We live in an era of innovation in which technology improves every day, and the same is true with professional audio in particular. As pro audio evolves, so, too, do the standards and expectations of those who consume it. Houses of worship, stadiums and music venues—even our workplaces—are developing around how we integrate sound. The time will come when we, as providers, will have to move away from old models of sound production and explore new technologies to meet heightened customer expectations.
According to AVIXA, the commercial AV industry is expected to close out this year at $247 billion, rising from $231 billion last year, marking a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.7 percent when projected out to 2024. Although factors like the rise of IP are major drivers of this growth, AVIXA also indicated that the end-user community and the general public are demanding investments in improved audio.
The audio market is in need of a revolution. Most professional loudspeakers still employ traditional cone diaphragms, which can limit directionality and intelligibility, regardless of environment. If these same speakers are placed in environments that are acoustically challenged—for instance, stadiums, airports or houses of worship—the results can help one begin to understand why an industry revolution is needed.
As directionality and intelligibility become a larger focus in the pro-audio community, it sparks an opportunity for the many markets that rely on sound to drive higher customer satisfaction. Take airports, for example, which have evolved into architectural masterpieces (and audio conundrums) with their high ceilings of glass and steel. The combination of vast open spaces and reflective building materials presents difficult challenges when it comes to public address and audio systems. And, although significant progress has been made as regards materials and design tools, the way in which most airport speakers produce sound has not changed. The results, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), can be communication difficulties and listener fatigue. Houses of worship present a similar issue with their level of complex reverberation. As ever, the keys to producing high-quality, clear sound are directionality and intelligibility.
Next, let’s think about stadiums, which house sporting events and concert performances; sound directionality and intelligibility face endless difficulties in these environments. Stadiums are built for reverberation so that crowd noise is elevated and sporting events feel more electric. When concerts take place at these venues, multiple stacks of high-power loudspeakers are required to overcome the crowd noise and provide wide coverage to ensure every person experiences the show as the artist intended.
Newer technologies, some of which use alternatives to traditional cone diaphragms, could minimize the number of speakers required to create a satisfactory experience and deliver clear audio. This holds true for security-alert systems in these venues, as well, for when important communications have to be delivered in an emergency. But not only do sports venues require comprehensible security-alert systems that factor in signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response and harmonic distortion; so, too, do education institutions. New technologies have the capability to communicate these alerts in a more efficient, more intelligible way than conventional audio speakers can.
According to Arizton’s “Pro Speakers Market Global Outlook and Forecast 2019-2024” report, demand for pro-grade speakers for large venues/events is growing at an appreciable rate, followed by the commercial and colleges/universities segments. According to this same report, the corporate sector has grown to be the most significant end user in the pro-grade speaker market. Yes—you read that right. As expectations for audio quality rise, corporations want to improve their own audio-oriented activities, including presentations, conferences and internal communications.
Integrating advanced AV technology into workplaces has become a requirement in order to deliver more efficient workflows, and, arguably, audio takes highest precedence because of its inherent task of enhancing communication. Given the advent of networked systems, a loudspeaker revolution would present a great opportunity to improve how our workplaces function.
I believe the days of traditional audio speakers are winding down. The time has come for improved audio quality to meet consumer demand across all markets. The public has come calling and we, as an industry, must respond.