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Technology feature: Hotel’s making memories

Hotels are demanding audio systems that are flexible but discreet to help them create the right ambience

While sound systems in hotel rooms can be pretty standard these days, there is a growing emphasis on quality audio for the restaurants, bars, lobbies and spas, as customers demand more.

Hotels are also becoming more aware of the importance of audio and design, says Chris Gunton, managing director and founder of CGA Integration. “Historically, audio responsibility was placed somewhere between IT and maintenance and no one actually took ownership of it, but this is gradually changing,” he comments. “We always say to our clients that it’s key for us to work with the designer as early as possible in the project to ensure that the AV has minimal visual impact.”

Adds Gunton: “If you can integrate the sound system design with the interior design you can maintain a beautiful interior, whilst creating a beautiful sound – the two work hand in hand.”

SSE Audio sales manager Ryan Thomas agrees that the industry places a lot of emphasis on design, whether it’s refurbishing a listed building or bringing a recent build up to today’s specifications. “When we are briefed, a common request is to install speakers that are ‘discreet’ – for example, cannot be seen – but are capable of producing a quality output. They don’t want the audio installation to detract from the design,” he comments.

Customer expectations have also grown as they often have good audio all around them; in their cars, on their phones and at home with television and home cinema surround sound, Gunton says. “Customers will know if the sound in a hotel is poor. Sound should be full and balanced and reflective of the mood you are trying to create within the soundscape you are in, which will vary for the many different areas of a hotel. Within spas for example you need a relaxing warmth to the low end but not a disco bass, but this will change as you move into conference facilities, or into the bar or restaurants or into the lobby,” he explains.

Discreet designs

SSE Audio works closely with Bose on hotel installations, because of the style of enclosures they produce, while the brand is associated with quality in the domestic market, says Thomas. “This makes the brand attractive to hotels, who are keen to present a quality image. For DSP we have used the Bose ControlSpace ESP-880 sound processor along with the CC16 controller, which provides intuitive controls for hotel staff in an elegant enclosure,” he adds.

The company has worked on a number of audio installations for Manorview Hotels & Leisure Group, who operate luxury boutique hotels in Scotland.

The first Manorview project was at the Busby Hotel in 2014 (pictured), which underwent a £2.5 million refurbishment, including the installation of an integrated audio system to cover the bars, function rooms and all other public spaces. Thomas comments: “Manorview were keen for the audio to be low profile and visually unobtrusive.”

Bose speakers were installed throughout the public areas and the entire venue was matrixed together, so any audio source in the building can be routed to any speaker. This was achieved with a Bose ControlSpace ESP00 II DSP engineered sound processor. In total, nine zone controllers were installed, which allows staff to select audio source and adjust volume in each area of the building.

Where a more full-bodied audio system is required – for live music in a large banqueting hall or ballroom – Thomas (pictured) says the company has looked for options that will provide the necessary output, but that again can be hidden for view. “We have found Fohhn’s columns – that utilise compact line source technology – work well and can be either built in behind grills or RAL colour matched with the surrounding décor,” he explains. “Using Fohhn, we can also use QSC Q-Sys amplification and DSP, which is an option that we developed across a wide range of installations.”

SSE is currently preparing to install a system into the ballroom at Manorview’s most recent acquisition, Cornhill Castle Hotel, where a Fohhn speaker has been specified, powered by Q-Sys.

Paul Todd, SSE’s technical specialist has also developed bespoke touch-screen solutions, with a graphical plan of a hotel’s building, making audio zoning easy for venue staff. It enables a high level of automation, such as running playlists, which can be managed locally or remotely. SSE can also remotely access the Q-Sys system for fault diagnosis.

For CGA, limited ceiling voids and zero visual impact was required when the company worked on the Sofitel London St James, which is English Heritage grade II listed, and combines traditional British design with a contemporary French style. Audio upgrades were required at the grand brasserie, The Balcon (pictured top) – which features private dining, the Charcuterie Bar and the St James Bar, inspired by the 1920’s Paris apartment of Coco Chanel.

As a result, AIW 5x plaster in speakers were installed in the St James Bar and private dining areas, with the miniature K-array KZ-10 and KKS-50 in RAL spec colour matching for The Balcon and Charcuterie Bar. The system brain featured Netmax N8000 processor, CPS 8.5 amp, local controls, zone linking and 2012 ready Sennheiser G3 radio mics.

