

by:benfixit
ID: 39819713
Not exactly what I was after.  I was hoping for some kind of information on what was required on a hardware level..  Compliance related stuff while relevant is up to the client.
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LVL 83

Expert Comment

by:Dave Baldwin
ID: 39819724
The audio contractor for a hospital must supply equipment that can meet the hospital safety standards.  Hospitals are one of the more difficult places to install any kind of electronic equipment because they are generally very strict.  For example, they usually require 'hospital certified' AC power plugs in place of 'normal' power cords.  There is an entire industry dedicated to supplying medical grade equipment.  Some links: https://www.google.com/search?q=medical+grade+electronics
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LVL 38

Expert Comment

by:BillDL
ID: 39819969
Thank you for the accept, benefixit.  I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I would rather you had perhaps waited to see whether anybody else came along to supply you with specific detail about the first part of your question than to award an "Average" rating.  The question was in two parts, and I attempted to answer the "any thoughts/ideas" aspect of your 2nd question which was:  "I expect we will be streaming music from something like spotify, perhaps internet radio or cd collections (converted to mp3)."

The bulk of my "thoughts and ideas" were about the potential pitfalls of assuming that this is a venture you can walk into ignorant of the legalities.

From a hardware point of view all that can be offered are general guidelines, some of which were available in the page that I provided the link for:  http://www.abletek.co.uk/diy_pa_tannoy.php
From the websites of American companies selling commercial audio equipment it looks to me as though they only go up as high as 70 volts into the speaker line rather than 100 volts which seems to be the norm in Europe.

From an installation point of view, speakers mounted through ceilings should always have a fire-proof shroud, box, or cowl on the void to slow down the spread of fire.  Ceilings have to be fire retardant, and cutting holes into them to mount speakers with flammable cones would lessen the containment of fire unless they were backed by fire resistant material.

It sounds like what you were after was somebody to tell you what wattage of amplifier you would need to power 50 x 10 watt RMS speakers through a 500 metres of cable carrying 70 volts.

Here is an excellent article on the subject written by a commercial sound technician:
http://abgbweb.com/ABTEC/html/70v_audio.html
It has all the formulas that will help you to calculate the requirements.
here is another page that looks to be well laid out and explained:
http://www.ticcorp.com/25v_70v_100v_systems.htm

There are a lot more pages out there.  Just google "70 volt speaker systems" and "constant voltage speaker systems", but when it comes to installing the audio system, the contractor is the one who has to comply with all legal requirements and specifications.
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