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Don't Want to Hear the Bar Next Door? The City of Austin Wants to Help.


What looked like a makeshift shelter outside Austin City Hall Tuesday, with metal buttresses forming a climbable hut, turned out to be a temporary dance floor. Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” blared from flat speakers in the ceiling.

People milled around. A few danced. But many walked away from the center of the dance floor, looking slightly mystified. The thumping music they had heard just moments before was now, a couple dozen steps away, much harder to hear.

“This is one of the solutions we’ve been looking for for all of our bars that need to operate and have ambient music until they have patrons go home, yet they have residential towers in very close proximity,” said David Murray, sound engineering consultant with the city.

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Cory Ehrler, an Austin Police sound enforcement officer, helps explain the noise-canceling technology behind JBN's plane-based speaker system.

Recently, the City of Austin invited an Australian company, JBN Sound Solutions, to come and demonstrate their noise-cancelling technology outside city hall through Thursday. The hope is that local music venues might consider investing in such a system – a system that uses plane speaker technology in place of traditional, cone-shaped speakers, to keep noise from inside a club or bar from reaching nearby residents.

The difference is more directional and self-contained sound. The hope is that this could equate to fewer noise complaints made by residents living near music venues.

“It’s a directional speaker system for nightclubs, hotels, outdoor beer gardens,” said Bryan Said with JBN said. “Where you want to create a high impact of sound, particularly a bass sound that everyone wants to hear and feel, but the minute you step away from the system outside of the perimeter it drops off very quickly.”

Neal Hall, a professor with the University of Texas’ Cockerell School of Engineering, explained it further. Imagine a light bulb. Light emanates from many directions. In the same way, a traditional speaker pumps out sound in various directions. Plane speakers though function more like flashlights, pushing sound (or light) in one specific direction.

“It’s a wave in every case,” said Hall. “It just depends on if you want it to go everywhere, or you want it to be direct.”

And, while Murray said technology like this could result in fewer noise complaints and the opportunity for bars to play music later than currently allowed by city code, the city is not handing these systems out to venues. According to Said, the price tag starts around $30,000.

Regardless, Murray is positive about the potential effects, should a venue find the money.

“We want to provide a mechanism for the venues to operate in the manner they need to, yet for the residents to get the sleep they need,” said Murray, as The Black Eyed Peas’ “Boom Boom Pow” hummed in the background. “And I think we may have found it. This won’t solve every problem, but I think this is pretty impressive.”

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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