Sound System performance

One of my favorite adolescence hobbies was DJ sound systems, the louder, the better. So loud that you could feel the compression in your ear and to us audio enthusiasts that is when you know you have a bad “a@#” sound system. How many times have you gone to an event and you see someone walk up to the DJ to turn down the volume because the audience wanted to hear themselves speak or the mature persons in the crowd can’t take the high decibel level. Somehow, a few minutes later the volume went right back up. DJ’s need to hear and feel that deep bass-line knocking the walls in the room and the bright mid-range and high frequencies bringing the artist singing to life in the event. To a DJ nothing sounds good without a good pounding, which is probably why they are all deaf from years of sound abuse.

I have learnt over the years though, it is not how loud your sound system can go that determines its quality, but what quality is produced at very low volume levels. If at low levels you see the event guests tapping their fingers on the table, singing along to every word of that popular Michael Jackson song or even getting the urge to dance then you know that you have a quality set. In my experience that is not the case with most DJ systems over the years. At low volumes most systems sound more like ambient noise rather than that relaxing euphoria required to quietly send subliminal messages to your guest’s brain, “Hey let’s start this party”.

To acquire this level of quality I personally think it is not like photography where it is said that “it is not the expensive equipment that makes a good image, it’s the man behind the camera”. Yes, there is a certain level of sound engineering involved but not all audio equipment are made equal. No way will a USD300.00 audio mixer sound the same as a USD1800.00 version. The sound quality will be like chalk versus cream cheese. In the early days of my sound company I was tempted and actually acted on purchasing consumer grade audio equipment. In an event, the music sounded good jamming at high volumes but I did not get the performance I needed at the lower decibels levels, I did not even knew I had a problem. It was only when I heard a professional sound company playing at an extravagant wedding I realized I was doing something wrong, I swear when I inspected their gear it could not have been worth less that USD 40,000.00. Is that sort of cost worth it? I will say a resounding yes. I heard the symbols in every instrument played on the music track. The bass-line was sweet, tight and low and the clarity of the mid-range frequencies threw the voices on the tracks across the room all at a low comfortable volume with perfect clarity. At the time of this experience, I so envied such a sound performance that I felt I could have started a bonfire and tossed all the audio gear I owned and start from scratch. I did eventually, I invested heavily in quality gear, all to make my clients enjoy the sweet tunes coming out of Media Foundry’s slamming sound system.

I am of the firm belief that all sound systems are not made equally, but sad to say it is hard for persons looking for sound services to judge a quality provider for an event, there are no demonstrations that could be done to measure quality, only if you gain access to an event they will be playing at, which is an impractical suggestion at most times. The general way a DJ is chosen today is by word of mouth and what is more often asked is not how good the system sounds but how good the DJ played, which are clients’ major concerns. I’m probably being too critical as a music buff, but at my event DJ mixing is not the only criteria to get my hard earned money, I want high performance gear jamming my session till early morning.