It's often difficult enough to hear a great band or solo artist over the yammering of those in attendance, but it is made worse when the sound system sounds like garbage. We music lovers have often lamented the lack of decorum shown by some local music "fans" when it comes to talking during shows, but it's normally the musicians who are left to bitch about bad sound.
Fortunately, Houston does have a few very good rooms for listening and sound systems that can be loud enough and clean enough to drown out the clinking glasses and flapping gums of the noisy few among us. It's also nice that it makes the band sound killer in the process.
House of Blues took the No. 1 spot for Best Sound System in 2009. Here are the best of the rest.
5. McGonigel's Mucky Duck: If there was a best listening room in Houston, Mucky Duck would have to be on the list. It's one of the rare places where people truly go to just listen. In fact, you might just get shushed if you aren't careful.
They have a small sound system that won't blow the doors off the place, but it's clean and ideal for the singer/songwriters that occupy the stage there every night, including what is purported to be the longest running open-mike night in the city.
4. Warehouse Live: For larger rooms, Warehouse is one of the better venues. The setup in both the large and small rooms is ideal for standing and watching, and while hard concrete walls and floors are not ideal for optimum sound, they wisely offset the stage in the small room to prevent sound reflection and the whole place just feels like a big music venue.
With all the hip-hop acts that come through there with regularity, it's no wonder the low end is earthshaking in there. Stand too close to the speakers at any show and you will hear what I mean. That thunderous low end is one of the main reasons Warehouse makes this list.
3. Fitzgerald's: God knows the sound wasn't always great at Fitz, upstairs or down. Downstairs, there are still issues, but the improvement in the upstairs room since it was bought has been marked. The building's all-wood interior is well-suited for live sound and even when it is loud in there, it isn't painful.
I remember when the sound in there was questionable at best. Now, it's downright great. Whether it's some loud metal band or a twee hipster acoustic duo, Fitz makes it sound great no matter where you sit or stand in the room, including the balcony, and that is not an easy thing to do.
2. Continental Club: I honestly don't think Continental gets nearly enough praise for how good it sounds inside. It might be the warmest sound system in the city, especially given the high ceilings and concrete floors.
I've rarely been there when vocals weren't clear and when the sound was loud enough to stifle virtually everything else, but clear enough that it didn't make ears bleed. Hell, it even sounds good sitting on the porch at Double Trouble next door.
1. Rudyard's: Ask any local musician what venue they think has the best sound in Houston and most of them will probably say Rudyard's. It's odd that this pub-turned-live-music-venue has turned out some of the best and most consistent live sound in our city for the past 20 years, but not when you realize the man behind the board, Joe Omulchuck, has been there the entire time.
Onstage and off, the sound at Rudz is nothing short of spectacular, even when the bands are not, and Omulchuck is the reason.
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Here's what we said about the then-new HOB's rig back in '09:
Really, now: You didn't think we were going to give Houston's newest (and priciest) concert hall "Best Drink Prices," did you? But House of Blues deserves credit where it's due, and it has due aplenty for bringing in artists who might otherwise skip Houston altogether -- legends like Willie Nelson and rising stars à la Santigold alike -- and even more for a sound rig that makes them all sound as good as they do on record, if not better.
HOB's all-digital setup looks more like an instrument panel from the Starship Enterprise than the levers-and-knobs soundboards most other local music venues use, and it shows. Most nights, it even works well enough to drown out the conversations of HOB's exceptionally chatty clientele.