Okay, I tried to hold off all morning, but the feeds on this just got too many to not respond to! Here’s a quick breakdown of what the venues need.
1. Background noise: HVAC, and people’s voices – hooting, cheering, booing, coughing, taking phone calls, singing loudly, whatever. The sound system therefore has to be designed such that at all places, the sound is significantly higher than the max possible noise.
2. Sound system Coverage: Other than strength of the signal itself, the coverage of the speakers must be adequate. There are standards on this – and we ideally don’t want any dead spots, or overlaps. Coverage mapping should be mandatory in public spaces – it’s a security feature. If you can’t hear the artiste, you can’t understand an evacuation message either. Any venue owners who just pick up boxes for sound system without getting the coverage analyzed, are really negligent of their due diligence.
Coverage mapping is unfortunately done with random assumptions for acoustics which bear no representation of what’s actually on site. There’s fine print that says “with these assumptions for Reverberation time, the speech intelligibility is ___. “. The reality of the space is lost in all this fine print.
3. Acoustics: You can have 1 and 2 sorted, but if 3 is a problem, you’d best know sooner than later. Thankfully, predictions are possible before a single brick is laid. This is a solved problem!
We get a lot of retrofit enquiries, which still comes as a surprise to me. People treat every other building service as an engineering service, but acoustical design is still treated more as an art than a science – keep doing it and see where it takes you. Some are genuine mistakes, but many others are not.
The kind of national embarrassment that happened yesterday was simply a case of not being engineering-savvy enough to give building services (audio, acoustics, hvac) their due importance, and designing only for the eyes.
There is a larger problem here.
I realize our posts on acoustics sound like they’re waging a war against the aesthetics – no we’re not. I fully understand the importance of aesthetics and appreciate how it’s an important factor for wellness – I depend on it myself. I just don’t get why plumbing/electrical design isn’t also done by people with no qualification in it. Even if one went ahead with a vendor, no consultant, the vendor would still be expected to have the basic qualification to do this. Not with acoustics. You could sell boxes of acoustical material, take up installation, and commission spaces even if you can’t tell insulation from absorption.
I love my job, but it’s saddening to see retrofit enquiries that show how much time, money, design effort has been spent on a space with no thought for acoustics, when the very functionality of the space is the spoken word. Form should follow function. Where it doesn’t, we’ll be there to plan the retrofits.