Archive for category Multipurpose Rooms
When RPN magazine needed an article to teach readers how to improve their room acoustics, they turned to Acoustics First® to get the scoop.
YOUR ROOM’S ACOUSTIC SYSTEM – and How to Improve It
Ever wonder why some rooms sound better than others? What components contribute to
perception of sound in a space? What knowledge do you need to solve the sound problems that
When people read the heading “The System,” there will be a great number who assume I am
talking about the “sound system” in a room – the speakers, amplifiers, signal processors, and
other electronic components that generally produce sound in a space. This is only part of the
acoustic system that creates the soundscape we hear when we are exposed to sound in a space.
Yes, sound comes out of speakers, and they are important, but the source of sound isn’t what
gives us a perception of the space we are in – it’s the space itself!
The walls, ceiling, floors, seats, sculptures, drapes, artwork, construction, and even people in the
space are all contributing to how we perceive that sound source in any given acoustic
environment. I’m not saying that the speakers aren’t important – but they are just the source of
If you have a room with a 5-second reverb time, it doesn’t matter what type of speakers you
have, any sound they make is going to continue to be heard for five seconds – as is every sound
What does this mean? Even if you have the best speakers in the world in that room, it will sound
terrible (unless you are listening to Gregorian Chants…then it will sound awesome.)
However, if someone is speaking at a normal rate of speed, it will be unintelligible after the first 2
or 3 words – as those words will continue to bounce around with the sound of the next 15
words…like listening to 15 people all saying different things at the same time.
Your room is an acoustic system – from the sound source, to the ears of the listeners – as well as
everything in, around, and even outside of that room.
Have you ever watched an acoustical consultant begin the analysis of a new space? It’s
fascinating. You will undoubtedly see them walking around the room while making noises –
clapping their hands, snapping their fingers, whistling, even talking loudly, shouting, and singing.
It’s as if they are bats using different sounds to figure out the characteristics of the room they are
in. They are, in fact, analyzing the room’s acoustic system. Where does sound reflect? Are there
echoes or flutter? What is the character of the reverb? They look at the structure, materials,
corners, architectural elements, floors, carpets, walls, windows, doors, ceilings and more.
Note: They begin this analysis WITHOUT using the speakers.
Why? If the room is bad, your speakers will not fix it.
What are they doing? They are listening. That’s it. Nothing fancy here – just listening.
I will say that many acousticians have done this so many times, in so many different spaces, that
they have an idea of what the room is going to sound like, without even making a peep – just by
looking at it. What are they looking for? What are they listening to? What can you learn from this?
Time to Listen
Everyone has a room where they dislike the acoustics. Go in there. Clap your hands. What
happened? Clap again. Snap your fingers. Make some noise – but make sure to listen. Where is
the sound coming from? Turn around, clap again. Walk to another area…clap.
As you walk around, you will hear the sound change. Turn your head. Is the sound coming from
the corner, the ceiling, both? Angle your ears in between two corners. Maybe that’s where it’s
coming from. Is there a large open balcony or a curved wall? Ask yourself these questions as you
walk around and listen.
Are any of the surfaces hard? What about the floor? Is the sound lingering over your head up in
the ceiling? Is there a defined slap off the back wall when you clap your hands? Is there a ringing
noise? Does the echo wash over you and linger?
Sharpen your listening skills. Map the room with your ears.
What Are You Doing in the Room?
This is an important question. For most uses involving speaking and understanding speech, there
are some good general targets. For example, for most rooms over 100m3 (15’ cube), a 0.8 to 1.7
second reverb time is ideal for many different functions.
However, keep in mind, some spaces may have special reverb requirements. If you’re doing
Gregorian Chants, a three to five second reverb time is still great!
Now, How Do You Fix It?
Most rooms are going to benefit from reducing the acoustic energy in the space. Absorption is
the most direct and easy to understand method – add soft stuff.
This sounds overly simple, but the initial experiments on calculating absorption were done by
moving around seat cushions – simple, but effective.
Fabric-wrapped absorber panels are today’s high-tech equivalent to the seat cushions. Curtains,
blankets, carpets, and other soft materials will also help to reduce the acoustic energy of a space.
Treatments like diffusers help to reduce focused acoustic reflections by spreading the energy
around. When sound hits a surface that is not flat, it will cover the entire surface, bending
around the corners and curves, and then bounces off in different directions.
This reduces what we refer to as ‘specular’ reflections – or direct, mirror reflections – which are
responsible for slap echoes, ringing, and flutter.
However, some hard, reflective surfaces in the front of the room can be beneficial to help
reinforce acoustic sound sources, like speaking, singing, or acoustic instruments.
Treating corners with bass traps can help to reduce bass buildup, as well as corner reflections,
which can cause other clarity issues within the listening environment.
Don’t forget…look to the ceiling for rafters and other elements that cause sound to bounce
around and put some absorption up there.
When Acoustics First® was approached with the ideas for the Main Hall of the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (KCAAH), they needed acoustic materials that would not only work to acoustically tame the large space, but to have some be the focal point for attention – while others needed to blend in.
Aukram Burton of KCAAH wanted to have large portraits of civil rights icons, not only nationally, but paying particular attention to leaders with a connection to Kentucky. He also wanted to have large panels with quotes from these figures. These would be a custom printed Silent Pictures®/Sonora® Baffle Hybrid – with a 1″ Custom printed Silent Pictures® panel on one side, and a grey fabric wrapped Sonora® Baffle on the back. These would maximize sound absorption due to all of the surfaces being exposed to sound – while being aesthetically significant to the space. Their sheer size presented some technical challenges – with the portraits being 4′ x 8′ and the quotes being 4′ x 10′ – creating custom artwork on this scale required many technical consultations, as many photographs were not easily scaled to this size.
They did not want the other treatments to distract from the portraits, so they chose to install large Cloudscape® Baffles in a gray material that closely matched the gray color scheme of the support beams, trusses, and HVAC elements that are exposed and prevalent in the hall. This allowed the large 4′ x 8′ baffles to blend into the background, while still taming the acoustics of the large hall. The acoustics make the hall feel like a much more intimate venue than its imposing size suggests.
To get the full effect of the visual impact of the space, Aukram sent over a video tour of the facility.
Hidden Creek Home Owners Association contacted Acoustics First® to remediate the poor acoustics of their clubhouse meeting hall. Hard surfaces and tall ceilings contributed to excessive reverberation and poor speech intelligibility. The HOA board wanted to address the acoustics of the meeting hall during an upcoming renovation of the space.
Hidden Creek HOA submitted pictures and plans of the clubhouse to design consultant Cameron Girard. After calculating the amount of absorptive treatment needed to obtain an ideal reverb time, he submitted a treatment proposal with Sonora® panels that would ensure a significant acoustic improvement. Cameron provided detailed renderings to the board, allowing them to better visualize the layout of the panels as they reached a final decision on treatment.
A single skilled contractor installed the panels in a few days, leaving Hidden Creek residents with a much more suitable acoustic environment for meetings and small group gatherings.
Here are a few pics from a job in New York which was installed a while back by one of our regular dealers.
Note how they used a nice mix of 2’x4’ and 4’x4’ Sonora® Panels to work around the geometry of the room! Spreading around a bunch of smaller panels, like 2’x4’s, can work great because of the flexibility it gives you with your layout and design options.
As 2017 rapidly comes to a close, here is a look at a couple of more installations from earlier in the year. Both of these fellowship halls were done by the same AFC dealer/installer. As you can see, although the rooms differ greatly in shape and size, they were both treated with our Sonora panels.
It’s all about panel placement.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!