A fete is only as good as the music. But you don’t have a sound engineer on hand to reveal the secrets of turning an apartment into a concert-like jam or Tanglewood-worthy dinner party. Luckily, we do! We talked to Bose Corporation’s Eric Freeman to learn how to party rock and how you can put that learnin’ to work at your next shindig.
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For a bash, focus on the bass
If this is a parents-out-of-town rager, you want everybody to know exactly what they should turn down for, that means a lot of bass, which means a lot of low frequencies. Low frequencies are “omnidirectional,” which means they come out in every direction no matter the bearing of the speaker. As a consequence, the best place for that speaker is going to be in a corner where the biggest fraction of those sound waves can be reflected into the room.
In fact, over 90% of the music you hear is the result of reflection. “It’s a lot like pool,” says Freeman, “Probably something like 10% of the energy that you hear comes at you directly from the speaker, and the rest is the sound that went out in all directions, bounced around a few times, and then hit you.” That’s why music in an empty room sounds terrible -- once you fill out that space with furniture, people, decorative piñatas, etc. the sound is dampened and starts to sound more full.
Get those speakers low
Low frequencies are also long wavelength frequencies, which means they don’t interact as much with low-profile objects like people in the same way that shorter wavelength frequencies will. As a consequence, you should leave your speaker closer to the floor in a corner, because it’s going to saturate omni directionally. The combination of the floor and the two walls will cause the sound to be more directed. Just be aware that there tends to be a lot of variation in bass frequency depending on your position in the room; as you move from the middle of the room to the walls, the bass will go from a thinner sound to a deeper one. That means wallflowers are having a bad party experience for multiple reasons.
More intimate affairs call for mids
Now that the rager’s been mastered, how about throwing a dinner party? This is going to call for a more refined sound, and more refined music, most likely with more middle-frequencies and less bass. Mid-frequencies start to get more directional, so most of the sound leaving the speaker is leaving in the direction it’s pointed. Low frequencies are like lanterns, but mid- and high-frequencies are more like flashlights. Elevate speakers to about shoulder level and keep the sound directed toward the area where guests will likely congregate, mill about, gather, cluster or amass (never flock).
Bring background music to the foreground
Because the dinner party is background music’s time to shine (well, as much as background music can shine), that one speaker isn’t going to cut it anymore. Multiple speakers playing at a low volume lets you cover an area more evenly than one speaker, since the one speaker would have to be turned up louder to get the same coverage. Think of it like throwing two smaller rocks rather than heaving one giant spelunker. Because you want to spend time being a good host and be able to eat, the SoundTouch™ app that comes standard with the Bose® SoundTouch™ Series II 20, 30 and Portable systems can be used to turn down the music on multiple systems at once, leaving you at the table.
Avoiding the negative positive-feedback loop
The one thing to watch out for at any party is the positive feedback loop that occurs when people have too good of a time. Since people absorb sound and will be having a good time (duh), the music will be adjusted to match, and they’ll get louder, and the music will get louder, and then the conversation will become different permutations of the word “WHAT?!” over and over again. Keep ebb and flow even, and use the SoundTouch™ app to lower the music on every speaker at once, which is a much better look than running from speaker to speaker.
Now all that remains is the patio party. Even though most sound systems are designed with rooms in mind, they can still work just dandy outside -- as long as you know where to put them. Remember to keep your speakers spread out and aim them to cover the area where you expect your guests to congregate. As a good rule of thumb, “put as much distance between the speakers and the distance between the speaker and the area you want lay the sound on.” Translation: look at the photo above, where "A" is the same measurement.