What is a Sound Reinforcement System Used For?

picture of a crowd at a live music concert

Anyone who wants to forge a career as an audio technician needs to become intimately familiar with the various elements of sound reinforcement systems. This conglomeration of amplifiers, signal processors, microphones, and everywhere in between gives live audio engineers the power and control to do amazing things that thousands of fans get to hear, feel, and experience together as one. There’s definitely a lot of pressure riding on your shoulders once you’re the one controlling the sound reinforcement system, so it’s something that you have to be thoroughly trained at before helming this important seat.

Make Managing the Mixing Board Easier

Although it is a lot of pressure on those few engineers who operate the mixing board, the whole point of a system like these is to make the lives of those working behind the scenes phenomenally easier. Instead of having to run from one end of the venue to the other, communicating endlessly with dozens of technical crewmembers, everything can be done by these few people in charge who have control over everything. This allows the sound engineers to accurately gauge what needs to happen to create the optimal performance and react accordingly without hitting a million obstacles along the way.

Sound to the Audience

These systems are critical in big events when it’s necessary to get a full sound out to a massive audience. Besides pure amplification, a reinforced sound system gives audio engineers the power to control everything from a single mixing console, responding to irregularities as they come and carefully fine-tuning every element with expert precision. Audio engineers who can hold their own at the control boards of a system like this, which means standing the pressure and learning the countless details necessary to make the big picture happen, end up with many lucrative opportunities in their careers.

What is a Sound Reinforcement System Used for?

Whenever massive stadiums or other large venues are filled up with thousands of adoring fans to see their favorite band, none of it would be possible if it weren’t for a quality sound reinforcement system and a trained audio engineer operating the board. These systems are used to enhance the sound and boost the volume of a sound source.

However, these aren’t just used for live events, either; anytime a big venue is playing music, be it live or pre-recorded, rest assured there’s a sound reinforcement system in the works. It doesn’t matter if the recording has already been perfectly mixed and mastered beforehand; a large portion of what makes audio sound good or bad depends on the system it’s being played through and the acoustic situation.

If you’re trying to reach an audience that’s taken the form of a crowd in a large space, your average PA speaker system just isn’t going to cut it. You’ll wind up with people near the speakers being blasted until they’re deaf, while everyone else just a few yards away might barely make out anything other than the vibrations of the bass notes.

What are the Different Elements of a Sound Reinforcement System?

Most reinforced sound systems are comprised of numerous elements so they can achieve an overall sound on the scale that’s necessary. This includes microphones of every kind, each one best suited for the type of audio going in, everything from condenser for the more nuanced sounds, dynamic for bigger, punchier instruments or booming amplifiers, and even some ribbon microphones for capturing every detail of a vocalist’s performance.

A sound reinforcement system also comes equipped with its own powerful set of amplifiers, generally capable of producing much more sound than the band or root sound system is capable of. Specific types of amplifiers are used to maximize the tone of every voice in the mix, ensuring that nothing gets lost in the overall sound. The larger the sound that you’re trying to achieve, the more difficult this becomes. That’s why it takes seasoned professionals to run a system like this and the right tools necessary to get the job done.

Powerful signal processing systems are also necessary to bridge the gap between the microphones and amplifiers in the setup. DSPs, or digital signal processors, are a way of taking audio and digitally manipulating it. This is a common method of achieving a variety of effects that make sounds more interesting or, in this case, more suitable for the venue in question. Using mathematical functions, DSPs can change the quality of a sound to add, subtract, multiply, and divide the waveform in ways to change the shape and make the clearest signal possible.

What is Sound Reinforcement Used For?

There are various uses for a sound reinforcement system, one making a certain effect or audio amplification level possible. It is particularly useful in cleaning up the tone of voices that often sound muddy or distorted when pushed to their limits in an arena-type setting. Other times, instruments might sound piercing or shrill when they go into their higher registers, like some organs or electric guitar settings, while on the low end it becomes distorted and muffled in a way that’s hard to pick out the individual notes. Sound engineers work with their reinforcement system to even out the balance of these register problems and create the best experience possible for the listeners, ensuring that no one has to cover their ears.

