June 4, 2013

Better sounding Clover

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This is going to be a long post. I’ve been thinking for a long time about sound in our restaurants and I’m going to bring you up to date.

At HSQ we spent something like $13k on the sound system, and I just wasn’t that happy with the result. The Sonos is a pain for everybody, but more than that it just didn’t sound right.

At HUB we spent more, something like $16k, tried different speakers. Still didn’t sound right to me.

So I started thinking about 2 years ago about how we could tackle this issue. What’s wrong with our music? I have a theory, and I don’t know if I’m right, it’s just a theory:

What if the issue with the sound is that it’s spread out and distributed? This is what audio installers aim for in an installation, that the music sounds the same wherever you sit. So you use many speakers and spread them out everywhere. Then you adjust each speaker aiming for a uniform sound. We have excellent equipments and very professional installations. They’ve done a terrific job at achieving this same-sound-everywhere goal.

But what if this approach is wrong? How are we built to listen to music? I started thinking about everything that sounds great and it all comes from one place. I think this idea of sound that is the same everywhere might be misled. It’s just not how we’re built to hear stuff. And maybe that’s why it sounds wrong to me. Not technically wrong, but just not natural. The sound field is too spread out, it loses its natural feeling.

So what do we do for Burlington? Brookline? Kendall Square?

I had this idea, what if I got one large speaker and put it at one side of the restaurant. It wouldn’t produce an even sound field, but maybe that’s better. You could sit closer to the music if you wanted to hear louder music, further if you wanted quieter. I thought we might be able to get self-amplified speakers which would greatly simplify our set-up. I was eying old Klipsch speakers, you know those La Scala IIs? I asked Michael to look at other horns.

And then I thought of Genelec. These guys provide the monitors used in sounds studios/ radio stations/ etc. They are based in Finland but the US distribution is in Needham. Michael got in touch with them and they came out for a demo the other day.

We didn’t know how this idea would work, one speaker at the back. Would it work?

When we turned it on for the demo I started walking away from the speaker to hear what it would sound like across the length of the store. So I don’t think anybody could see the enormous smile that erupted. I’m so happy. It felt so good. I think we’re going to mothball our systems at HUB and HSQ and retro-fit with the new system. Which will not be hard because it’s just a single speaker.

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