10 questions to ask when installing a nightclub sound system

Throughout the history of dance music the sound system has been critical to a nightclubs success. Before installing a new nightclub sound system ask yourself these 10 questions.

1- How do I protect my nightclub staff’s hearing?
2- How does sound quality affect my profit?
3- What are my inputs and outputs sockets and how is this zoned in my nightclub?
4- How long will a nightclub sound system last?
5- Should I use passive or self-powered speakers?
6- Do I need acoustic treatment?
7- What will my electricity bill be from the sound system?
8- How loud can the sound system be before I annoy the neighbours?
9- How much will it cost?
10- How many kilowatts should the sound system be for a nightclub?

 1- How do I protect my nightclub staff’s hearing?

As an employer you have a legal responsibility to safeguard your staff’s hearing. You need to ensure the legal limits on noise exposure are not exceeded. A good starting point is to provide them with ear plugs.

Position the bar away from the dance floor when designing your nightclub. It also helps to have loudspeakers near the bar on their own dedicated volume control.

When choosing your sound system use equipment that avoids distortion. This allows lower volume levels while still getting the same desired effect. Directional loudspeakers will also help focus sound away from sensitive areas.

When setting up the sound system be careful with setting your levels and also who has control of this. You don’t want a DJ at his first gig to have ultimate control over the sound level. Instead you want volume levels set by a professional sound technician. They will have your businesses best interests at heart.

Nightclub Hearing Protection

 2- How does sound quality affect my profit?

With better sound quality it is easier to attract popular DJs and artists. These in turn bring more people to your nightclub. We also find there are more subtle nuances how sound quality effects profit.

Choose a nightclub sound system that has exceptional clarity and fidelity. We believe distorted music causes stress and fatigue. This is because the brain is working hard to filter out the harmonic content that is distortion. Improving sound system clarity should lead to a better atmosphere. Venues with a good atmosphere are more popular.

Our clients have reported that bar staff find it quicker to take orders since installing speakers with better clarity. This means a quicker turn over and higher bar takings.

Nightclub Profit

3- What are my inputs and outputs sockets and how is this zoned in my nightclub?

Every venue is different so it is worth sitting down and writing a list of what you want your sound system to do.

Zones offer individual control over different parts of your nightclub. Do you want different music in different rooms? If so each room is a separate zone. Do you want different volume control around the bar and on the dance floor? Again each will need a separate zone.

For input sockets you need to think where you might want to play music from. The obvious place is in the DJ booth or on the stage. You should consider whether you want your staff to be able to plug in an smartphone behind the bar. You might want input sockets on your sun terrace so that you can have your DJ outside for summer events. Output sockets will need to be everywhere you might want to set up a portable sound system.

At the high end a fully zoned nightclub can have music from any input socket sent to any loudspeaker or output socket. Each with it’s own volume control. This can even be remotely controlled over the internet. On a more basic level you might just want a couple of input sockets and allow your bar staff to turn down the DJ. Once you know what you need you can decide what is suitable for your nightclub.

Nightclub Zones

 4- How long will a nightclub sound system last?

Always check the warranty period to help you decide how long equipment should last. Something with a one year warranty is likely to break. The result is high maintenance costs. If equipment has a five year warranty you can be confident your investment will last.

How long sound equipment lasts also depends on how it is set up. There are simple things to do like installing amplifiers away from beer spillage. It can also be a bit more technical like ensuring proper limiters are set for the loudspeakers.

Soundsystem Reliability

5- Should I use passive or self-powered speakers?

For nightclubs we would always recommend having passive speakers with separate amplifiers. This means that you can lock away the amplifiers and their control.

It might seem convenient to have the amplifiers within the loudspeaker. We would disagree. We have had self-powered loudspeakers fail due to beer getting to the amplifier. The surprise was that the speaker in question was installed 4 meters in the air. When you install a speaker close to the public they can change the amplifier settings. This includes volume.

Passive loudspeakers are also more economic to install. When installing self-powered loudspeakers you need to install both power and signal cables. With passive loudspeakers you only need to install the single loudspeaker cable.

Having said all this self-powered loudspeakers do have a place in nightclubs. They can be useful when you need a portable system such as for DJ monitors or on your sun terrace.

Passive Nightclub Speaker

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6- Do I need acoustic treatment?

Often the cheapest way to improve the sound of a nightclub is not to upgrade the sound system. It is to treat the room acoustics instead. Remember that acoustic treatment is different to sound proofing.

