Sound in a Bar

Hi Ted-

Thanks for taking the time to post the blog. I enjoyed the posts so far and hope to enjoy more.

I have a particular sound issue that I hope you can help me with. I need to dampen the noise in a bar in New York City. The ceilings are 18′ high, but the floors are wood and tile, the ceilings are tin, and the walls are mostly brick. The space itself if roughly 1200 sf; right now, if more than ten people are in the room, it sound like a big speaker.

My idea thus far is to add panels–either on or perpendicular to–the ceiling to both keep the noise from my upstairs neighbor (important!) and to generally reduce the echo in the room. I’m also adding soft surfaces wherever possible (ie cloth or sound-absorbing material on the walls/windows), and looking to reduce the noise of the a/c to keep it from making people speak over it.

If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them.



Thank you for the E-mail and the comments about the blog stuff. 😀 I’m not sure exactly which articles that you found and read but I want to make sure that we start on the same page so we don’t get confused. You mention that you want to control sound within the bar AS WELL AS blocking it from making it’s way upstairs. These are two COMPLETELY different things. Eliminating the echo and reverberation is going to be really quite easy, but blocking the sound is always a lot more involved and will require altering the floor/ceiling assembly. Please keep in mind that the low frequencies/bass frequencies are likely going to make it upstairs much more than the mid and high frequencies no matter what you do.

So, with that said, let’s talk about blocking the sound first. Please keep in mind that blocking sound can be tricky and in order to do this successfully it needs to be done correctly. This is always a slippery slope because one very small leak can shoot the whole assembly in the foot. The most effective way to keep the sound out is to rip out the floor of the upstairs neighbor and put down some kind of underlayment. I realize that this is just about always impossible, but I feel it’s important to note. For treating the ceiling of your bar, I would suggest at least looking at the RSIC-1 clip system. This system is designed to “float” a new sheetrock ceiling so that the ceiling is suspended by rubber and not “touching” the structure above. The cliff notes for the installation are: locate the joists, screw the clips into the joists, run a hat channel/furring channel perpendicular to the joists and screw the new layer of sheetrock to the channel. After the ceiling is in place, use an acoustical sealant and seal up the 1/8-1/4″ airspace that you left between the new sheetrock ceiling and the walls, tape, mud and paint.

Treating the echo and reverberation within the bar is MUCH easier to do and I would be happy to put a couple of quotes together and send you some product samples if you would like. Although I don’t even pretend to be an interior designer, a lot of times a few digital pictures of the space are a great help for me to make a few product suggestions so if you have the ability to send a few, that would be great. Without knowing too much about the room, my first two suggestions are the Echo Eliminator panels and the Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass panels. These two options are going to have their respective advantages and disadvantages and I will do my best to quickly go thru them. Performance wise, these will both do the same job – and both are very absorptive. The Echo Eliminator panels are made from recycled cotton fiber and are probably some of the most cost effective, Class A panels on the market. They are in stock in 2′ x4′ panels and are usually shipped out in boxes via UPS ground. They easily adhere directly to the walls or the ceiling and are very easy to install. We have nine different colors to choose from. The disadvantage of the panels is that they are not the most decorative or aesthetically pleasing of the panels we can supply. They look kind of like a 1″ thick piece of felt. With that said, considering you have 18′ ceilings, I would HIGHLY doubt that anyone would be able to tell that they weren’t “decorative” panels if they were installed on the ceiling.

The Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass panels are all custom made so we can make whatever size and color panels you want. The biggest piece of fiberglass that we can get is 4′ x 10′ , so that is the limitation on the size. We use acoustically invisible fabric so that the sound makes it into the fiberglass behind it. These are probably the most finished looking and aesthetically pleasing option that we have but considering they are all custom built (by hand) they are also some of the most expensive. Also, because of the size, fragile nature, and the weight, they have to be shipped in plywood crates on the back of a semi-truck which is clearly more expensive than UPS. In order to price these, I would need to know the size and quantity of the panes that you wanted because different amounts of labor and scrap generated by the sizes will affect the price.

As far as thickness goes, I would probably suggest the 1″ thick panels to get the most absorption for the dollar. If you have a significant amount of bass/low frequencies in the bar, the 2″ would be a good option but this choice depends on the types of sounds that you are looking to absorb. Please keep in mind that absorption and blocking are two completely different things. To help people visualize this, I like to use the example of two fish tanks. For the first fish tank, you construct the walls made out of sponges. For the second fish tank you construct the walls out of glass. If you fill them both, what happens? The sponges absorb the water, but let it right thru. The glass doesn’t absorb any water but blocks it. The same thing happens with sound. Soft, light, fluffy surfaces (cotton, fiberglass, foam) absorb sound but do not block it. Air tight barriers like sheetrock or vinyl or concrete have a significant amount of mass and no air leaks so they do a decent job at blocking the sound but do not absorb it. Clearly it’s more complicated than that but hopefully you get the idea.

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