Loudspeaker World

First Things First: Thoughts On The System Optimization Process

Things that need to be considered before getting into an involved undertaking...

By Ken DeLoria November 30, 2016

Credit: Deutsches Theater München

Very often the topic of “room tuning” comes up in the practice of pro audio, but what we’re really talking about is “system optimization.” And over the course of many years, we’ve used many tools that seemed to—or actually did—contribute to desirable results.

But system optimization is not just about turning knobs (virtual or otherwise) until things sound good. Sure, you can do that, and maybe that’s all you have time for under certain circumstances, but it’s not likely to constitute the highest possible grade of work.

I’ve been pondering this topic for many years, also noting a wealth of existing reference sources (articles and books) that go to various depths in offering solid and useful information about the craft.

Against that backdrop, it occurred to me that there’s not been much focus on basic practices—things that need to be considered before we get into an involved system optimization process. That idea prompted this discussion.

Key Questions
There are shows and then there are shows. Many are simple, using only left and right loudspeakers at the stage that are mounted on stands, or ground-stacked, or flown. These are the easier ones, because the time it takes to equalize and tailor coverage of a left-right source is, generally speaking, not something that will cause you to need to consult a calendar.

Sometimes, however, it’s not so simple or straightforward. If the event is a corporate presentation, or perhaps a theatrical performance with a band in the orchestra pit, what will the optimal loudspeaker complement be? Our goal is to ensure that every audience member has an equally enjoyable experience, and that’s rarely an easy task.

How long will it take to design the system, plan it, install it, and then optimize it? Now it’s time to get out the calendar and negotiate a reasonable timeframe with the event organizer. Time is money, especially when renting high-profile venues and employing numerous support people, so the faster that you can perform effective work, the more the client is likely to be impressed and ask for you again for future events. 

Will front fill loudspeakers be required? It’s quite they will, to attain proper coverage in the front seating rows that are tough for the mains to reach.

Or it can be something more specific like live music from an orchestra pit drowning out the vocalists in the first few rows, which you can mitigate by adding vocal-only reinforcement from a series of compact, low-profile loudspeakers. (A tip: use a matrix output of the console to route only vocals to these loudspeakers).

What about the balcony? Are there seats under and over (on) it? Both spaces usually exhibit different acoustical characteristics than the orchestra seats. And perhaps there’s also a loge, or a dress circle, or a tier of balconies that each need to receive attention. Ultimately, these areas will need likely need reinforcement from additional loudspeakers.

Now, the trick is that all of these loudspeakers, perhaps arranged in several zones, need to be combined together so that the sonic energy in one area will not cause problems in another area. If the room is fairly reflective, the “corruption” of areas bleeding into other areas is common, and can be one of the more difficult aspects of optimizing the system. If the room is highly reflective, then the challenge grows significantly greater and the calendar should reflect the need for enough time to do the job properly.

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About Ken

Ken DeLoria
Ken DeLoria

Over the course of more than four decades, the late Ken DeLoria tuned hundreds of sound systems, and as the founder of Apogee Sound, he developed the TEC Award-winning AE-9 loudspeaker.


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