Does your nightclub have lots of hard brick walls or is it a concrete bunker? Then you should consider something to soften the space and reduce reverb. The easiest way is to hang drapes made from acoustic felt along the ceiling. Another option is to make absorption panels that run head high along the walls. These can be made from rockwool and upholstered to fit your decor.

As well as acoustic absorption it is worth considering adding some diffusion. This breaks up room modes and prevents standing waves in rooms. Standing waves are one of the main causes of feedback on microphones.

Acoustic Treatment

 7- What will my electricity bill be from the sound system?

Most people know that LED lighting effects can reduce their energy costs. Did you know that your choice of nightclub sound system could also effect your energy bill? There are two main influences on your electricity bill from the sound system. These are loudspeaker sensitivity and efficiency of the amplifiers.

Most of the energy content in music is in the low end. When you increase the sensitivity of a bass speaker by just 3dB it can play just as loud but will need half as much electricity. This is better for the environment and also reduces energy costs. When choosing a new nightclub sound system compare the sensitivity of different passive loudspeakers. Usually sensitivity is in the specification shown as 1w/1m.

Amplifiers also make a huge difference to your nightclub’s electricity costs. Most amplifiers claim efficiency of around 90%. You need to look in detail at the amplifier specification to see if these statements are valid. By comparing the heat dissipation with the power output you can discover the true efficiency. We find that amplifiers currently popular have an efficiency between 20% and 75%.

Nightclub Electricity

 8- How loud can the sound system be before I annoy the neighbours?

Most nightclubs are in urban area which unfortunately means neighbours. Residents usually means noise complaints. Luckily careful consideration to your nightclub sound system can help reduce the disturbance.

To start with it is worth walking around your nightclub to see where sound is escaping. Often fire exits and the air conditioning are the culprits. These are easy to sound proof. Noise is also transmitted structurally as well as through the air. Sometimes it helps to fit vibration mounts to your loudspeakers. This reduces structural borne sound.

It is worth working closely with local people to identify what frequencies are disturbing them. Go to their homes and measure what noise is bleeding through. Then you can optimise your sound system to avoid any problems. Set your EQ to reduce problem frequencies and limit to avoid excessive levels. Do this carefully and it can still be loud on the dancefloor.

Pro-actively develop a relationship with your neighbours. Then they are more likely to tell you of any noise problems before they complain to the authorities. Before your nightclub opens test and measure your noise pollution. Do this during the day and for short periods until you have solved any noise issues.

Remember that you should consider your customers in addition to music. Often people cueing up to get in or having a smoke outside cause more noise than music leaking from the venue.

How Loud

 9- How much will it cost?

There are two parts to this question. First we need to consider equipment cost. Second we need to consider installation cost.

Lets start with the equipment cost. A Powersoft K10 amplifier has a list price of £3999. It has a power of 2x 6000w (2 Ohms). This means the price per kilowatt is £0.33 per watt. As a rule of thumb we would recommend budgeting the same for loudspeakers as you do with amplifiers. It is also rare to use all the available power in such a amplifier so give yourself some headroom in your budget. This means a sensible budget is around £1 per watt for your nightclub sound system equipment.

The installation cost is harder to estimate. The earlier you involve a professional installer in your project the less it will cost. This will allow integration of the sound equipment during the construction phase. Audio cables can be installed during first fit and structural fixings are easy to make. Often the nightclub sound system installation is thought about after the paint goes on. This makes the installation work lots harder and more expensive.

Sound System Cost

10- How many kilowatts should the sound system be for a nightclub?

People often discuss how loud a sound system is in kilowatts. As a unit of measurement this does not tell you much about volume. Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is the real measure of how loud something is. The unit for this is decibels.

Kilowatts are only a measure of how much electricity something uses. You need to consider the sound system power alongside loudspeaker sensitivity to calculate how loud it will be. When you give a loudspeaker 1 watt of power and take a measurement of it’s SPL at 1 meter you get the speakers sensitivity. With this information we can see how many kilowatts we need to make it loud enough. However, this is only part of the story.

In a nightclub sound system different speakers cover different frequency bands. They have controlled dispersion to focus sound on different parts of the dance floor. To get even sound coverage across the dance floor will involve a certain amount of design. Once the system is designed you can then start calculating how many kilowatts it needs to be loud enough.

Nightclub Sound System

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