Classroom audio systems (Part 1 of 2): Making the purchase

Photo by trailblazeauctions on eBay

September and May are not exactly the best months to be a teacher in most Michigan schools. It’s not because our students are unusually rowdy. It’s not because of the heap of paperwork that comes with starting and ending the year.

It’s the heat.

Since Michiganders spend much of our school year looking at snow gathering on the ground, many schools in our state don’t have air conditioning. When 30 high school students come into a classroom in May and June and turn on 30 computers, things start to get steamy. On some days, temperatures in my classroom will rise to over 85 degrees. It’s a good thing that (most) students wear deodorant!

To combat the heat, I purchased four box fans, four oscillating fans, and two blowers. It doesn’t exactly cool things off, but it makes the temperature somewhat bearable. Unfortunately, another problem is created with all those fans pushing around air: my students can’t hear me. Enter the classroom audio system!

There has been a lot of research done about the benefits of enhancing audio in a classroom. In fact, a poll of 105 of my students revealed that 66 percent of them believe my classroom audio system helps them understand directions and learn better. I have my system adjusted so that my voice creates a “presence” in the room that is audible over chair squeaks and clacking keyboards. It doesn’t boom like the voice of God unless I want it to. As a bonus, I don’t find myself straining my voice when I speak to them.

So why aren’t these awesome systems in all classrooms?

Cost. A classroom audio system purchased new can cost $800-$1,500. If you’re good at kissing up to administrators and begging for money, by all means do it. If not, I can help you find a used classroom audio system and install it for less than $300. It’s not exactly “inexpensive,” but considering how it helps my students and saves my voice, it has been worth every penny.

When I began researching classroom audio systems, I was immediately turned off by the size of the microphones that were included with most systems (I’m looking at you Panasonic!). I eventually stumbled onto Lightspeed Technologies classroom audio systems. I am a fan of their products for three reasons (if you skip ahead to number 3, you will quickly learn that I am not a product pitchman):

  1. The microphones that are included in their systems are much smaller than what most other companies offer.
  2. It is an infrared, or IR (i.e., line-of-sight), microphone system. The audio only works if the microphone is in your classroom and in close proximity to an IR receiver (in other words, no embarrassing Frank Drebin-esque bathroom breaks).
  3. Used systems are easy to find on eBay!

With that in mind, the remainder of this post (and Part 2) will focus specifically on purchasing and installing Lightspeed products.

Making the Purchase

ebayGo to eBay. Do a search for “lightspeed classroom” or “lightspeed microphone.” You will see several results. Look for a complete system that contains the following parts:

  • An amplifier (I suggest the 700IR or the 820IR)
  • An AC adapter for the amplifier
  • A microphone (I suggest the LT-71 or the RedMike VC)
  • A lanyard for the microphone
  • A charging cable or charging cradle for the microphone
  • An IR receiver (model number SR-70 or SR-70F) for mounting on a ceiling or wall (it almost looks like a small dome security camera)

There are some other parts you may need that typically aren’t included in these auctions:

  • A coaxial cable or mono RCA audio cable  to connect your SR-70 IR receiver to the amplifier (I suggest waiting to receive your system, as the connection to the SR-70 might be either screw-in or push-in)
  • Speakers (check your local Craigslist for some inexpensive bookshelf speakers)
  • Speaker wire (there is no need to buy expensive speaker wire for your classroom)

Sometimes it pays to be patient and negotiate with eBay sellers. For example, when I purchased my system last year, I was able to talk the seller down to $225 from the $300 he was originally asking. That doesn’t even come close to the amazing deal I found for my wife a couple weeks ago: a complete system (including a new RedMike VC microphone) for only $90! Awesome!

Once you click that “Buy” button, sit back and feel confident that you have made a wise purchase that will greatly improve your students’ learning environment for years to come. When your system arrives, make sure to come back here and check out my tips for installing your new classroom audio system!

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