What is a sound limiter?
A sound limiter is a device that monitors sound pressure levels and displays them typically on a traffic light display. Usually, there is a microphone mounted a short distance from the performance area picking up the audio. To avoid too many technical explanations, this audio is processed by some technical wizardry to provide a visual display.
Once the audio reaches a preset level, the limiter will do one of two things. The first option is the display will be used to visually alert the performer that the audio is too loud. The second option is to cut the mains power to any sockets used by the performer. There is usually a delay before the power is cut to allow the performer to adjust the audio to below the maximum setting.
Although there is less risk to sound and lighting equipment than there was in the early 2000s, there is still a very real risk of fatal failure of equipment. It is certainly within the best interests of the performer to stay below the maximum level set.
Why Have A Sound Limiter?
Most venues have been established for many years or even decades. However, the rising demand for housing has resulted in new housing being built, in some cases, within touching distance of some venues. This has brought many complaints from nearby residents.
There are some pretty strict regulations regarding noise levels. These can be measured in various ways including apps on mobile devices. Official recording devices are calibrated to give accurate readings. These readings are then used to determine whether the sound levels are too high or within the set limits.
Not too long ago, a sound complaint would be dealt with an official taking a reading who would then either advise the performer to reduce their levels or to inform the complainant that the levels are fine and no action will be taken.
In recent years, due to lack of resources, laziness or the PC Brigade, any sound issues are dealt with more severely. Even in a situation where the levels are within the regulations, performers are told to turn it down often spoiling the atmosphere of a party.
A number of complaints later and the local council will issue an order to the venue to make absolutely certain there are no more complaints at the risk of losing their entertainment license. I have personally seen this happen to two different venues over the years.
What We Do To Keep Everybody Happy
We, at Premier Disco, have to comply with regulations and still have a great atmosphere for our clients’ event. We also like to have a good working relationship with every venue we are contracted to even if it is for a one-off event.
To ensure there are no sound issues we arrive early to test the levels and set all equipment so that it is unlikely we will hit the set limit. Speaker placement is crucial to make sure the sound is not going directly towards a microphone used by a limiter. By using limiters and sound processors, we are able to maximise the audio at a level just below it would trigger a sound limiter. Depending on the size of the venue we can also place smaller speakers in quieter areas to make sure everybody can hear what is going on.
This actually improves sound quality and keeps it at a comfortable level. Ideally, we need to operate at around 97dB at smaller venues and higher at larger venues. I have experienced sound limiters set as low as 87dB. This may not sound like a lot but a 3dB drop halves the technical sound level. It doesn’t sound like half but there is a definite noticeable difference. 6dB drops and more, well, we can manage!
When you are booking a venue for your event, ask them if a sound limiter is installed and at what level it is set. Then make sure your entertainers all know what to expect so they can best prepare.
If you are planning on using a marquee but don’t want to work within the limitations set by a sound limiter, ask your venue they may have rooms inside where you can move your party.