Jean-Louis Gassée: New all-glass Apple Store Palo Alto big, bold, elegant, impressive – and also unpleasantly, almost unbearably noisy

“It has always struck me as odd that in Palo Alto, Apple’s heartland and Steve Jobs’ adopted hometown, Apple had only a modestly-sized, unremarkable venue on University Avenue, and an even smaller store in the Stanford Shopping Center,” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note. “All of that changed on October 27th when the black veil that shrouded an unmarked project was removed, and the newest Apple Store — what some are calling a ‘prototype’ for future venues, a ‘flagship’ store — was revealed.”

“The new store is big, bold, elegant, even more so at night when the very bright lights and large Apple logo on its front dominate the street scene. The store is impressive… but its also unpleasantly, almost unbearably noisy,” Gassée writes. “And mine isn’t a voice in the wilderness. The wife of a friend walked in, spent a few minutes, and vowed to never return for fear of hearing loss. She’d rather go to the cramped but much more hospitable Stanford store.”

Apple Store Palo Alto is an acoustical nightmare
Apple Store Palo Alto is an acoustical nightmare

Gassée writes, “The sound problem stems from a combination of the elongated ‘Great Hall,’ parallel walls, and reflective building materials. The visually striking glass roof becomes a veritable parabolic sound mirror. There isn’t a square inch of sound-absorbing material in the entire place. A week later, I returned to the store armed with the SPL [Sound Pressure Level] Meter iPhone app… Then I saw it: An SPL recorder — a professional one — perched on a tripod inside the store.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Architorture.

Instead of T-shirts at the Palo Alto grand reopening, Apple should’ve handed out free earplugs.


  1. There are several ways to dampen the sound with other surfaces, paints and wall coverings on the walls, tables and floor. This can be addressed and Apple has the engineering team capable of correcting this issue.

        1. An overly-crowded store CAN be fixed, by relocating to a larger store. Surely the popularity of these stores warrant proper expansion. Some stores (like the one in Annapolis, MD) are just too small for the crowds, making a visit there quite unsavory and to be avoided.

    1. Yes, you can fix the acoustics after the fact, but it will be much more expensive and not as effective as it could have been if an acoustician had been involved from the get-go.

    2. My local mall-sited Apple store is also loud. yes, there are the crowds, and all those people make a lot of noise, and that is unavoidable. But then the store management insists on playing music loud enough to be heard over the crowd. Ouch!

    3. The best sound damper is also the cheapest sound damper. The old 2.5 dozen egg cartons can be stuck to the walls and ceilings and it will be quieter than a church on Tuesday morning.

      It’s a little hillbilly but it works and it’s cheap. They still use it in country and western music studios.

      1. Egg cartons do not have any beneficial acoustic effect at the frequencies needed. Some studios do indeed use foam with a surface profile which looks similar to egg cartons, but the open-cell foam is usually between 2 and 4 inches thick in order to absorb the frequencies that are most troublesome.

        These typical of the ones that I often use and they are certainly not cheap, but they are effective.

    4. what good is having a decent engineering team when the boss happens to be British cow John Browett of fabolous dixons Curry’s fame? at least when this store was commissioned, John Browett was the head honcho and it shows, what a trajedy that he left such a legacy as he left, and in the Cupertino store as well 🙁 SJ and Woz hometown. And all this while microsoft is building its own stores and who knowns what other competition may be planning. Also John Louis Gassee is a French frog who back stabbed Steve jobs in the mid 1980’s, i bet he enjoyed writing about this genuine problem.

    5. what good is having good engineering team when the Boss happen to be British cow John Browett of fabolous Dixons fame? 🙁 and what a trajedy that of all stores this happens to be in Cupertino, home of Apple, Steve Jobs and Woz. Glad the bastard got fired and lessons needs to be learned from this. also John Loius Gasee is a French frog who back stabbed SJ in the mid 1980’s, bet he enjoyed writing this article on a genuine problem 🙁

      1. A couple of fine points: Palo Alto is miles from Cupertino. I guess you didn’t read either the headline or the first sentence.

        Also, despite your opinion of JL Gassee, he is, and always has been, a decent fellow who enjoys his Apple gear, and who tries to write objectively about his Apple gear. And far from being a “French frog,” he actually lives in Palo Alto not far from the store.

  2. Ug. One very important, but all too often overlooked, aspects of architecture is appropriate sonic design. Any modern architecture firm should get sound designers and engineers into a project, but this is overlooked even when designing performance spaces like theatres and such. Shocking, however, that Apple would overlook this with their normal attention to detail.

  3. SOLUTION: setup a speaker in the centre of the ceiling playing the exact NEGATIVE sound image being picked up. This will cancel background noise to an acceptable level.

    1. 4MY, your approach might work OK at one location. But it would take a distributed active system to attempt to cover the whole store, and the results would probably not that great.

      A passive design approach is vastly more preferable. The architectural firm screwed up big time and should be held liable for fixing the problem. Apple stresses form, but not form over function (except in rare cases).

  4. It is astounding that an inferior design was used and subsequently uncorrected. “Architorture”, indeed. Shameful that customers are subject to such conditions. A perfect example of style over substance.

    1. Jeez, get over yourself! This is another FUD story for the great unwashed masses’ consumption, and you’ve fallen in up to your neck. Relax. Take a pill, and go visit a Microsoft retail outlet: You can hear a pin drop there!

  5. The acoustics would be relatively easy to improve retrospectively. There are many ways of doing it and some solutions would be pretty compatible with Apple’s design ethos.

    First of all, forget about an active phase-cancellation system. It sounds like a great hi-tech idea and we know the technique works well with headphones, but the results can be very disappointing when it comes to large open spaces. In simple terms, you can only cancel out the noise at one given point.

    As there are so many highly reflective surfaces ( in an acoustic sense ), the answer is to add absorbency. Bass traps can look attractive when installed on walls and can fit in well with Apple’s minimalist look. The front material could be screen printed with Apple logos if desired.

    The glass ceiling is a bigger challenge – particularly if the floor is not carpeted. One solution would be to break up the reflections by using diffusors. To get an idea, look at pictures of the Royal Albert Hall in London. It used to have dreadful acoustics, but when the ‘mushrooms’ were suspended within the roof space, the acoustics improved to a huge extent. You don’t need suspended mushrooms, but areas of diffusing surfaces would make a huge difference.

    However, my first reaction was the same as many others here. It’s no bad thing to have a store that is alive and exciting. As problems go, having a store that is filled with noisy customers is the sort of problem that other companies can only dream about.

      1. … and that is exactly why you need absorbers and diffusers to deal with those standing waves ( known as eigentones ).

        Obviously prevention is better than cure and that’s why custom built recording studios and cinemas generally employ non-parallel walls with carefully controlled amounts of absorption and diffusion, but in this case the structure has already been built and what is needed is a way of controlling the reflections retrospectively.

  6. I avoid the Bay Street store in Emeryville because the acoustics are so bad. I don’t expect Apple to do anything about the noise, either, they probably think it adds “excitement” to the visit.

    That’s why I visited Best Buy yesterday when I went shopping for a new iPod Touch. Also, their extended warranty is better than Applecare. It covers accidents. When I dropped a camera once, the warranty got me a good-as-new refurbished model.

    1. Don’t tell me that no one could not have foreseen this problem. It seems any decent architect could have estimated the sound levels of the space using some theoretical equations and/or designing a physical model and testing noise levels empirically.

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