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Optimum System Solutions (OSS) is a unique consulting firm dedicated to fill a niche in the sound-reinforcement market that has been sorely needed as long as there have been sound systems. For any sound system to properly do its job in a given facility, three things are necessary; 1) it must be designed correctly, 2) it must be installed correctly, and 3) it must be tuned correctly. If any one of the three is not done right, the system’s performance can range from slightly unfulfilling to down right awful!

Properly tuning, or commissioning, a sound system, like designing it, can be a very involved procedure, depending on the complexity of the sound system involved. This process always involves setting the gain structure, or levels of all the volume controls within the system, as well as equalizing the system, which is setting the high-resolution tonal balance of the speakers’ frequency response. Commissioning can also include setting the crossover points between high-, mid- and low-frequency speakers, delay alignment between the speakers’ signal arrivals, lobe or beam steering and employing compressor/limiters to provide a louder program level while protect the speakers from damage.

The plain truth is that there are many more companies that sell sound systems who claim to be audio experts, than there are companies that actually have the expertise to properly execute an in-depth system design, installation and commissioning. To explain the reasons for this, we need to examine the fundamental structure of the sound installation business in the US.

The Players:
Traditionally, in the professional/commercial sound industry, there are sound contracting companies that sell and install sound equipment, and there are sound consulting firms that design systems and supervise the contractor’s installation. The difference is clear, sound contractors sell equipment and sound consultants do not. The consultant is hired to act in the client’s interest to design the system correctly and to make sure the contractor installs it correctly.

Any company that sells sound equipment is not a sound-consulting firm, no matter what they tell you or what they call themselves. It is a conflict of interest. Sound contractors make their money selling sound systems. So if you have an existing system with problems, it should be no surprise that their recommended solution will most likely be to replace your existing system with a new one.

The Problem:
Sound consultants’ fees are generally based on a percentage of the new system they design. Additionally, these firms have office management staff and CAD technicians to generate complex specification packages. As such, if a new system is not involved, they often cannot afford to spend time on just the process of re-commissioning an existing sound system. Many are so busy with managing their current projects and generating specification packages for new projects, that often they will leave the commissioning of their projects up to whatever technician the contractor has assigned on-site. This is especially true if the system owner is not willing to pay a premium to have the consultant do the commissioning.

The sound contractor will generally include a few hours labor for a lesser technician to commission the system in his bid price. If the project installation exceeds the estimated labor hours, which happens virtually every time, the commissioning labor at the very end of the project gets cut to the bare minimum. If the system makes noise, they’re done!

If a consulting firm designed your system, not a sound-contracting firm calling themselves consultants, and that consulting firm commissioned the system, the chances are that it was probably done correctly. However, the majority of sound systems are “design-build” projects. These projects are done solely by the sound contractor, with no consultant involved. This is the equivalent of having an electrician design a building’s electrical system without an electrical engineering firm working with the architect during the design phase of the facility. If the installing contractor commissioned the system, and this is true for the large majority of systems installed today, your chances are at least 50/50 that it was done incorrectly, if at all.

This is not to say that a good sound-contracting firm cannot properly commission a system. The best ones can commission a system as well as any consultant in the business. So, do not think that if your system was not “consultant-commissioned” that it must be re-tuned. If you are happy with its performance, then do not look a gift-horse in the mouth. But if you are not happy with it, perhaps you now know why.

Today’s System Integrators:
In recent years, sound contractors are more often called “system integrators” due to all the skills required for the modern integrated media systems that they now install. There are hardly any “public-address” systems that do not include some type of video, control or networking capabilities to accompany the audio today. They now must have skilled technicians for computer networks, video, digital signage, lighting, and control systems, as well as for sound. Additionally, competent and experienced sound technicians are harder to find and hire today than ever before. Indeed, most have moved on to be sound consultants. As a result, system integrators that have truly skilled sound-system commissioners are a small minority in the market today.

How do we know this? We know this because the founder of OSS, John Murray, has taught professional sound technicians how to commission sound systems for over 20 years. He developed and taught the original sound-system commissioning classes for both INFOCOMM and the NSCA, the dominant educational trade shows for the A/V industry in the US. Most all of his students, primarily system integrators and even some consultants, took his classes when they had already been commissioning systems professionally for years before they learned how to do it correctly. Where does the commissioning of your system fall in that time-line?

This is why it is a sad fact that the majority of commercial and professional sound systems are not commissioned properly when they are installed, even if they are well designed.

A Lack of Standards:
In addition to the above discussion, there is still no nationally- or internationally-recognized industry standard procedure for sound system design or commissioning. Nor is there any university in the United States that offers a degree in sound-reinforcement system design or commissioning. Why, because the professional AV industry is a comparatively small industry and it only began in the late 1960s. Relatively speaking, we are still in the infancy of this industry’s development. INFOCOMM has only just established an ANSI-recognized industry standard for the evenness of sound coverage in a room in 2010. Therefore, relatively few people in the sound industry, even worldwide, really know how to properly commission a sound system.

Sound “Engineers:”
Also be aware that the term “sound engineer” is strictly a conventional term, there is no university degree or industry certification offered anywhere in the US qualifying one as a sound engineer. If a “sound engineer” tries to impress you by name-dropping famous bands they have mixed in the past, you can almost be guaranteed sub-par work from this individual. No matter what they tell you, mixing famous bands does not qualify a technician as a good sound-reinforcement system designer or commissioner. In fact, most touring “road-dog” soundmen generally have no structured education about audio at all. It’s almost always strictly OJT picked up from an older road-dog with the same background.

This leads us to the reason for OSS…
OSS was formed for the unique purpose of providing existing sound system re-commissioning to be sure the system is at peak performance before the client invests a large amount of funds to replace the entire system. Often times, if the system was designed adequately, after re-tuning, the client is satisfied without purchasing any new equipment. In other cases replacing only a specific item or two in the system is the optimum solution. It is almost never the case that an entire system needs to be completely redesigned and replaced to get satisfactory results. Optimization before replacement!

One Final Caveat:
If the system’s performance continues to have problems, beyond re-commissioning and any necessary equipment upgrades, it is most likely user error during program events. The lack of technical know-how on the part of the person mixing the program is generally the culprit. Most often, houses of worship and other venues have either volunteers or employ “sound engineers” hired by word-of-mouth running the sound system. Once again, lots of famous bands sound horrible on tour. Perhaps you’ve attended some of these performances. Does your facility’s sound fall into that category? Proper training can often solve this problem. With over 30 years of sound-system experience, OSS can train your technicians to keep it simple and make your system sound great!

Optimization Before Replacement
Christ's Episcopal Church Sanctuary, Castle Rock, CO
Christ's Episcopal Church Sanctuary, Castle Rock, CO


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