In the first part of our blog on Sound System Planning, we looked at the role and contribution of the design engineer.  In Part Two, we’d like to introduce Damian Orritt from DESIGN AV, a British integration company, who talks us through some of the realities of audio system installation.

“The fact is that it will probably cost LESS to use the services of a specialist installer, because we know what we are doing.  Installation and set-up is faster, there are no expensive mistakes, and the specialist companies have access to quality professional equipment at trade rates.  Our advice and our expertise is priced in.”

Cheltenham-based Design AV, founded in 2007 to install audio-visual systems in hotels and conference centres, is now a leading supplier to every corporate and commercial, hospitality and leisure sector.  Damian himself has been in the business for 25 years, and advises that “I’ve never seen an electrical contractor do the job properly! Even small projects will be better off seeking the advice of a good integrator, and doing so as early as possible, especially if there are other works going on, such as building or decorating.  Professional advice will mean the right equipment is installed in the right position, without compromising the quality of the system or costing the clients more money when the result is not what they had hoped for.”

Damian emphasises (as does Carole in Blog#1) the importance of understanding from the beginning: what is the system being used for?

“Is it a multifunction space, for example, with background music by day, and a band or DJ at the weekend?  Do you need different zones in your system? What level of control do you want, to prevent unauthorised users misusing the system?”

We take these questions one by one, starting with something that many customers overlook when planning a system – a safe place for the amplifiers.

“Even in a very small system, you have to plan a little bit of space to house the amplifiers, processing and source equipment.  Particularly if you have zones in your system, which will need more channels of amplification, then you need to consider cooling for the amps.  If they get too hot, the equipment is likely to fail and this might negate your warranties.”

Design AV was recently called in to help a high-end restaurant with private dining rooms and meeting spaces.  “The proposed location for the amplifier racks was in the ceiling space above the kitchen, with no ventilation.  Bad planning cost them tens of thousands to move the equipment to a suitably designed space.”

The management of a sound system also needs considerate planning.  “Local control panels often come with an input, which allows staff to connect their own devices.  It’s not a great idea to enable bar staff or cleaners to plug in their own iPhones and play Metallica at high volume when the boss isn’t looking!  Volume levels are another concern both for customers and your neighbours; if not properly managed, they could compromise your operating licence if council regulations are being breached. By using an expert integrator, all of these things can be managed out in the design process before they become an issue.”

Local authorities also regulate levels INSIDE many venues, but, if you know what you’re doing, you can avoid potential problems through sensible system design. “For instance, run more small loudspeaker cabinets at lower levels throughout the venue, so you don’t have a large source at one point in the room.”

Damian says that one of the biggest issues he has to deal with is the demand for ceiling speakers.  “Walls are one thing: ceilings are a different beast altogether.  Everyone wants to put their kit in and on the ceiling!  The voids are often shallow and full of services; cabling, containment, HVAC equipment and lighting These can play havoc when setting out a sound system and can also cause interference on the cabling. Get professional advice to contain cabling, especially to separate audio cables from mains-voltage routes.”

He cites the example of a large hotel which wanted to put more than 70 ceiling speakers into the void above its ballroom.  “But there were bedrooms above, and absolutely no soundproofing between floors: there would not have been a happy ending!”

Another popular demand is for wireless speakers.  “In fact they are not wireless.  They need power.  If you have to run power to the speaker units, you might as well run loudspeaker cables and avoid the inevitable difficulties of trying to send wireless audio streams to multiple cabinets across potentially multiple zones in a commercial environment.”

Larger AV projects raise different questions, such as the use of integrated alarm systems and network audio, which, properly implemented, can save the client money.  But venues of all sizes face the problem of maintenance.  Professional installers like Design AV offer various service packages to suit the needs of different clients, replacing faulty equipment or getting engineers on site asap.  Design AV can connect remotely to its clients, enabling them to run diagnostics and identify problems in advance, often negating the need to despatch an engineer.

“Audio-visual systems need the same consideration as any other business-critical service,” says Damian.  “Cutting corners will cost you money.  And you will miss the advantages of using a professional company, which will partner with the equipment manufacturers to deliver the best possible solution, both in terms of technological quality, aesthetics and service.”