Question: How do you assure your client that they are getting the best possible speakers for their Auditorium or Fine Arts Center? Answer: You hold a “speaker shootout”. Recently one of our clients was in this exact situation, so we did just that. We invited several manufacturers of line array speakers to show up, all on the same day, so we could let our client hear the differences in sound quality back and forth in the exact same auditorium they would be installed in. Three different manufacturers arrived, speakers in tow, to hang their line arrays for the shootout. As the client’s AV Consulting Firm, we were there to moderate the shootout and ensure that each manufacturer got a fair shake (clean signal, volume levels, sound power levels, and so on). And then we began. The client had arranged for a group of about 20 listeners and key decision makers to join us for the shootout as a virtual “jury” to help decide which speakers to purchase. May the best speakers win!
We played a series of tracks, starting with recordings of the spoken voice and working our way up to performed music and rock-n-roll. For each track we played about 20 – 30 seconds, and then sent the signal to the next set of line array speakers, repeating the exact same portion of the track again, so the listeners could compare apples to apples. Meanwhile, we took impulse response measurements around the room to use later in a more scientific comparison.
Justice is blind right? Well we think so. So, to take any visual bias out of the equation (ie: to remove the chance that the speakers’ looks could influence the judging) we drew a thin curtain across the stage and dimmed the lights. It was truly a blind test.
By the end of the shootout, the jury unanimously selected the same set of speakers that we predicted they would like, and the impulse response proved that they had selected the appropriate speakers for the room. When you work in high end audio gear, sometimes the quality has to be experienced firsthand to be recognized and appreciated. But more importantly, involving the client in the decision making process gives them a voice, and it creates buy-in.
As independent audio-video consultants, we are not tied to any of the companies that we recommend. This gives us a completely objective outlook and enables us to truly say, “May the best speakers win!”