Creating the mood

When people listen to warm rich sound with depth and clarity, it can envelop them with feelings of opulence and quality, like sinking into a big comfortable chair from which you don’t want to get up, comments Gunton. “Conversely, sound that is thin, scratchy and sharp is irritating and something you wish to shut out and move away from as quickly as possible. So getting the delivery of the soundtrack in a venue right is just as crucial as getting the right interior design and customer service,” he says.

Gunton (pictured) has had the opportunity to work on some special projects to enhance the customer experience. “It is always a delight to work with Michelin starred chefs, as we can reflect the attention to detail they demonstrate in their cuisine in the sound system we design and create…” he explains.

“It is also satisfying to incorporate new technology into our sound systems to create real state of the art results. We have installed invisible speakers behind gold leaf, such as in The Balcon Sofitel London St James, and underwater sound in swimming pools in venues, including the award winning spa at the Dorchester Collection’s Coworth Park and the Mandarin Oriental resort in Bodrum Turkey.”

CGA Integration was also responsible for upgrading the sound system for the spa at Congham Hall, a privately owned Georgian Manor in the Norfolk countryside. When the company took the project on, partial wiring had been installed, but was not completed by a previous contractor. To get the mood right, CGA installed EV S40 in room speakers, which offered a smooth response, with soft dome tweeters for easy and fatigue free listening.

Flexible audio

Alan Marshall CTS-D consultant at Pure Audio Visual says audio system should be flexible enough to adapt to the different functions that the room needs to fulfill, yet be simple enough for staff to operate and re-configure as required.

“The specific demands on the audio will vary significantly depending on where within the hotel the audio is situated. Many spaces have multiple uses; what is a meeting room one day might be used for food service or as an event space the next,” he remarks. “An audio system used to pull background music from a server might on another occasion need to accommodate a full live band PA. The more flexibility that can be built into the audio set up whilst keeping operation simple, the better the value of the system to the hotel.”

Recently, Pure AV completed a new video and audio distribution system in Twickenham’s South Stand Conference Centre (pictured) and AV systems for the ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel at the O2 Arena.

Marshall says that the project at Twickenham is a good example of a system designed to offer the client maximum flexibility in the configuration of their hospitality spaces. “The high definition video and audio distribution system is built to give the in-house AV team the potential to connect multiple HD source devices and display devices to any number of Cat6 points in multiple rooms throughout the venue. A number of Extron XTP matrices were used to achieve this,” he says. “The audio systems in all rooms have also been upgraded with Martin Audio loudspeakers to increase room coverage, intelligibility and sound pressure levels to cater for all types of functions and events.”

Meanwhile, in the ballroom at the InterContinental Hotel, Pure AV were able to offer the venue a similar level of flexibility, but due to the large scale of the space, this was achieved with a fibre optic patching system, comments Marshall. This allowed external AV rental companies to traverse the vast expanse of the ballroom with audio signals, he adds.

SSE also had to focus on flexibility when installing a full audio system into Park Regis in Birmingham. The company was contracted to provide audio systems for the restaurant and cocktail bar, Rofuto (pictured), which occupies the entire 16th floor.

The requirement was for an audio system that could provide background music for the diners and drinkers, but was also capable of delivering much higher volume levels for DJs and live performances.

Thomas and Todd specified a QSC Q-Sys platform. At the heart of the system is a Q-Sys 500i integrated core that is able to manage all the inputs and outputs, provide signal routing, equalisation and level control all over a Cat5e network.

In the restaurant, SSE designed an audio system that gives the impression to listeners that the sound comes from a single stereo source. A pair of Fohhn LX500 Line Array cabinets with a pair of Fohhn ARCS Series AS-31 subs were specified for placement either side of the bar at one end of the room. To minimise their visual impact and maintain the design ethos of the room, the cabinets were integrated into custom fabricated furniture built to SSE’s specifications.

Further down each side of the room an additional two pairs of Fohhn LX 60 Compact Line Source speakers have been positioned to supplement the LX500s. Two additional Fohhn Series AS-10 subs were added at the rear of the room to provide additional bass reinforcement. Again, all the cabinets are integrated into the static furniture of the room to minimise their visual impact (pictured).

Gunton agrees that the focus when installing audio is delivering the best sound system design and functionality for both staff and customers.

“So often hoteliers may just request a system with all the ‘bells and whistles’ and this may well be over specified and consequently some of the functionality may never be used. It’s about understanding how the space is going to be used and creating the best flexible AV system to deliver this,” he says.

Gunton adds that there is a growing body of evidence, which supports the fact that audio affects people’s moods and emotions and can change the way in which they react and behave. “Audio is a critical strand in determining how hotel guests will feel when they experience a venue, not just at the time, but for many years to come, as music is also a powerful tool in evoking memories,” he says.