More than meets the ears

“The acoustics are great in here!” It’s something we’ve all heard but something that not many people fully understand. In basic terms, the “acoustics” of a room is how sound waves interact with the physical features of a room. Acoustics can make a room sound open and cavernous with lots of reverb, or it can make a room sound quiet and dead with very little natural reverb. However, it takes more than slapping a few acoustic panels up on the walls to fully shape the acoustical response of a room. Everything from the material of the chairs down to the angle of the walls can affect the way sound waves interact with a room. This also means that there are many different ways to control the acoustics of a room.

Architectural Ambience.

The physical shape of a room is essential when it comes to the acoustics of that room. For example, if the room is a big square with parallel walls, the sound waves are going to reflect off those walls, back and forth, like a tennis ball. This does not translate to “good acoustics.” At the same time, a room with a perfectly curved back wall may end up creating a focal circle point where all of the reflected sound waves gather at a particular area of the room. This is less than ideal. One of Summit’s approaches to acoustical design is to physically shape the room so that sound waves bounce off the walls in a way that sounds good when they hit your eardrums. We do this by working with architects to specify the wall angles, wall size, and in most cases, building material to ensure that every single sound wave reflection is either absorbed or reflected to a more ideal spot in the room. This can make for a very creative aesthetic look to the walls while still being a specific design to shape the acoustical sound of the room further.

Live

An acoustically “live” room sounds like a big open cathedral or large cave with lots of reverberations. A fuller live sound is generally desirable for music.

Balanced

Generally referred to as “warm and tasty” by industry professionals.

Dead

An acoustically “dead” room sounds unnaturally quiet, like a recording studio or a small, carpeted office. This can provide more clarity and is desirable for speaking.

The Art Of Acoustical Panel Placement.

Most people see the large acoustic panels hanging on walls and assume that they are there as some sort of soundproofing or volume dampening apparatus. This is not the case, although it’s not too far off. Acoustic panels are used to absorb sound waves, which result in fewer waves reflecting off hard surfaces like walls. This creates a less “live” room with much less natural reverb and delay. This can sometimes create a perceived loss in volume, but the actual purpose is to make sure the sound waves die off before they get a chance to reflect off multiple hard surfaces. It’s also important to note that a completely dead room without any natural reverb is not ideal either, at least for an auditorium setting. The goal is a balanced system with juuuuust the right amount of natural room reverb.

In addition to the wall panels, utilizing Lapendary Panels that hang from the ceiling of a room is a very effective way to help control the acoustics of a room. In a lot of worship spaces, the ceiling ends up being one of the main places in which sound waves bounce off. To help reduce those wave reflections, long, flexible Lapendary Panels are mounted on or slightly below the ceiling to create a barrier between the ceiling and the open space below it.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got to at least mention low end bass frequencies. Because lower frequency sound waves are much longer than higher frequency sound waves, they tend to reflect and gather in the corners of rooms. This can create bass heavy areas in the room near the corners that are not what you want to hear. To remedy this, bass traps can be installed in the corners of the room to absorb those lower frequencies and even out the frequency response of those areas.

Put It All Together, What’ve You Got?

Acoustical design is like a big puzzle. You’ve got all these pieces that need to fit together to make the whole picture work. If you try to finish the puzzle without the edge pieces, the picture is incomplete. You’ll be able to tell that the puzzle is somewhat finished, but it won’t look complete. In the same way, if the only thing being done to improve the acoustics of the room is using acoustic panels, the overall effect is incomplete. While it might help improve the acoustics, every aspect of the room design needs to be considered. Acoustics is a science that can be fine-tuned with the proper know-how and tools and is just as important as the rest of an audio system’s design.