Oliveto Restaurant and Cafe in Oakland, Calif.
Q: What problems do Constellation and Libra solve for restaurants?
Many restaurants and bars want to give patrons the energy of a happening gathering place with a contemporary appearance using reverberant building materials like glass and concrete. These two objectives often lead to a space that is too reverberant or loud for customers to talk comfortably with each other. Constellation and Libra work together to allow restaurant goers to hear each other properly with a buzz level that can be controlled real-time to suit the occupancy level at the time.
Q: Technically speaking, what is Constellation?
Constellation is a Meyer Sound electronic acoustic system that includes room microphones, advanced signal processing, and small self-powered loudspeakers distributed throughout a space. Using patented algorithms, Constellation can enhance ambient room sound in a restaurant space to create the desired amount of "buzz" while making it comfortable to have a conversation. In addition to restaurant spaces, Constellation can serve a variety of acoustic goals in environments that range from corporate boardrooms to houses of worship and live performance spaces.
Q: Technically speaking, what is Libra?
Libra is a patented engineering approach for providing acoustical control. It incorporates passive acoustical treatments with works of art created or selected by California photographer Deborah O'Grady. Each Libra panel is custom designed and installed to absorb sound to control reverberation.
Q: How do Libra and Constellation work in tandem?
Libra and Constellation work together in an integral system. The Libra panels (along with other acoustical treatments) provide an acoustical baseline for the enhancements by Constellation, which is then controlled using the presets on an iPad or other portable devices.
Q: I'm more of a visual person. What is a good analogy of how this works?
Libra acoustic panels at Comal with photography by Deborah O'Grady
Think of portrait photography. A good portrait gives a close object a sharp focus, while the background has softly blurred with the color, texture, and depth that enhance and support the foreground figure. That's how Libra and Constellation work with sound. The background can be softened or it can take on vibrant colors to add life to the whole picture. But in either case, the foreground—in this case an intimate conversation—remains clear and distinct, isolated by the controlled acoustical ambiance.
Q: Does Constellation record conversations?
No. The distant microphones in Constellation sense only the acoustic field sound and pass it through the signal processing for enhancement and immediate reproduction. The signal processing in Constellation is accomplished in real-time and no sound is stored in any form.
Q: Does Constellation use active noise cancellation to reduce the level of unwanted sounds?
Active noise cancellation shows promise from experiments done at Meyer Sound, however it is not implemented at this time. Constellation, Libra, and other acoustic materials are often used together to absorb reverberation and enhance the acoustics of the space. Each installation has different requirements and Meyer Sound is pursuing a patent for these methods.
Q: Can Constellation make some parts of a room sound livelier than others?
Yes, the Constellation system can be split into separate zones, each with its own controllable acoustic signature. Berkeley's Comal, for example, has two zones: one for the bar area, and one for the main dining room.
Q: Why does Constellation need so many loudspeakers?
Natural acoustical reverberation does not emanate from a localized source. Recreating this reverberation requires that the sounds come from multiple sources so that the ears sense only a uniformly diffuse wash of ambient sound. The number of loudspeakers required varies in different installations depending on application requirements.
Q: Where else is Constellation used?
Self-powered loudspeakers and microphones are distributed around the restaurant
In addition to restaurants, Constellation is used in more than 60 applications, including theatres, performing arts centres, churches, meeting rooms, recording studios, classrooms, and high-tech showplaces such as those for Cirque du Soleil® productions. In these applications, Constellation tailors the acoustics of the room to suit the nature of the event taking place.
The most common use of Constellation is to recreate the rich, natural reverberations of a great symphony hall in an otherwise relatively "dry" performing arts centre. But in a Cirque du Soleil production, Constellation can introduce variable acoustical enhancements within a single performance to dynamically shift the audience's sense of intimacy, depth, and space.
Q: How dramatic are the range of settings in a Constellation system?
For some applications, including some dramatic theatrical productions, Constellation can vary the acoustics of a space to mirror those of a dry recording studio all the way to an extremely reverberant cave. In most installations, however, venues use Constellation to create a natural-sounding and flexible space to benefit users and patrons.
In restaurants, the goal of Constellation is to give patrons a consistently comfortable environment for conversations regardless of the occupancy at the time, without calling attention to the settings.
Q: How much do Libra and Constellation systems cost?
Costs will vary widely depending on the size of the room, the acoustics at the outset, the number of control zones required, and the range of acoustical enhancement desired by the client.
Q: Can Constellation be added as part of a retrofit, or can this system only be incorporated in a new construction?
It is possible to add Constellation in an existing establishment. However, because Constellation is an architectural acoustical system that works hand-in-hand with the acoustical characteristics of an entire room, there are numerous benefits to include Constellation in the initial design phase of a project in order to efficiently achieve the desired result.
Sound & Communications
San Francisco Chronicle