Jim Wilkens asks “Should you use the house sound system?” and then answers “Well, it depends.”
In many cases, the house system could be or should be the best option. They are purpose-built for that space. When the sound systems get designed and installed, there’s a chain of owner, stakeholder, decision-makers, AV professionals and technicians, that all have their hands on the process that ends with a high-quality, installed, usable system. And any break in that chain, and it could affect your show.
Within installed systems, I’ve found that nine times out of 10, either the system is poorly-designed, poorly-installed, broken, or just not designed for the type of event being considered. Unfortunately, all too often, what you get in hotel ballrooms and conference centers especially falls far short of what is needed.
Many hotel ballrooms and conference centers have distributed ceiling loudspeaker systems, like this one, and this type of system is designed to be distributed throughout the ceiling. This type of design makes sense to the property owners because it works the same for any given configuration of the room, and for event planners, you can plug in a mic into the wall and go.
Distributed speaker systems may be totally fine for short informational meetings, but for an hours-long conference, the sound quality can be fatiguing to listen to. The overhead sound doesn’t localize to the source of the sound, so when you’re looking at the stage, you see the person speaking, the sound’s coming from somewhere else, and this in itself can be distracting. Live music performances, video playback, and DJs are definitely not the type of program you ever wanna put through these systems, and the quality varies wildly.
But it’s not all bad news. Performing arts centers are one place where you are more likely to encounter high-quality speaker systems, usually with plenty of flexibility and infrastructure to allow outside productions to bring in consoles, microphones, and other equipment needed for their specific show. There’s typically a staff of qualified technicians who know the venue.
In any case, if you’re considering using the house system, the best course of action is to have your trusted production partner, your technical director or audio engineer contact the house technicians directly to gather information on that system, and if necessary, visit the site to properly test and evaluate its appropriateness. Thanks for listening, and have a great show.