Electronic room acoustic enhancement systems are having a moment in the audio market. Increasing awareness, falling prices, demanding audiences, and the promise of immersive audio capabilities are getting the attention venue operators and technicians everywhere from theatres and concert venues to university lecture spaces and school halls. In the spirit of the moment, and following the installation of a Müller-BBM Vivace enhancement system in the Sydney Opera House, CMI Music and Audio have taken up the distributorship of the German brand, with the goal of making the technology commonplace in Oceania.
Müller-BBM started out in the late 1950s in Munich as an engineering consultancy specialising in acoustics, branching out over the years into noise protection for industry and civic engineering. Gaining also experience in the field of electro-acoustics since the 1990s, years of measurements and calculations led to VIVACE, their expandable system for electronic room acoustic enhancement and spatial audio. It was followed by VICELLO, the smaller, fixed I/O system.
Visiting Australia for CMI’s Commercial Audio Showcase days, Müller-BBM’s Project Manager for electronic variable room acoustics Bernd Noack spoke to Noisegate about the history of the company, and the exciting times ahead as systems for enhancement and immersive converge.
“VIVACE and VICELLO both came out of our 60 years of experience in room acoustics,” explains Bernd. “At first, VIVACE was a system designed for room acoustic enhancement only. Adding the capability to do immersive audio is a natural progression because the necessary processing and channels are already in place. There’s a huge range of possibilities for these systems in the future.”
While some audio brands have started by creating spatial audio systems and then adding room enhancement capabilities, Bernd believes this approach is just based in a different company’s mission, mostly as a loudspeaker manufacturer. “At Müller-BBM, for us, the development of such a system was based on pure science of room acoustics, to also later adapt what you have learnt about immersive audio. It’s possible to start with a multichannel spatial product and add an enhancement, but you’re going to need assistance from someone with the room acoustics knowledge. Our company has 60 years of concert hall design experience with acousticians who have nothing to do with electronics, but who could tell you exactly what you should do to get the right results. We make room acoustics work electronically, not the other way around.”
The appetite for installing room enhancement systems is growing, led by the showcase, big-budget, installations that familiarise engineers with what’s possible, before researching how to scale the technology to their spaces. The big rewards come when a system can be used for both room enhancement and spatial audio, doubling the applications and opportunities for hire of the space.
“One of the big areas for market growth is in concert venues that host classical music without amplification, but also adapt their installation for immersive sound designs,” observes Bernd. “When we install a VIVACE or VICELLO system with spatial audio capabilities, we deliver a customised version of our control software, specifically tailored for each venue. Our software can communicate with every control format on the market, and with any kind of tracking systems.
If you’re a venue considering an enhancement system, Bernd’s advice is to start with the fundamentals. “Ask yourself what the purpose of the room actually is,” he recommends. “There’s often a variety of usage cases. Most rooms have neither good nor bad acoustics, just one acoustic that may or may not be suitable for the room’s purpose. When the room’s acoustic isn’t right for its intended purpose, our strategy is to optimise it by refurbishing for optimum speech intelligibility, then add the necessary enhancement. You cannot diminish reverberation time electronically, so that must be addressed first, then start from a solid base and add a direction; press a button today for a jazz concert, and again tomorrow for a classical concert.”
Müller-BBM’s VIVACE and VICELLO systems have the advantage of being an amplifier, loudspeaker, and microphone agnostic; you are not restricted to using any one brand. “Our systems have performance criteria that the components chosen must achieve,” elaborated Bernd. “Broadband coverage, HF beamwidth, power capability, headroom and frequency response. Also, we prefer miniature microphones that are not overdesigned with a lot of added processing in their preamps. We don’t necessarily need a lot of detailed HF response or even enhancement above 5 kHz, but a smooth and flat frequency response and a very low noise floor. But our main concerns are always the acoustical properties of the room with the focus on the target parameters to be adjusted, not too much the pure electro-acoustical equipment”