Category Archives: Acoustic Treatments

The Misnomers of Sound Masking

Noise is a critical factor affecting room design but, unlike lighting or climate control, it is often overlooked. Effective control of environmental noises and distracting conversations can significantly increase worker productivity while creating privacy from common areas.  These noise control methods can take different form and accomplish different types of noise control. One such method, sound masking, is an effective way to eliminate the distractions, as well as privacy concerns, of overheard conversations but how it works, is often misunderstood.

The ABCs of Acoustics

The ABC’s of acoustic design, as architects refer to them, are a variety of elements that can be employed to address noise control and speech privacy. These include solutions that absorb, block, or cover sound. In any given space, the right solution may include involve one method or a hybrid off two or all three. Sound masking systems cover noise and fit into the C category.

We’ve learned that acoustic treatments absorb noise.  Sound masking, on the other hand, is the addition of sound.  It is an ambient sound, created by digital generators,  that are specifically engineered to the frequency of human speech to target conversational noise rendering it unintelligible and therefore, less distracting. Sound masking does not eliminate all noise or cancel sound in an environment; it simply reduces how far conversations can be heard and clearly understood.

Sound Masking: What it is Not!

Sound masking is often referred to as “white noise” but its frequency varies significantly. Unlike white noise’s irritating static, sound masking is engineered to match the comfortable frequency range of the human voice. When designed and installed properly, the “whoosh” of sound masking will fade into the background of a workplace while simultaneously making speech more difficult to hear and, more importantly, to clearly understand.

Sound Masking Success

Implementation of a sound masking system will be far more successful if activated when workers are not present. It’s simple, human nature to hear something when it’s first flipped on and be overly aware of it. Instead, if your staff were to walk in while it’s already on, they would be less likely to notice it, if they noticed it at all. Ongoing, systems can be controlled manually or automatically, set to activate and deactivate based on staff scheduling.

Auto Correct

If an environment has widely varying noise levels, an “active volume control” can be added to improve effectiveness. Special microphones (emitters) would be installed to measure the conversational speech levels and adjust the system’s output as the noise levels rise and fall. With the system staying in-sync with the environmental noise, the occupants wouldn’t detect a change.

Often a complement to sound masking, acoustical treatments provide barriers and sound absorption, lessening overall noise levels and reducing reverberation from hard surfaces. What’s the right solution for your space? Call us to request a consultation today.

Enhance the Decor and Enjoyment of Any Space with Acoustical Treatments

Home Cinema with custom acoustic panels

Custom panels absorb unwanted noise while complementing the room’s decor

Listen! Did you hear that? If you’re home in your media room, are you experiencing the audio as it was intended with clean, crisp speech and striking, directional sound effects? If you’re seated in a cozy restaurant for an intimate, fine-dining experience, are you able to comfortably engage in conversation, or is the space humming with deafening chatter and clanking plates? Sound is a critical factor in how we experience a space, yet it is often completely overlooked in the room’s design.

Laughter and lively conversation create a fun, atmosphere but, if the space is designed with only hard, reflective surfaces, the noise level in the room quickly escalates, reaching an uncomfortable level. In fact, according to a ZAGAT survey, when restaurant-goers were asked what irritated them most about dining out, 25% responded “noise”, a staggering percentage coming in second behind only “service”. A survey by the Action on Hearing Loss found corroborating results; 91% of respondents said that they would not return to a venue where noise levels were too high.

Background music and normal speaking levels are desirable sounds, but noises that bounce off the high ceilings and hard surfaces need to be controlled. That’s the job of acoustical treatment, a thoughtfully engineered and aesthetically designed system of ceiling, wall and floor treatments to absorb unwanted noise and improve sound.

Sound & Surfaces

A sound wave will bounce around a room, reflecting off surfaces until it hits an object that either diffuses or absorbs it. Made of sound-absorbing material like foam or fiberglass, sound absorption products are intended to absorb unwanted noise, such as echo, within a space. Acoustic panels, tiles, ceiling clouds, & ceiling baffles are all sound absorption products that are designed to dampen sound in a properly treated space. An acoustical analysis will determine the treatments required to improve the room’s acoustical properties. Once determined, the design choices are endless with custom fabrics, materials, shapes and placement options that will complement the architecture and décor.

Comforts of home

Uncomfortable noise & distractions aren’t limited to public places. With the trend of many people choosing to work from home, a focus has shifted to controlling sound levels not just in our home theaters, but throughout our homes. Not surprisingly, many newly constructed homes and multi-unit buildings now have noise blocking requirements. For homes that do not offer these initial treatments however, noise control can be combatted with carpeting, area rugs or floating hardwoods, luxurious draperies, plush upholstered furnishings, and, of course, elegant acoustic panels. Panels created for the home can mimic art, featuring works from a favorite artist or perhaps your favorite movie, musician or vacation destination. To open a space, panels can even create faux windows with sceneries and exquisite skylines.

