Choosing and installing the right commercial sound system for your business might seem a bit complicated. Don’t worry! We have been working with Bogen Communications, a partner of ours that has been designing, manufacturing and consulting on the installation of audio systems for over 80 years, to put together a short guide of how to make the best choices installing a commercial sound system.
1. Think long term
Speakers come in all sizes and prices. When we are talking about businesses, reliability is as important as fidelity. A properly designed and installed audio system should be maintenance free for 10, 20 or even 30 years. Lower cost budget products don’t just deliver questionable fidelity, they often have reliability problems leading to down time, service calls and early system replacement. High-quality speakers are worth it in the long term: they are more expensive up-front, but when you factor in their duration of life and audio quality, they are usually more economic than cheaper options.
2. Carefully evaluate your needs
Simply saying that you need a “Commercial Sound System” isn’t sufficient to insure the final installed system meets your needs. Factors to consider are overall volume and bandwidth (how much bass), uniformity of sound coverage and aesthetics.
- For volume, you need to decide if you’re looking for very low-level music heard in the background that’s just loud enough to break the silence, so the space doesn’t feel empty and cold, or whether your goal is something a little louder that will add energy to the space while being careful to still allow for easy communication between staff and customers.
- Bass response is somewhat tied to aesthetics in that, the more bass a speaker can produce, the larger it tends to be. A system made up of very small speakers with diminished bass response may be acceptable for very low-level music, but if the systems are used at higher sound levels, the experience will feel unnatural for the listener if sufficient bass response isn’t present.
- Uniformity of sound coverage can vary in several ways: 1) Having sizable sound level differences as you move around the space, even if you can still hear in all areas; 2) More uniform coverage where the sound level varies very little as you move around; 3) Higher performance systems that fully envelop you in sound. Put simply, this has to do with speaker placement and spacing. With speakers spaced widely, the sound will tend to diminish somewhat between the speakers. Tighter spacing brings the coverage of each speaker up to the edge of the next speaker’s coverage so that you are never outside the coverage area of a speaker. The most pleasing commercial sound system to listen to provides for significant overlap between the coverage of the speakers so that a listener is always hearing sound from more than one direction (i.e., from more than one speaker).
3. Use the right mix of speakers
There are so many different types of speakers available that it can be really confusing picking the right one(s) to suit your specific needs. You can find in-ceiling, wall mount, pendants, rigged loudspeakers, etc., with each addressing a specific need/problem. Keep in mind that you’ll likely need more than one type of speaker to get proper coverage throughout the various areas of your business. Ensuring good sounding music, while at the same time maintaining the aesthetics of your business, is a real science.
In order to achieve broad, even music coverage in any space, there are certain aspects to be considered in both the speaker system being used and the space geometry itself:
- The dispersion angle of the speaker is dependent on the design of the speaker. A single, 8-inch speaker will only provide dispersion beyond 90 degrees below about 2200 Hz. This means that frequencies that provide detail, intelligibility, and clarity, as well as satisfying musical reproduction, may only be (possibly) heard while standing directly in front of (or below) the speaker. Also, many more speakers would be required, spaced very closely together, to try and provide even coverage. Even then, the musical reproduction will be muted and unsatisfying.
- Conversely, if a smaller diameter speaker is used, or a speaker with a tweeter is used, achieving broad, even, QUALITY musical reproduction is much easier. Long-term satisfaction with the commercial sound system is more likely, not to mention the ease of hearing and clarity of sound throughout the entire frequency response range.
- The height of the ceiling (if ceiling speakers are being used) is extremely important when calculating the number of speakers to use. A very low ceiling (below 10 feet) will require closer spacing of the speakers to prevent “dead-zones” between the speakers. These zones will make it harder to hear the midrange and upper frequencies that provide the clarity and intelligibility that a premium sound system should have. On the other hand, a higher ceiling (10 feet or greater) will allow larger distances between the speakers.
- In-wall or on-wall speakers can help to alleviate some of the problem of dead-zones or diminished levels of sound between speakers if spaced properly, since the speakers will be aiming directly at the audience. However, it is very difficult to achieve even coverage in a large room using only these designs, since there is no way to place speakers in the middle of the room (unless they are ceiling mounted).
Formulae exist which allow experienced, professional contractors to take into account the type of speaker being used (single full-range speaker, or a two-way coaxial type speaker, etc.) along with its dispersion characteristics, as well as the height of the ceiling from the typical listening position, either standing or sitting. Other factors, such as how loudly the music needs to be without distorting, are also part of the complete sound system specification. Smaller diameter speakers (3-inch or 4-inch for instance, and ignoring tweeters for the moment), will not play as loudly as a 6-inch or 8-inch speaker. Noisy spaces such as restaurants or bars or public spaces may require the system to overcome the ambient sound that exists most of the time. In these situations, it may be best to consider systems with larger woofers with the addition of high-frequency tweeters to provide full-range, low-distortion, high-output music (and paging). And not to be forgotten, appropriately sized amplifiers are also an important part of the overall equation.
4. Trust your contractor
Every business is different, and it is important to trust the personalized input your (properly vetted) contractor gives you. Listen to their advice as they have personally seen similar cases and have enough experience to know what’s best for you. Whether it’s about speaker layout, wattage setting, EQ, etc. just listen to them. Some manufacturers (like Bogen Communications) offer free design services, so be sure to take advantage of those services when available.
5. Check that everything is properly in place
After a commercial sound system is installed, make sure that the coverage, volume, bass response and overall fidelity is what you expected. It’s best to work with the installer while they are finishing up because at this stage. Like this, slight changes can be easily discussed and implemented. After the crew, ladders and equipment have been packed up and are back at the installers shop, the process of finalizing the system will slow inevitably.
6. The system isn’t just On or Off
Some level of automation is often included in modern systems allowing you to changing EQ settings or volume during the day to change the vibe of your business. These changes can often be scheduled so weekday mornings are different than evenings or weekends for example. Different system settings and program materials can be automatically recalled. Even automatic level controls can be employed, allowing the commercial sound system to adjust its volume as the activity and ambient sound in the space increases or decreases.
Don’t worry! Great things are coming ahead. Keep good communication with your contractor, and clearly explain your needs. Keep our tips in mind so that you have some basic guidelines, but because every project/location is unique, you should select a knowledgeable contractor you trust.
You can combine all this new knowledge with the best and easiest to use music service for business for some spectacular results.