Posts Tagged sound absorbers

Sonora® Wall Panels on the Ceiling?

Sometimes you just don’t have the wall space for acoustic treatment. When this is the case, you will often see treatments move to the ceiling… but what do you do if you have lower ceilings, or many ceiling fans and fixtures?

This narrow eating space had tons of windows, low ceilings, and many fixtures. This made hanging baffles or banners impractical.

This ceiling was sloped toward the massive windows on the outside wall, and it had lights and fans running right up the center. Complicating things further, the opposite wall had sconce lighting, doorways, HVAC, and even more windows. Finally, the floor was not carpeted to facilitate cleaning – as is the norm in many dining spaces.

With no good wall space to mount panels and no height for “hanging” ceiling treatments – direct mount Sonora® panels were the ideal solution.

Direct-mount acoustic panels are a great solution in these scenarios. Here we see an array of 4’x4’x2″ Sonora® panels attached to the ceiling in rows running down the length of the space. While our Tone Tiles® are often selected for their ability to blend in aesthetically, this particular installation proves that Sonora® panels wrapped in fabric are also a solid choice.

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Sound Diffusion vs. Absorption in Worship Environments

There are many examples of diffusing architectural elements in this synagogue.

Cathedrals, mosques, synagogues and temples are often decorated with an abundance of architectural details (deep coffers, arches, columns, sculptures, intricate engravings etc.). These features are not only beautiful to look at, but also serve the vital acoustic purpose of sound diffusion. Large, uninterrupted spans of hard, flat surfaces reflect sound in a singular, specular wave, which creates discrete echoes and comb filtering (In acoustics, comb filtering is when a delayed reflection interferes with, and distorts the original sound wave). These conditions can contribute to an acoustically uncomfortable environment, in which speech is difficult to understand, and music can be hard to perform and enjoy. Irregular surfaces, on the other hand, scatter these reflections, minimizing comb filtering and distracting echoes. In a “diffused” worship environment, speech is intelligible, music is clear and warm, and there is a sense of envelopment which greatly enhances the congregants’ worship experience.

Absorptive treatment can also be used to control echoes and harmful reflections. Instead of redistributing reflections, these “fluffy” materials (drapery, padded pews, acoustic panels etc.) reduce the overall sound energy from the reflections in the room. However, using to too much sound absorption in a room can often make a space sound ‘dry’ or ‘dead’. Determining whether your space needs absorption, diffusion, or a combination of both is dependent upon the acoustic properties of the space, as well as the type of worship service being conducted.

Acoustic Properties of the Worship Space: Reverberation, a principle acoustic factor, is the sound energy that remains in a listening environment as a result of lingering reflections. The dimensions, construction materials, and furnishings of a given worship space determine its reverberation time (RT or RT60). Large halls with reflective materials (glass, wood, concrete) have longer reverb times, while small rooms with absorptive materials (drop acoustic ceiling, carpet, curtains etc.) will have shorter reverb times. Incorporating sound absorptive materials, Such as fabric wrapped acoustic wall panels, is often the best way to reduce the overall reverberation in a room to a suitable level. However, the target reverb time also depends on the nature of the worship service being conducted in a particular space.

Type of Worship Service: Ideal reverb times for worship environments vary widely.  Non-musical, spoken-word worship requires a very short reverb time (.5-.8s range), ensuring that speech is intelligible. At the other end of the spectrum, cathedrals can tolerate an extremely long reverb time (2s and above) due to the traditional nature of their liturgy. Choir, organ and plainchant worship will actually benefit from longer reverb times that create a sense of ambience and spaciousness by sustaining musical notes. These spaces will often lack a sound system, and instead utilize the hard surfaces to propagate sound throughout the room.

Traditional worship may be enhanced by long reverb times, but contemporary worship requires a significantly shorter reverb time. In these environments, drums, guitars, bass and other amplified instruments are critical to the high intensity worship experience, but have far different acoustical needs compared to the choir and organ in a more traditional service. Contemporary “high impact” churches require a reverb time in the .8-1.3s range to ensure that the music won’t become too “muddy” and indistinct. Contemporary churches must also be more cognizant of late specular reflections (slap echoes) which can inhibit the timing of musicians and contribute to poor music clarity.

