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At last, a loudspeaker system for restaurants that sounds good and doesn't get in the way of your conversation

Should loudspeakers be judged on their specifications and technical accuracy, or just on whether you enjoy the music? I can see a debate brewing...


One of the difficulties of being is a sound engineer is that everywhere you go, you experience bad sound. And you can't just put up with it - you have to moan about it for the rest of the day to the people you're with who don't really see what the problem is.

This is particularly so in places where they play 'background music'. Bars, pubs and restaurants are the prime offenders because one of the reasons you go there is to talk to the people you're with.

But while you try to talk comfortably, there is a horrible noise in the background that is pretending to be music, and worse still it is drowning out your conversation.

Partly this is the result of inappropriate equipment, partly poor installation, and if the manager chooses to turn up the volume too high... all of these have to be right, otherwise we all suffer.

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However, just the other night I was in a pub restaurant enjoying a quiet drink with pleasant company, and I found myself enjoying the music. I don't know what it was but it featured some excellent, jazzy Hammond organ playing in a style I very much admire.

I was sat there enjoying and discussing the music.

Hang on... I was enjoying the music without thinking about the sound. For me, that rarely happens. Either the sound is good or it is bad, but I always hear it and take note (and often complain!).

But this time I was just enjoying the music.

When I brought myself to my senses, I took a look around at the loudspeaker system. I was amazed to see that it was a Bose Acoustimass 3, which incorporates a smallish subwoofer with tiny little satellite speakers for the midrange and high frequencies.

I had never even thought to check out this system before because plainly it can't work. The satellite speakers are too small to handle midrange and the sub is to small to handle bass. Also, the lack of small, dedicated tweeters means that high frequencies will be sluggish and overly directional.

Yes, every law of loudspeaker design is broken. Yet subjectively it sounded entirely right in its context.

I am sure that technical measurements would have shown quite clearly the shortcomings of this system.

But I enjoyed the music. And I'm sure I'll go back there again.

Here's what Bose have to say in their product literature...

The Acoustimass® 3 speaker system delivers a surprisingly rich performance while practically disappearing into your décor. It offers lifelike sound from your stereo components and, when connected to your surround sound receiver, it’s also an appropriate choice as a rear channel home theater speaker solution. The speakers’ size makes them a great choice for smaller rooms.

Acoustimass® technology for smaller spaces

Patented Acoustimass® speaker technology delivers the ear-pleasing low tones of a bassoon—or the deep, dramatic effects of movies. The Acoustimass module produces these notes without audible distortion and can be hidden behind furniture. Rich, full music and movie sound appear to come from the small cube speakers, rather than from the module, hidden out of view.

Remarkable richness and clarity emanate from the two Virtually Invisible® cube speakers. Music from your existing stereo equipment sounds natural and true. These diminutive speakers can be wall mounted or displayed on speaker stands with our line of accessory mounting options.And the Acoustimass 3 speaker system easily handles more than music. Connect this speaker system to the rear channel outputs of your home theater equipment, and enjoy the same superb sound quality from your movies as you do your music.

You can enjoy Bose® Lifestyle® system performance in another room of your house by adding the Acoustimass 3 speaker system/SA-2 amplifier package. Get clean, crisp sound in smaller rooms by easily connecting the amplifier to your Lifestyle® system and speakers. Best of all, with select Lifestyle® systems and the SA-2 amplifier, you can listen to music in one room, while a movie or different music plays in another. If you already own a Lifestyle® system and Acoustimass 3 speaker system, simply add an SA-2 amplifier and enjoy the same benefits.

Same old Bose 'baffle 'em with bullshit' really. But I have to conclude that the technical measurements we take for loudspeakers don't tell the whole story. Just because a speaker measures well doesn't mean it sounds good.

And conversely, a speaker that doesn't have a particularly good specification might have redeeming features that somehow we omit to measure.


By David Mellor Tuesday September 6, 2005