How to design sound system installation for a small pub, or restaurant.

One of the most common requests we receive in our sound system installation department, is from small independent bar & restaurant owners. They are generally looking to create high quality, commercial sound systems that have the capacity to play background music during the day, provide slightly elevated volume levels during the evening, but, are also capable of delivering a robust nightclub quality sound over the weekend.

As most independent bar and restaurant owners are looking to maximise their entertainment offerings, the necessity to install a versatile bar sound system is key. In this overview we will discuss the needs of a small bar/restaurant (approx. 15 m x 10 m in diameter); key features include: a one-step plug-in for DJs and live music mixers, as well as easy connectivity for a range of music players including laptops, phones, iPods and CD players.

Our senior sound system installation engineer, Craig West, is tasked with designing and overseeing all of our sound system installations. Craig has personally installed in excess of 1000 digital sound systems throughout the UK and Europe. In this overview, Craig will discuss the key points you must consider prior to installing a multi-functional, commercial sound system for a small single – zoned bar, pub, or restaurant.

N.B. If you are considering a new installation always consult with a professional sound system engineer first.

Although the size of the venue is the major contributing factor when considering installing a new sound system, special consideration should always be given to the fabric of the venue. Does the pub, bar or restaurant have large glass or metal surfaces that may create reverberation and distort the sound? Does the sound leak out of the building? Noise leakage can be a particular problem especially in residential areas. If so, it may be advisable to bring in a professional sound acoustician to dampen or sound seal the room prior to the sound system installation.

For a small single-roomed pub, bar or restaurant requiring daytime background sound as well as DJ and live music connectivity; we would generally install 4 – 6 mid-high speakers and two small bass cabinets.

The mid-high speakers are responsible for delivering the music and vocals and will always be ceiling or wall mounted, ideally positioned 2.6 m – 2.8 m high and out of the public’s reach. The two bass bins which deliver the beat will generally be floor mounted.

The layout of the space is an important factor when determining where the speakers will be fixed. Consideration should focus on where the customers will be located both during the day and the evening.

For day time usage, speakers must be positioned correctly so that music can be played at low levels whilst still being clearly audible from all areas in the venue. This is of particular importance during peak dining periods when customers are conversing at tables. During the evenings and weekends if the seating area is to be transformed into a dance-floor space, it is very important that there is ample sound dispersion from both bass and mid high speakers in that area.

Special consideration should also be taken in regards to the positioning of speakers near to bar and food service areas. Nothing is worse than speakers pointing directly at the bar area which will result in staff not being able to hear customer orders over the music.

If weekend discos are a major focus of the pub, bar or restaurant, then the type of speakers used will need careful consideration. They must be small enough to blend into the venue during the day, but capable enough to deliver a robust sound over the weekend.

Finally, does the space allow you to affix speakers to walls or will ceiling mounts be necessary? In regards to the bass speakers which will generally be floor mounted, is there enough space for them to be positioned without becoming a trip hazard or will they need to be concealed into a space?

A DSP is a hardware product that is generally housed in a protective rack with the amplifiers. The DSP is quite simply the brains of the operation. The DSP takes the raw sound sources from devices such as DJ equipment, music players and live music mixers and cleans them up. This newly processed sound is sent out to the amplifiers and then delivered to the speakers.

DSPs include a wide variety of processing tools and selection should always be based upon the specific requirements of the venue and the installed sound system.

Typical processing tools can include:

Limiter: Sets the maximum volume level output for the sound system. So no matter how high DJ Dave turns up the volume on his mixer, the speakers will never be blown or compromised.

Equalisation: Enables the manipulation of sound in specific frequency bands. Commonly used to fine tune a sound system, eliminate room vibrations, as well as minimise frequencies that aggravate the human ear.

Zone control: Allows easy switch-over and volume control of different sources in the venue (TV, DJ, live music, CD player etc.).

Gain Control: Allows control and setting of volume levels for different types of speakers in different areas of a venue.

Crossover: Ensures that the correct frequency signals are sent to the correct speaker, (bass frequencies go to bass speakers etc.).

Output limiters:  Provide volume control settings based on the frequencies of each speaker cabinet which enables variable volume levels to be set for different speakers within a single cabinet.

Fire alarm connectivity: Provides a direct link from the amp to the fire alarm and will automatically mute the music if the alarm is triggered.

For our solution we would not need a zone control option, but this feature may be of benefit in the future. For example, if a TV showing sporting events were to be added but you still wanted to play background music in the rest of the bar, a zone controller would be needed to provide independent volume control

The amplifier is an essential piece of hardware equipment needed for all sound system installations. In its simplest format, the amplifier takes in a sound signal from the DSP, boosts it and then delivers that amplified signal to the speaker units.

Amplifiers come in many formats, generally based on the amount of power they can deliver into speakers. The power of an amplifier is measured in watts. The type of amplifiers and the power wattage needed for a sound system will be governed by the type, amount and power capacity of the speakers being used. Careful consideration is needed when selecting amplifiers and a professional engineer must always be consulted.

As a general rule we always try to locate the amplifier in a dedicated dry room with the DSP, away from the public domain and housed in an air cooled rack. Once the amplifier has been set up, we provide a remote control volume unit for staff, which is usually hardwired and positioned behind the bar.

Connection points are plug sockets that enable external devices to be plugged in to the sound system. For a venue that is playing background music during the day, from a playback device such as an iPod, laptop, CD or phone etc., the ideal position for this would be behind the bar.

As our hypothetical venue will also be catering to a DJ and live musicians, a second connection point will need to be installed in the area where they will be performing.

It is very important to ensure that there are ample electric points close to the connection socket, to avoid having to run extensions cables.

Please note that cabling will bring you into direct contact with electricity. Electricity can kill. It is imperative that a qualified electrician is engaged when dealing with any matter pertaining to electricity.

Cabling Methodology

When considering an installation always consult a sound engineer as early as possible. It is advisable to have the engineers begin the installation prior to furniture being fitted and walls being decorated. This will ensure that cables can be embedded into walls rather than having unseemly visible trunking.

As cable routes will have to be navigated from the amplifier, to the speakers, input points, and the remote system, defining a clear unobstructed route is important. This is much easier to do in the early stages of the venue build out. It is also important that the cable routes do not run alongside electrical cables as this may cause the system to buzz and hum.

Cables should always be installed in a manner that adheres to legal requirements.  Domestic cabling must never be used, and special attention must always be paid to points of termination ensuring no frayed wires, and that positive and negative connections are always positioned correctly.

Speaker Cable

All speaker cables should be of a professional quality and must adhere to commercial building regulations, (low smoke zero halogen cable jacketing).

Adherence should also be paid to the American Wiring Grade, which denotes that the grade of cable should be governed by the length of the run and the amps it will carry.

Signal Cable

All signal cables should be of a professional quality and must adhere to commercial building regulations.

Use balanced cable at all times.

At termination points, make sure soldering is of a professional standard and that all screws are firmly affixed with no visible frayed wiring.


Ensure that all electrical sockets next to input points and behind the amplifier rack are on an independent circuit.

Attention should also be paid to ensure that power requirements are aligned to the wattage of the amplifiers.