Let’s take a look a few common scenarios when it comes to treating traditional and contemporary worship spaces.

While including a mix of absorbing Sonora® Panels and diffusing Double Duty barrels, many people overlook the contribution of the padded chairs and carpet to the sound of this space.

Scenario 1: Conversion from Traditional to Contemporary worship

A growing contemporary church moves into a larger, traditional sanctuary and is confronted by a raucous acoustic environment during their first rehearsal… This “live” space was perfect for traditional music, but is not conducive to a “high impact” contemporary worship service. To reduce the excessive reverberation and distracting echoes, sound absorption should be added to the rear wall (opposite stage) and side walls. Also, if using on-stage monitors, the stage walls should be treated to manage stage volume.  Spot diffusive treatment that provides low-frequency absorption would also be beneficial. A good choice for this would be traditional ‘barrel’ diffusers. These are one of the oldest tried and true solutions for controlling bass issues in a performance space. Also, since these units function as both absorbers and diffusers, you get the benefits of both.

Scenario 2: Mix of Traditional and Contemporary worship services.

A worship facility decides to offer a contemporary service in addition to their traditional services… As more absorption is introduced to cut down on distracting reflections, we want to retain the envelopment and spaciousness which benefits congregational singing and traditional worship music. Sound diffusive treatment would be a great way to control echoes and specular reflections, while keeping the energy in the space. A mix of absorption and diffusion is usually best. Multipurpose spaces can also benefit from variable acoustic treatment which allows the room to “adapt” to each service, but that is a subject for another article.

Scenario 3: Poor Music Clarity in Traditional Worship space

A traditional worship space renovates their facility by adding thicker carpet, padded pews and a drop acoustic ceiling… All of a sudden, their once lively space feels “flat” and dull. Acoustic instruments are more anemic, less distinguishable and choirs have a difficult time blending and tuning.  To “liven up” the space, replace sound absorptive materials with diffusers.  For example, replace 1/3rd of the acoustic ceiling tiles with a combination of gypsum tiles and lay-in diffusers. These days, there are wide variety mid-range quadratic sound diffusers available for drop tile ceiling grids, as well as the more traditional barrel and pyramidal diffusers.  

While this space is more lively, the slap echoes from the back wall are controlled with a mix of diffusers and absorbers.

Sound diffusion can often seem a little mysterious compared to sound absorption. This is at least partly because sound diffusion is a more complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon compared to the more easily quantifiable sound absorption. However, sound diffusion is often times the missing piece of an acoustic puzzle: its benefits can help a bad room to sound good, or a good room to sound great!

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Sonora® Panels help Citizen Heights Church

Citizen Heights Church found a great facility to move into, even during a global pandemic. However, a major obstacle was that the facility had a traditional cathedral ceiling and a nearly 6 second reverb time was not compatible with their high-energy modern services. To address this issue, they included custom Sonora® panels in their overhaul. This decision helped take their 6 second reverb time down to an incredible 1.5 seconds – creating a space that maintains a level of intelligibility which would have been impossible otherwise.

Read the full story here.

Original Technologies for Worship article link.

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Demystifying Acoustic Data: Part 2 – Test Material Mounting

For anyone new to the world of acoustics, there is a multitude of terms, coefficients and numbers that are thrown around.  This flood of information can seem intimidating, especially to beginners. In this series, acoustician Cameron Girard of Acoustics First® hopes to help you distinguish between what’s useful and what’s not.

Part 2: How Mounting in Testing Affects Sound Absorption Data

As I discussed in my previous article, the best way to compare the performance of sound absorbing panels is by referencing the Sound Absorption Coefficient (SAC) and Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). However, these coefficients are often used as marketing tools. Be on the lookout for companies that list absorption coefficients and NRCs without mention of a particular testing standard or mounting method. It’s vital to check for this information, as direct comparisons to competitors and other materials can only be made if their testing procedures are the same.

The sound absorption of a material that covers a flat surface not only depends on the physical qualities of the material but also on how the material is mounted during installation. The mountings specified in laboratory tests are intended to simulate conditions that exist in normal use, such as direct wall mounting and installation into a ceiling grid.

