Tuning into the Flourishing Sector of Performance Audio

Published: May 1, 2024
Photo courtesy: Maxcam/

“The music is all around us, all you have to do is listen,” is a quote from the film August Rush, and it is one that applies to the AV sphere. Indeed, from corporate, to command and control, to live events, to higher education, audio is present in every facet of the industry. This presence has become only more powerful and prominent as performance audio technologies have rapidly advanced in the past few years.

To keep pace with that momentum, Commercial Integrator debuted a new Deep Dive report last year, seeking to spotlight high-performance audio applications and the technologies that power them. In this issue, we aim to continue to take this initiative forward. Here, we’ll take a look back at the previous year while also anticipating the road ahead for performance-audio technologies and applications.

For this year’s Performance Audio Deep Dive report, CI turned to the expertise of industry stalwarts, all of whom provide compelling insights into emerging trends and technologies in the performance audio space. They also touch on the challenges faced in the performance-audio space and highlight the growth of immersive audio, wireless systems and audio-over-IP (AoIP) in different projects and environments.

A Successful Year

Renkus-Heinz sidebar.According to Sean Wargo, VP of market insights, AVIXA, when considering the performance of the past year, things appear to be going well in the overall market context. “The feasts and famine of the performance-audio sector is largely tied to the larger venues and events industry,” he begins. “Fortunately, the headlines readily convey strong results here.” Wargo notes that ticket sales gradually went up as consumers continued to look to experience live music. “This [created] a drive for venues to continually improve their experiences, taking the demand past just questions of simple replacement,” he explains.

Scott Wright, president and owner of Lifeline Audio Video Technologies, strongly agrees with this outlook. He adds that the past year has fared “…better than expected.” In his opinion, many were still playing “catch up” this past year as the industry’s product availability finally started to improve in different sectors. Regardless, Wright does not expect there to be a slowdown economically. “People are still spending money on technology and finding it to be a priority now more than ever!” he proclaims.

Performance Audio sidebar 1For Dan Allen, enterprise architect at AVI Systems, performance-audio applications had a great run in the corporate environments. “It’s been a great year!” he enthuses. “As our customers raced to outfit and update their workplaces with the modern technologies to support hybrid workforces, demand for performance audio was higher than ever.”

According to Heather Best, senior program manager, media consulting and innovation, Diversified, the shift in hybrid and remote work models caused a surge in demand for solutions that facilitate remote collaboration and digital-communication tools. She adds that the modalities “…brought about a [positive] change in how audio systems are integrated, managed and scaled within [the office spaces].”

Likewise, Jeremy Lee, senior design consultant at Electrosonic, expresses a similar positive sentiment about performance-audio applications. He remarks, “At Electrosonic, we’ve seen a huge increase in our customers and partners exploring real-time, spatialized audio solutions.” Lee adds that while many of these venues and projects are still in the planning stages, there will be plenty of new facilities with spatialized audio opening in the next few years.

Summing it up, Jeff Carroll, senior design engineer, XTG, AVI-SPL, states that the performance-audio space “…has again shown continued growth this past year, increasing ever since the end of the pandemic.”

Growth in Key Verticals

Snap One sidebar for Performance Audio DD.Allen observed earlier that AVI Systems has seen record performance within the corporate, higher education and government verticals. “The bar has clearly been set high for 2024!” he proclaims. “Customers expect hybrid-enabled solutions and broadcast-level production quality in both their internal and external-facing communications.” This year, as more organizations formalize policies and make workplace investments to entice employees back to the office, Allen expects to see a heightened focus on the in-person user experience. “However,” he remarks, “We don’t envision that will diminish customer expectations for high-quality hybrid collaboration and events.”

Wright, too, believes that streaming will continue to be strong. He states, “I thought that by now, many customers would have their streaming systems in place, after the pandemic.” However, from his perspective, that could not be farther from the truth. “Many customers sat to see if streaming was a long-term need and many are finding that it is [a major requirement],” Wright says. “It is rare that I have a conversation with a customer today where streaming or recording/camera systems are not discussed.”

As Caroll pointed out, immersive audio is gaining significant prominence among customers. “Immersive audio continues to evolve quickly,” He adds. “And integrators need to either invest in having subject matter experts in the field or bring in a partner who already is familiar with it.” According to Carroll, this partner could be another integrator or a vendor that caters to the technology.

