AV and Acoustics — One Integrator’s Point of View

I logged into rAVe today to write a completely different blog post about management and an analogy to cheer squads, but as I landed on the rAVe site here, I ran across an article by Daniel Shatzkes titled “Why You Should Hire an Acoustics Specialist at the Outset”.

I wasn’t familiar with Daniel as a contributor here on rAVe yet and I love new voices, so that fact, combined with my experiences working on the design of a project over the last few weeks, compelled me to read his blog.

You should read the whole post as well, but as a synopsis, Daniel had posted on LinkedIn about the frustrations of acoustics being an afterthought in the design and construction process. His frustration didn’t come from lost opportunity, as he often mitigates acoustic issues after construction, earning his company the same revenues, but felt that it came at the cost of customer experience.

I think the integrators reading would find some common dissatisfaction with their trade also being left until the end, where proper design considerations can no longer be made, and instead, systems are designed around issues instead of designed with the final space in mind.

Acoustics and the Internet of Things

In one of my recent projects, we were introduced to a Design-Build General Contractor whose scope of work includes not only a manufacturing floor but also offices, meeting rooms, a lounge, and an auditorium.

Luckily for us, we were introduced early in the process and plans are still being generated and finalized. Given that there is an auditorium and the offices have a shared wall with the 125dB manufacturing floor, acoustics were an immediate consideration.

This is where I believe that a basic knowledge of acoustics can help set the stage for your integration firm to shine, and where a deeper relationship with a company like Daniel’s can bring the project home.

There are two main considerations in acoustics.  One is Noise Reduction, or on a very basic level, making things sound good inside the room. I usually explain this to customer’s as “tuning” the room itself. “Imagine the sound in here as if it were a bouncy ball.  The harder you throw it, the more it bounces.  Where does it go? Acoustics can help control that and make sure we control that outcome.” 

After a quick visual analogy like this, I ask for permission to give some recommendations and then engage either a manufacturer resource or a company like Daniel’s who will do the technical work of modeling the space, finding the RT60 of different frequencies, and recommending the proper treatments to assure the room sounds the way it should based on use.  As you can imagine, a concert hall may leverage the space to create more volume, where as an auditorium may not want the same level of livlieness.

Knowing about Noise Reduction Coefficients (NRC ratings) and the Speech Transmission Index (STI measurements) are important, but hiring the right resource (whether in house or as a partner) to do the modeling and projections is key to the final outcome.

The other part of acoustics to have a general idea about is Sound Transmission (STC ratings) which have to do with sound isolation.  How much sound energy will be transferred from one area to another? For the client, I again recommend keeping it simple. “If you think of sound as vibration, it makes sense that the more you can separate materials from one another and dampen the places where they come into contact, the less transfer you will have from area to area.  This part of acoustics really has a lot more to do with construction methods than in-room treatments. Do you mind if we make some recommendations?”

Here’s where a good integrator will again hand it off to their technical resource to determine the frequencies that need to be canceled, the proper wall material types, material thicknesses, decoupling strategies, and air gaps to achieve the desired STC rating. The higher the STC rating, the less sound that is transferred from room to room or area to area.

The long and short is that integrators should not assume that the client, architect, or contractor has already considered acoustics. They should have a base knowledge of acoustics that gives them the ability and confidence to start the conversation as early as possible, and then have the proper resources or partnerships to turn that icebreaker into a plan of action, improving not only the final outcome, but the overall customer experience as well (and helping Daniel to sleep at night again:).