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Choosing the Right Loudspeaker for Hospitality Environments

Audio can have a significant impact on repeat business and the bottom line, so choose wisely.
hotel front patio
The Front Yard, a part of the Ellis Island Casino & Brewery in Las Vegas, utilizes two Renkus-Heinz ICONYX IC16-RN digitally steerable loudspeakers and two accompanying IC215S-R dual 15-inch subwoofers to improve the sound quality and guest experience.
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Aesthetics are a huge focus for architects and end users when planning a new venue, so audio often falls at the end of the project timeline, sometimes almost as an afterthought. But in an industry dominated by elevating the user experience in the hopes of generating future revenue through repeat business and word-of-mouth, audio plays a significant role in setting the mood. And few things spoil the mood faster than bad audio.

There are plenty of ways to avoid sub-par audio, though. First and foremost is to partner with a reputable AV integrator with prior experience with the type of venue in question. And it never hurts to ask for references as proof of their bona fides. A good AV integrator should be able to provide them fairly readily.

Before beginning conversations with the integrator, establish a comfortable budget. Unfortunately, there’s no rule of thumb on how much to spend, and you may also need to buy other system components (microphones, amplifiers, etc.) to build out the audio solution. Since loudspeakers have different tiers of quality and cost, making a prioritized list of the importance of each area in the venue can be very useful. For example, the audio in hallways and bathrooms may be less important in some venues than in dining areas and ballrooms.

A good AV integrator will be happy to supply loudspeaker recommendations for different tiers of quality (good/better/best), but it’s important to request a listening demo. Just because a product is labeled “the best” doesn’t automatically make it ideal for the given scenario. The closer a demo can approximate the final environment (loudspeakers distributed in the room and placed at approximate install heights), the better. Still, sometimes it’s not feasible to arrange a realistic demonstration, and you may have to settle for something less optimal. Even under relatively realistic conditions, the acoustics may differ somewhat between the listening test and when the room is in its final, finished form. Acoustically absorptive materials like rugs or carpeting, wall hangings and furniture may alter the room’s acoustic profile if added after the testing.

Determining which loudspeakers are best suited to each hotel application comes down to the individual needs and architectural demands of the space. For example, a venue with open or reverberant spaces requires a loudspeaker with high directivity and enough power to cut through the room. If the room features small spaces with intricate interior design details, then easily mountable loudspeakers that incorporate architectural sensibilities are ideal for blending in with the carefully curated decor. An ultra-sleek or modern hotel may call for futuristic loudspeakers that make a statement as a technological centerpiece. In contrast, a more classically-styled historic hotel may opt for a subtle and unobtrusive look to pay homage to the era it reflects. Luckily, there are loudspeakers of virtually all sizes and shapes to choose from. Here are the most common types.

Ceiling Loudspeakers

Ceiling loudspeakers are mounted into the ceiling and are often preferred by architects due to their minimally invasive nature and the fact that patrons don’t often look up at the ceiling. They’re relatively inexpensive, and sometimes that fact is audibly evident. However, there are many higher-quality or “premiere” product lines to choose from if a ceiling loudspeaker is the best fit for applications like hallways or hotel lobbies. They come in varying diameters — 4.5” to 10” are the most common — and are a good choice for drop ceilings.

Column Loudspeakers

Column loudspeakers comprise multiple small drivers vertically arrayed in a tall but narrow enclosure (hence the name “column”). The form factor provides a narrow vertical and a wide horizontal sound dispersion, making them a good choice for spaces with hard, reflective surfaces or larger, reverberant spaces. Plus, the physically narrow enclosures allow them to blend into the architecture more easily than other loudspeaker styles.

Horns/Paging Systems

When you think of a horn, think of a megaphone. The main advantage of standalone horn loudspeakers is they are more efficient and can typically produce much louder sound than a cone loudspeaker. They are often made of weather-resistant materials and used on exterior portions of properties like loading docks or parking lots, where greater emphasis is on speech communication rather than music reproduction.

Line Arrays

A line array is a series of identical loudspeakers mounted vertically in a line which provides a very narrow vertical output pattern useful for focusing the sound on the audience without wasting acoustic energy on ceilings or empty air above the audience. They’re typically “flown” or raised near the ceiling using heavy-duty cabling. In typical hospitality, line array applications include theaters, auditoriums and hotel ballrooms.

Pendant Loudspeakers

Pendant loudspeakers hang down from the ceiling on cables and are often characterized as having a “pendant” shape, although the truth is they come in various shapes. Pendant loudspeakers are often positioned closer to listeners than is typical for other loudspeaker form factors, which helps improve intelligibility and clarity. Sleek and stylish, pendant loudspeakers add atmosphere and architectural interest without detracting from visual elements overhead.

Point Source Loudspeakers

“Point source,” “point-and-shoot” and “traditional” are common ways of referring to the same kind of loudspeakers. They are typically rectangular, come in various sizes, and usually contain a horn designed to cover a specific vertical and horizontal angle as well as one or more woofers. Generally speaking, smaller horns can only control the dispersion of high-frequency sounds. Larger horns are required to control middle and lower frequencies. They are often used individually but can be arranged as part of a larger array or cluster and are excellent for live music.

Steerable Arrays

Like line arrays, steerable arrays direct the sound to where it’s needed — on the audience — while keeping it away from other surfaces that may cause echoes and reverberation. The difference is that steerable arrays use advanced software techniques called beam steering to form highly directive sound beams. They’re typically much smaller than line arrays and look like traditional column loudspeakers, allowing them to blend into the architectural background more easily than their larger line array cousins. As such, steerable arrays are a good solution for spaces that need both intelligible, high-quality sound and clear sightlines for an immersive guest experience.


A subwoofer is a loudspeaker that delivers lower bass frequencies — specifically 20 to 100 Hz — that a traditional tweeter/woofer setup can’t reproduce on its own. These low frequencies come from instruments such as a kick drum, bass guitar and pipe organ as well as movie sound effects like explosions. They create more compelling dynamics and vibrant, all-encompassing sounds that listeners can feel. They’re a great accompaniment to any system whose primary purpose is music (as opposed to speech), primarily foreground music.

Surface Mount Loudspeakers

Similar in size and shape to some point-source loudspeakers, surface-mount loudspeakers can be used to great effect in dining rooms and bars. The main difference between surface mount and point source is the type of driver used for high frequencies. Point-source loudspeakers use a horn that’s typically square or rectangular while surface-mount loudspeakers use a round paper cone driver (aka a tweeter). While both have similar applications, point-source loudspeakers generally have higher output.

As you’ve probably surmised, there are thousands of loudspeaker models available on the market from a bevy of manufacturers. In addition to understanding the budget, knowing the type of loudspeaker you would prefer for each room or installation will help the AV integrator narrow down the candidates to a manageable list. Listening to each shortlisted model will help lead to a final decision, which will lead to great user experiences and happy guests.

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