Performance products sidebar 2As an example, Lee brings up players in this field, which include Meyer Sound, d&b audiotechnik, L-Acoustics, Yamaha, SPAT Revolution – FLUX:: Immersive (recently acquired by Harman) and Iconic Music’s spatialized system among others. “[Additionally], with the Unreal Engine making inroads to immersive experiences, it’s going to be a wild ride over the next few years,” Lee enthuses.

According to Best, virtual reality and augmented reality experiences have gained traction across various sectors — including entertainment, education and real estate — as they offer immersive and interactive user experiences. She adds, “The emphasis on environmental sustainability has increased the demand for energy-efficient and ecofriendly solutions in performance audio.”

Addressing Rising Demand and Talent

Best agrees that 2023 was a bonanza of rapid growth in technological advancements. However, she adds that the performance-audio category had its fair share of economic pressures and legal considerations. Best explains, “Venues have faced the pressure of upgrading their technological infrastructure to meet high audience expectations such as immersive experiences and addressing sustainability concerns.”

She further reveals that, as regulatory and legal landscapes continued to evolve, integrators had to divert attention to compliance with copyright laws and noise ordinances. “These factors collectively underscored the need for the industry to embrace flexibility, innovation and strategic planning to thrive in a rapidly changing environment,” Best says.

Genelec sidebar screenshot.Indeed, the performance-audio space faced a massive challenge in adapting to the changing environment and technologies. As Allen aptly puts it, “Change always brings new challenges.” He remarks that regardless of size or vertical, all customers in 2023 had to deliver technology to their end users at a scale and speed unheard of pre-pandemic. “We, in turn, faced the massive challenge of designing and implementing that technology,” Allen adds. “And this put newfound stresses on the frontline engineering and operations teams to deliver on those commitments.”

To keep up with the innovative technologies, integrators in the performance-audio sector had to ensure availability of top-tier talent in the field who were equipped with the required skills and knowledge. “Integrators needed to increase their competition in acquiring good talent by offering incentives such as benefits, training and compensation,” Carroll proclaims. In other words, they had to make major investments in training and updating the taskforce.

As Wright observes, in the AV industry, it is now crucial to have specialized employees in every sector, including performance audio. “Twenty years ago, many AV contractors didn’t need an IT specialist or programmer on staff,” he explains. “Today, no matter the size of your company, this is a common — if not necessary — position.” From his perspective, it is also harder than ever to keep talent as outside related industries are looking at our industry as a place for talent. Wright explains, “It’s the complete package of working daily to keep the talent you have, looking to acquire new talent and training for the specialized positions.”

Overcoming Supply Chain and Inflation-Related Woes

Aside from the emerging technologies, integrators also had to combat existing issues such as supply-chain constraints and rising inflation. Wargo explains, “These shortages hit aspects of performance audio, as well — particularly on the processing chip side.” He further comments that, for many installations, all aspects felt the impact of a missing key component as overall progress would slow down. However, Wargo notes that these issues are now being resolved to the point that supply constraints are not as commonly cited as a challenge. “This means project flow can return to more normal pacing, evening out the impact of demand through the entire value chain, from integrators through distributors and down to manufacturers,” he emphasizes.

Graphic chart for Performance Audio DD.Echoing this outlook, Lee adds that while supply-chain issues are minimal, integrators still need to keep clients aware about processing times for audio products’ delivery. “It’s more important than ever to consider lead times in being able to source the right equipment for the project,” he states.

Lee addresses the constant increase in prices, due to global inflation, which has posed a challenge over the last couple of years. To address this pace of change, Lee recommends that integrators should educate and inform clients about the quotes. “We have to remind them that what we quote them for a system today will almost absolutely be lower than when they start installation in six months or a year,” he says. “Everyone understands that this is happening, so we simply have to remind them.”

Overall, while performance audio had its ups and downs on the business front, all interviewees agree that the market is poised for immense growth, especially as different verticals look to expand performance-audio applications.

The Impact of Immersive Audio

We touched on immersive audio in earlier sections. Now, we shall explore how the emergence of immersive audio will shape the road ahead as regards performance audio.

