Music can help you establish the right atmosphere in your business.
However, a bad sound system can make it harder for your customers and employees to listen to the songs, which can have the opposite effect you want.
Your customers might get bored or distracted, as they try to shop and listen to grainy or echoing songs at the same time. Worse, they might begin to feel irritated and not know why, which can impact how they perceive your store.
Fortunately, there are fantastic options for good quality sound systems for all types of businesses, large and small. With some guidance, you can find the best retail sound systems for your business in 2023, helping you to create the best setting to welcome people to your location.
Sound System: Terms to Know
Before we get into the details of how to bring the best audio quality to your customers, we need to clarify some of the technical terms that we’ll be using a lot in this guide.
Amplifier: An amplifier is an electronic device that increases the amplitude (simply put, the loudness of sound) of electric signals. This device takes an electric current, magnifies it many times over, and then sends it to a loudspeaker, so an audience can hear an enhanced version of the original sound.
Mixer: Also called a mixing console or an audio mixer, this electronic device combines, balances, and mixes audio signals. Mixers are typically used during sound recording, but some professional sound systems in businesses use them to enhance the quality of foreground music.
Music player: This is any device that plays music, from a phone to a high-quality turntable. These devices can link directly to speakers or use other electronics like mixers and amplifiers to produce better quality sound.
Speaker: The full word is loudspeaker. This item converts the electric current provided by the amplifier into audio sound waves and projects these out at different angles so the listener can enjoy the music.
Common Sound Systems for Business
Businesses of all sizes use sound systems for background or foreground music. Of course, concert halls and recording studios need large professional sound systems, but what about cafes, bars, restaurants, retail outlets, bookstores, movie theaters, and other businesses?
From a small system with just a laptop and a couple of Bluetooth speakers to a complete system reaching hundreds of customers across multiple floors, here are some suggestions for sound system setups:
If you plan to have live music in your business, the performers might bring their own equipment, but you might also need to provide some of your own, such as the following:
Microphones and mic stands
Cables for sound equipment
Live mixing digital audio workstations (DAWs)
PA sound systems
Restaurant, Bar, and Café Systems
Consumer spaces like malls, restaurants, and retail outlets all have lots of people making noise. Human bodies absorb sound. Furniture, items for sale, and architecture like poles or doorways can all block, absorb, or change sound.
If you have any kind of consumer business, consider the number of speakers you will need and where to place them. You are less likely to need light boards, PA systems, or microphones, and you can stick to the basic sound system.
Sound Distribution in a Business
In 2023, people carry their music with them wherever they go, so if you want to play music in your store, you have to compete with high-quality headphones and re-engineered digital recordings. Getting the right sound system for your space is crucial.
You may need more speakers if you have lots of walls, pillars, or other architectural barriers in your store. If you have a small open space, you may only need two, or you could get smaller speakers and strictly manage the volume.
One way to do this is to purchase two or three hi-fi amplifiers and connect them in a process known as daisy chaining. Daisy chaining allows you to give each speaker its own volume, so no matter where a customer sits, they aren’t overwhelmed or underwhelmed by your music. This occurs through a stereo amplifier that has a “rec out” ability, which allows you to hook the amplifier out to the input of a second amplifier.
Crutchfield suggests investing in a 70-volt system to avoid load impedance and to ensure that the quality is well distributed in a larger business. High-quality individual speakers can also be advantageous because they allow the same products and systems to also be useful for smaller locations.
A small diner, for example, will not need an array of perfectly positioned speakers because no customer will enjoy being blasted by music from all sides. Depending on the size and the maximum capacity of customers, two speakers might be just what you need.
Amplifiers and Speakers
Several brands offer quality speakers for $400 to $800. These include the following:
A combined amplifier and speaker set works the best for most businesses. Bringing the two together allows you to control the space and volume of your sound output. The volume from one speaker to the next should not differ by more than 10 decibels, and this works well for stores that range from 500 square feet all the way up to 4,000 square feet.
