Q&A Spotlight: Active Acoustic Systems
One way technology is impacting performing arts facilities is with active acoustic systems, which use sophisticated computers, microphones and speakers to enhance a venue’s acoustics. For an update on this topic, we contacted Ed Logsdon in Denver. He is a Principal with D.L. Adams Associates, a firm specializing in acoustic consulting and system engineering for the performing arts and other industries.
YPP: What are the benefits of an active acoustic system?
Logsdon: If you’re trying for any variability in the venue’s acoustics, an active acoustic system can go beyond what’s achievable with physical acoustics. It would take so much physical acoustics material to change the room significantly that it’s often impractical. There’s just not enough space.
An active acoustic system can achieve the level of change we’re after – plus more. We’re able to exceed what could be done by moving wall panels, changing reflectors or altering the ceiling height and room volume.
YPP: What factors favor installing an active acoustic system?
Logsdon: The biggest trend now is multipurpose, flexible venues. Many times there’s not enough budget to afford a dedicated concert hall or dedicated opera house. People want it to be a theater one day, an opera space the next and a concert hall the day after that. The motivation is having “no dark nights” in a facility.
Facilities are already challenged trying to break even, so having multipurpose flexibility is a big help. And the definition of “multipurpose” keeps expanding, for example stretching from electronic dance music to symphony.
YPP: Any misperceptions about active acoustic systems?
Logsdon: The first active acoustic systems were developed more than 30 years ago. People who only have those early systems as reference points likely don’t realize how far technology has advanced. Today’s systems have sophisticated capabilities – they are truly impressive. When the system is on, you should have no idea except for the visual cues. To enable audiences to better suspend disbelief, we may suggest that architects use lighting and color to help fool the eye, so people don’t notice the size of the room as much.
YPP: What challenges do you face implementing an active system?
Logsdon: Convincing the classical purists – usually symphony and opera people – that amplification is acceptable if done correctly and can actually enhance the quality of the performance. These people can be more critical than the audience they think they’re serving. With an active acoustic system, a wider range of audiences can be better served.