If the "must have" list for your new home, recreational property, or office includes hardwood flooring, large windows, high ceilings, open-concept design, and lots of marble and granite, you may be shopping for trouble…sound-wise, that is.
These sought-after, high-end features can add up to noisy, distracting spaces. They look great, but are hard on the ear and, therefore, on conversation, hearing, relaxation, and sleep.
Sound design is no longer restricted to concert halls, sound studios, and restaurants. The trend to "must have" sound spaces in our homes -- theaters, media rooms, music practice space, gyms, studios -- requires professional attention beyond interior design. The sound challenge may be two-dimensional:
1. Soundproofing: Containing external noise, or unwanted sound, so it does not intrude into a room, and/or stopping noise from a room disturbing the rest of the house. Noise barriers built into the walls and ceilings protect against this unwanted-sound transmission;
2. Acoustics: Add-on acoustic solutions -- our topic here -- enhance the "hear-ability" of voices and music within a room.
According to acoustics, the science of sound, interior surfaces intercept sound waves which either bounce off or are absorbed by materials and surfaces to change sound's effect. Even the loveliest music or the most mundane sounds, bouncing off hard surfaces and echoing through open spaces can be transformed into frustrating, tiring noise.
Echoing halls, clattering kitchens, and other unwanted sound problems are not usually obvious until new buyers move in and begin enjoying the space. By then, it can be too late and too expensive for major structural adjustments. So, what can you do before you're driven mad? Interior design can soften surfaces with carpeting and draperies, but, particularly with modern hard-surface furnishings, this may not be enough.
Acoustic panels can be the answer. When professional interventions like decorative acoustic panels are strategically designed and installed, noise problems turn into sound pleasure. These are not the pock-marked metal-rimmed off-white ceiling tiles of rec-room-fame, but panels that are more than art because their clever design dampens noise and enables sound.
"It's said that ‘noise is in the ear of the listener'," stated Janine Gliener of Acoustics With Design. "In other words, a room's acoustics should be tuned to the desires and goals of the people who are using it. In an enclosed space, sound waves will either reverberate or be absorbed. Your goal is the right balance of both, for acoustic comfort. This will vary depending on the room's use and primary occupants.
"Restaurant acoustics might be set to higher reverberation levels to enhance music, to appeal to a younger clientele and to support the livelier energy that a bar might want to create. Workplace acoustics call for lower reverberation times. They will make conversation easier for both the speaker and the listener, help with mental concentration, and reduce physical stress on the occupants. So what kind of acoustical environment do you want?"
That's the key. Each sound project is unique, so what you want to achieve is the official definition of success for your project. Sound experts will help you translate your specific needs and hoped-for results into an acoustic solution that fits your budget and the environment. Panels may be mounted on walls or suspended from ceilings in groupings that blend into existing decor or make strong art statements -- your choice.
The range of products is fascinating. New ideas continue to emerge. Your exploration will turn up a range of sophisticated solutions from traditional rigid acoustic panels with a range of raised patterns that add color and design while resolving sound issues, to Circles and other shapes in a variety of colors and patterns that add energy and dimension to any decor. Wild fabrics, graphic prints, and photographs on fabric are just the beginning of customization.
Cost is related to the size of the space and the desired end result. Many suppliers offer free analysis of your room and its acoustic problem, so shop around for the right product match within your budget.
You don't have to become an acoustic expert. Just think about how the room will be used and by whom, and what "good sound" will mean to those using the space. Leave interpreting your wants and the technical stuff to the professionals.
Suppliers are aware that their job is decoding what you describe in non-technical, even vague, terms and matching that with the science of sound and the range of acoustic elements available. Once your requirements are clear, and experts calculate the size, type, and number of panels, you'll have the pleasure of deciding on color and design to blend in with or dramatically transform your space.
What's your sound solution going to sound like?