Should I use house sound?

Or: “What is the difference between house sound and stand-alone speakers?”

I am not afraid of any ghost

When I was first starting out in corporate AV I worked in a hotel in NJ. There were speakers installed in the ceiling and a big control box in the back hallway. The system was possessed. If you closed the air walls all of the sudden one portion wouldn’t work any more. I would plug a microphone into the wall and it would work when I tested it, then later once the event started it would cut out. And even when it was working, it sounded pretty bad.

Since they’re permanently installed, problems with house sound systems don’t get addressed as quickly as free standing sound systems. That said, there’s some cases where house sound might be a good fit, and others where it’s better to use a stand-alone sound system.

House sound has the advantage that it’s already there, doesn’t take a lot of time to set up and can be relatively cheap. The disadvantage is it doesn’t have a full sound, can sound odd coming from above attendees, and might not be maintained properly. Assuming you confirmed it works well, good times to consider house sound might be when:

  • The meeting is relatively short.
  • The system is being used for voice only. (ie. no music or material with low end bass)
  • The system will only be used occasionally – for example, announcements in an exhibit hall.
  • The group is relatively small, 50 people or less.
  • “Good enough” computer audio is needed in a breakout room and there’s no microphones. (If a presenter just needs to play a video their laptop, the computer speakers aren’t loud enough, but due to cost it may not make sense to get a full stand-alone system)
  • The budget is very small.
Many providers have skirts if you don’t prefer the look of a speaker stand or it looks too cartoony.

A stand-alone system tends to have more power, wider range of high and low sound, and because of “directionality” attendees focus their attention where the sound is coming from, the front of the room. Free standing speakers can potentially cost more, and require more technical expertise to set up and operate. You’d prefer a stand-alone system in cases when:

  • The event is high profile and requires a polished presentation.
  • There are many microphones in use simultaneously.
  • A live band or DJ is performing.
  • The event includes videos, music or other material with low end bass.
  • You’re not certain of the quality of the installed system.

Have a question? I’d be glad to help.

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