Can You Hear Me Now?

Mike Lawson • • April 4, 2016

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All band directors know the voice vs. instrument struggle – it’s time for band practice, you’re out on the field, and you have to dictate instructions to your ensemble, but they can’t hear you over the sound of practice – no matter how loudly you yell. You strain your voice, but they still can’t quite hear, so you have to run back and forth to instruct each side of the band. It takes all your energy and is not efficient. Let’s face it, your voice can’t compete with a tuba. You also have the metronome going, which the band can’t hear well because the P.A. system you were provided by the principal’s office is not only a hand-me-down from the P.E. department, it is also a hunk of junk. This struggle can make band practice much more difficult, when it should be fun and productive.

This was the exact experience that Peter Manzi, director of bands with Carlsbad High School, described about how band practice went before he purchased a new P.A. system (the MegaVox Pro) from local portable sound system manufacturer, Anchor Audio. Manzi had previously used a small imported handheld system for instructing, but it was better used in groups of 10 – 15 people, not the whole band, and definitely was not meant to compete with the many coordinated sounds of tubas, drums, and horns. He explained how the need for a battery powered, portable P.A. is just as important in band practice as instruments, a field, and band members. He and his assistant director would continually strain their voices trying to rally everyone up, and he just couldn’t get the metronome amplified enough to get everyone to march to the same beat.

Anchor Audio has been manufacturing portable P.A. systems in southern California since first opened their doors in 1975. Their headquarters, which houses their lean manufacturing plant, is located in Carlsbad, at the northern end of sunny San Diego County. Their offices are located on the top of a hill, and if you stand in the right spot looking west, you have a great view of the ocean. Turn around facing east, and you have a beautiful view of the San Bernardino mountain range. A surprisingly small operation does everything from design and engineering to manufacturing, shipping out thousands of portable sound systems each day. The company has a same day shipping policy, so portable P.A.’s travel at light speed out the factory and into the world. The company is proud to have kept manufacturing jobs here in the states, despite their competitors moving manufacturing to China. Quite a few employees at Anchor Audio have been with the company for over 15 years, and followed them after their move from Torrance, California, to Carlsbad, California, six years ago.

Along with proudly being manufactured in the U.S., Anchor Audio offers a six year warranty on all of their portable sound systems – with the exception of batteries, which offer a two year warranty. Manzi said the robust warranty was an important factor in choosing a portable P.A. system because he is not the only person to use the system. Students often bring the system out to the field and set it up, and Manzi even lets other departments use the system when needed. Because many different individuals and departments use the system, it’s prone to rough-and-tough treatment. Knowing that he can simply send the MegaVox back to Anchor for any repairs made him confident in the decision to buy this unit, instead of a low-cost outsourced P.A. system.

The system that Manzi chose, along with thousands of other band directors nationwide, is the MegaVox Pro. This is a battery- powered, horn-driven speaker. It reaches 100 yards or more, and is ideal for voice amplification. Anchor Audio describes the MegaVox as a ‘bull-horn on steroids’, due to it’s intended use of amplifying your voice over a large area. The built-in high-efficiency re-entrant horn driver and powerful horn amplifier make it ideal for voice and metronome, and therefore, no good for music. This is appropriate for the marching band world, because voices and metronomes need to be intelligibly amplified – leaving the music to the musicians. The MegaVox comes standard with built-in Bluetooth, which was included specifically for the band market. Anchor Audio received requests for compatibility with the Dr. Beat metronome, so the company engineered an industry-leading Bluetooth module. The Bluetooth receiver has a 100 foot range (which is 70 feet longer than industry standard 30 foot range), and can sync up with any smartphone, tablet, or Bluetooth-enabled device. The unit also has a speaker-out input, which allows it to connect to an unpowered companion speaker for double the coverage. The MegaVox has up to two optional wireless receivers, which sync up to handheld or beltpack microphones. In band, we all use beltpacks with a headband mic, so we are handsfree and loud! It also comes with a handheld wired mic, which can clip on the back of the unit. The MegaVox also has a siren signal alter button, which allows the P.A. system to double as an emergency preparedness tool. However, the best thing about the MegaVox, is that it is battery powered, so you can bring it out on the field, place it on a speaker stand, and amplify your metronome beat while instructing the band. The system operates for 10 hours or more on a single charge, and the batteries are user- replaceable, so they can be replaced to extend the life of the unit. The Mega- Vox Pro is the industry standard in the marching band world.

Katie Newmiller, band director of the Tuscarora High School Band in Leesburg, Virginia, also recently purchased a MegaVox Pro, and took it with the band on a trip to Honolulu, Hawaii, for the Pearl Harbor Day Parade. Newmiller said it was truly indispensable and used it during practice as well as set up before the parade. “The ensemble will now be able to rehearse much more efficiently,” said Newmiller after their first practice with the MegaVox. The built-in Bluetooth and two wireless microphone receivers were must-haves for Newmiller’s band, as she needs to be hands free so that she can work hands on with individuals. The Bluetooth receiver has been the perfect match to amplify the Dr. Beat metronome over the distance of their field.

A conversation with Emily Golding, VP of marketing with Anchor Audio, revealed that the company’s engineering team is currently finalizing the design of a new development for the MegaVox Pro, which is specifically designed to cater to marching band users. “We know marching bands want to avoid running wires between the main unit and the unpowered companion speaker, so (without giving too much away), we are working on solving that problem. We want our portable P.A. systems to be completely wire-free,” reports Golding. The new addition will be released in June 2016 at InfoComm International – the biggest AV tradeshow in the U.S.


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