Hear This: Designing for Audio Intelligibility

The drum sticks click out the tempo and I swing my pick down to the strings. In an instant, silence is torn to shreds as the basement is engulfed in a ferocious storm of sound. Driven forth at breakneck pace by the thunderous cracks and booms of the percussion and the pugnacious snarl of the bass, I assail upon my guitar with a blistering progression of power chords. Demented, overdriven tones lash out from my amplifier and meld with the riot of the rhythm to produce something at once terrible and wonderful: pure punk rock energy.

As funny as it may seem based on the clean-cut, bow tie-sporting image you probably have of me, I was once a full-fledged rocker with hair down to my shoulders. When I was 16, my best friend Adam bought a drum set and gave me his old electric guitar so we could start a band. Despite the fact that I was already a proficient cellist at the time, the moment I first picked up that six string was the true genesis of my life as a musician. Within weeks I was writing songs, a pursuit that occupies much of my free time to this day (though my style has mellowed considerably with age). And eventually, it was music that led me serendipitously into the AV industry—a path I know many of you have also tread. 

I love music, and I love it loud. In that first band, Adam clobbered his drums with such rage that no amplifier seemed powerful enough to keep up. Out of necessity I was spurred into inquiry of how amplified sound worked, and how I could make it louder. And louder we certainly became. So loud, in fact, that I’m paying the price for it today.

While it may be more fun to delve into the study of sound quality, there has never been a more critical time to understand how to maximize its clarity. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss is on the rise. In the U.S. alone, the number of people afflicted has grown by more than 30 percent in the last decade. Though I haven’t been clinically diagnosed, there are many times when I feel left out of conversations due to my difficulty hearing.

In AV Technology, we examine audio advancements in efficiency and scalability—with our Technology Manager’s Guide to Networked Audio—as well as in intelligibility. From the clever pickup techniques employed in the newest generation of conferencing mics to the latest in facility-wide emergency notification and paging systems, we explore ways of ensuring the most vital words are heard by all.

How was your AV career shaped by music? Email me at matthew.pruznick@futurenet.com or leave a comment on this article. I’d love to hear from you. And when you meet me in person, remember to speak up!

Matt Pruznick

Matt Pruznick is the former editor of AV Technology, and senior editor for Systems Contractor News and Residential Systems. He is based in New York.