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Is Your Audio System State of the Art: Purposeful Design

Posted by Bob Langlois on 11/4/14 4:27 PM

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Hidden CostsState of the art. What does it mean when we say that? I know we throw that term around a lot, even when some audio system designs are clearly anything but. The phrase itself connotes something very expensive and unreachable for many. Well, here is the truth. It may be far cheaper to look for someone on the cutting edge to design something in a purposeful way to solve your problems, rather than relying on traditional point source designs. You just cannot look at the price of a product and determine its real cost until you determine what it will save.

Here are two examples.

But first, my all time favorite sound joke.

How many sound guys does it take to change a light bulb? 10. One to actually do it, and 9 to talk about how good the old one was.

This seems to reflect a mindset that won’t go away. While it may be relevant to some microphones it is not when designing a sound system.

My first example is from over a decade or so ago:

A potential client came to me looking to design a system for their new facility. He had already gotten a quote that was well over $1.5 million, which was way out of his budget. I took a look at what this company had done and noticed right away the lack of imagination of design. There were three delay lines, far too many point source speaker cabinets and $500,000 in acoustic treatments to tame the “over spraying” system. It was, however, a traditional “proven” design.

As I looked at it I saw that two small vertical line arrays would not only do the job, but almost eliminate the need for most of the acoustic treatments. Putting energy where the seats were was not that hard. The arrays were state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line and very expensive. The design ended up under $400,000 when all was said and done.

While the project never materialized they did, however, redo their original space so we modified the design to fit it. The system rocks the house to this day and he has remained my friend for these many years. We have since solved a few more problems for his other smaller venues.

My second example is very simple. A small church recently needed a system upgrade. This was a small 400 seat space that was beautifully done in hardwood with an “A” frame design. There was a speaker cluster that I can only refer to as a flying junkyard ruining the architecture of the space and doing worse than nothing at all. It seems not many wanted to touch it for the budget they had.

This was the real “no brainer.” We looked at it and said never put anything in the ceiling here again. We looked at a very expensive speaker system for left and right. It needed to be full frontal, on axis and no energy above the 7’ line. Easy, breezy, lemon squeezy. Surprise, surprise, they now have a “state of the art" sound system and it fit in their budget. The system sounds incredible and the energy is even and consistent everywhere you sit in the space. You can’t even see the system unless you know what you are looking for. The architecture has been preserved as a bonus.

The next time you hear the words "state of the art," ask yourself if it really, truly is as advertised. If it's not, it's probably not purposeful.


Topics: Pro AV, Audio