A workplace can be a productivity accelerant, a recruiting tool, a technology showcase and a branding mechanism. It also can be a communications center, a collaboration driver, a cultural hub, a creative inspiration and even a statement of intent. But most importantly, it has to work.

A number of factors affect how well a building functions as a place of business. The value audio technologies bring to a building are often overlooked, which can lead to costly mistakes in this digital age.

Pitch Perfect: The Importance of Acoustics

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of audio specifications is acoustics. The challenge of acoustics is that they are, for the most part, unintuitive. Every location is distinct, which puts a limit on pre-planning. Unlike a floor plan or a coat of paint, audio and acoustic specifics may not be immediately clear to a building owner who is unfamiliar with acoustic terminology and looking to minimize costs wherever possible.

However, the consequences of trying to design a building without the input of someone with acoustical expertise can be detrimental to the project. It’s advisable that the building owner or construction team work with an acoustical consultant versed in the building’s use, code specifications and available audio technologies. Depending on the installations, the upfront cost can be significant, but the dividends in terms of the building’s usefulness and tenant or visitor experience make it a worthwhile investment.

Improving Performance With Sound Technologies
Designing and building an airport, railway station or other large public space can present significant acoustical audio challenges. The user experience may call for atriums with hard reverberant surfaces, but such designs are not well-suited to public address announcements. In such instances, the acoustics of the space can be carefully mapped using specialized software and audio technologies, such as high-directivity loudspeakers, columns and line arrays. These solutions can make a challenging space sound significantly better and positively impact the building performance and traveler experience.

Large, high-traffic buildings may be the obvious place to consider audio and acoustic design. But other types of buildings, such as those that house small businesses and medical facilities, also present a host of invasive audio and acoustic challenges. In these settings, standard considerations have long included sound-isolation and sound-masking technologies intended to accommodate private conversations in relatively public spaces. As teleconferencing becomes more prevalent, new audio challenges, such as acoustic echo, can make a once useful space or huddle room a site of mixed messages, cut-off sentences and muted responses.

One way to mitigate acoustic echo is to use acoustic echo cancellation (AEC) in the conferencing system. AEC recognizes echo in a received signal and cancels it from a transmitted signal, eliminating those frustrating stops and starts that can impede the natural cadence of a conversation. 

In stark contrast to offices, restaurant owners typically like their dining areas to be lively, yet conducive to intimate conversation. Savvy restaurant owners recognize the importance of food and service, but they also understand the significance of aesthetic design and atmosphere. The audio system and the acoustical elements of the space play an incredibly important role in the restaurant’s brand by delivering its soundtrack. Building a space that allows a restaurant to deliver a comprehensive and immersive guest experience can make that restaurant more successful and the building more effective. 

Network Technologies Deliver Increased Versatility And Functionality
Many restaurants, hotels and retailers look to networked audio technologies for centralized programming and control. They rely on zoned distribution capabilities for varying sounds and sound levels in different locations, such as a bar, dining area or lobby.

Networked technologies allow builders and architects to make a building eminently more versatile and useful. For instance, zone control can split up large spaces such as ballrooms to create multiuse spaces that can accommodate a variety of smaller gatherings. Audio technologies can speak with other technologies—such as visual messaging, partitions, lighting, access control and even life safety—to provide the building with a high level of integration.

It’s a good idea to be able to program and control a system in a centralized manner, but it’s also vital to have distributed access points for authorized personnel to make changes onsite. Therefore, it’s important to consider head-end technology when designing a building’s audio blueprint. For example, Wi-Fi control from a mobile device allows the best of both worlds; personnel can listen to a room and make changes within a centralized system. Another good option is wall controllers, which provide enhanced system control capabilities and audio routing flexibility for a variety of applications.

Purchasing all audio-related technologies from one vendor can help ensure a more seamless system. It makes performance evaluation easier, and the buyer gets a single point of accountability and support. In addition, choosing a single provider facilitates the upgrade process.

The Sound of Green
Finally, today’s audio technology solutions can help building managers and contractors meet the demand to build more sustainably. In the past, a state-of-the-art audio system required racks of amplifiers that consumed vast amounts of power and emitted considerable heat. However, today’s solid-state, chip-based amplifiers are compact and significantly reduce the power draw and heat traditionally generated from an amp. Additionally, networked loudspeakers, amps and processors can operate off a single ethernet cable, producing a significantly more elegant, effective and efficient audio system.

By working with people with the right expertise and deploying the right technologies, a construction executive can help create an audio-equipped property that is seamless, cost-effective, intuitive and, most importantly, high-performing.

Blake Augsburger is president of the Professional Solutions Division of HARMAN. For more information, visit harmanpro.com.