A Little R+D


As I consume this plate of Deviled Eggs I think nothing about the happiness of the hens that birthed them. I don't wonder whether they had a name, good friends, or fresh air to breathe. I don't ponder whether they can still support themselves on their own two legs after countless cycles of hormone injections. It's 2012.  How could I be so careless? Do I have no chicken compassion? Are these devils so good that the taste is numbing my conscience? Well, yes. But it is also because I am sitting in the harmonious crossroads of audio and architecture leaving me socially irresponsible.

A few years back Hillstone Group came to me while they were designing their second R+D Kitchen (or their “restaurant formerly known as Cafe R+D”). I had been a fan of how Houston's had done food for some time. Now they were convincing me that they wanted to value their audio experience as much as their food, architecture, and impeccable service.

R+D Kitchen - Restaurant Audio System Integration - Paul Dexter
R+D Kitchen - Restaurant Audio System Integration - Paul Dexter

We set out to design an audio system that was as architecturally pleasing as it was sonically. Those familiar with Houston's, Gulfstream and R+D know that they embrace a superb level of design. Long, low ceilings, wood, steel, and concrete surfaces perfectly considered. This new R+D was to feature a long main wall surfaced with horizontal wood strips. The wall arcs to become the ceiling for a large portion of the restaurant. We wanted to make the speakers integrate into the wood while not hiding them altogether. We agreed that there are times to hide speakers altogether (Disnelyland) and times to feature them. The latter was our goal, so we designed and built custom speaker enclosures to fit the depth and width tolerances between the outer roof shell and the finished wood surface. The enclosures were installed during rough construction, and after the wood was installed we fitted the enclosures with Sonance components.

While the sound system is great, my favorite memories are of the early installation. The thing that makes this arced ceiling so interesting to look at from the inside makes it hilarious from the top. It is the shape of a giant two dimensional funnel. Dallas was receiving a record amount of rain this particular season. With most buildings, once the roof is on, the rain is pushed outside. We, however, were somehow funneling ours in. This Southern Californian pulls up to the site wearing shoes not too familiar in Texas. The Sanuk. Actually, Sanuk themselves advertise that they are NOT shoes, but sandals. Standing in a mandatory hardhat area, I tried to convince the superintendent that Sanuks were not only safe for construction use, but since they double as sandals they were actually more appropriate than boots in our knee-deep water environment. He let me stay, but told me where the boot store was. (It was Dallas. There are two boot stores on every corner.)

Other areas of the restaurant received Tannoy Di6 surface mount enclosures. These were used in the taller ceiling areas such as the bar. These are designed to be seen and provide a wonderful look with amazing sound. Again, we are not trying to hide speakers, we want guests to know we mean audio business when they come in.

I am a firm believer in consistency. The goal is background music. Music that you enjoy but that does not drown or impair conversation.  Many restaurants install two or three speakers, and I always wind up sitting right under the only one that works. This means that it is loud and annoying for me, while others can't hear it at all. My goal in this type of environment is to have it sound exactly the same at every table. With low ceilings this is difficult because there is little space between the listener and the speaker. To solve this, a speaker needs to be installed above every table. For this reason, forty-five speakers were used at R+D. Above nearly every table, and along the walk to the restrooms, the entry and at the bar.

The last couple of days while making a few final adjustments, the kitchen was ramping up testing and training. They kept putting burgers, salads and those dang deviled eggs up on the counter. I pretended to be making critical adjustments in the area long enough for someone to tell me to eat anything that was put up there. Two days later (i.e., six cheeseburgers and countless plates of deviled eggs), I rolled out of Dallas a happier man.

R+D Kitchen - Restaurant Audio System Integration - Paul Dexter