Monday, 5 December 2016

Rejuvenate your spa with a rich audio tapestry

Creating the right soundscape in your spa
Whether you are considering rejuvenating your spa in the New Year or adding a spa to your hotel to enhance your overall guest experience, don’t underestimate the power of audio in creating the ultimate spa experience.

When we think of spas we conjure up images of tranquility and relaxation.  Spas give us the opportunity to escape, however briefly, from the stresses of everyday life; offering us a chance to recharge and reinvigorate our bodies and minds.  They are havens of peace and relaxation amongst an ever increasingly hectic world; somewhere we can relax without phones ringing, the noise of traffic or the slamming of doors.  

So as you plan to create and build, or refurbish your spa, it is vital to examine all the sources of sound in the area.  You need to consider not only what music you should play, but how your chosen furnishings and infrastructure will affect the sounds created within your spa and what sounds you want to cultivate to create the right ambience for your spa’s guests.

Sound can so often be overlooked, but during treatments when lights are dimmed and guests often close their eyes, other senses including hearing become heightened, so audio replaces colour and becomes a key factor in generating the most appropriate mood.

Eliminating the noise
There are many unwanted sounds which need to be removed or reduced in a spa environment.  The sound of slamming doors, loud footsteps along corridors, phones & pagers ringing, passing traffic, internal plant & machinery noises or sound from other treatment spaces and other parts of your business.  All these noises need to be diminished and replaced with a localised quality audio system.

If you are building a new spa or adding a spa within an existing space, the first thing CGA Integration would recommend is engaging an acoustic environment consultant, (such as the Acoustics & Noise Partnership).  

The acoustic environment consultant will measure the existing noise within the space designated for your spa.  They will then advise you on how to mount internal noise generating electrical hardware and motorised equipment, (such as air conditioners and lifts motors), to minimise noise and how to construct walls of the right density to minimise ‘audio bleed’ between areas.  Little details such as adding the right door closers and seals make a huge difference; minimising the seepage of sound through doors or reducing the noise doors make whilst closing.  

Like rubbing all the markings off a picture to start again with a blank canvas, the more sound you can prevent from entering your spa or from moving between discrete spaces within your spa, the quieter your environment will be.  This makes it easier to create the soundscape you want, rather than having to work around what is already there.

Painting the right picture
Once you have your blank canvas, think about who needs to listen to sound when and why.  Should the audio be in the background or truly a large part of creating the guest experience?

Sound can help to create the right ambience in lounges and communal areas of your spa; transporting your guests to a place of calm tranquility.  Within treatment rooms the audio needs to reflect and enhance the mood of specific treatments, fully immersing the guest in that individual experience.

Historically sound has not always been carefully thought through in spas.  Often guests could be subjected to ‘Whale Music’ whatever their chosen treatment, but now guests are far more savvy and expect more.

Research has shown that sound that is ‘undefined’ can create a bad experience for guests whatever the occasion.  In addition, audio which is too bass heavy will not create the right mood for a spa and similarly, sound which is too sharp and heavy in mid & high frequencies is equally not relaxing.

Today we often have good audio all around us; in our cars, on portable music players and at home with television and home cinema surround sound.  Your clients will know if the sound in your spa is poor. Sound should be full and balanced with a relaxing warmth to the low end but not a disco bass. Using good quality full range speakers can work with the correct back end system, or if the design is sensitive, smaller speakers can be fitted with strategically placed bass units to fill out the sound.  However, care always has to be taken when mounting bass units to prevent sound transmission to other discrete spaces.

It is important to think about where your guests will be when they are listening.  If they are lying down during treatments the ideal position for speakers should actually be at ear height either side of the treatment room to give a true stereo experience.

Equally why not add to the swimming experience by installing underwater speakers?  Although these are now part of the specification for olympic pools, this is not currently the case for leisure pools and the correct music underwater can be a real talking point. As sound travels better through water than through the air, your guest will be able to ‘hear’ the sound through vibrations, without even putting their heads under the water!

