Speaking Sound. Behind the Soundsystem with Project Audio

Project Audio are the sonic geniuses behind one of The Standard, London's biggest sensory assets: its sound system. Having come up in the 1980s club scene and designed systems for clubs like DC10, Corsica Studios and our very own Sweeties, they know a thing or two about pleasing ears. The Standard, London's Music & Culture Director Nick Hadfield sat down with Project Audio's head honcho Jason Bacon to find out more...

Why is good sound important? 

Good sound sits right with you, good sound can sometimes not even be noticed, bad sound is noticed and aggravates. Good sound creates engagement and connection with what is being heard. It enables the listener to immerse and be part of the music, movie or whatever is being experienced.  

Good sound should be normal, it is like breathing clean air and drinking fresh water. We need it! Good quality music on a quality audio system makes our souls sing, it lifts us like nothing else. It cuts through all problems and is emotionally powerful— it moves us.  We should all insist on good sound. Poor quality sound can be harmful to health. Distorted sound can cause stress, fatigue and even hearing damage over time. Good sound is such an important factor, it is crucial. It’s great to work with partners who give it the care and attention it deserves. Working on The Standard was so refreshing as the audio expectations were extremely high. Almost everyone in management at The Standard is pretty well-versed in good sound and music. Quite unusual to be honest and such a pleasure to work with.

What elements constitute the perfect sound system?

When it comes to a great sound system, accuracy and clarity are key. The system should be well-balanced across the audio spectrum and should be tailored to your individual preferences and needs depending on the environment. There are a lot of variables depending on what size system you want. It's essential to use high-quality components throughout. Each component through the reproductive chain is crucial, especially playback devices and high-quality recordings. These factors make a massive difference.

It's worth noting that if your sound system doesn't sound quite right, it's not always the system's fault. Factors such as misuse of the mixer and poor-quality MP3s can also contribute to a subpar listening experience. Fortunately, it seems like DJs/listeners are becoming more aware of these issues and moving away from such bad practices!

Room acoustics are another important element to consider. Unfortunately, even the best sound system can't save poor acoustics. So it's crucial to make sure the space you're in is conducive to great sound. Speaker positioning is also crucial.

So yes, there are many many factors and elements to make up a whole system and for it to work really well. This has been the quest of many decades of R&D for the leading audio companies. It's amazing to think about the progress that pioneers like Tony Andrews, John Newsham, Max Townshend, Christian Heil and their teams have made in advancing the audio experience.

How did you approach the sound system design in Sweeties? 

Sweeties had certain criteria and a specific brief:

1. High impact HIFI rich warm sound befitting both low-level and dancefloor use.

2.  A retro look which was just as crucial as the sound itself. Shawn Hausman Design was pioneering an early 1970s look for The Standard and I wanted to ensure that the sound system seamlessly sat within the space.

3.  The coverage had to be consistent throughout and potential for zoning in two areas. 

4. Versatility of the system to be movable if needed.  

The biggest challenge was the unusual room dimensions with lots of windows!

The sound system consists of four-column custom speaker stacks.

We researched and tested using large format HIFI brands that have reputations for being used for parties. We tested great-sounding products, but each fell short of fully satisfying the requirements. These systems were often too delicate or would require a full-time engineer onsite. We needed a user-friendly, future-proof solution that could essentially run on its own and that I could guarantee would consistently perform without compromise. We couldn’t make these awesome HIFI brands work for the intended use.   

I needed something that I could be 100% confident in. We looked to Funktion One products as we’ve been users and close to them for over 25 years. 

The Funktion One Resolution 2 has been a trusted product for us. It has a Skeletal High version (The Resolution 2SH). It's a mid-high speaker that could be encased into an enclosure that could be the same size as a Funktion One BR115 bass speaker. The BR115s were the size bass we wanted to use for the space. Anything bigger would cause footprint issues and the potential risk of noise pollution. Stacking two BR115s on top each with Resolution 2SH was the start of the system. Then came the custom enclosures. Ribbon Mahogany was the desired wood finish. A task to get to consistency across 16 cabinets. We completed all the fabrication work in-house with our design/engineering and finishing teams. We are exceptionally fortunate to have such highly skilled artisans working directly with us.   

The speaker cloth, a vintage Tannoy cloth, as used on the original Tannoy Autograph speakers in the 60s. This finished the look perfectly

At this stage, the stacks didn’t have enough height for the high mids or enough bass in our opinion and lacked a dedicated low mid. We also found we were demanding too much from the BR115 bandwidth-wise. The addition of the low mid would give us the height we needed and also free up the BR115s to be dedicated to bass and not upper bass as well. There wasn’t an off-shelf product from Funktion One to fit the enclosure size we had. 

