A former retail space in Berkeley, California is decked out with a custom sound system made of 123 speakers, subwoofers, and microphones, all controlled by an iPad. The 3,000 square foot space isn't a concert hall or music studio but a restaurant owned by John Paluska, the former manager of the rock band Phish. In an article for the SFGate, Stacy Finz details how the restaurateur created a space with lively buzz that still lets patrons hold comfortable conversations.
"As a person who loves to eat out and as someone who reads the restaurant press, I know that noise is a hot-button issue for everyone," Paluska said. "What we wanted to achieve is often mutually exclusive. Either you have a conversational ambiance or a buzzy ambiance. What we're excited about is that we're achieving both."
Designed and installed by Meyer Sound, the system allows Paluska to instantly control reverberation, making his restaurant as loud or soft as he wants. Paluska can also capture the sounds and leak them back into the space at a controlled level. Microphones pick up sounds and send them to a computer where they are digitally processed and then projected to different areas at different volumes. For example, the bar is set up to be have more "buzz" than the dining area.
Even the artwork functions as part of the acoustic system. The paintings are on special acoustic fabric and hide all the equipment and materials (fiberglass duct liner, wood fiber acoustic panels, recycled denim jean insulation) that would otherwise make the restaurant look like a recording studio. It's high tech disguised as no tech.
The project is the first application of the Constellation system by Meyer Sound, who call the restaurant system a beta test. John Meyer, president of Meyer Sound, credits math chips developed for video games with making the scaled down technology accessible for smaller applications.
Outside of public and entertainment venues, the effect of sound on a space is something most often ignored. But the acoustics of a space greatly influences how we experience, and feel about, a space. As Finz points out, a 2012 Zagat survey found noise is the second-highest complaint behind service for diners.