According to Best, immersive audio is characterized by creating a three-dimensional sound experience that envelops the listener and delivers an impactful experience. As an example, she points to the Sphere, the landmark attraction in Las Vegas, Nev. “It features a state-of-the-art immersive audio system, with thousands of speakers that allow for precise sound delivery,” she explains. “This creates an audio environment where each attendee can experience crystal-clear sound regardless of their location in the venue.” Best states that this level of audio immersion is achieved through beamforming technology, which directs sound to specific locations with unparalleled accuracy. “It ensures that every seat has the best audio experience!” she says.

For Allen, immersive audio presents a huge opportunity for our industry — not only for integrators but also for producers and sound design professionals that create the content that drives these systems to their full potential. “If integrators don’t currently have that in-house production skillset,” he remarks, “They would be wise to seek out specialty creative firms to partner with, especially as the technology moves more and more into the mainstream.”

L-Acoustics sidebar for DD.Wargo chimes in, adding that building the capabilities and knowledge base about the underlying technologies is the first step to incorporating them into solutions. “Fortunately,” he says, “there are lots of resources there within manufacturer and other training offerings.” Wargo also advises integrators to attend trade shows as a place to experience the technology firsthand in demo environments. In his opinion, integrators need to also consider how to get involved early in the scoping and design process to ensure that “…technology, content and space are truly aligned in the entertainment/event solution.”

Speaking on a similar train of thought, Lee adds that integrators need to emphasize storytelling as well. He proclaims, “There are immersive spaces with enormous budgets that don’t have the storytelling to back it up — you get wowed by the space and then bored with the show.” He cites budget experiences such as Particle Ink that use the technology in such a way that the story could not be told in any other way. “The live performers interact with the technology in such a profound way that it is another character in the story,” Lee expounds. In essence, the technology becomes completely inseparable from the experience.

Lee counsels systems designers, consultants and integrators to collaborate with the creative team from the beginning and ensure that the technology is truly integral to the guest experience. “A story can influence technology, but technology can also influence the story,” he underscores.

An Uptick in Wireless Systems and AoIP

Turning to the topic of wireless systems, Carroll states that the need for typical analog cabling is a relic of the past. He adds, “As wireless networks continue to take over the world, we can expect more of the wireless audio devices to embrace this.” From his perspective, many companies are already using Wi-Fi for their wireless AV needs. “We can continue to see this grow, although this might then start affecting bandwidth availability in the wireless bands,” says Carroll.

Graphic for audio-over-IP trends.Wargo too, points out that, in a performance setting, wireless remains a tentative connection vehicle. “Lags, drops and degradation are still all too common,” he says. “While 5G offers promise, it has not become full reality.” Nevertheless, Wargo suggests that being able to leverage high bandwidth wired ethernet connections is “…more reliable for high-quality sound now that digital-to-audio conversion has improved considerably.”

For Wright, the expansion of the wireless market is tied to the philosophy of ‘Customers will pay for ease of use and flexibility.’ He then describes how customers will spend tens of thousands of dollars for wireless microphones, that in some cases, never get removed from a mic stand. Wright thus emphasizes, “Finding ways to use audio/video technology and making it as easy as possible is critical [for integrators].”

When asked about the future of AoIP, all interviewees agree that the technology will continue to quickly rise in prominence. As Wright puts it, our industry has become a state of “How much technology can we put through a piece of Cat cable.”

According to Best, the seamless integration and adoption of AoIP makes it an indispensable tool in the future of live performance. “With its ability to reduce latency while ensuring high audio quality,” she explains, “AoIP provides the advantages of scalability and flexibility without the need for extensive physical infrastructure.”

Allen also reveals that it is already becoming a rarity to deploy a system that doesn’t contain some form of AoIP transport. He remarks, “We only expect channel counts and overall network audio traffic to increase over time.” Consequently, Allen expects to see continued innovation in the management software and network analysis tools used to deploy and diagnose AoIP systems.

Lee brings it together succinctly: “AoIP is the norm now.” He proclaims that during the pandemic, Dante and other industry leaders faced certain challenges due to component shortages. However, Lee observes that that time has passed; now, equipment is fairly easy to come by. He adds, “I believe that, in the next few years, we’ll see a surge of interest in AES67 and Ravenna solutions, as they are part of the SMPTE ST-2110 spec.” In his opinion, the network friendliness of Dante and AES67/Ravenna will ensure their more widespread adoption in the AoIP space.

