Ideal acoustics – all just myth?

The paradox of acoustics in concert halls can turn marvels of sound into sonic disasters.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the supposedly best acoustics of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, one of the most noticed new concert halls in recent years. “An acoustic miracle!” is how the Elbphilharmonie was celebrated after its opening two years ago.

But after a recent scandal at a concert with star tenor Jonas Kaufmann in January 2019, a heated debate and doubts have arisen. [1]

Elbphilharmonie Hamburg (c) Robert Katzki (@ro_ka), licensed under the create commons license

What happened? 

Spectators left their seats angrily during the performance. They just could not hear the music properly. Jonas Kaufmann himself also criticized the acoustics of the house. However, other world-renown musicians had praised the acoustics extraordinarily. Has the myth of the ideal acoustics disappeared into thin air?

We’ve been to the Elbphilharmonie.

And we enjoyed a subjective listening experience. In fact, this place really sounds great. But … 

“Ideal acoustics” in a traditional sense cannot exist.

They are merely the question of a subjective claim and they are rather content-related: the intended priority of use of a concert hall is the key to its corresponding physical acoustic layout. One has to ask: Which genres of music should the hall be primarily designed for: Symphonic, Chamber, Jazz, Heavy Metal, …

The acoustic quality of a concert hall is a complex puzzle of physical aspects that influence the sound.

Whenever you layout the acoustics for a concert hall by the traditional approach – in other words by architectural means incl. room parameters and geometry, used materials and composition, the implementation of acoustic panels and particularly designed physical applications – the future use stands in the foreground of your calculations.

Once this layout has been determined, the acoustics can, like a fine violin, develop a very special character. And, depending on how much the experts get out of it, achieve stunning results.

Antonio Stradivari’s “Antonius” violin (1711) (c) Metropolitan Museum of Art, licensed under the create commons license

Now, a fine violin is perfect for a Mozart violin concerto.

But it may be unsuitable for Hip-Hop or Electronic Music. The same goes for natural room acoustics. If optimized for great symphony concerts, a concert hall sounds brilliantly. If I play Jazz, a Lied concert or 21st century Avant-Garde in the very same room, it can lead to disaster.

Traditional hall concepts cannot be changed at the touch of a button.

Because the sonic profile is fix. Movable panels and applications may help here, but only to a limited extent. A space with optimal acoustics for all music styles and event formats does not exist according to the conventional, structurally solved approach. Full stop.

Now adaptive acoustics come into play

That is why we believe in digitally variable, electroacoustic sound, which replaces the unchangeable peculiarities of traditional halls. With such a system the perceived room acoustics of a venue can be adjusted to the respective artistic situation at the touch of a button.

The hall becomes acoustically flexible.

All natural hall acoustics are reduced to a minimum. The miking of the stage feeds the sound system with live acoustic information, which can be controlled, changed and edited on the way to the audience. Numerous loudspeakers around the hall deliver crystal clear natural sound to the ears of the listener.

In such a way we can realize multiple acoustic environments in one and the same hall, adjusted to the wishes of the artists or the specific musical content of the day. Be it church or studio acoustics, Jazz club atmospheres or even completely imaginative sound images. The hall can cover the entire event spectrum of a multi-purpose event hall – with the best sound throughout. It is also suitable for varying the acoustically perceived size of the hall or to be used as an effect. 

Heinrich Schläfer, CTO & Co-Founder of LIMES

Acoustics become immersive.

The scenic use of the system also gives the audience the feeling of being in the middle of a performance, for example by adapting the perceived acoustics of the hall to a changing stage setting. So-called immersive room acoustics.

In other words, perfect sound for any live event format at any seat. Problems like in the Elbphilharmonie are eliminated. It may sound simple. In fact there is highly complex technology behind it. But it’s working.

REFERENCES: [1] https://www.br-klassik.de/elbphilharmonie-akustik-kritik-mischke-joachim-100.html, 29.01.2019 by Hasselbeck, Kathrin