Achieving the right results
To help to create the perfect experience in your spa your audio needs to be flexible.  Your staff should have access to a range of music sources to reflect and complement the different treatments and type of trading on offer. CGA Integration recommend that each of the following areas should have their own identity and you should work with your music provider to ensure that each area is a discrete part of your audio design:
  1. Reception area and lounge
  2. Treatment rooms
  3. Manicure / Pedicure area
  4. Pool
  5. Cafe or spatisserie

In addition, some spas offer sockets in treatment rooms to allow their guests to bring their own music.  This can work with a guest that has thought through their music choices, but please bear in mind that allowing your guest to choose their own music  does reduce your ability to enhance the chosen treatment and reinforce your Brand identity.

Once the correct music sources are in place, it is vital to ensure that all volume and audio source controls are placed local to the speakers.  It is paramount that your staff can actually hear the audio they are controlling.  This ensures that sound levels are correct for the trading and or treatment conditions, without the need for guessing and negating the requirement to use internal phones.

Integrating audio with design
Most of the switched on design companies now routinely consider AV as part of spa design.  They will be keen to engage an AV specialist, such as CGA Integration, as early as possible within the design process, to ensure that they deliver a great experience for both you and your guests.

Today speakers come in a huge range of sizes and shapes and can be finished in RAL colours to match your chosen design scheme.  Please bear in mind however, that the smaller the speaker the less bass and warmth it will deliver, so the more likely you will be to require a bass unit. In addition, CGA Integration can deliver fully invisible speakers which can be plastered into ceilings or walls or built into wooden paneling to give a surrounding sound without any visual impact.

Introducing SPAshell
There are many considerations for a hotel operator to appraise when thinking about a traditional build spa, not to mention construction noise and disruption to your existing business. In addition, it is essential to monitor the building process carefully to ensure standards.  One builder not filling a wall void or drilling a hole in the wrong place can lead to noise seepage in your spa and result in time and expense spent locating and resolving the subsequent sound issues. 
This is where SPAshell may well be the right solution for you. Recently CGA Integration have worked closely with Spa Creators to create the audio for their unique concept SPAShell; a modular spa solution which is built off site and then delivered to your venue and set up to trade within 10 days. SPAshell greatly reduces building noise and disruption at your venue and ensures that the spa structure is audibly sound, as it has been designed and manufactured to the high standards and specification by Spa Creators. Alistair Johnson Managing Director said ‘ we were very pleased with the CGA’s expertise in delivering the sound solution for SPAshell, which was not only creative but also very effective”

Whether you need to give your existing spa a new lease of life, or create a new spa offering at your venue, don’t forget the importance of sound in creating the best possible spa experience for your guests.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Is that music to their ears?

The missing piece in the Brand experience puzzle is so often the audio.  It’s easy to see the beautiful interiors our customers will observe and feel, assess the level of customer service they will experience, taste and smell the cuisine and wine they will order, but so very often, what they hear is just overlooked or added as an afterthought.  To deliver a truly memorable experience, audio has to be weaved seamlessly into the sensory mix to create a coherent, holistic result.

Whether you are targeting millennials or any other key market sector, it is becoming more and more important to deliver a coherent and quality soundtrack to each and every experience.  But getting the audio right is not just about delivering the right soundtrack but it's also about using the correct hardware for your space.  Great music delivered through the wrong speakers will always sound bad, however carefully picked the playlist is.  A sound system which has been expertly designed specifically for your requirements and space, using carefully chosen hardware, will always show off the music you have chosen to its very best.

There is a growing body of evidence which supports the fact that audio affects your mood and emotions and as such can change the way in which you react and behave. Our brains receive so many subtle cues from what our ears pick up, that a great deal of our conscious and unconscious moods and behaviour are attributable to what we hear.  Audio is a critical strand in determining how our customers will feel when they experience a venue, not just at the time, but for many years to come, as music is also a powerful tool in evoking memories.

