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Global Tech: Audio Reflections

Global Tech: Audio Reflections

Reflections can reveal a lot to us, it can tell us all about a room or the area that we are in, the size, shape, boundary, density, etc. Have you ever been in an open field before and had someone yell at your from far away, and you find yourself having to focus-in on their voice, just to simply understand them? It’s not because you’re crazy, it’s because of the lack of reflections in the field. Now say you were in another field, or an open meadow, and you sang a note, all that sound from the source(being you) would move directly from the source and would never return. This is what we in the audio industry, would call a direct path. Now say you’re in a room, and singing that same note. Since we are now in a room with walls and a ceiling, this direct source of sound(again, you) now has all these different ways to return/reflect to the source via the walls, ceilings, floor, etc. thus changing the direct path into a reflective path. 

The reason this phenomenon happens is because direct paths are sounds that move past us in every direction with no boundaries, and will continue to move until the sound dies out. This is why you would have a hard time trying to understand what someone is yelling in an open field about +20 yards away from you. Reflective paths have sounds that reflect off boundaries like walls, the floor, people, etc. These sounds bounce off of one boundary to another and another, and reflect sound off off them continuously up until that sound dies out. Now let’s say we’re in an indoor football arena and your buddy still +20 yards away, yelling at you. In this scenario it’d be much easier to hear him this time. In an arena you don’t have walls in close proximity to you but you’re still inside an area with reflective surfaces. Thus, causing the direct path to reflect off of anything it can, making it easier for you two to hear each other. This phenomenon is something used in almost every live-concert setting. This is one of the many factors used to make the venues/clubs/arenas that we all know and love, sound the way they do. Keep this in-mind next time you go out, if you’re at Beta notice the reflective surfaces that venue owners’ use to their advantage. The Convention Center is no stranger to this either. Usually they’ll drape thick, large theater curtains down from catwalks above. They then will bring the curtains closer to the stage. Leaving a gap between the curtains and the walls. Keeping the curtains equidistant from each other, this helps mimic a smaller room sound. When it comes to venues like Red Rocks or any outdoor festival, engineers will use both reflective paths and direct paths to their advantage. Next time you and your buddy go to show, try to look at the setting that you and the music are in, and determine for yourself how reflective the venue is. If it’s reflective at all!

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