Many materials for treatment of walls or ceiling are tested using what is called Type ”A” mounting. Type ”A” mounting means the test specimen was placed directly on the test surface of the reverberation chamber. Lay-in ceiling tiles, on the other hand, are often tested using ”E400” mounting. The ”E” designates a sealed air space behind the specimen (simulating  the air gap between a dropped tile ceiling and the structural ceiling) and the number after the ”E” is the depth of the airspace in millimeters. The airspace behind the acoustic material affects the sound absorption by acting as a bass trap. The deeper the cavity behind the panels is, the lower the fundamental of the “trapped” frequencies will be.

To see what this look like in terms of actual numbers, let’s take a look at how different mounting methods effect the sound absorption coefficients of Acoustics First’s HiPer® Panel (a low-profile, composite absorber/diffuser panel).

Since the HiPer® Panel can be used effectively in multiple applications; we had it tested in accordance to the two most-common mounting procedures, Type E-400 and Type A. The results of the laboratory tests are as follows:

Product Info

Sound Absorption Coefficients

Product Name Thickness Mounting 125Hz 250Hz 500Hz 1kHz 2kHz 4kHz


1″ HiPer® Panel 1″ E-400 0.43 0.28 0.51 0.76 0.99 1.10 0.65
1″ HiPer® Panel 1″ A 0.09 0.28 0.78 0.75 0.94 0.85 0.70


As you can see from the chart, the sound absorption coefficient at 125 Hz varies greatly between E-400 mounting (SAC of .43) and Type-A mounting (SAC of .09). If mounting the HiPer® Panel in a ceiling grid, with a sizable airspace, you can expect significant low-frequency absorption, but mounting it on a wall (Type-A) will result in much less absorption at 125Hz.

Other mounting methods are available, but are not used as frequently. Here are some of the basic mounting designations (See ASTM E795 for more information.)

Type A mounting – Test specimen laid directly against the test surface (wall panel on drywall).

Type B mounting – Test specimen cemented directly against the test surface. Type B mounting is intended to simulate acoustical ceiling tiles or other sound-absorptive products adhered to a hard surface with an adhesive.

Type C Mounting—Test specimen comprising sound-absorptive material behind a perforated, expanded, open facing or other porous material.

Type D Mounting—Test specimen mounted on wood furring strips.

Type E Mounting—Test specimen mounted with an air space behind it (dropped tile ceiling).

As we’ve discussed, acoustical data can vary greatly depending on the mounting method used during testing. Acoustics First tries to include as much information about testing procedures as possible, because we feel an informed client makes the best client.

Contact Acoustics First for your all your sound control needs!

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Demystifying Acoustic Data: Part 1 – Absorption vs Isolation

For anyone new to the world of acoustics, there is a multitude of terms, coefficients and numbers that are thrown around.  This flood of information can seem intimidating, especially to beginners. In this series, acoustician Cameron Girard of Acoustics First® hopes to help you distinguish between what’s useful and what’s not.


Part 1: Acoustic Terminology – Sound Absorption vs Sound Isolation

In order to make informed decisions about acoustical treatment, it is vital to know the difference between materials that are meant to absorb sound within a room and materials that are meant to block sound from leaving or entering it. In an overly reverberant auditorium, absorptive treatment is needed to reduce echoes and improve speech intelligibility. If the problem is sound passing in between spaces, like offices or apartments, then isolation treatment is required. These are two separate acoustic issues which require separate solutions.

In both scenarios, it is important to know which data is relevant and helpful. Also, given sheer volume of information available on the internet, it is perhaps unavoidable that some info will be incomplete or simply incorrect.  It should not be assumed that something which sounds technical is, in fact, backed up by proper testing.

Terms for Sound Absorption

We recently encountered an acoustical ceiling tile which was said to “absorb 50% of sound”. On the surface this sounds like an extremely efficient product.  However, let’s delve in closer and decipher what is actually usable information, and what is just marketing.