What do you hear?

So, listen. Are you able to have a conversation with the clerk behind the service desk or with your waiter, without shouting? Can you conduct a comfortable video conferencing call from your office without raising your voice above the office chatter and HVAC? Sound is an essential element in the overall experience of a space and the treatments to overcome unwanted noise are extensive and elegant. Are you ready to have a “conversation” about how to address the acoustics in your spaces? Call us today – we’re “listening”!

Additional Resources:

Rules for Placement of Acoustic Panels in a Theater Room: Technology in Education, Mark Valenti

10 buildings with extraordinary acoustics: Where to find a sonic surprise, The Spaces

Eating Out Loud: Why Restaurants are Getting Noisier, New Statesmen,Caroline Crampton

Soundproofing, ExplainThatStuff, Chris Woodford

Introduction to Acoustic Treatment, Home toys, Ethan Winer

How to Build a Listening Room, Part 2

We talked about performance speakers and the importance of proper speaker placement in Part 1 of our Listening Room feature. We also covered the acoustic properties and critical dimensions of the room design. Now, let’s dive into what drives the sound!

Key Components

The heart of your system driving sound to each channel is the amplifier.  Unlike your Home Theater’s AV Receiver that houses an all-in-one pre-amp, amplifier and processor for surround sound, hi-end audio systems have dedicated amplifiers, often one per channel. A more sophisticated set-up will have 2-way or 3-way amps that support each speaker. A pre-amp serves as the input device. It will convert signals from all audio sources such as a tuner, turntable and streaming devices to the signal that the amp wants.

It’s essential that the amplifier be matched to the specifications of the speaker to provide optimal output. LaScala can guide you through your choices and design to your listening preferences.  Our go-to is Classé, part of the B&W Group. Their line of components offers exquisite sound to complement any hi-end audio system. Check out this recent review of the Sigma 2200i integrated amplifier by Stereophile.

Connections

It is common knowledge that HDMI Cables are required to pass 4K and hi-end audio has similar requirements. Like video, quality cables are recommended for a solid, clean connection.  That doesn’t necessarily mean the most expensive, just of good quality and appropriately sized for the given application. We can calculate the appropriate gauge cable that will deliver the necessary wattage to the speaker based on the distance. As for the connectors, gold are preferred over silver or other metallic. Locking connectors are a good choice for equipment that is seldom moved.

Having sufficient, clean power is paramount to the sound quality. Every AV system needs a name brand, purposely built, surge protector. Surge protection will remove artifacts from your power, filtering out spikes and dips. Insufficient power can make the amplifiers put out harmonics that will “color” the sound, creating unwanted distortion.

Commissioning

Once the system has been designed and the components selected, the next step is installation and commissioning. Measuring and testing the room’s characteristics, reverb, etc., we’ll “tune” the room to enable undistorted sound.   By adjusting equalization (EQ), gain structure and speaker placement, we target a flat frequency response.

Content in Controversy

We often hear that a turntable’s needle against vinyl is the only way to listen to music. It can be argued that the harmonic distortion created introduces a mild alteration that is perceived by many as warmth. The pops and crackles the needle yields evoke a “vintage” sense that some find pleasing and quite authentic. However, according to Mark Slee of Facebook, “In terms of fidelity and accuracy of sonic reproduction, CDs outperform vinyl in significant ways. With that said, there are sonic artifacts and emotional attachments with vinyl that many find pleasing. This creates a preference for vinyl – which some would describe as better, but this is a subjective quality as measured by the ear of the beholder.” With turntable sales up 16%, there’s apparently some “old schoolers” out there that agree.

The higher the bit rate of the audio, the more accurate the sound. Analog is uncompressed and the format truest to form. Overly processed audio, on the other hand, can mask or cancel parts of the music, eliminating the ability to hear everything as it was mastered.

All things being equal, the more information a format can transmit, the better the sound produced. For the best listening experience, the sound transmitted should pass through quality cabling and components and be listened to in a space that is purposefully designed to capture every nuance. Are you ready to hear what you’ve been missing? Let our award-winning team at LaScala help design or retrofit your personal listening space and enjoy music as it was intended to be!

Additional Resources:

Is the sound on vinyl records better than on CDs or DVDs?

Vinyl Vs CD/Mp3: Insights into Music Formats & the Metaphysics of Our Music

24/192 Music Downloads…and why they make no sense

Sony Music Goes Back to Vinyl Records

What bitrate is needed to sound like analog FM?