We all talk about “good sound” but what is good sound in a hospitality context? Good audio is like good visual, it’s very personal and an individual’s perception of quality sound can be very subjective. Having listened to studio recordings of music tracks, these are very different to the presentation of music that most end users expect to hear, and with the increased use of mp3 and headphones, the appreciation of sound is further changing. That aside, however, there are still some key characteristics that demonstrate the basis of good sound.
So what should you listen out for?
Good sound should be evenly distributed throughout a space; as guests move around an area they should receive a consistent audio experience. Expanding from this, you should consider your space layout. In adjoining areas where there is no wall, door or physical barrier, or where the door will be open much of the time, the sound will travel between adjoining spaces so you need to consider how zonal sound can be used to create a more consistent experience for your guests. A great sound system will also envelop you as you enter a space and the actual sound sources should be hard to define. This does not mean that the sound needs to be loud, just seamless. In addition, the sound should be balanced; there should not be too much or too little bass, mid or high frequency, (unless of course, you are building a nightclub), and this mix should remain balanced at both low and high volume levels. Another key area to consider is where you might need less sound. You may want lower sound levels in bar areas and at service points to improve conversation and communication flow between your customers and your team.
So what are the traps that lead to bad sound and how can these be avoided?
Considering audio hardware, there are certain things that you can do to maximise the quality of your Hospitality sound. Unless you can get wall mounted speakers high above head height, installing these in big spaces isn’t ideal, as they just make the perimeter of that space louder than the centre and you don’t create a consistent audio experience. Similarly, unless you are on a stage or in a nightclub environment, splitting sound across separate bass and mid high cabinets can often lead to unbalanced sound and should be avoided. Using small speakers, although often considered aesthetically pleasing, cannot supply a warm full sound. A better alternative is the use of full range speakers, possibly finished in a custom RAL colour to match your chosen decor, as these can deliver superior sound whilst blending with your interior design.
Thinking about sound system design, considering the acoustics of a space is also key in delivering the best possible sound. Speakers pointing at or across hard reflective surfaces will not generate good sound. Similarly, sound systems created with many different areas and speakers but only a few amplifier channels do not work. To get great sound, different areas and speakers often need a different amplifier channel and EQ. Finally, once the system design and hardware have been considered, the music content needs to be addressed. Not just what tracks you are playing to evoke the right mood for your venue or for a particular time of day, but the type of music format you are using to create the best possible sound. The quality at which a track is recorded makes a huge difference to the end result of how that track sounds when it is played through a sound system. No matter how good a sound system design and installation is, if you put in poor quality music you get out louder poor quality music! Conversely, with a well designed and installed audio system, if you put in well-recorded music you get out great sounding music.
To help with this and to avoid any of the legal copyright issues, look to professionally curated music lists and fit these in a player. This prevents your staff from putting on their favourite tracks or from plugging in their phones which will help you to avoid both legal and branding pitfalls.
So to make a hospitality venue sound good, good sound needs to make a sensory engagement with your guests, and this can be achieved by the audio being an integral part of the design, decor and planning of a new or refurbished space.