What Drives Commercial Audio Systems Now? It’s Sound Quality or Bust

Regardless of markets like collaboration, live sound or distributed audio, modern users demand intelligible, high-performing commercial audio systems.

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What Drives Commercial Audio Systems Now? It’s Sound Quality or Bust

Audio Control's CM line of amplifiers features 70-volt and DSP options.

Any mention of phrases such as electronics industry and audio quality used to elicit a response relating to audiophiles. Today, however, audio quality is part of the commercial audio systems lexicon.

High-performance audio is no longer the exclusive domain of niche consumer audio manufacturers as a new era of commercial audio solutions have placed an emphasis on sound quality.

Some factors driving better audio quality:

  • more collaborative workspaces (audio conferencing, etc.)
  • prevalence of large-scale music concerts
  • higher quality headphones
  • object-based surround sound in movies
  • lossless audio streaming

Responding to the public’s expectations, commercial audio manufacturers are meeting the challenge by developing audio products that perform far beyond any previous generation of audio solutions.

Collaboration: The Most Important Audio Market?

Arguably the hottest category in the commercial AV market is collaboration. A variety of factors drive the collaboration category’s surging popularity.

In turn there are many factors that determine the performance of commercial audio systems that include room environment, the budget the client is willing to spend and ultimately their goals for the system.

Chris Maione, CTS-D, DSCE, DMC-D, principal, Christopher Maione Associates, says the demand for collaboration has helped to push the manufacturing community to develop higher performing audio products.

Maione says people initially thought they could place a cell phone on a table and that would be a good enough. After realizing that wasn’t good enough, users demand higher quality audio solutions.

Jocelyn Picard, senior technical support, Clockaudio North America, suggests that users trying to save some money also contributed to the evolution from cell phones and inexpensive web cam microphones, also contributed towards the emphasis on better performing audio solutions.

Martin Audio WPL array

“In many cases where the rooms are cost driven, there are often compromises in terms of sound quality,” she notes.

“A microphone off a web cam will never sound better than a proper, dedicated microphone like a gooseneck or boundary microphone sitting in front of you.”

Best Practice for Installing Collaboration Audio Solutions

Beyond the rapid improvement of hardware and software products, both Maione and Picard both agree there are other aspects of commercial audio systems’ performance that need to be accounted for in order to deliver quality audio.

“It’s always important to dial in the expectations of the client. One way of doing that is to ask many questions on how the client will be using the room,” says Picard. “

Once you have that information the best thing to do is to make the client hear the different options available form tabletop, to hanging, to ceiling microphones.

This way the expectations are dialed in and the customer can decide if not having any microphones on the table is more of a priority than compromising the ratio between direct and room sound with a hanging or ceiling microphone.”

Maione adds that integrators should also, “know the expectations of the client.”

“Do they want simple to use; [do they want] transparent technology; [do they want reliability], and most importantly, handset quality audio for both incoming and outgoing [communications]. Quality USB microphones can support desktop applications such as Skype, WebEx, GotTo, Zoom, and more.”

Live Sound Product Engineering Better Than Ever

 Besides the emphasis on audio quality in collaboration environments, another market that has been bolstered by developments in audio technology is live sound.

James King, brand marketing, Martin Audio, says that for his company, it goes back to 1971 when Martin Audio founder Dave Martin felt that PA systems of that era weren’t good enough.

King says there are a number of reasons why today’s live sound products are better than previous generations of equipment.

“The sound quality has improved and that’s partly thanks to the market becoming more mature, but it is also because an innovative spirit is alive and well in the industry. [This innovative spirit is] ready to meet the changing needs of the live industry,” comments King.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve stayed true to our roots by pushing the limits of what a live sound PA should be. For example, with MLA [Multi-Cellular Loudspeaker Arrays], we introduced the concept of precise array optimization using software and FIR [finite impulse response] filters, resulting in new levels of control, coverage and consistency.”

Kings says the next step in live sound will be immersive audio. King says immersive audio will provide a larger tool box for engineers to create new experiences for the public.

However, having the latest technologies and products isn’t enough because the equipment must be utilized correctly King points out.

The C 3E-RF Halo Series of microphones features a gooseneck design.

“Even the best FOH [front of house] will have a tough day with a bad PA.

“A poorly specified, designed or implemented commercial audio systems will present fundamental problems, and while a great engineer might be able to make the best of what’s in front of them, the time and attention they have to spend addressing those problems would be better spent on perfecting the show,” stresses King.

“Of course, the same is true in reverse—an Aston Martin is only as good as its driver.”

Supporting the efforts to make sure its products are properly specified and installed to avoid any issues King says that it is vital that its partners get the information they need.

“We take that responsibility very seriously and as such we offer a number of training initiatives, including dedicated training sessions focused on specific product ranges, webinars that cover a broad variety of topics and our regular open days, which take place twice per year,” he explains.

“In addition, we bring key rental partners to our headquarters or we will visit them to train onsite. Our company motto is, ‘unit your audience,’ and we help our partners to achieve exactly that by ensuring they get the most from our products.”

Like the evolution of technology and market trends, the evolution of training means that integrators need information as quickly as possible.  King notes that like everything in the modern world, “failing to keep up with technology means risking falling behind, so ongoing training is very popular.”

Consumers Should Have High Expectations for Commercial Audio Systems

Live shows are now the ultimate way for the public to experience their favorite music. Because of high ticket prices and the shift in the way the public consumes music with streaming, bands must deliver a quality show in a live setting.

“It is not unfair for consumers to expect high quality sound at live events,” King says.

“Concert tickets have increased exponentially in the last decade and therefore consumer expectations are—quite rightly—very high.” — King

“They don’t care for any of the sensitivities about the nature of the room, the available rigging points or any of the technical challenges that production companies face. They just expect it to work flawlessly.”

King says that in order to meet those obligations it’s up to companies like Martin Audio to develop products that meet the public’s expectations.

King says that Martin Audio has released products over the years that deliver high levels of sound pressure levels (SPLs) and consistently sound good, while mitigating offsite noise to help protect festival licenses.

Placing the onus on the commercial audio community, Alex Camara, CEO, AudioControl, says a perception has been built that commercial audio products are just “good enough.”

“At some point in the past, it had been established that most commercial audio system design could be good enough to pass muster. These systems were often considered a utility.

“However, in the evolution of a world filled with advanced experiential multimedia and easily accessible digital content, the call for high resolution commercial audio systems has increased significantly,” says Camara.

“At AudioControl, we have seen the aforementioned demand for audio quality elevate over the last few years, with many of our domestic and overseas commercial dealers requesting a more flexible amplifier platform that delivers superior performance.

“One key change we have noted is that integrators want access to DSP [digital signal processing] functionality.”

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