In Discussion – AlphaTheta

Behind the DJ Booth: The Art, Science and Good Business of Avoiding Audio Fatigue. By John Powell, President of AlphaTheta Music Americas’ Pioneer Pro Audio.

In an era of live stream concerts and performances, it can be easy to forget the critical role in-person events play in fulfilling and satisfying the human need for social interaction. Unlike digital live stream shows, in-person concerts and performances knit listeners together on an emotional and sometimes spiritual level. The performer and audience feed off each other’s energy to create an unforgettable experience. 

The catalyst to creating a memorable experience in a nightclub or bar environment is the DJ. A quality DJ analyses the environment and meticulously crafts a set to engage listeners from the moment they walk in the door to the last call. 

It is essential that the venue – whether a restaurant, bar, or nightclub – has the proper audio system to disperse captivating sound, ensuring the DJ can do their job effectively. A DJ needs accurate reproduction of the music in a venue for their mix to pique and carry listener interest throughout the evening. If a venue’s sound system cannot accurately replicate the acoustic dynamics of the mix then the sound emerges distorted. A distorted mix results in a compromised listening experience and places ‘audio fatigue’ upon the audience.

Audio Fatigue

What is audio fatigue? Why should venue managers care about it? Audio fatigue occurs when an audio system lacks the power and fidelity required to showcase the DJ’s work appropriately. A proper audio system expands upon a DJ’s musical artistry and complements their overall performance. For example, the highs in a song should be smooth and avoid harshness. The lows should dive deep yet fast, leaving little room for lingering muddy sound from slow-moving low-frequency drivers. This need is especially prevalent for electronic dance music. EDM, much like jazz, carries a fast tempo that develops into a short deep bass note before jumping the scale to a mid-range note. 

When a DJ’s mix distorts through the audio system, it’s not just the DJ experiencing the negative impact but also the venue. An unenergised guest is likely to purchase less food and beverage, or leave the venue entirely if feeling overwhelmed or underwhelmed by the venue’s sound performance. However, the detriments of audio fatigue extend beyond just the visitors. Staff working an event where the sound is poor and unintelligible are just as susceptible. Employee performance deteriorates as a result of low energy caused by the surrounding sound. This deterioration in turn hurts both employee health and retention – again, affecting the overall guest experience.

Partnering Against Fatigue

These are challenges the audio-visual integrator, audio consultant, dealer, and manufacturer can overcome quickly and effectively with the right design, product, and support – and when all of these entities work together on a project, you can soon hear the results.

One example is Halcyon, San Francisco’s only 24-hour licenced nightclub, which sees conquering audio fatigue as crucial to ensuring guests trance in musical bliss from dusk to dawn. Don Lynch of CAVS led the installation and utilised industry veteran and sound pioneer, George Starvo, to tune the system. 

Halcyon couples a soundproof ceiling and strategically placed Pioneer Pro Audio XY Series loudspeakers and subwoofers to deliver balanced and engaging sound coverage throughout the room. Quality sound enables DJs to perform confidently for extended periods – all with peace of mind that the audience and club staff are hearing the performance precisely as the DJ intends. 

DJ Ready

When assessing a bar, restaurant, or club to gauge if the environment is ‘DJ ready’, there are two primary considerations: the room characteristics and the needs of the DJ. These elements help inform what type of system and what workflow will work best for the location. In turn, the system benefits the end user and its patrons.

Unlike the audio system, which on-site operators can control, infrastructural components are not easily removable and distort how a system reproduces sound. For example, if a venue features flat reflective surfaces then audio reproduction is hindered as sound reflects off walls or other reverberant architectural features.

When discussing this with venue managers, it can often be helpful to explain sound as a more tangible element, such as aiming a high-pressure water hose at a wall. The water, which in this case is the sound, hits the wall and sprays off in all directions, including back at the operator of the hose or, in the case of a venue, the DJ, the guests, and the staff. 

While venue managers may be unable to renovate the infrastructure, solutions exist to help control sound reflection using absorbent materials. Be it carpet flooring, wall draping, or other acoustic treatments, it is up to the integration team – that critical collaboration of installer, audio consultant, dealer, and manufacturer – to ensure the room exceeds the audio system’s requirements. As noted, providing a DJ with the ability to reproduce a mix accurately is crucial. After room consideration and mitigation, if necessary, the next key element is the loudspeakers. With the right loudspeakers installed, you ensure natural and undistorted sound delivery. Loudspeaker performance is one of the most critical elements in a DJ’s performance and can truly make or break the guest experience. Quality loudspeakers provide the acoustic range and dynamic performance to keep pace with a DJ’s diverse musical setlist, including fast-moving tracks or slow musical numbers.

There are other elements to the workflow, of course. Sound reinforcement is important. So too are the professional DJ media players, the turntables, the venue. That said, with a solid backbone of acoustic consideration and proper loudspeaker distribution, you set a client – and their music-loving visitors – up for success.


It’s been touched on a few times in this article already. Still, it is essential to reinforce this point: collaborating with partners interested in your long-term success is incredibly important. For the channel, this means working with manufacturers who understand the space, love live performance, and invest in its success.

So too must the manufacturer and channel collaborate with the venue they serve – and invest in their success through design options, expert advice, and long-term support.

Ensuring an environment is ‘DJ ready’ requires everyone to be onboard. This includes venue managers, consultants and audio experts from all areas familiar with audio systems for dynamic music such as EDM or Jazz. Audio systems that provide ample headroom or excess capacity – and allow DJs to push a system to its limits – help a business build a committed audience of advocates for their venue who keep coming back for more.

This article first appeared in issue 32.1 of MONDO-DR, which you can read below –