When you’re designing an attraction, the last thing you want is for patrons to be distracted from the experience because there are big, blocky speakers hanging out everywhere. Lucky for you, with a little bit of effort on your part, you can make it seem as though those speakers were never there at all.
A good imagination (and I know you have one) can take care of 70% of speaker-hiding.
I’m going to tell you about the other thirty percent here—the limitations the practical considerations put on your creativity. (There’s always something, isn’t there?)
So what do you have to contend with when hiding speakers?
Our job as your audio-video consultant is to find the best place for each speaker in order to create the optimum audio environment for your guests. And because of the way sound works, it’s kind of a science (and by kind of, I mean it is). Audio engineers choose the placement of speakers very carefully, considering numerous factors to ensure that you get the best sound possible—so if you can work with them and design the set so speakers can be placed where they’ve recommended, everyone will be much happier.
That being said, the farther guests are from the speakers, the easier it is to disguise them. More distance between guests and speakers equals less finesse required to hide them. For instance, if the speaker is hidden in a dense forest scene the guest never gets up-close and personal with, you may only need a green sock to blend the speaker into the environment. Distance and the complexity of the surroundings will take care of the rest.
The same goes for dark interiors. If you have a number of brightly colored set-pieces in an otherwise dark room, it’s easy to hide black speakers in dark corners. Black socks can be used to hide any potentially reflective surfaces, rendering the speakers essentially invisible. So if you can include dark nooks and crannies in your design, that’s ideal!
When you install hidden speakers you have to ensure that the speaker will be accessible later. Eventually someone’s going to have to perform maintenance or upgrades and they need to be able to get to the speakers to do so.
Containers should also be designed so the covering can be put back together easily—don’t worry, we won’t make you figure out how to do this on your own. We’ve got a lot of experience installing hidden speakers and can give you tips for installing rear doors and other methods of creating easily-restored camouflage.
Additionally, audio-video consultants will tell you what materials you need in order to effectively hide speakers. You can’t just slap them in any old set piece and expect to get the sound quality you need. Sound waves are finicky. They need air to move through.
In other words, any material in front of a speaker used to disguise it has to be acoustically inconsequential—the material also has to be receptive to paint and texturing so the designers can fully camouflage the containers. This material can be fabric, perforated metal, screens, grills, or expanded metal—covers can even be fiberglass in a pinch, which gives you the advantage of being able to make shaped molds.
Non-bridging paint is required for any paint work done. What is non-bridging paint? Any paint thin enough to keep the surface tension from bridging the holes in the surface. This is because you must make sure perforations are clear of texturing or paint. If the holes are obstructed, the sound is obstructed and sound quality will be compromised (not good).
When you put speakers in boxes you have to treat the boxes because sound waves from the speakers will make them vibrate.
How do you do this? Using fiberglass or a material such as Dynamat(used to eliminate vibrations in cars) to line the insides of any boxes made for speakers. Otherwise you risk compromising the sound and also winding up with weird rattling or humming boxes. Typically the smaller the speaker is, the less treatment required. Subwoofers, which produce the deepest sounds and therefore the most aggressive vibrations, require the best treatment.
It’s also important to minimize airspace in speaker boxes because the more space between the box and the speaker, the more susceptible to vibration the box is. The larger the speaker the larger the necessary enclosure (go figure). The size of the speakers is determined by the size of the space they’re meant to cover. The larger the space, the larger the speakers. Pretty simple, right?
Hiding is not your only option
As great as it may look to have an environment totally devoid of speakers, it may not be necessary to hide them completely. If you’re not actively trying to immerse the guest in a narrative, consider simply creating non-obtrusive decorative cases for your speakers, which mesh with the surroundings. Pretty is just as practical as hidden.
There are numerous ways to go about hiding speakers in your attraction. Practical limitations exist, but are easily overcome. Treat the hiding of speakers like a puzzle. Find out where your audio-video consultant thinks the best placement for each speaker and then challenge your design team to create design elements that will allow you to put those speakers in their ideal locations. Let your creativity shine!
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