Is the fountain louder?

Jan of Grand Haven asked if the Musical Fountain is louder this year, or is she just hearing things?
Mark Brooky
Jun 4, 2014

“We moved to the downtown area about six years ago,” she wrote. “We understand that along with the wonderful location come lots of activities and events. We used to be able to close our slider door and shut out 90 percent of the sounds from various activities. This year, we close our slider and still hear the nightly Musical Fountain loud and clear in every room of our home. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is windy or calm, it is always loud. Why is the volume set so high?”

ANSWER:

City officials say it’s just an acoustical illusion.

“Operators suggest that the sound may be more clear, and the music selection improved, but the volume is no louder than previous years,” City Manager Pat McGinnis said.

Also, Mary of Grand Haven asked about a cement structure at Grand Haven's Central Park with "G.H. Bird Club 1917" etched into it. That is a mystery, as we concluded in a Mailbag question and answer about it in April 2013. You can read that here.

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Comments

mlouiswolf

Well...that response is not entirely accurate. The speakers were recently rebuilt. The power to them may be the same, but they have been re-oriented and some long over-due attention has been paid. So while the fountain crew may not be cranking it up to "11", there is reason to believe that the power is being converted to sound waves which are getting to your place more efficiently and across a more complete frequency range.
So while this is all good in terms of the crew putting on their best show with the best sound quality, it may be interacting with the resonance of your house differently than it used to.

Mark Brooky

Good point, mlouiswolf. I wonder if our friend Jason could chime in?

jlebrasseur

Going off the books with this comment, but I will try to clarify some stuff.

We measured 78db in the waterfront stadium Monday, 72db in the waterfront stadium Tuesday. An average quiet conversation is 60db and light city traffic is 85db for comparison. When you are are sitting in the waterfront stadium you can easily hear our viewers conversation over the music.

It is not due to the sound system getting some much needed maintenance, but rather the wind direction, temperature, and the lack of mature trees in the downtown corridor after the streetscape improvements.

Cold air is more dense, so sound waves travel through it much easier. It takes less power to send the sound waves a given distance. With the cooler temperatures, it is much easier to hear the fountain further away, thus allowing us to actually turn the volume down quite a bit.

There are other conditions that factor into where the volume knob is each night though.

The wind direction and speed also plays a HUGE factor in it. The past couple weeks, we have had decent amounts of wind along the waterfront. Believe it or not, the wind blows the sound around. It can sound very quiet in the waterfront stadium (sometimes so quiet the viewers can barely hear the fountain) but down wind sound will be average to slightly higher than normal volume.

The removal of the large trees downtown also affects the noise as the much younger trees planted in their place do not absorb the sound nearly as much while downtown acts as sort of a megaphone. This phenomenon will get much less noticeable as the new trees mature and start absorbing the sound.

Like I said, the upgrades to the sound system did not affect the volume levels, in fact, it has allowed us to run the fountain at lower levels. Before the upgrades/maintenance, the sound system was very 'boomy' while the vocals and mid to higher frequencies were very hard to hear in the waterfront stadium. Lower (bass) frequencies travel much easier through the air. With the upgrades and tuning, the fountain has a much more natural sound and is MUCH less 'boomy'; It actually allows us to run it at much lower levels than previous years while still ensuring the viewing audience can hear it. We try to keep the output as measured in the waterfront stadium at an average of 75db or lower so that our audience can hear it over the downtown traffic, while at the same time not annoying our neighbors.

Hope this clears up any confusion.

Mark Brooky

Excellent explanation! Thanks.

gordbzz231

that's the difference between a cheap system cranked up and sounding real bad or a good system turned low with clarity, much clearer and more pleasing sound , yes live 4 blocks from the foundation and sounds much better

jlebrasseur

Also, just to give an idea of how well sound travels through cooler air or in the wind, I live 3.5 miles from the drawbridge over in the North Shore area... On cool or slightly breezy days, I can very clearly hear the constant drone of cars and trucks driving over the grating on the drawbridge. Up until recently, I could also hear the constant banging of them driving the sheet piling at the municipal marina for the upgrades. I can hear a church bell ring from downtown as well.

So just because you can hear it in your house does not mean it is loud at the source; sound behaves strangely. There is actually a LOT of science behind how sound behaves when it comes to standing waves, natural amplification, comb filtering/phase (where something can be deafening loud in one spot but if you move over 20' you can barely hear it). This would actually be a great science project for some kids to do.

Riverside

I've actually heard it at 31 and Washington many times this year clear as a bell. The sound quality is way better than its ever been.

Like Jason said it depends on the wind direction too, some nights I don't even hear it.

lovegh

I live behind Meijer. While sitting on my deck tonight I could hear it loud and clear. Then my daughter came out of her room and asked "Who's playing Let It Go? I can hear it over my headphones" not complaining, she even sang a few bars.
I saw this posted on Facebook a few days ago but didn't read it. Curious, I looked it up. I decided I would comment to let it be known how far the music is traveling.

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