Feeling stressed out in a noisy environment? Not sure if you need acoustic treatment or “sound proofing”? There are many reasons to want to alter the sound of a room. Be it for an open-plan office environment, a rowdy classroom, a busy reception area or the annoyance of your customers not hearing themselves over the din of your restaurant. Fortunately, it is a lot easier to treat the surrounds than to tell everyone to keep quiet.
Acoustic Treatment vs. “Sound proofing”
First things first, you should understand the difference between soundproofing and acoustic treatment.
“Sound proofing” (or more scientific sound insulation) is quite literally to reduce the amount of sound that can get into or out of a room. It’s like stuffing cotton buds into your ears.
Acoustic treatment is about changing the quality of the sound in a room.
If you really don’t want to hear what’s happening next door (or vice versa), you’re into “sound proofing”. If you want the right atmosphere, that’s acoustic treatment.
Both may be required, depending on what you want to do. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking reducing sound is the same as enhancing sound.
Watch the SOUND TEST at BP South Africa to experience “Sound Proofing” with GF Serene!
The Clap Test
Figuring out what you need depends heavily on the outcome you desire. Fortunately, there is a good test to know if your space needs some fine-tuning.
Stand in the room and clap your hands. Listen to the sound. Warmer, softer sounds suggest the room already absorbs and scatters sounds in a good way. Harsher, metallic sounds are reasons to look for improvements. There is always something extra you can do to make a room sound even better, but the clap test is a good way to get a sense of what the space needs.
Credit: Pro Sound Productions – Australia (YouTube)
The clap test will give a sense of the sound, but a visual inspection is just as important. Hard, cold surfaces are the biggest supporters of bad sound. Concrete and metal reflects back sound without absorbing much of it, resulting in an echo effect.
Wood and carpets have the opposite effect, absorbing and scattering sound waves. Glass that is not acoustically treated tends to let sound through: if a room loses a lot of its sound or gets a lot of outside noise, glass is usually the culprit.
This rule of materials also extends to the room itself: every space is different in shape and construction. Look at the shape of the area, the height of the ceilings and how thick the walls are. Use an online acoustics calculator to get a sense of your requirements or engage the technical prowess of a company such as Aluglass Bautech for the best acoustic treatment advice.
Credit: Fabricmate (https://fabricmate.com/gallery/gallery-conference-rooms/)
Don’t just pad everything
It may be tempting to treat a room like your first born on their maiden trip to kindergarten: just cover everything up. But this is self-defeating.
Think of sound as a group of soldiers storming castles. In a perfect situation they create a uniform squad all charging in the same direction. But when they hit a castle wall, they bounce back (reverberation). The soldiers can reverberate as a single group, with just a few staying stuck on the wall, or they can all be flung in different directions.
What is better: a giant, expensive wall all over the place or several smaller (and cheaper) walls that strategically push the soldiers away? A room can get away with minimal treatment to get the best acoustic effect. You’ll be surprised how much a single wall-mounted panel or sheet of acoustic glass can alter the sound in a room.
The three key panels
There are many ways to help change the acoustics in a room – Read Our Handy Post On Some DIY Tricks To Reduce That Din. You can also install special doors and partitions, such as GF Serene Acoustic Glass to create Quiet Spaces within a noisy environment. These will all make a huge difference, but if you want to really tweak the acoustics within a space as if you had a knob to fiddle with, acoustic panels are the weapons of choice.
Don’t worry – you won’t need to go to these lengths to get decent acoustic treatment!
Fortunately, this is not a complicated area: there are three primary types of panels that will do the job. Bass Traps absorb low frequencies, which are the most energetic and travel the furthest. Acoustic panels take care of the mid and high frequencies. Lastly, diffusers scatter frequencies.
Diffusers are the most controversial among audio professionals, as they are the hardest to control. But they do cut down a lot on ambient noise and can also be made to look like part of the room design. For example, an appropriately designed bookcase can also double as an effective diffuser.