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Which speaker system is best for my cafe?

4 December 2017

As a café owner, setting the right atmosphere for your customers won’t be lost on you, and you've probably considered how sound and music can play their part. However, have you considered what kind of audio setup might be best for your front of house?

Of course, installing a sound system in your café is relatively straightforward, but, if you're looking for the best results — and if you're looking to save yourself from spending time and money on unnecessary things — it can help to do your homework first.

What do you want your sound system to do?

The environment of your café is different from, say, a front room at home. As a consequence, the requirements of your sound system are different. For a start, most consumer grade sound systems are not designed for the kind of continued use that they are likely to get on a commercial system (say, 8+ hours on most days).

So, before anything else, you'll need to consider what you want your café sound system to do for you. For instance, what features do you want to prioritise? Do you want uniform volume and coverage across the entire premises or do you want to create a number of quieter areas? Will you require a PA (public address) setup for live music? Don't forget to factor in separate areas such as toilets, if you want coverage there as well.

Are you considering wireless? If so, you'll need to make sure your system has built in WiFi or Bluetooth (preferably both). These are just a few considerations you need to think about to begin with.

Making your plan

Once you've decided what you want your system to do, it's time to start planning. As a café owner, you’ll face a few challenges when designing your perfect sound system. Obviously, there's your budget; in complex wired systems, you may need to factor in professional help with installation.

Then there's the actual placement of your speakers, and the space they occupy. Does the system you're considering take up lots of valuable floor space that could be put to better use for the customer? Don’t forget the safety and security concerns as well. For example, can you ensure that your sound system is positioned securely away from ‘nimble fingers’? If you opt for a wired system, you'll also need to route your cabling in a safe way, and you'll need an amplifier that can handle the electrical load of your planned number of speakers.

Moreover, if you’re considering going wireless and skipping cables all together, then it's worth reviewing the differences between Wifi and Bluetooth.

In a nutshell, Wifi systems tend to offer greater transmission range, but are less straightforward — there can be compatibility problems. Bluetooth, however, is a more reliable technology for wireless connection. As such, you might want to think about how big your space is. Is it small enough (about 10 metres or less) to use Bluetooth, for instance? Bluetooth, however, limits the amount of devices that can connect to the speakers (sometimes only allowing for a 1-1 connection). As such, if you have multiple speakers dotted around, then you have to consider the connectivity from the source (your smartphone, for example) and also the connectivity between the speakers themselves (as you have to distribute audio amongst the speakers). Therefore it’s often worth considering, should wish to adopt multiple speakers, a speaker installation that carries both WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities.

Choosing your sound

Now, onto the sound itself. Certain things can hamper how sound carries around the room, and as a result, your customer's experience. Elements such as the layout and size of the room, the materials that comprise it, the sound of other customers, and obstacles like furniture and wall partitions all play their part.

Of course you can’t predict how loud customers will be and you can’t change the size of the room, so you're probably designing your sound system around your space (as opposed to the other way around). This means you'll likely need to compromise on your sound design for the sake of your interior design.

Problems to avoid

To combat these elements, you should look to avoid too much variation in volume in the system you choose. Uneven coverage can result in some customers unable to comfortably hear over the sound of the speakers, and others unable to hear the music altogether. This is the result of placing speakers too close to where your patrons sit (too noisy), or spacing them out in an uneven way that creates audio 'blind spots' (uneven coverage).

You also want to avoid variations in frequency response. The extreme highs and lows of a sound system that result in either 'tinny' sounding audio (on the high end) or a situation where you can only hear the bass (on the low end) are rather unpleasant at the best of times. This is often the result of a system in which the frequencies are EQ’d (equalised) in a way that doesn't work for the room, or by using a system in which the speakers are unable to provide the right amount of bass (e.g. lacking an inbuilt subwoofer).

The trouble with stereo

Traditionally, most sound systems designed for commercial spaces actually broadcast in mono. This is due to a limitation in how conventional stereo systems work.

With a normal stereo system, there is a small 'sweet spot' in the location near, or dead-centre, between the two speakers. If you're not located in this spot, you don't hear both of the channels properly. For example, you'll hear the left channel, instead of the stereo sound.

This is why stereo is fine for setups where the listener is located in a single spot — such as a home cinema where the speakers are directed at the sofa. As such, it’s why stereo is not ideal when the listener could be located in any number of places, such as your swanky new coffee shop.

As a general rule then, a mono channel sounds better than 'half' of a stereo channel, and this is why mono has been the standard for commercial installations. Essentially, it's a trade-off between consistency and quality.

A solution to the stereo problem

Up until recently, there was no real way to get around this problem of stereo in commercial spaces. We wanted to fix this, and we spent many years developing a solution that allows a listener to experience stereo, wherever in the room they're located. Enter, Airsound.

To simplify the the science behind the technology, Airsound overcomes the limitations of stereo ‘sweet spots’ by the use of side firing speakers. These speakers produce spatial information, and do not need to be heard independently by your left and right ears; meaning that wherever you (or your customer) are in the room, you will experience full stereo. And it’s all fitted in one sleek wall-mountable speaker — reducing the need for extra cables, extra speakers, and extra space.

Don’t stress about it

The great news for you, as a café owner, is that audio technology has advanced in leaps and bounds over the last few years. With developments such as wireless technology, better speaker fidelity, and our Airsound technology, it's now cheaper and easier than ever to design an audio space that creates an amazing experience for your customers.

This can allow you to focus on great customer service and great coffee: an environment that keeps your customers coming back for more. So, as with everything in life, don’t stress about it. We’ve got you covered. If you want to find out more, just give us a shout.

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