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The current crisis has forced a large portion of the workforce to operate out of their homes. Daily Zoom and Skype meetings have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. For many of us, this shift is only temporary. However, some companies are seeing the benefits of working at home, and are making plans to move employees to permanent remote positions.
I’m sure all of you have been on a conference call in which a team member’s audio is difficult to understand. This could be caused by a microphone or connection issue, but a large number of intelligibility problems are rooted in a room’s acoustics. Let’s take a look at some common acoustic issues in home offices and how they relate to conference call clarity.
Background Noise – Obviously, it’s difficult to understand speech when there is a lot of background noise. It is vital that you isolate yourself from extraneous sound sources as best you can. Some sources (TV, HVAC) are easier to control than others (traffic noise, pets, children etc.). Make sure your office is “closed off” from intruding noise. Remember, sound is a little like water; it will “pour in” through any openings, such as gaps around doors. If possible, install full perimeter seals and door sweeps to improve sound isolation in your office. If you have sound transmitting through a wall, ceiling or floor, you can consider adding a layer of mass loaded vinyl to the assembly in order to help block unwanted air-borne noise. You can then cover the mass loaded vinyl with SoundChannels® like in this blog.
Reverberation – In simple terms, reverberation is the sound energy that remains in a listening environment as a result of lingering reflections. The reverberation time (RT or RT60) quantifies how quickly an impulse sound decays in a space. Reverberation time is dependent upon the volume and surface materials of a given room. Large spaces with hard materials (tile, drywall etc.) have longer reverberation times, while small rooms furnished with “softer” materials (carpet, drapes etc.) sound more much more “dead”. Speaker phone conversations require a very short reverb time, for optimal clarity, somewhere in the .5s range (half of a second). You can reduce reverberation in your home office with the addition of “fluffy” or irregular furnishings, acoustic panels, rugs, curtains and plants.
Flutter Echoes – Flutter echo, which can be heard as an annoying “ringing sound”, is caused by parallel reflective surfaces. In certain critical listing environments, sound diffusers are used to alleviate flutter echo. Flutter echoes can greatly degrade conference call clarity. This phenomenon can occur between two walls or floor-to-ceiling. To control flutter echoes in your office, you should break up any parallel surfaces with furnishings and/or sound absorptive treatment.
Reach out to Acoustics First® for a treatment recommendation for your home office!
Sometimes a simple solution is the best solution. That is the guiding philosophy behind our new Sonora® Corner Bass Trap. Take one 4” thick, 6-7pcf sound absorbing fiberglass panel, back bevel to fit in a corner, front bevel for a nice finished look, throw in a few corner clips for mounting, and done!
The Sonora® Corner Bass Trap was born.
This bass trap lives up to the design aesthetic and functionality of the Geometrix® Quarter Round unit, but at a lower price point with reduced weight for an easy installation. Available in widths of 24” or 18”, standard length is 4’ with custom lengths available.
The Sonora® Corner Bass Trap is a great option for studios, theaters, or any critical listening environment where broadband absorption with enhanced low frequency control is desired.
The importance of sound in culture, entertainment, safety, communication, and in defining the human experience is many times taken for granted – but not this year! 2020 has been designated the International Year of Sound, and throughout the year will be many special events focusing on the impact of sound and educating people about the importance of sound in enriching our lives.
Kicking off this worldwide event was an opening ceremony held on January 31st, in Paris at Sorbonne Grand Amphitheatre – which included supporters from across the globe who came to celebrate sound! Acoustics First was there to support this launch!
There were talks from many prominent members of the acoustic and physics societies including:
Prof. Gilles Pécout (Rector, Académie de Paris)
Prof. Jean Chambaz (President, Sorbonne Université)
Prof. Mark Hamilton (President, International Commission for Acoustics)
Christian Hugonnet (President, La Semaine du Son)
Prof. Vincent Gibiat (President, Société Française d’Acoustique)
Prof. Michel Spiro (President, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics )
Dr. Shelly Chanda (World Health Organization Representative)
Marion Burgess (IYS2020 Co-Organizer)
Prof. Jean-Dominique Polack (IYS 2020 co-organizer)
Prof. Michael Taroudakis (Moderator)
They debuted a short film produced by the International Commission for Acoustics and sponsored by i-ince called “Sound of our Life” directed by Antonio Fischetti – which shines a light on the different ways noise and sound impact our lives.
There were two sound exhibits at the ceremony, showing different ways to use speaker arrays and for different reasons. One was for a driver and passenger listening to different music in a car, the other was a novel sound pillar that had different sounds travelling around the circumference.
There were also two cultural music events. The first was a musical interlude performed by Maxime Perrin (accordion) and Samuel Thézé (bass clarinet). The second was the “Révolutions Vocales” concert performed by Compagnie VocAliques, which was translated into English for this international audience.
Following the ceremony was a reception in the beautiful ballroom, where attendees could reflect on the ceremony and discuss the different events planned for this year.
Check out the Official International Year of Sound website at https://sound2020.org/
Acoustics First® is pleased to announce the latest addition to our ArtDiffusor® family of products: ArtDiffusor® Nouveau™. In some ways, these diffusive boards are the logical extension of our ArtDiffusor® Trim line. In other ways, they are the logical successor to the Art Diffusor® Model W. These robust diffusive planks (2.75” thick x 11.25” wide, nominal) can be installed to create 2’x4’ wooden quadratic diffusers in both ‘convex’ and ‘concave’ formats. Also, for architectural type applications, boards can be installed in larger arrays to create a rolling effect. Art Diffusor® Nouveau™ is an excellent choice for anywhere that optimal acoustics and great design aesthetics are a must. Available now!
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.