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A Bad Environment for Audio Fails Our Clients

By Sam Cavitt March 18,2013

Sam Cavitt ( is
president of Paradise Theater in Kihei, Hawaii, and Carlsbad, California.
Most professional integrators would never consider installing a high-performance video projection system in a white room with windows and high levels of ambient light, because that 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 cost in materials needed to produce a quiet room there will be the professional design and construction services that go along with them.

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 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.

Professionals need to understand the value of providing a quiet theater room if they want to stand a chance of overcoming low-price/low-performance competitors and client objections.
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 that will overcome this phenomenon.

Disturbance: Often we hear, “We won’t care because we will all be in the theater.” Don’t believe it! What a shame to invest in a high performance theater that cannot be used after someone else in the house goes to bed.

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 find out and help the client find the value of high-quality audio. Be able to describe sonic details and demonstrate the quiet end of the 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 thirdparty engineer, 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 part is vital. Allocate time in your labor proposal for your management and support of this important task.