Installed Audio

“We have to move with the demands of the marketplace”:Rick Kamlet on how JBL Pro stays current

Rick Kamlet, senior manager of product management at Harman International, delves into JBL commercial loudspeakers, the intricacies of loudspeaker installation, highlights the newest commercial JBL speakers introduced at Infocomm and discusses the innovative strides the company has made over the years.

Commercial loudspeakers can be a pretty broad topic to cover, and they fall into a variety of categories. Can you provide us with an overview of these categories?

We tend to divide our commercial loudspeakers into six main categories. There's in-ceiling, on-wall (which are also called surface mount speakers), in-wall columns (which are the long narrow column speakers), pendants (which hang down from the ceiling) and then a variety of landscape models. There are some specialty models that don't exactly fit into the six categories. But these are the six main ones.

Based on what you said, there seem to be two audiences: One being the AV professional who's responsible for all of the sound and the setup at an event or a venue, and then there’s the everyday listener. What are the primary considerations for installing commercial loudspeakers?

You start with the general objectives which are accomplishing whatever sound quality and character that's right for what's happening in the space. So for applications that include music, you want the music to be pleasant and clear, and for applications with voice, the voice needs to be highly intelligible. In other words, understandable. There are some technical principles that one then needs to follow, but pleasantness and intelligibility are the overall objectives.

Taking this one step further, there are many factors to consider about how you accomplish that. You want to think about what sort of activities are happening in the space and therefore how loud it needs to get, how much bass is going to be required, what form factor of speakers are going to work best with the geometry of the space, how high the ceiling is, and whether the ceiling is a suspended grid, a hard hard cap ceiling or an open structure, what's going to fit into the decor, what the budget is for the project, where there are places for installing the speakers themselves, and things like whether the facility needs to meet certain safety or fire regulations.

So we make available various application tools to help with the designing of the system and help it work well. For example, for ceiling speaker systems, we make available – for free – a programme called Distributed System Design that helps the designer figure out which speakers will get to the sound level that's needed, how far to space them apart, if they need loudspeakers for additional bass, which loudspeaker fits with the speakers they've chosen to pair with and how many to use.

we're finding that we have to move with the demands of the marketplace.

When you're looking at the geometry of the room, how does a square or rectangular space differ from a room that is irregularly shaped?

The main things that are good to look at are how deep the room is and how wide the room is. For example, a room that's especially deep may be especially challenging to get sound into the place where the listeners are located, for instance if one is wide and not very deep, then there are different challenges. If it's a high ceiling, it may be difficult to use ceiling speakers above a certain height because the sound has to travel quite a distance from that high ceiling.

That's one of the reasons why there are pendant speakers, for example, in today's open architecture ceilings: to space the sound closer to the listeners and make it more pleasant for music and more intelligible for speech.

Does the sound change the further it travels?

It does. It's clear when it's fairly immediate. As it travels, there's air absorption that absorbs some of the high frequencies, and so on. With high ceilings, one of the things that trips you up is the fact that the ceiling speakers often overlap with each other and the farther away from you they are, the longer the differences are in how long it takes the sound from each speaker to reach your ear.

So if you're doing a high ceiling, you want to use a speaker with a very narrow coverage so that the listeners are only listening to the speaker that sits above their head rather than listening to every speaker in the room hit their ear at a different time sync, which then makes the music unpleasant and the speech unintelligible.

we're making smaller, lower profile models that fit in better with the decor of spaces.

Tell us about the challenges with outdoor placement and some unexpected places you might find speakers in…

Designers try their best to hide the loudspeakers; architects and fitness facility managers don't want the speakers to be terribly visual or to be a major thing that people see when they go into the space. So if you look around, you often spot speakers in really unexpected places. In outdoor spaces you can find them hidden in bushes or hidden in soft recesses and all sorts of places.

There are places that build loudspeakers into trash cans! Some of the more unique places include building them into lighting posts, where they're just grills on the sides of the lighting posts so that you don't realise there's a loudspeaker in there.

We just introduced a speaker that probably falls into this category called the GSB and they are garden subwoofers. It takes a little bit of excavation, but they actually go underground and the only thing that sticks up above the ground is the port outlet for the sound and a little cap that goes on that. So it's kind of reminiscent of a mushroom a little bit, but the real business end of the subwoofer is actually buried underground.

We're putting more energy efficiency into the manufacturing processes.

Tell us about some of the newest commercial speakers that were introduced at Infocomm this year.

In addition to the GSB landscape subwoofers we also introduced Control 89MS, which is an above the ground landscape subwoofer. Those would go into places where you really don't want to excavate.

Also, the GSF full range landscape speakers are two full range models that are aimable; one with a three inch and one with a six inch. We also introduced SLP speakers, which stands for sleek, low profile speakers that go on the walls. They're so they're so tight to the walls that they actually meet ADA requirements to go into spaces where that's needed.

SLP loudpeaker

SLP loudpeaker

Lastly we introduced Control 68HP which stands for high power, which is a high power pendant speaker. We've had Control Contractor 60 Series Pendant loudspeakers in the line for a number of years. 

This is one that gets louder than any of the other speakers in that line that we make. Most of these new speakers that we introduced at the Infocomm show have been recognised by Red Dot for their industrial design excellence. We hope that gives customers confidence even before the installation takes place that these speakers will fit into their decor and have a nice, elegant appearance.

Control 68HP series

Control 68HP series

This gets louder than any of the other speakers in that line that we make.

Tell us more about JBL Professional and what's possible with today's loudspeakers in terms of the innovative strides the company has made over the years that might not have been possible 10 years ago.

JBL Pro has been around for 75 years. It was started by James Bullough Lansing and we are part of Harman International, which is a collection of a number of professional audio brands that include amplifiers and DSP and so on. As of a couple of years ago, we are also part of the Samsung family of companies.

As far as what's possible today that maybe wasn't 10 years ago, we're finding that we have to move with the demands of the marketplace. There are changes in architecture that we have to adjust to: we're making smaller, lower profile models that fit in better with the decor of spaces.

There's a movement to column loudspeakers in the industry right now where they're less visually obtrusive. They provide better coverage of a particularly deep space – meaning the room geometries – they excite the room reverberation less, they're clearer for speech and even better for high fidelity music. So we make the very smallest products to the very large column speakers like the Intellivox columns which are used in very large places.

Another change that comes to mind, which has become much more so over the last 10 years, is more environmental consciousness. All of our speakers comply with certifications.

We're using more recycled materials all the time; we're making our speakers lighter weight, and sometimes that's not thought of as being environmental, but it does not require such heavy support structures and buildings and so on. We're making them more energy efficient as far as turning voltage into sound. We're also putting more energy efficiency into the manufacturing processes.

you often spot speakers in really unexpected places.There are places that build loudspeakers into trash cans!

Where do you see tech trends heading in the next year?

There are many exciting technologies that unfortunately I can't talk about! But in general, there are always changes in architectural preferences and when that happens, loudspeakers adapt to the trends in architecture.

So for example, there is a continuing trend toward more open structure or open architecture ceilings. I touched on that already, but we've been seeing it happening more and more in the last decade in retail stores, restaurants and so on. 

So we came out with our Control 60 Series line of pendant speakers to make them easier to install to the beams that you find in these open structure ceilings, and to get the sound closer to listeners for better sonic quality. So it'll be exciting to see what changes take place. We'll be there to adapt our offerings to meet any new requirements.