Back in the early days of arena-style shows, event designers often used massive walls of speakers as stage décor. The most famous version of this is, perhaps, The Grateful Dead’s “Wall of Sound,” a mammoth speaker and monitoring system designed to ensure the band and audience heard the same thing. The system was unrivaled in its time, and comprised, among other things, 586 JBL speakers. Not long after, what started as an acoustic design decision eventually became a stage design decision for acts to follow. Speakers are big and can be in the way, after all. Instead of hiding them, downsizing or placing them in alternative spots, stage designers thought it would be better to make the huge speakers part of the visual.

However, over the years, the preferences of both audiences and performers have changed. Technology has evolved and the shift to unobtrusive, but uncompromising, sound systems has become evident beyond the stage to performance, house of worship, hospitality and commercial applications. Today, thanks to many innovative tools and technologies, acoustics and aesthetics are no longer natural enemies. As a result, audio designers can freely reconcile sound and style.

Can you find the speakers?

In terms of visuals, there are several ways that components can be adapted to their environments. For example, it’s not unusual to see speaker cabinets and other equipment painted or textured in order to complement the surroundings. Brick and stone patterns, stained wood finishes, and basic color matching and finishing have proven themselves simple but effective ways of keeping the equipment in the background. Another method used by some designers is to conceal the systems with audio-transparent screens and draping. In some instances, in-wall and ceiling speaker placement may also be an option—although sometimes a challenging one. Achieving the correct angle may be difficult with in-wall speakers, and if the installation isn’t done professionally, cabinet vibration and access can become issues over time.

Of course, any sound system that does not allow listeners to clearly hear a full range of frequencies is a failure, and despite the numerous advances in audio design that allow for well-hidden speakers, sound designers sometimes need to position loudspeakers in attendees’ line of sight. This is where line arrays and good rigging often come into play. Aesthetically, arrays provide a clean, sleek design that fits attractively into a wide variety of architectural styles. For example, a designer might use something like JBL’s CBT Series fixed column speakers in smaller spaces or hang VTX line arrays in large venues. And because the technology focuses sonic energy toward seating and traffic areas, and away from reflective surfaces, they also keep the sound clean of unwanted reflections as well.

But no matter what type of venue or event, every aspect of the sound system design should be in place to enhance the mood and create a great experience. With a balanced blend of traditional acoustical treatments and advanced sound technologies, integrators and live event producers are perfectly equipped to provide a memorable encounter and pitch-perfect sound every time.A huge wall of hundreds of JBL speakers is not required (but certainly allowed … if you send pictures).

Do you have experience with designing aesthetically pleasing and unobtrusive sound systems? We’d like to hear from you in the comments!

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