It’s not just about what is played, but also the way in which we hear it which can affect us emotionally. When we listen to warm rich sound with depth and clarity, it can envelop you with feelings of opulence and quality, like sinking into a big comfortable chair from which you don’t want to get up. Conversely, sound that is thin, scratchy and sharp is irritating and something you wish to shut out and move away from as quickly as possible.  So getting the delivery of the soundtrack in your venue right is just as crucial as getting the soundtrack itself right.

When we hear songs from the past they can stir powerful emotions and transport us back in time. Like stepping into a time machine; you can feel everything as if you were actually there. The relationship between music and memory is powerful, all the more reason to get the right associations for your venue, delivered in the right way, to ensure that wonderful memories continue to to be conjured up in the minds of your customers for years to come.

As you seek to differentiate yourself and the experiences you offer, ask yourself; how are we delivering the soundtrack to our guest’s experience?  The greatest interior design, lighting scheme and legendary customer service, whilst crucial, cannot counteract the bad memories created or the negative, uncomfortable feelings generated from a poor soundscape.

Make sure that the audio experience you offer your guests really is music to their ears.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Making Sound Improvements; Reviewing your AV for maximum impact

When was the last time you reviewed your AV?  Does it always creep down the agenda as budget gets allocated to other projects?  

Making sure you are getting the most from your AV doesn’t have to mean a full scale refurbishment project.  By appointing a specialist AV consultant to carry out a review, quick fixes can be identified to help you to get the most from the AV you currently have, both for your clients and staff alike.  An AV review will also identify how things can be improved further with more investment over the longer term, to really make a difference to your venue and the customer experience that you offer.

Do I really need to review my AV?
Ask yourself a few simple questions;
  • Is your current AV problem free?  
  • Do you know what AV systems you currently have?  
  • Do you still talk with the contractor who installed your AV system?
  • Do your staff have the correct training to get the best from your current AV system?  
  • Are you fully embracing new technology in your conference and meeting rooms?  
  • Is your AV giving you the edge on your local competition?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘No’, then you could definitely benefit from an AV review.

For example, if you offer meeting and conference facilities you will realise that modern delegates are very technologically savvy and have a lot of AV requirements.  Are your conference and meeting rooms offering the facilities to enable;
  • BYOD capability
  • HDMI connectivity
  • HD resolution projection
  • Interactive presentation facilities
  • Collaborative meeting spaces
  • Audio for conferencing from both phones and mobile devices
  • Projection bright enough to view without dimming the lights, enabling delegates to still view their note pad
  • Loud, even and clear sound and vocal reinforcement throughout a room to hide external sound sources and create the emotional impact required by the speaker or presenter?
An AV review can help you to determine how to offer all of these facilities effectively to business guests, helping to ensure that they continue to choose your hospitality venue.

What can I expect from an AV Review?
CGA Integration are specialists in sound.  We can attend your venue, survey, test and quantify the AV systems and review the hardware you currently have. We specialise in AV for restaurants, bars, spas and hotels, where we design, install and maintain AV systems across all hospitality areas from conference and meeting rooms through to lobbies and ballrooms.

As experienced installation and service engineers, CGA Integration will look holistically at your AV systems and review them, not just as a stand alone systems, but also as part of your overall trading system and how it currently sits with market requirements.  We will consider all aspects of AV requirements including those that affect both your staff and your customers relaxation and business needs.

An AV review by CGA Integration will ensure that;
  1. Your AV systems are working as you expect
  2. You are offered best options and paths for upgrades to maximise your AV effectiveness
  3. You are offered the best and increased levels of support

Here at CGA Integration, we have often found that all some AV systems need is a little TLC.  With a few minor changes to facilitate new and additional functionality, existing AV systems can often offer our customers key differentiators to really help them to sell and upsell their hospitality venues.

