Comal, a new restaurant located in Berkeley's lively downtown Arts District, is the first establishment of its kind to create an optimized aural environment using the new Libra acoustic image system and complementary Constellation active acoustic system from Meyer Sound. This unprecedented ability to dynamically control the sonic ambience of the space has garnered the attention of publications like San Francisco Chronicle and Fast Company. With a touch on an iPad screen, Comal's management can maintain the desired level of energized "buzz" throughout the space while still allowing intimate conversations, all regardless of occupancy levels.
For Comal owner John Paluska, who became a restaurateur after 17 years of managing the rock band Phish, the importance of sound in the dining experience has moved to the forefront. "It's a hot-button issue in the restaurant world these days," he says. "Noise is one of the top complaints in reviews and surveys. At Comal, we don't want a space that is hushed and dead-sounding. We want it festive, but never overbearing."
To achieve that ideal balance at Comal, Meyer Sound engineers first controlled the baseline acoustics using, in part, the patent-pending Libra acoustic image system, installed here for the very first time. Custom-designed with stunning imagery under the artistic direction of Deborah O'Grady, the visually striking Libra panels dampen difficult reverberant spaces using tailored combinations of fabric types, frame depth, and underlying acoustical absorption.
To actively control the depth and texture of ambient sound—both conversation and foreground music—the Meyer Sound team then added the Constellation acoustic system. Constellation picks up a room's ambient sound and, after applying the patented VRAS reverberation algorithm, regenerates an enhanced wash of sound throughout the space at the optimum levels. Three presets, adjustable via an iPad, are provided to adjust for changing occupancy levels. The restaurant can also heighten the "buzz" around the bar and lower it for the guests in the dining areas.
Designed as a proof of concept, the complete system covering Comal's 3,000-square-foot indoor area utilizes a sizeable complement of 38 UPJunior VariO and 45 MM-4XP loudspeakers, 12 MM-10 miniature subwoofers, and 28 microphones distributed around the restaurant. Digital processing is hosted by the Meyer Sound D-Mitri digital audio platform. The system was installed by BugID of San Francisco.
"I use the analogy of a portrait photo taken with shallow depth of field," explains Paluska, describing the system's effect. "Up close, the image is sharply detailed, while behind it there is a pleasantly textured but undefined setting. That's the sound environment here. We're creating sonic microclimates, where people in proximity can converse easily, yet we still have an energetic buzz in the atmosphere. It's always convivial, but it doesn't distract or exhaust you."
In addition to the main dining and bar area, the rest of Comal features a sound reinforcement system of 14 UP-4XP and two UPJ-1P VariO loudspeakers, and MM-10 subwoofers installed in its hallway and its 2,500-square-foot enclosed patio. Comal was designed by Abueg Morris Architects. Cuisine is regional Mexican, focused on Oaxaca and nearby coastal states.
Deborah O'Grady, artistic director for the Libra acoustic image system, is an internationally known landscape photographer whose work is currently on view at the Public Policy Institute of California and the San Francisco Design Center. Previous exhibitions include installations in Walt Disney Concert Hall, Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C., Internationale Fototage in Mannheim, Germany, and Encuentros Abiertos photography festival in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her photographs of the Navajo Code Talkers will be released this fall by Rio Nuevo Publishers.