Choices in Sound
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
“I started skipping class in ninth grade and going to the library and getting books on sound and electronics, speaker enclosure design and acoustics back in the early nineties. I taught myself.”
Charlie Petrie, Product Development Manager for Anchorage-based Taku Engineering, recently built what he calls “distributed sound systems” for Jack Sprat and Silvertip Grill by using a 3D-printer to create speaker housing. A musician at heart, Petrie grew up near Girdwood and attended high school in Anchorage. While still in high school, Petrie found himself curious about sound systems and how to improve them, and immersed himself in the topic. He’s what you might call an ‘audiophile’; interested in all types of technology and gadgets pertaining to sound. Audiophiles tend to have an appreciation for all music formats too, including vinyl which the technologically minded have found a way to improve the quality of and bring into the modern age. Preamps are often used to do this and, if you see one with a Graham Slee HiFi logo, this is a good indicator of a quality product.
“I was raised in Indian at Indian Valley Meats. We lived on top of the place. I went to Girdwood School when I was growing up. I moved to Girdwood in 1999.”
He and wife Olivia, a Nurse Practitioner, married in 2016. They have a five-month old son, Aiden.
Petrie has known Jack Sprat owner Frans Weits since the early 2000s when the two worked at Seven Glaciers and The Pond at Alyeska Resort. When Jack Sprat recently wanted to upgrade its sound system, Petrie was the obvious choice for the job.
When asked why he is interested in installing sound systems, Petrie says, “I like having good sound wherever I go. People don’t realize how much the quality of the sound in an establishment […] impacts your mood and how you feel about things. If it’s loud but hard to hear what’s going on in the music and people can’t hear each other talk because the music has to be turned up so people can hear the music, then it makes people frustrated. It doesn’t make the dining experience better.”
Petrie describes the process for building a solid sound system in an environment that may not be ideal acoustically. First, he considers how the space is used and what sound level is appropriate. He also assesses the aesthetic of the business and adjusts the system to get the desired sound. Ideal sound depends on the circumstances: should the sound be targeted or evenly distributed throughout the space?
Other considerations are speaker placement and type such as recessed or surface mount. Ceiling speakers are mounted at regular intervals based on their sound dispersion pattern and how far they are from the floor. The process requires Petrie to put together a technical puzzle to determine how many speakers are needed to provide even coverage.
By making speaker housing instead of buying it, Petrie is able to offer a high quality at a moderate cost. The speaker components consist of wire and an off-the-shelf speaker driver.
“Lately I’ve been 3D-printing spheres, and I’ve made a couple of different versions,” Petrie says. “They’re compact. They are only five inches in diameter. They’ve got a full range, high-quality driver in them that allows them to produce everything from bass to the highest [notes] really cleanly with good, wide dispersion. I’ve been 3D-printing the housings, which keeps the overall costs really low for the quality of output.”
The main housing takes over ten hours to print. If there is a grill, there are two pieces to make, which takes another two-and-a-half hours to print. Assembly is simple. Petrie is impressed with the way the technology has developed and the new possibilities it presents.
“With 3D-printing and the 3D modeling tools that are available now, those speakers are flexible. If somebody has a situation where they want a certain look or want to fit the speaker in a certain space, you don’t have a mold or a woodworking process you have to go through to create a new one. You just change the model and print it.”
Now customers have more choices to customize their systems based on their needs and, for Petrie, it’s easier to meet those needs by making design adjustments.
“It all depends on what kind of features they want as far as volume controls and zones, how much space there is and how loud they want it to be,” Petrie says.
Jack Sprat’s new system is a combination of recessed speakers and surface mounts, including outside speakers for the beer garden. Silvertip’s system is all surface mounts as there is no space for recessed speakers. Silvertip’s system is intended for sports, TV, house sound and live sound as reinforcement for the main system. During open mic night, the system can be used with just a monitor for a musician playing acoustically.