So why wait?  Please get in touch to release the full potential of your AV systems and make a sound investment for your hospitality venue.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Have Marks and Spencer made a sound decision?

So Marks and Spencer have decided to switch off background music in all their UK stores.  The news has certainly received some high profile coverage across the press and an overwhelming level of customer response.

I would agree that removing badly delivered, ill thought out music can only be a good thing, but is removing all music from retail and leisure spaces really the best or most proportional response?

Unless sound systems are carefully designed, delivered with the correct audio equipment and the most appropriate music content, they can indeed have a destructive effect on the very environment they are meant to be enhancing. Does this mean however that background music should be removed from all retail and leisure spaces, or do we just need to get smarter about how and what we play to those customers we are trying to attract?

What we can't argue with is the growing body of evidence that supports the fact that audio affects your mood and emotions and as such can change the way you react and behave. Our brains receive so many subtle cues from what our ears pick up, that a great deal of our conscious and unconscious moods and behaviour are attributable to what we hear. Even recent medical research has proved that playing appropriate music during operations can have a positive effect on both surgeons and those that they treat; those patients who listen to music during and after an operation will feel less pain and have a speedier recovery, even if they had been under general anaesthetic! That’s quite amazing.

I think much of the issue is not with having music per se, but with the fact that many retail and restaurant chains have just commoditised it. The delivery of ‘background music’ during many store roll out processes, has become yet another bulk purchase to be sourced and delivered within or under budget, just like any other fixture or fitting.  Any focus on the sound system quality, appropriateness of the music or the impact it has on the target customers has all but become lost along the way.

So is a space without any music really the right way forward? Very often CGA Integration are called to add sound to a space that is suffering from what we call “the library effect.” This is where our client’s guests cannot relax, they feel uncomfortable and find themselves whispering to each other; everyone is very conscious of each and every sound they make and can hear. This in turn creates the wrong kind of atmosphere, it certainly does not help to bring our client’s Brand to life, which by contrast is what well chosen, expertly delivered audio can do.

Above all, what all this really indicates to me is the need to review how we use music. We need to stop, think and take ownership of the soundscape within our space. We need to think about what sounds we currently have and what sounds we want to add, to deliver where we want to be.  

So how can you best use music and audio to help you successfully deliver your Brand?

Getting this right may involve a large investment in hardware as you move away from cheap speakers, as however good the playlist, unless you have quality speakers the music will just sound like it is coming from a 1970’s phone handset.  It may also require you to appoint a quality music profiler to ensure that you get the right music for your venues. There are some great music profilers out there, but as with everything, you will need to find the one who can best understand your Brand, so they can interpret your Brand personality and personify it into a music playlist. It may also mean you investing in sound system design. Many interiors are now designed with a minimalist or industrial look which creates a very harsh acoustic environment. If the sound system is not designed in the right way, even with well selected musical content, this can mean that the end result can be uncomfortable for your guests and staff alike, which Julian Treasure discusses here in ‘a quiet coffee.’

Most of all, what I find really interesting about this news story is the sheer volume of coverage it received and the level of consumer response it generated across all forms of the media. If audio does not affect people so strongly would we really have witnessed  such a response?

Friday, 15 April 2016

Delivering Brand consistency across very different venues

One of the most important issues when dealing with AV is to understand the requirements of a Brand; what experience is the Brand trying to deliver to its customers and how in turn can quality sound help to engage the senses in achieving this experience.  It is then essential that this is delivered across the whole estate, such that wherever a customer is in the world, they know they are experiencing a particular Brand.

Walking across a gravel path, breaking a pane of glass, puffing up a feather pillow, sound is so evocative and can conjuring up such vivid imagery. Blended correctly with creative interior design, superior customer service and exceptional cuisine, sound plays a critical part in delivering the total Brand experience in the hospitality sector.