Restaurants will especially benefit from this arrangement, but this depends to a large extent on the kind of speakers used.
Why Are Audio Mixers Needed in Business?
In a business, having an audio mixer as part of your setup allows you to change both your audio zones and your volume zones. This is especially useful when you have a large space where you have multiple sounds coming through your speakers, and you need a mixer to balance and stabilize different outputs.
In cases like these, you don’t need to have the most expensive speakers (although that wouldn’t hurt). It would be a better investment to buy a superior amplifier since this gives you more control over the audio zones in your business or office space.
Only a smaller number of companies offer the necessary hardware when you get up to this level of audio fidelity. Bose and DBX have good options.
Using a Smartphone as a Music Source
Many businesses use an iPad, smartphone, or similar tablet at their point-of-sale, opting to replace the traditional cash register with a single device that can process payments, and keep inventory and customer records at literal and metaphorical fingertips. But a smartphone can also be a music source. Any recognized app can create and play playlists while still being used for point-of-sale transactions.
Smartphones allow Bluetooth connections to speakers nearby, but this connection can be fragile. Bluetooth speakers may not provide the best sound quality, depending on your space. A more stable system uses cables linking the speakers to a source like an amplifier, which you can plug directly into your smartphone using the headphone jack.
Smart Speakers for Business
A relatively new kind of speaker in the market is the smart speaker. These are wireless speakers with a built-in voice control capability. A user activates the speaker with a “wake word,” gives it a command, and the software in the speaker carries it out.
The speakers are usually single-unit wireless speakers or soundbars working via a Bluetooth connection. The software is developed as artificial intelligence by Apple, Google, Amazon, or Microsoft, with other technology brands like Samsung coming up with their own versions. Google Assistant powers the Google Home device; Amazon’s Alexa is the voice inside the Amazon Echo unit; and Apple’s iconic Siri is behind the HomePod speaker.
Smart speakers may have brought the digital age into our living rooms, but what does this have to do with business? The Lexington-Herald Leader writes that the strong push toward voice search and commands should be of interest to marketers and business owners. It is how we know what customers want, what they’re looking for, and what they like to do.
Using a smart speaker in your business means anticipating what customers are looking for in terms of services and products. Amazon Books, the brick-and-mortar retail bookstore owned by Amazon, not only offers the Amazon Echo smart speaker for sale, but it also displays them for customers to interact with, simply by saying “Alexa,” and then giving the device a command. Suggestions are often included on cards next to the devices.
This intuitive form of interaction seems fun, but it presents a vital point of connection between the customer and the business. This is how, for example, Amazon knows what people want (basic information about traffic and weather, adding items to shopping lists, or playing music), and tweaks its search engine optimization and software fixes to better deliver such results.
The interaction also gives Amazon an idea of their customer base and how Amazon’s unique resources can best help them. While most businesses don’t have those resources, they can nonetheless use smart speakers to learn more about their customers and then provide the necessary services.
These are not just a few tech-savvy customers. Almost one in five adults, or 47.3 million people, has access to a smart speaker. Missing out on a kind of communication and accessibility that almost 50 million people use at home could be lethal for a business.
Using smart speakers in a business helps more than the customers. TechRepublic writes that the Apple HomePod speaker is great for conference calls and improving employee productivity by allowing workers to perform hands-free multitasking while working with relevant, real-time information, such as stock reports, calendar updates, and even sending text messages through a shared office Apple account.
In this way, an amplifier, a set of speakers, an audio mixer, a smart speaker, and a computer to hold them all together can take your customers’ experience of your business to an unprecedented level of service and access.
How Much Will a Sound System for My Business Cost?
Prices on professional sound systems vary greatly depending on the quality, size, and features of the speakers, mixers, and amplifiers. Here's a general look at what you might expect to pay:
While you can find sales and discounts on sound systems for business, it’s often worth it to invest in a better quality system in the long run. These high-quality systems are built to last, and you’ll likely run into fewer issues than if you purchase a budget system.