acoustical treatments Tag

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

Every Room Deserves Great Acoustics

When most people think about good acoustics, the first area of a home that comes to mind is an entertainment room. The audio in this space should be pristine—from clear, intelligible dialogue to realistic, three-dimensional special effects. You feel as if you’re in the middle of the movie action, and proper acoustical engineering and treatment of the space contribute just as much as the equipment to delivering this experience. If the acoustics of the space are off, the listening experience will suffer.

 

To prevent this from happening, it’s important that a home theater include properly engineered and installed acoustics customized for the unique sonic attributes of the space. The floor, ceiling, walls, furnishings, etc. often require some level of modification to ensure that the movie audio sounds its very best, without reverberation, echo, or disruption from other sources of sound.

 

But why stop at the home theater? The same acoustical principles of a home theater can be applied in bedrooms, home offices, living rooms . . . really any space that suffers from unwanted external noise or acoustical conditions that conflict with the intelligibility of conversations. Just as a noisy heating and cooling unit can distract you from the plot of a movie, it can be a

literal nightmare when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.

 

And that’s just brushing the surface of the annoying sounds that can plague a household. Homes of all sizes and designs can be affected by excessive noise, lack of sound privacy, and an abundance of sound propagation.

 

Think about the things you hear at home on a daily basis: A delivery truck backing out of a neighbor’s driveway, the lawn maintenance crew working at the park across the street, barking dogs, the thump of the home gym treadmill at 5 a.m., and the incessant beat of your son’s garage band are just some of the many examples. They all add up to a lot of racket—most of which you’d probably rather not hear or at least muffle a bit. An acoustical engineer can minimize these audible distractions from any area of the house—not just the home theater.

 

Years ago, all of this commotion may have fallen on deaf ears. Most people worked in an office outside of the home, went to the neighborhood cinema to catch a show, and worked out at the gym. Today, though, we are home a lot, 

using it for a myriad of activities besides just eating and sleeping. We work in home offices, exercise in home gyms, entertain in home theaters, dine in gourmet kitchens, and shop online—subject to all of the audible chaos in and around the home. We cringe when the kids arrive home during a conference call, cover our ears during our son’s gaming marathon, and wait until the baby wakes up from a nap to throw in a load of laundry. Noise can disrupt our lives in so many ways. Thankfully, proper acoustical treatments applied by a professional can help.

 

Often, the remedy necessitates a structural modification of the ceiling or walls. Most homes are built in a way that allows sound to easily transfer from one room to another. Sheetrock is attached directly to studs and joists, which allows sound to move from one material to the next, one room to another. Separating these surfaces through the addition of isolation clips and hangers mitigates the sound propagation. It’s an expense, certainly, and more easily implemented during the construction of a home, but there’s no better way to preserve your sleep and sanity.

 

Other, less extreme remedies to tame the propagation of sound throughout a home involve adding aesthetically pleasing sound absorption materials to a room, such as acoustical plaster on the ceiling surface, fabric on the walls, specialty ceiling tiles, and even furnishings. If it’s sound from outside that’s bothering you, thicker, double-pane windows and heavy draperies can help.

 

Sound quality has an impact on more than just our ability to become fully immersed in a movie. It’s part of our everyday life, in good ways and bad ways. We might like how our audio system sounds in our home theater, but we’d rather not hear it in the bedroom upstairs. The same goes for other noises. They’re a part of the house and our lifestyle, but left untreated, they can interfere with work, play, and even our health. A professionally trained and experienced acoustical engineer can make these issues disappear, creating a more peaceful and healthy home environment.

Steve Haas

Steve Haas is the Principal Consultant of SH Acoustics, with offices in the NYC & LA
areas. He has been a leading acoustic and audio design & calibration expert for more
than 25 years in high-end spaces ranging from home theaters, studios, and live music
rooms to major museums and performance venues.

So You Think Your Room’s Bad, Pt. 5

So You Think Your Room's Bad, Pt. 5

As Trinnov’s Jon Herron mentioned in Pt. 4 of this series, when you sit down to watch a movie or listen to music, the sound generated by the electronics and speakers is perceived in three key ways. Firstly, there’s the sound that travels straight from the speakers to your ears. Secondly, there’s the sound bouncing off the walls, floor, and ceiling one, two, or three times, which takes a slightly less direct path to your brain. Then there’s the fainter echoes and reverberations that ping-pong around the room.

