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Audio System Design

What you need to know about audio system design

A commercial audio system that pleases you and your customers begins with a good plan. Good communication with your system designer is essential. That dialog will be easier if you learn a bit about commercial audio technology before you engage with your designer.

3 things you need for great sound

  1. The right gear
  2. Good speaker placement
  3. Acoustic treatments

In most buildings, the first two ingredients aren’t enough. Even the best equipment may not sound too good in a room that has a lot of hard surfaces. Acoustic panels kill the echoes and reverberations that produce an uncomfortable level of noise.

But what kind of acoustic panels do you need? And how many?

Your Crutchfield system designer can supply a customized solution, based on the dimensions and characteristics of your rooms.

Commercial sound systems work differently than the stereo equipment you use at home. One amp powers many speakers, not just two. A high-voltage commercial system is the most economical, practical, and safest solution for a business.
Learn more.

The four basic parts of a commercial sound system

What goes into building a commercial sound system? Let’s get to know the four basic elements of a 70-volt system and how they work together.

Parts of an audio system
1 Audio Sources
Components such as cable TV boxes, music players, and paging microphones.
2 Amplifier
You need at least one amp to power your speakers. Many amplifiers are also mixers, which let you connect multiple audio sources. Want to momentarily mute the music when you use your paging microphone? You can set up the system to do that automatically.
3 Volume Controls
You can have a single knob to control the volume everywhere. Or you can have separate knobs for each room or zone. All of the knobs can be in one central location, or you can place a knob in each zone.
4 Speakers
You want your speakers to sound great and blend seamlessly with your décor. Here are a few different basic types you'll see.
  • In ceiling/in wall: These speakers are installed in holes cut into drywall or ceiling tiles. Paintable grilles are the only parts that remain visible. These work well in rooms with 8' to 12' ceilings.
  • Surface mount: This type of speaker attaches to a mount that is screwed into a wall or ceiling. They come in handy in spaces with exposed brick or stone walls that cannot accept in-wall speakers. Surface mount speakers are often weatherproof and ideal for outdoor seating areas.
  • Pendant speakers: These hang from above, much like chandeliers, and project sound downward in a cone shape. They provide a consistent volume level for patrons seated in large rooms with high ceilings.
  • Environmental: Some weatherproof outdoor speakers look like rocks. Others are disguised as planters, so they blend discreetly into their surroundings. Some are simply bolted to an exterior wall.

Communication is the key to successful system design

How does a Crutchfield system designer decide what gear to recommend for your business? By learning about your building, your business, and your goals. Here’s the basic information your designer will ask for.

Number of rooms

How many rooms need coverage? Include bathrooms, the business office, and kitchen — anywhere you want sound. Don’t forget the patio — we have weatherproof options for outdoor locations.

Size and character of each room

Measure the room’s length and width, including any alcoves or unusual spaces. We’ll also need to know the height of the ceilings. Tell your designer about building materials, floor coverings, and window treatments. They affect the way sound travels through your rooms. Send us your floorplans and photos.

The atmosphere you hope to achieve

The more we know about the customers you hope to attract and the experience you want them to have, the better. Do you want soft background music to create a calm, relaxing atmosphere? Or do you need to entertain a raucous happy-hour crowd?

Ambient noise levels

If you’re installing or upgrading a system in an existing business, measure the volume of the ambient sound. An easy way to do this is to download a decibel (dB) meter app to your smartphone or tablet. The readings will help your designer determine how much amplifier power to recommend. To make an inherently noisy place more comfortable, your designer may recommend acoustic treatment (soundproofing).

What input sources you’ll be using

You will need at least one audio component to supply the background music. Will you want to amplify the TV sound? Do you need a microphone to make announcements or page customers to their tables?

How you want to control the system

It may be as simple as a single volume control for the whole building. More likely, you’ll need separate controls for multiple zones. Do you want to control all of the equipment from a central location? Or would you rather have separate volume controls in each room?

Let us help

Don’t panic if you don’t know all the answers up front. Our designers are here to make the process easier. They’ll make sure they get all the information they need to build a right-sized system that suits your unique needs.

To get started on your free system design, contact us at 1-800-315-2758 or use this form.

Smart volume control

A well-designed 70-volt sound system lets you manage volume levels throughout your building, so that each space has the right sound level to match its intended use.

Each section of this hotel lobby can have its own appropriate volume level.

Each speaker has its own set-and-forget volume control

Commercial speakers have switches that let you “tap” just the right amount amplifier power. You can use one amplifier to provide power to multiple speakers, but each speaker can produce a different volume level.

For safety’s sake, follow your designer’s advice and make sure the sum of your tap settings doesn’t exceed the wattage your amplifier provides. If you plan to expand in the future, get a bigger amp than you need right now. This will leave some “headroom” for adding more speakers.

For example, our designers installed 13 speakers in the lobby of the Graduate Hotel in Charlottesville, Virginia. The speakers are tapped as follows:

  • 5 speakers @ 4 watts apiece near the front desk and elevator
  • 4 speakers @ 7.5 watts apiece for outdoor sound
  • 4 speakers @ 8 watts apiece in the coffee shop seating area

The system powered by a 120-watt amplifier, but the speakers draw only 82 watts total. There’s plenty of power left for system expansion.

Let us help

You don’t have to make power calculations and speaker placement decisions on your own. Our system designers are here to make the process easier. To get your free system design, call 1-800-315-2758 or use this form to send us your floorplans and photos.

Music Licensing Q&A

Why do I need to license music?

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, composers and musicians are entitled to collect royalties for each public performance of their work. When you play music for paying customers, you need a public license.

Where do I get this license?

Performing rights organizations take on the monitoring and enforcement tasks for their members. There are three primary organizations:

To cover all of your bases, it’s wise to purchase a general license from each organization.

How much money are we talking here?

Performing rights organizations issue licenses based on occupancy and the type of performances you expect to present. Ballpark, these licenses cost a couple hundred dollars per year. Fines for unlicensed public use can run from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands, plus legal fees.

Is there an easy way to buy the licenses?

Yes. Music services offer a subscription-based model for businesses. They pay the various PROs to license the music. You’re completely covered for one subscription fee. A large company called Mood Media is the best-known service.

Typically, you’ll choose a “mood” you’re trying to create, and the service will have a customized stream that suits your needs. You give up the ability to directly control specific selections, but you gain peace of mind.

Delivery methods vary. Some — SiriusXM is a prime example — use satellites to deliver content. You’ll have to mount an antenna and purchase a brand-specific receiver. Cable TV providers may offer music channels for public use as part of a business account. Some services, such as Rockbot, offer a hard drive or other media player that can be installed at your place of business. You can get three months of the Rockbot service free when you sign up here.

Can I legally use Sonos in my business?

Yes! Please read our article about the licensed services that can be played through Sonos hardware.


Get a free system design

After we gather your information, we’ll send you a detailed system plan. It will include a link to a pre-filled shopping cart. Ordering is easy, and delivery is fast.

Want to learn more? Guides for commercial A/V products

Audio System Design

TV and Video

Security Cameras