Choosing a Hi-Fi system for your retail business

Sound matters.  Creating a good acoustic environment makes a real difference to your customers, and makes your staff happy too.  Roughly half of our customers are new retail businesses, and we’re often asked if we can help with picking a good audio system.  We’ve put together some tips on finding a good low-budget sound system for your retail business.

The more speakers the merrier

Most consumer hi-fi systems are designed to focus sound optimally in one part of the room.  That’s great for home listening, but in your retail business you will have customers wandering around the front of your store.  We have all been in places where we have been deafened by being right next to a loudspeaker.  The way to combat this is to have multiple speakers (a minimum of four) to improve sound distribution, and enabling you to reduce the overall volume of each speaker.  

Distributed audio systems are very expensive

You will undoubtedly achieve the best results by hiring a professional consultant to design a system specific to the shape of your space and the nature of your sonic environment.  However most retailers are on a very tight budget when doing their fit-out, and simply don’t have the budget to spend on a custom solution (distributed audio amplifiers alone cost thousands).

It is worth spending a small amount of money on your audio system

Unfortunately, the high cost of retail audio systems, in particular those focused on restaurants and cafes, means that many owners just opt for a simple stereo system with two speakers, or an iPod dock.  Most of the time the results aren’t good - customers beside the stereo are deafened, those at the other side of the room can’t hear a thing, and often the end result is worse than having no music at all.

The solution - daisy chaining budget hi-fi grade amplifiers

One solution that we’ve seen work really well for our customers, in particular cafés which need a good acoustic environment to counteract the noise of the espresso machine, is to buy two or three hi-fi amplifiers and daisy chain them together.  This critically allows you to control the volume of each speaker pair separately, allowing you to fine-tune your audio environment.  What you need is a stereo amplifier which has a “Rec Out” facility, a line-level output that you can use to hook up to the input of a second amp.

Specific system suggestion

Richer Sounds are a hi-fi chain based in the UK (that also ship to Ireland via their Belfast store).  They focus on budget consumer hi-fi, so for people on a very tight budget, they’re a good choice.  Here’s a list of components that you would need for a very low-budget system that would sound significantly better than a two-speaker solution:

Total cost for this four-speaker system is £370 or €553 - easily a tenth of what an equivalent distributed audio system would cost.

The best way to use your iPad as a music source

One of the great things about using an iPad as a point of sale system is that you can use the iPad as a music source as well.  Any music app will work happily in the background while Reg is running.  A common mistake is to connect the headphone socket of your iPad to your amplifier.  This will not work well as the headphone output of your iPad is amplified to drive headphones, whereas the input of your amplifier is expecting a line-level signal, which is lower.  Connecting the headphone output to your amplifier will result in sound that has been amplified twice, which will cause the quality to suffer.

The easiest way of getting a line-level audio signal from your iPad is to use an Apple product called an AirPort Express.  This small white wireless router incorporates a line-level audio output which you can connect to your amplifier.  You can send audio from your iPad wirelessly to the AirPort Express using a feature called AirPlay (as simple as swiping from the bottom of your iPad screen and choosing your AirPort Express as the audio output).  This has the added advantage of keeping wires away from your counter.