Most professional integration firms would never consider installing a high performance video projection system in a white room with windows and high levels of ambient light, because the environment would render the performance capabilities of the system imperceptible. Why is it then that our industry regularly installs high-performance audio systems in the acoustical equivalent of that same bright, white room? There are two primary reasons.
1. QUIET ROOMS REQUIRE PLANNING, EXPERTISE AND INVESTMENT
In many cases the home theater industry chooses expediency over performance. If a client can be sold a system and materials that can be easily assembled and configured, then it is easier for the sales person to choose that route over one that requires time to engineer, design and construct. Above and beyond any additional costs in materials needed to produce a quiet room there will be the professional design and construction services that go along with them. Unfortunately this path of least resistance (and reduced performance) is supported by many industry purveyors of acoustical goods as well.
2. WE ARE NOT ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
AV design professionals are frequently informed that the client “doesn’t want” or “there is no need” for acoustical isolation. Upon further investigation, we often find that these statements are based on assumptions or are the results of a failure to understand. If quiet room construction costs more (it does), takes more time, and is less convenient to deliver (it does and it is), the client and the salesperson must be convinced it is worth it.
Let’s take a closer look at what we fail to deliver when we do not provide a quiet room environment for audio.
Detail: Leaves rustling, water lapping, and voices in the background can help transport the listener to the intended place in a movie. Fail to hear them and the experience falls short. Musically, the characteristic of the room and even the instrument is often based on the resonances and overtones. Without them the music falls flat.
Dynamics: High-performance loudspeakers and electronics are carefully engineered to faithfully reproduce sonic detail and drive that detail without audible distortion. These characteristics are what the client pays for in high-end electronics. If the room is not sufficiently quiet, then these details cannot be heard.
Distraction: Producers go to great lengths to create films that can create an experience, but it is tenuous and easily destroyed by distractions. A whirring fan, voices from an adjacent room or water running through pipes are all that it takes to break an audience’s focus, and there is no magic box or room correction/ calibration that will overcome this phenomenon.
WHAT STEPS CAN YOU TAKE?
Understand: Professionals need to understand the value of providing a quiet room. It may also be useful for them to understand the risks of ignoring it. Imagine the exposure if an integrator provides a private theater kit and system and after it is all said and done, the client is unhappy. The room would have to be removed and rebuilt correctly.
Discover: Spend the time to help the client find the value of high-quality audio. Be able to describe some details and demonstrate the quiet end of dynamic range. Help the client realize how these attributes will enhance their experience. Then describe how a distraction can take it all away.
Consult: Resist the temptation to throw a price out before you know what is needed, and do not take shortcuts. There are many products on the market that do not work. Take this seriously. If you have the knowledge in-house, then charge for your services. If you’re using a third-party engineering firm, charge for their expertise.
Support: Once the designs are done, the isolation material is shipped and the room is being built, stay in the loop. A successful high-performance room generally involves a team and the integrator’s role is vital. Allocate time in your labor proposal for your management and support of this important task.