toronto sound system

Toronto bars get very serious about their sound systems

You know when you walk into a bar and the sound is so bad it pierces your ears? You find yourself yelling at your friend standing directly next to you while ordering a drink?

We all know those bars, but thankfully their sound setups seem to be going the way of the dodo as bars and clubs are starting to up their sound game by installing state of the art systems.

The new Velvet Underground uses L-Acoustics brand, a powerful system from Paris. The recently renovated Rebel (formerly Sound Academy) completely gutted the former music complex and installed a German system called D&B Audiotechnik. Coda uses PK Sound, a Canadian company competing on the world stage. The small bars who can't afford these mega sound machines are getting even more creative.

"There should be a good sound system before you have bar stools," say Mikey Apples, owner of Bambi's. He uses a Funktion-One system. "What makes it especially sound good at Bambi's is there's a lot of rough, jagged, uneven stone, so it absorbs more than you'd think," he explains.

"The fact that [the bar] is on a corner and two of the walls are buried in the street and insulated by the mud and the earth, it doesn't resonate or shake a lot. The wall that the speakers are aimed at is double thick and double insulated and coated in bee's wax."

Smaller, angular, awkward rooms are usually the best for sound. Spaces like The Piston are exemplary, thanks partially toits sound expert Jorge Dacosta. The Black Eagle's Fareed Ismail is also acoustically obsessed.

"Carlos (owner at The Eagle) has built a bar with very unique materials, colours, textures and I was given the freedom to sonically paint the room," Ismail says. "The system [we have] allows you to hear and feel the music without listening fatigue."

If you're tired of listening to what should be amazing dance music, someone is doing something wrong. Perhaps Scott Mallette, the sound tech at Coda, puts it best:

"It's kind of like a little massage for your brain," he says. "People want the experience and feel the music. Especially with the advancement in technology, music and speakers, music is able to be reproduced and be heard today like it never has been."

With so many venues in Toronto, a good sound system helps a place stand out from the rest and become attractive to touring artists and DJs.

"You can't rest on the laurels of being the only game in town anymore," says Steven Biasutti, general manager at the Velvet Underground. "Everyone has the room, the prettiness, all the senses are represented but the sound hasn't had much focus and it sets them apart.

"It's about balance in the room and not to overwhelm anyone in any particular spot," he says. "Basically it gives guests the best experience possible for their dollar."

Anyone you speak to will geek out about acoustics, angles of speakers, walls and padding. People in Toronto seem super into sound right now.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, quality of sound is a 20 on the scale," says Charles Khabouth, CEO of Ink Entertainment and the owner of Rebel. Every screw in the drywall at the revamped Sound Academy has rubber behind it for ultimate sound proofing. But to Khabouth, it's humans who are really changing the sound game.

"Competition is stiff and I think people are more sophisticated than they were before," he says. "People are much better travelled, their tastes are better, they want to hear a great sound. They understand quality, but it's really that people, especially in Toronto are becoming more sophisticated."

We can boil it down to competition or to the current state of dance music. But truly it's the simple fact that business owners want the best for themselves and their customers.

"For me to open a place and to not have the best sounding system I can for that room would make me wonder 'what's the f*cking point?,'" Apples says. "You're hearing records the way they were meant to be heard."

Photo from the Rebel Facebook page.

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