 

Every room generates its own mix of those three elements. It’s what makes your room sound like your room—its unique sonic fingerprint. But here’s the thing: It’s also what makes your room sound decidedly unlike the claustrophobic interior of a submarine or the rolling dunes of Tatooine or the craggy and cavernous wastes of Cirith Ungol.

 

That’s one of the main reasons I selected the Trinnov Altitude 16 home theater preamp/optimizer to serve as the centerpiece of the trade-show booth’s audio electronics. But as Jon pointed out, to fully deal with all of the acoustical issues in a room, you need a combination of digital signal processing and passive acoustical treatments. The rule of thumb is that you should strive to absorb about 20% of the reflections and scatter 25% of the reflections from the walls and ceiling. You would generally place more absorption toward the front of the room, and interleave the absorption and scattering materials.

 

That last point was one of my biggest sources of stress in helping to design this room—or at least, it’s the source of stress that stands out most in my memory. Why the stress? Because at this point in the design process, my co-conspirators—Mike, Melinda, and Marcelo—were spending most of their time talking about midcentury modern furniture, lighting sconces, draperies, throw rugs, and other floor coverings. And all I could think was, “These people are going to murder me right in my neck if I start hanging egg-crate foam on the walls.”

 

Still, if we wanted the speakers and electronics to transport attendees to other worlds (or at least more interesting corners of this world) with minimal distraction from the room’s temporary and non-traditional construction, I knew we would need some sort of acoustical treatments. So, I reached out to Anthony Grimani—former Dolby Labs and THX exec and current owner of PMI (Performance Media Industries, Ltd)—for his guidance in treating the room as best as possible without making it look like a recording studio.

Anthony Grimani explains how a diffuser works

Not only was Anthony’s advice invaluable, but his company also just so happens to manufacture exactly the sorts of treatments we needed for the room. We did go back and forth a few times on placement, trading renderings until absorbers were optimally placed to deal with first reflections on the walls and ceiling, and diffusers at the back of the room to randomize reflections into a sense of reverberations and create a more enveloping listening environment.

Even after we had the passive acoustical treatments specified and virtually placed, with instructions passed along to the booth construction company, and a followup visit scheduled by Grimani to fine tune the placements during installation, I have to admit that I was still nervous about all of this. In my final rendered sketches of the room, the treatments just sort of looked out of place. They didn’t, to my eyes, evoke the living room environment I knew everyone else on the design team was shooting for.

 

Those fears were allayed the first time I actually laid eyes on the space once it was fully constructed. And they were further allayed as the first attendees filed into the room for a demo. As the first movie clip came to an end, I heard a woman at the edge of the room lean over to a friend and whisper-yell, “I love the 3D sculptures on the walls. They’re so abstract but so pretty!” It took me a second to realize she was confusing Grimani’s diffusers for artwork.

Dennis Burger narrates a very quick tour of the demo room. (If you
look really close at the video, you’ll notice that the circles in the
ceiling are the GoldenEar Invisa 650 speakers mentioned in Pt. 3.)

Lessons learned here: Sometimes you can’t plan for every single contingency when designing a home entertainment space. Things in the real world don’t always look like they do in quick 3D sketches. But just as importantly: Don’t assume that performance-oriented design choices will necessarily conflict with décor-oriented design choices. In the end, the acoustical treatments I was so worried about wound up giving the room a funky modern vibe that worked great with the look we were going for. And if we’d had more than a few weeks to work on the design, and if we knew then what we know now, who knows? We may have even made the acoustical treatments the design focal point of the room.

 

Granted, in the real world, that means having conversations with interior designers about the benefits of acoustical treatments, their physical design, and where they need to be placed for optimal effectiveness. But ultimately, all of the pieces that come together to create a luxury entertainment space should be a collaborative—not an antagonistic—process. No necks need to be murdered in the creation of any room.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast
who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-
end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of 
Alabama with
his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound 
American Staffordshire
Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.