Audio Brand consistency is not just about using the same musical tracks in every venue.  Undeniably, a carefully selected music playlist combined with a quality sound system is vital in delivering a brand experience, but the physical structure of a venue impacts on the acoustics and subsequently on how that playlist will sound.  As such, audio Brand consistency is more challenging to achieve if venues within a Brand are very different acoustically.  CGA Integration have recently designed and installed the audio for two very acoustically different Dishoom Restaurants; Dishoom King’s Cross and Dishoom Carnaby.  

Although the antithesis of each other acoustically, both of these restaurants need to deliver the same unique buzz and vibe of Dishoom.  Dishoom King’s Cross is a listed building with very high ceilings, multiple levels and hard surfaces, which creates a very harsh acoustic environment.  Dishoom Carnaby however has low ceilings, smaller rooms and more soft furnishings.  Sound behaves very differently in these contrasting environments, but by using carefully placed ceiling speakers and the same brand of digital sound processor, each Dishoom restaurant feels and sounds fantastic, delivering a great Brand experience across both venues.

Using the same wall mounted controls in each venue, programmed using a similar configuration, has the additional benefit of staff familiarisation; making it easier for staff to transition between venues in a Brand with multiple sites.

There is so much we can do with sound. By investing in carefully placed speakers, a good quality music source and good quality audio content, the whole hospitality experience can be greatly enhanced and Brand values can be delivered through a common audio footprint whatever the venue.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Because AV is not IT!

Would you ask your window cleaner to reprogram your central heating? Sounds a ridiculous question doesn’t it and we all know how we’d answer it, yet many non specialists are constantly being asked to operate outside of their areas of expertise or in some cases outside even their basic knowledge and understanding.

Whilst every second electrician will tell you that AV is simple and that they can sort out your system for you, this does not mean that they can deliver the quality of the AV system you require.  Can your electrician, for example, tell you if a system is en-54 compliant?  Or can they map out a speaker layout and resulting sound fields to deliver an even, phase coherent speaker system? If either of these questions is met with a confused look or enhanced bravado then the answer is probably NO.

We regularly see CCTV vans stating "audio visual systems" accompanied by the slogan "your security is our business."  These companies might well be an excellent choice to install the right security system for you, but does this make them experts in AV?  Do they understand how music systems can help you to deliver your brand values to your customers in your venue?  Or how meeting room technology can be installed to maximise the growing trend in BYOD?  

Often we find electricians fitting sound systems based on cheap components from electrical wholesalers.  These might well be suited to a warehouse or store paging system, but are wholly unsuitable for music playback in leisure spaces.  Similarly many contractors think that domestic solutions such as Bose or Sonos are suitable for commercial use, but then find that they lack consistency and control. These products although good in a residential environment, are designed for one user to use and to be controlled locally. There is no overall system control and no way to disable or limit front panel buttons which leads to issues in a hospitality environment.

Aha! It travels down a cable so it must be IT! Well yes and NO.  Much AV overlaps with IT, but IT is a discipline in itself.  The involvement of IT will help to facilitate the inputs and distribution of your AV system, but your IT team have specialist skills in other areas and most likely not in AV.

So how do AV and IT differ?  Well IT is predominantly digital; either a unit or system is connected or it's not.  But audio, whilst it has digital elements, has a varied and subjective output which can lead to a huge range of potential problems, resulting causes and a possible range of solutions as a result.  AV is also dictated by the physical attributes of a room; not only the floor area but the height and structure of the walls and ceiling and their finishes.

So before you choose who you engage to install your audio visual or music systems, first ask yourself;
  • Is this their core business?
  • Have they installed AV in other venues similar to mine, and what do they sound like?
  • Do they have a portfolio of other venues where they have designed and fitted music and AV systems?
  • and can they give me appropriate references?

If you are really not sure of their AV pedigree after pondering on these key questions, why not consider speaking to a company who specialise in sound? You and your guests really will hear the difference.