Reinforce Stereo Mixes

Stereo mixes are especially important to reinforce with these types of systems. Without direct control over the left and right, it’s almost certain that the balance will be off for large sections of a venue. It’s fairly simple to achieve a good stereo balance when you only have sound coming out of a few sets of speakers, but when you start to get into the arenas and stadiums, there are so many different places where people will be taking in the sound and so many ways that the sound can travel. It’s hard to predict exactly what a mix is going to sound like until you hear it for yourself and do some experimentation adjustments, so audio engineers need plenty of time to get familiar with a particular system, venue, and the act that they’re running.

Overcoming Crowd Noise

A common problem in live shows is crowd noise, and while the band might love hearing the rapturous cries of their audience, it can very easily be the kryptonite of a live event’s sound mix. Unwanted screams and commentary from the most enthusiastic fans who have fought their way to the front of the stage can quickly bring down the quality of a performance and distract from what the true fans are really there for. With these sophisticated systems, audio engineers can turn down the crowd with the touch of a fader, focusing the sound on what they’re actually trying to amplify.

Above all, sound quality is massively improved if a reinforcement system is used to its highest potential. Most people have attended shows where there was a lot left to be desired in the sound quality of the band, even if they knew that it wasn’t the performers’ fault. In some cases, it doesn’t matter how good a band plays; if they’re not backed up by a great system and people who really know what they’re doing, there’s only so much the band can do. Every element of sound quality relies on these sound reinforcement systems.

Differences in Sound for Indoor Versus Outdoor Live Concerts

The biggest difference with indoor and outdoor venues hands down is the amount of control that the audio engineers have over the sound that’s produced. Indoor events are usually held in places that were specifically designed and built to provide the best sound possible. Even in places like indoor sporting arenas that weren’t exactly built with things like bands and sounds systems in mind still have a certain level of acoustic control.

Outdoor shows, on the other hand, are much wilder and more uncontrolled. Audio engineers who work these types shows have to learn to play with the hand that’s dealt to them and accept that things are oftentimes going to go wrong. When you’re outside, the sound is going to travel up and out instead of bouncing back at the audience from the walls and ceiling. This also depends, of course, on the landscape and geography of the show. When an audio engineer is working an outdoor show, they have to take into consideration how the shape of the hills and even the vegetation like shrubs and trees will impact the vibrations emitted from the equipment.

Audio Engineer at a Live Show Versus In-Studio

When it comes to studio versus live shows, it’s an even greater dichotomy of control versus lack of control. Studio engineers enjoy the highest level of control possible, literally working under optimal conditions. The whole point of a studio is to get the artists in the best acoustic setting to capture their performance, and the audio producers then have all the best tools to enhance it and make it as clean as possible.

Live events are much more unpredictable and can sometimes be stressful. These types of audio engineers have to be experts at managing that stress and dealing with chaotic situations that don’t always seem to have an easy answer. When working with live events, you have to work on your feet and react to things quickly, calmly, and efficiently. Teamwork is critical because no one person can do it all on their own. Although this all certainly applies to the studio producer as well, it can definitely be said that the audio engineer working live events has a lot of people depending on them.

Audio Production Program

Interested in learning more about how sound reinforcement systems are used? The Audio Production and Engineering Program  at the Institute of Production and Recording is an occupational degree program designed to train producer engineers who are entrepreneurs, musically and technically creative, and proficient in modern recording technology and technique. Throughout the program, students are involved in hands-on exercises and real-world studio projects that enable them to apply their knowledge and refine their skills.

At the end of the audio production and engineering program, each student presents a portfolio — a selection of his or her best work to date. This serves as a demo reel for potential employers and clients — an audio resume with professional content that highlights the graduate’s talent and skill.

Contact us today to learn more about the audio production programs and starting a rewarding career.