Andy Kayll - aka The Wizard, one of Project Audios' finest, went about designing the low midsection. A crucial element that transformed the system into something unique and special. We now had a custom low mid that was super tight and had all the right tuneful characteristics we wanted. The final stage of completion after all build and testing phases were passed was the wood staining and French polishing to give an elegantly refined and consistent appearance across all cabinets. 

Now the speaker stack was a beautiful mid-century classy-looking column of four dedicated speakers in each stack, unique and unavailable anywhere else in the world. A high-end professional four-way system that could deliver high sound pressure levels that could be used all night long for live or DJ use that would create awe in both sound and appearance. We built six stacks of these, four are in the Standard Sweeties and two are in our Project Audio demo room in South London. 

The placement of the stacks and the tuning were tested with numerous records and much-loved audio files. Getting the mid-highs tilted in on Townshend seismic isolation pod mounts made a massive difference to the high mid energy and eliminated any audio smearing (secondary vibration that can arrive in a speaker from another source, ie the cabinet below!) between the low mid cabinet and the mid-high cabinet, thus creating a more desired noise floor and better stereo imaging, also helped keep reflections off walls and windows! Some clever Dynamic EQ on the bass and mid-highs has kept the system singing in Sweeties. We’re pretty proud and happy with the result. 

What’s all the hype about Funktion One?  

Funktion One was founded by the legendary and innovative audio industry pioneer Tony Andrews in the 1970s. Today, he fearlessly leads the company's cutting-edge design team in pushing the absolute boundaries of research and technology to create the most extraordinary and unparalleled sound systems. We love using Funktion One. It’s a pleasure to work with. Always keeps a party rocking when it is used and set up correctly.  

Other than Sweeties ; ) which sound system installation are you most proud of? 

Corsica Studios is a good one. It has been great working with Adrian Jones, the owner over the years. It's never easy achieving great sound in an arch. The results are an enormous sound that gives you a pleasurable pummelling. Highly recommended!

Which DJs / Artists would you love to hear on the Sweeties sound system? 

  • Andrew Weatherall, unfortunately, no longer with us. We Salute the governor.
  • I really would like to hear Paul Daley (ex Leftfield). He’s an incredible DJ and producer. We toured for many years together. There are not many like him, his unique Balearic chug and his signature pounding beats would be great up there, maybe one day.
  • Harvey would also be great for a cosmic disco knees up! : ) 
  • Danny McLewin aka Skyrager with his deep eclectic sets would be a delight too.  
What are the best tracks to test a sound system?

I guess it's familiarity and knowing well-recorded tracks so well that you don’t have to think too much about correcting a system when you hear it. Anything that needs adjusting is heard immediately and naturally. 

  • 'Black Cow’ & ‘Babylon Sisters’ both by Steely Dan. Analogue clinical audio engineering perfection. I know where I am with these tracks. Steely Dan, not always my my cup of tea musically but sonically—yeah! Outstanding!
  • 'Renegade SoundWave Leftfield Dub’ by Renegade Soundwave. Heavy bass test track Oooft. The Leftfield dub is the one!
  • ‘Fall Into Me’ feat. Ben Hadwen by Emanative & Liz Elensky. Astonishing bass and space on this track. Good for finding structural resonance and other rattles in a room ; )
  • ‘Hanging on a String’ by Loose Ends and ‘Love Come Down’ by Evelyn King, for example, I grew up with this music. Great referencing what I really know. Good to know where you are. 

Best sound system you’ve ever heard.

There’s HiFi and there’s live and club sound. If I picked one from each?

  • Hi-Fi:  Max Townshend  - Probably the most important audio engineer/scientist that has ever lived.  Holographic sound like I’ve never heard before. Nothing comes close. Max opened our eyes to next-level audio, truly astonishing. There is nothing like it, or remotely close to it. Our quest is to achieve this level of perfection on our large sound systems. 
  • Live: Groove Armada at Brixton Academy in 2003 with Sam Parker as front of house sound tech. I was system tech on this tour with a Funktion One Res 5 system with an analogue Audient desk with an analogue outboard. Stunning. Still get told today that that was the best sound they’ve ever heard in Brixton Academy.
  • Club sound: Space Ibiza main room during its last 2 years. We worked closely with Funktion One on making it the special sound system it was. 


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