Soundfield Voice Reinforcement for better learning environments


CIE’s explains what a Soundfield voice reinforcement system is and the technology behind it...




Integrating audio systems into the classroom is now proving to dramatically advance children’s academic performance.

Over the last decade the modern classroom has developed to include a wide variety of different technologies. Designed to engage children of all ages with their education and hold their attention more effectively, these technologies give them the start that will help them achieve success in later life.

Just over a decade ago, we saw the introduction of the first ‘smart boards’ which transformed the traditional black/white board into an interactive screen. With the ability to run games and display other interactive challenges, these smart boards helped to motivate students to learn and take part in group activities.

As classrooms around the country continue to grow in size, teachers everywhere are seeking technology which will allow them to communicate more effectively with their students, ensuring that they can be heard by everyone in the room and everyone in the room can hear them, whilst preventing distractions and aiding better engagement.

Soundfield Voice Reinforcement for better learning environmentsChildren spend at least 45% of their school day engaged in active listening activities, with today’s classroom acting as a primarily auditory verbal environment. However, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 14.9% of children aged 6~19 have some degree of hearing impairment.  Studies further show that 80% of young learners will have some form of fluctuating hearing loss during the academic year. In response to such findings, the recent Department for Education & Skills (DfES) paper – Building Bulletin ’93 – sets legislative standards for the acoustic design of new schools. Highlighting the significance of ‘Sound Field’ voice reinforcement as an ideal solution to acoustic performance in the classroom, the BB’93 recommendations ensure effective levels of speech recognition for children in a learning environment.

Not to be confused with the many other products and uses for the term ‘soundfield’, BB’93’s “Sound Field Systems for Schools” refers, quite simply, to the use of a wireless voice reinforcement system in the classroom. The teacher is provided with either a headset or lapel microphone which is linked to a wireless receiver, amplification and loudspeaker system. Providing low level voice reinforcement, Sound Field systems are designed to provide ‘voice lift’ – raising the level of the teacher’s voice without drawing attention away from the original point source (i.e. the teacher!).  

The Benefits of a Sound Field System in the Classroom

All children benefit from the improved speech clarity of a Sound Field System. Academic improvements are noted in:

  • Task behaviour
  • Attentiveness
  • Understanding of instructions
  • Less repetition required
  • Better attendance
  • Improved measures of verbal recognition
  • Reduced voice strain

Consultant and Principal Contributor to BB’93, Sam Wise, has noted a marked increase in the use of Sound Field Systems in the United States over the past 15 years and now sees its integration into the UK classroom as a significant opportunity both for academic performance and, of course, the audio installation industry.

“The use of Sound Field allows all children in a learning environment to share the same experience, including not only the amplified sound but also normal verbal communication and other sounds generally around them. This differs, of course, from other auditory aids such as student-worn headphones where ambient sound and communication is removed.

What Is A Soundfield Voice Reinforcement System?

A Soundfield voice reinforcement system improves children’s learning by improving the sound environment in the classroom. It has been designed specifically for speech sounds, ensuring that anything said by the user can be heard and understood properly. Soundfield ensures an even distribution of sound from the teacher, the students and any multimedia equipment being used.

With a Soundfield system, any students sat at the back of the classroom will be able hear the teacher and other students in the room just as well as the students who are sitting at the front. This helps all students to accurately hear what is being said and improves their attentiveness, participation, comprehension and concentration. It also helps the teacher avoid straining their vocals in order to project their voice to students across a large space.

With a Soundfield system, larger amounts of children can be taught at the same time, which prevents teachers from being drowned out in a noisy classroom and considerably reduces the amount that they have to shout at an unnaturally high level.

What Is The Technology Behind Soundfield Systems?

Soundfield is the introduction of low level individual audio systems into the classroom to unobtrusively raise the teacher’s voice. It consists of a mini PA system, which is installed permanently into the classroom, although a portable version which can be moved whenever required is available. The Soundfield system consists of:

Soundfield Voice Reinforcement for better learning environments

  • Loudspeakers - These are placed evenly around the room. The amount needed and the spacing between them will depend on the size and shape of the classroom. The most effective choices are ceiling mounted speakers as these will cover the area evenly, however wall mounted speakers will work as long as they are installed in the right places.
  • Microphone – This is to capture the teacher’s voice so, like a TV presenter, different microphones are suited to different teaching styles. Standard handheld microphones are good for instances with student participation, as the microphone can be passed around and used by anyone. Headsets can work well, however they are not as inconspicuous as other types of microphones such as clip-ons or pendants, which easily attach to the teacher, whilst allowing them to keep their hands free.
  • Amplifier – This takes the signal from the microphone and sends it to speakers, ensuring an even noise level around the room. The volume can be controlled by the teacher to increase or reduce the sound level produced, depending on the size of the classroom and how many students are present.

Can I Integrate Other Media Players Into A Soundfield System?

One of the great aspects of a Soundfield system is that the technology it uses can link up to other media devices such as DVD players, interactive smart boards and induction loop systems, which are used to assist children with hearing disabilities.

A Soundfield system can just be one small aspect of a complete classroom AV system that allows any type of media to be played to the class, whether it’s a DVD or a YouTube video, along with educational computer programs and other digital mediums which can assist the students’ learning experience.This also means that if the classroom already has speakers and an amplifier previously installed into the room for another media device, then adding in a Soundfield system can be relatively simple and inexpensive as most of the equipment is already in place.

How Have Schools Taken To The Adoption Of Soundfield In The Classroom?

Soundfield systems are quickly becoming an essential tool for teachers, enabling them to talk to large numbers of students without straining their voice in order to be heard. They are now written into the specifications of new schools and refurbished classrooms by a number of LEAs throughout the UK.

Soundfield is frequently being requested by teachers and lecturers in both mainstream and inclusive teaching environments where children with hearing difficulties are integrated into mainstream classes, ensuring a completely even sound around the room and preventing anyone from claiming they couldn’t hear because they were sat at the back!

New Opportunities for Audio Installers in the Education Sector

BB’93 has increased the significance of the educational environment as an opportunity for audio installers to a new level. Though the benefits of a Sound Field System are very clear and BB’93 legislation emphasises a clear requirement for improved voice reinforcement in the classroom, the difficulty for these products may lie in the perceived “continual financial pinch” educational development finds itself.

However, funding for education is, in fact, currently at its highest in recent history, receiving investment from a variety of government and private initiatives. Funding on a grand scale using Public Private Partnerships (PPP) and Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) provide significant capital to build and operate new educational facilities in areas where refurbishment is not financially viable. According to the latest Eurostat figures, without including budgetary development for refurbishment (a significant market which should not be ignored!), investment in new build educational projects has risen by 224% in just 4 years and is predicted to rise by a further 131% to 8.4billion Euro in 2005. In striving to plan successful academic programmes teachers, architects, audio designers and installers need to consider the sheer numbers of students who may not hear well on a given school day.

With the backing of DfES legislation, the public and private funding of organisations such as LEAs, Government Revenue Support Grants, County Councils, Lottery Grants, New Deals for Schools and PTAs, Sound Field Voice Reinforcement Systems are an easy, cost effective solution, ensuring all students listen and learn productively throughout the school year, whilst opening new and lucrative opportunities for the installation industry into the educational environment.


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Got a question for the HowToAV Team?

Thank you for reading our guide on Soundfield voice reinforcement systems. We’ve looked at what Soundfield is and how it can aid children’s learning in the classroom, along with the benefits to the teacher, allowing them to speak to a large number of students at a sound level they are comfortable with. If you have any further questions regarding Soundfield systems then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our team of AV experts.

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