Renewed Focus on Flexibility and Simplicity

According to Carroll, in the live-production space, performance audio will continue to grow at a rapid rate. “I believe manufacturers will become even more involved in designing and implementing systems as they use technology to improve their products,” he says.

AtlasIED sidebar.Wright takes this point further, stating that there will be a demand for creating systems that are easy to use. “Many of our customers are not audio/video experts,” he explains. “Many have minimal — if any background — in audio/video however want/need to use this technology.” From Wright’s perspective, this emerges as the greatest profit point in the industry. He remarks, “Creating daily use systems with touchscreen control versus large digital mixers or other hardware-based systems are important to customers in terms of simplicity.”

Making the Case for AI

For Best, immersive audio technologies like Dolby Atmos and MPEG-H 3D will redefine spatial sound, bringing live and recorded experiences through advanced object-based audio formats. She brings up how artificial intelligence (AI) could revolutionize audio processing. “With AI, we could employ algorithms for real-time sound-quality optimization,” Best says, “and integration of augmented and virtual reality into live events.” By doing so, integrators can offer audiences interactive and fully immersive experiences with advancements in head-tracking and binaural audio.

Wargo approaches the same view from a different perspective — speakers are getting smarter. He states, “This means they can be more accurately addressed in a network situation for reliable signal routing which can be optimized at the point of interaction, correcting for any sound issues or needs.” Wargo reveals that this ultimately means a more optimized audio signal reaches the listener. What’s more, it provides customization to a specific audience member location for personalization. “This is AI in perhaps its earliest forms, and it will only expand, improve and evolve from here,” Wargo enthuses.

Allen too, looks forward to the adoption of AI in performance audio. “We’re actively monitoring the unprecedented advances in AI-enhanced audio technologies,” he says. Allen thus anticipates a possibility of more “hands-off” tuning, processing and mixing tools built in for audio-mixing platforms and DSPs over the next 12 to 18 months.

Sphere in Las Vegas

Photo courtesy: DMA/

Tying it all together, Lee posits that the field of AI is progressing immensely, and the sky’s the limit for how this will impact the performance-audio space. However, he cautions that the human aspect of performance audio must remain at the forefront of all applications. Lee thus advises, “We just have to be able to use [AI] wisely and not let the humanity of performances slip away.”

The Future of Performance Audio

“Based on our early reads of our own industry forecast,” Wargo remarks, “[Performance audio] is likely to be one of the areas of faster growth over the next five years.” He also predicts a shift to higher volume as lower cost speakers are deployed across spaces. “This can still lead to profit in the form of design, installation, managed service, content and other options that go beyond the hardware,” Wargo remarks. Moreover, with audience numbers on the line, there is significant opportunity for upscale. Here, Wright observes that customers will continue to be creative in how they use audio/video technology which means integrators need to innovate to meet their needs. “If you don’t provide a high-quality system that customers truly enjoy, then you will lose them,” he advises.

Radial Engineering sidebar.Carroll further attests that live events will continue to be the “…future of performance audio as people continue to come out of the pandemic and look for bigger entertainment.” Meanwhile, Lee adds, “I think that, during that time, we came to realize how much value there is in a communal experience.”

On the other hand, Allen sheds light on the growing concern around inclusivity for those with hearing loss, especially in light of aging workforces and natural hearing loss. He explains, “As our customers’ trusted advisors, we need to be diligent to ensure that these users aren’t unintentionally overlooked when designing new systems.”

Concluding Thoughts

Summing things up, the proliferation of high-resolution audio streaming will be facilitated by 5G networks and improved algorithms, thereby delivering studio-quality sound to listeners everywhere. Best indicates that these trends signify a tilt toward more immersive, personalized and sustainable audio experiences. “By leveraging cutting-edge technology and operations — and building enduring business partnerships based on trust — companies can expand the boundaries of performance audio and continuously innovate to drive business results,” she emphasizes.

This Deep Dive was sponsored by Snap One, AtlasIED, Renkus-Heinz, Radial Engineering, L-Acoustics and Genelec.

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