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Factors Defining A “Good” Sound Reinforcement System
What is it we don't yet understand? Do we even know enough to know what we don’t know?
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Predicting and detecting this impending failure, however, is not easy to do.

The audible change in performance is fairly subtle and can be detected reliably only by careful comparison of the sound of a single questionable driver with that of a known good one.

In the field, such a comparison is usually impractical.

Further, a driver that has been used heavily for some time will also exhibit some performance deterioration, even though it has never been over driven into diaphragm collision.

Figure 1 (at right, click to en­large) illus­trates these per­form­ance differences.

The frequency response (amplitude versus frequency) of three drivers of the same model (with an impregnated-fabric diaphragm), one new, one well used but apparently undamaged, and one with observable damage.

It can be seen that the response at higher frequencies changes with use or abuse. The differences between the upper two measurements are slight, while the third one is significantly different.

There seems to be a good relationship between the measured and (subjectively) observed performances in cases like these, but no real study of this relationship has been performed.

So it would seem that a response measurement could be a valid substitute for a listening test. In fact, such a relationship has been established under certain circumstances, but not definitively in a sound reinforcement context. An investigation of this relationship would certainly be worthwhile. 

However, there is another measurement that is easy to make, even though it’s seldom done. The bottom three curves on Figure 1 represent the measured electrical impedance at the input terminals of each of the three drivers. 

Such a measurement is usually quite easy to make, even on a driver installed in a system. 

It’s apparent that these curves separate the characteristics of the three drivers as well as any other common measurement does, especially in the case of the damaged unit, and much more easily. In fact, automated tests of this type have been designed into integrated systems as performance and reliability checks, with good results.

Thus it appears that different types of tests on the same items can yield corresponding results. In fact, experience has shown that such relationships hold in some cases but not in others, and that it may be difficult to predict which is which.

And in many cases, no acceptable substitute for a listening test has yet been found. Worse, some widely accepted tests might prove inadequate.

Turn It Up?
Loudness. It’s obvious that any sound system must provide enough sound level at the audience locations to ensure a satisfactory listening experience. Defining what this level actually should be is less obvious, and use of a valid measurement technique is not obvious at all. Subjective opinions on appropriate sound levels often vary widely as well, depending on a host of factors. (Investigating this matter alone could become a major research project!)

In fact, the correct sound level may not be just a matter of loudness. How well speech is understood (intelligibility) is often the overriding concern, and this is the result of many factors other than just loudness. In some cases, the loudness may need to be set other than as would normally be expected, because of adverse acoustical or system functional characteristics. It may also be found that the audience prefers a sound level different from that which exists near the performer.

Other acoustical factors may also be highly significant. The level of the reinforced sound must be sufficiently higher than that of any background noise so that speech intelligibility or program enjoyment is maintained. Some guidelines in this regard have been established empirically, and they may be adequate for most situations. 

A common and complicating factor is that background noise level may vary significantly, rapidly and unpredictably. Further, since adequate performance in this area may be a matter of life safety, accuracy can be quite important.

It’s often the case that the desired sound level is greater than that which the system is capable of producing without difficulty. This difficulty is the result of one or more components overloading, which results in an audible distortion of the sound.

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