Sound-System Design Basics

Enter a profitable niche with these pointers.

Most everyone loves music in one form or another and openly or secretly covets a state-of-the-art sound system. That's why designing a sound system can be a highly profitable niche, especially for contractors who already have their feet in the door, such as remodelers.

But don't plunge into installing surround-sound systems before you know some of the basics. There are subtle nuances and no-no's that can determine whether a system is a success or a flop. You can be sure that if your client is an audiophile, he'll be quick to find any deficiencies in a poorly installed system. While you don't have to know everything about sound control, acoustics, reverberation and absorption, it's important to know the rules of thumb and that help isn't far away.

Danny Moore, global audio-product manager for Richardson Electronics & Burtek Systems Inc., Burnaby, British Columbia, says you can learn the basics about audio-system design and acoustics in 30 minutes, but actual installation is a complex endeavor that usually requires professional support. The best way to enter the sound business, he says, is to take on two partners: a supplier who can provide technical and system-design support, and a partner who can deal with a wide range of product and technical issues.

With or without techie assistance, though, you'll get off to a good start if you follow these basics of designing an impressive audio system:

  • Begin by asking the clients the right questions. What do they want to accomplish with the system? Where do they want sound? Do they want intercoms, etc.?

  • Determine whether reflective sound will bounce off objects in the room. Direct sounds need to reach the user before reflective sound for the best acoustics. Tip: In a highly reflective environment, use more speakers at a lower volume to eradicate any problems.

  • Determine whether the environment is highly absorptive, with lots of carpeting on floors and lots of soft furnishings. If so, use fewer speakers at a higher volume.

  • Never point two speakers toward each other — they cancel each other out. Sound travels at 1,130 feet per second.

  • Install fewer speakers for higher ceilings. The average listening plane for speakers is 5 feet from ground level.

  • Take advantage of suppliers' free technical support.

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