When sound waves meet a room surface such as a wall, ceiling or floor, some of the sound energy is reflected back into the room and the rest is considered to be “absorbed”.  The absorbed sound energy has not vanished, it’s actually been converted into kinetic (vibration of a solid material) and thermal energy (heat due to friction within a porous material) or has simply passed right through the material (transmission). The more surface area a certain material has the better absorber it will likely be. “Soft” materials, like heavy blankets, fabric and fiberglass, have loads of nooks and crannies, which sound tries to “fill”. These porous materials are great for reducing reverberation within a room, but will only marginally reduce the sound that leaves it (but more on that later).

Sonora® wall and ceiling panels are used for absorbing sound within a space.

Sonora® wall and ceiling panels are used for absorbing sound within a space.

When comparing sound absorbing products, there is a particular set of terms you should look for: The Sound Absorption Coefficient (SAC) and Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC). These are used to specify the fraction of incident sound that a material absorbs per 1’x1’ area. An NRC of 1.0 indicates perfect absorption (an open 1’x1’ window) and a value of 0.0 represents perfect reflection (polished concrete has an NRC of .02).

To measure sound absorption, a large sample of the material is placed in a reverberation room with all other surfaces being hard and reflective. The time it takes a test sound signal to decay by 60dB (rough point of inaudibility) after the source of sound is stopped is measured first with the sample in the room and again with the room empty. The difference in decay time defines the efficiency of the absorbing material and thus the absorption coefficients.  Large spaces with low-NRC materials (tile, drywall, etc.) have longer reverberation times, while small rooms furnished with high-NRC materials sound much more “dead”.

Clearly, a single 2’x2’ ceiling tile is not going to reduce the reverberation in a real-world space by 50%. So is the above claim false? Not exactly… The ceiling panels do have an NRC rating of .50, so the tile does absorb 50% of incident sound. However, one might assume a much more drastic improvement based on the “50%” claim. In reality you’d need a large square footage of these ceiling tiles to cut the amount of total reflected sound in half. Always be sure to check the NRC number!

Terms for Sound Isolation

Our customers often call with issues related to neighbor noise or office-to-office privacy and are looking for “sound proofing” treatment. Unfortunately, many do not realize that simply installing acoustic foam or fiberglass panels will not appreciably reduce the level noise entering and leaving their space. These absorptive materials are great at reducing unwanted reflections within a room because they are porous and air/sound energy can flow through them. That being said, they are generally poor sound barriers for this exact reason.  They will help to reduce noise buildup in a room and improve the ‘acoustics’, but will do very little to “block” sound coming in or out.

BlockAid® is a heavy impermeable barrier for stopping the transmission of sound.

BlockAid® is a heavy, impermeable barrier for stopping the transmission of sound.

Sound is like water; it will “flow” into an adjacent space if everything isn’t sealed up. Materials that are air tight and heavy, like our BlockAid® sound barrier, provide the most relief of air-born sound transmission. Continuous coverage of floors/ceilings or walls is necessary to ensure that sound doesn’t ‘flank’ around these barriers. Multiple layers of varying materials, the use of resilient clips or channels, and additional walls will provide even more control.  For a demonstration of how different materials affect sound isolation, check out our video

Like NRC for sound absorption, there is also a laboratory tested figure that can be used to compare the sound “blocking” properties of acoustic barriers and wall constructions: Transmission Loss (TL) and Sound Transmission Class (STC). These describe how much air-born sound is attenuated through a given material.

In the lab, the material to be tested is mounted over an opening between two completely separated rooms, one with a speaker (source) and the other with a microphone (receiver). Save for the open “window”, these rooms are completely isolated with thick and massive walls, so virtually all the sound energy transmitted between rooms will be through the test specimen. The difference between sound levels in the source room and the receiving room is the transmission loss (TL). The TL is measured at multiple frequencies, which is fitted to a Sound Transmission Class (STC) “curve” at speech frequencies (125Hz-4kHz). The STC of the material is the TL value of the fitted curve at 500 Hz. For example, a material with an STC of 27 typically “blocks” 27dB of sound. Keep in mind though, the STC’s of materials do not add up linearly; in other words, adding a material with an STC of 27 to an existing wall with an STC 45 will not result in an STC of 72.

As always, Acoustics First is here answer questions and help you find the best solutions.

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