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The two-minute guide to loudspeaker system design

Andrew Brister 14 May 2010
The two-minute guide to loudspeaker system design

Genelec’s 8030A 2-way loudspeakers combine to great effect at Bagna Cauda, a brasserie located on-site at Sotherby’s Amsterdam

Modern speaker design and materials are allowing architects more freedom, but the basic visual limitations with loudspeaker integration remain. Lars Olof-Janflod of Genelec looks at the issues.

How visually obtrusive is it?
Loudspeakers and their design have not changed much in the past 50 years. We have all seen the black plywood boxes with metal front grille and cable hanging on the back, well the basic structure still remains an enclosure or box with loudspeaker components inside, and a cable feeding the signal and energy to the unit. When placing a traditional loudspeaker in any room, it is a very visual and obtrusive unit. Modern enclosure design and materials has seen more creativity in shape and size, but the basic design and visual limitations remain.

How crucial is its positioning?
Very important. In fact, the most crucial factor in a good quality sound system is loudspeaker placement. The position of loudspeakers with respect to the walls, floor, and ceiling of any room will affect the sound in major ways. As a general rule of thumb, position loudspeakers so as to minimise the distance from loudspeaker to listener. Also aim the loudspeaker unit towards the listening area. Secondly, minimise the amount of reflective boundaries in the operating field. For example, placing a speaker in a corner of two walls and ceiling, will have triple the amount of reflection in comparison with a simple wall-mounted speaker.

How easy is it to hide away?
As a starting point hiding a loudspeaker is not optimal placement for a good quality sound system. Flush-mounted in-wall and in-ceiling loudspeakers minimise the visual impact of a traditional loudspeaker enclosure. These solutions also improve the relation between direct and reflected sound by integrating the loudspeaker unit as part of the surface. The biggest challenge with these designs is to maximise the aiming of the loudspeaker, this is especially the case with wall mounting.

What, if any, alternatives are available relative pros and cons?
Custom-built ceiling or wall structures can be designed with loudspeakers in mind. But when working with ready-made buildings this is not always an option. Also, with traditional surface-mounted loudspeakers some selection can be made to incorporate less obtrusive industrially-designed units. Different colour options offer potential for blending with the interior, but they can be difficult to match. It is best to make the loudspeaker arrangement a key part of the entire interior along with light fixtures and furniture etc. 

How can you avoid a poor installation
Proper installation is a professional task and requires professional design work and craftsmanship. The best way to start installation is to get a system designer involved as early as possible. Audio design can be limited if cabling is pre-installed before the overall scheme has been thought through. All design work, including audio requires proper project management. In short, the amount of effort put into the design will be in direct relation to the overall end result.

Lars Olof-Janflod is international sales manager with Genelec



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