Tag Archive: acoustics

  1. What You Need to Know About Acoustics

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    Do you ever find yourself at your office, at a busy downtown intersection, in an industrial plant, a restaurant or a studio, or simply in your home, and you’re unhappy because unwanted noise is interfering in your life?

    If so, you’re far from being alone. Noise pollution comes in many different forms and under many different circumstances. It has emerged as a leading environmental problem.

    The World Health Organization has noted that noise is an underestimated threat to both short- and long-term health problems, such as sleep disturbance, cardiovascular problems, decreased professional and academic productivity, and hearing loss – to name just a few.

    Besides personal comfort considerations, noise pollution and acoustic environments are becoming increasingly important concerns in industrialized and metropolitan centers.

    Regardless of the context or the severity, if you’re dealing with an acoustical problem in your home, you’ll benefit from a little bit of a primer in general acoustics, soundproofing, and acoustical treatments.

    When you understand the nature and source(s) of your particular acoustical problems, you’ll also be better equipped to make informed and cost-effective decisions for your budget.

    The Absolute Basics: Soundproofing vs. Acoustical Treatments

    When you first step into the world of acoustics, you immediately encounter the terms, “soundproofing” and “acoustical treatments”. Because they’re very distinct concepts, it’s important to clearly grasp the distinction between them since it’s not uncommon to confuse or equate the two concepts at first glance.

    Soundproofing is about keeping external noise outside and keeping internal noise inside. Acoustical treatment, on the other hand, is about molding the quality of the sound inside a space.

    Here it is in its simplest form:

    Soundproofing = Less noise

    Acoustical treatments = Better sound

    Soundproofing Essentials

    Climate Seal in Residential Triple Wide Double Hung WindowSoundproofing blocks sound from entering or leaving a space. It’s very much like the weatherproofing that keeps weather outside your house and heating and cooling inside your house. You have to seal every nook and cranny to achieve the highest thermal efficiency by keeping the two environments totally isolated from each other.

    Soundproofing is just the same: you need to keep external noise outside and keep sound inside.

    As with thermal insulation, the system is only as strong as its weakest link. Even the highest R rating, insulation won’t stop the heat from—literally—going right out the windows and doors if you don’t seal all the leaks around them and their frames – not to mention the walls, floors, and ceilings.

    Similarly, with soundproofing, you can put all the sound panels you want on the walls, but they really won’t do you much good if you don’t seal the gaps in the window and door frames, as well as the ceiling and floor junctions, electrical and lighting outlets, and heating and ventilation systems.

    Sound is just like air or water: if there’s a way to get through something, it will, so you have to totally seal and isolate the inside environment from the outside and vice versa.

    Believe it or not, a 1 percent opening in a wall or doorway will reduce the sound blocking effectiveness of that barrier by as much as 50 percent!

    Some Sound Leaks Are Easy Fixes: Doors and Windows

    Using our Door Seal Kit is the simplest way to begin soundproofing your space. It’s easy to install (there’s a video for that), and it offers a truly effective solution at a great price. And, for the highest quality of sound-blocking performance, our Studio 3D™ Soundproof Interior Doors are rated up to STC 56 and we can customize them to any size specification.

    For external windows, you can use our Climate Seal™ Acoustic Series Window Inserts which block sound across all frequency levels. They look great, and they reduce sound by up to 60% from pre-existing levels. For internal windows, you can also install our soundproof interior windows to ensure that no noise will leak in or out.

    But What About Lightweight Walls and Thin Floors?

    As discussed above, soundproofing means maximizing isolation by sealing all the gaps, but it also involves increasing the mass and density of the walls, floors, and ceilings. The thicker and denser they are, the less sound will be able to penetrate them.

    Internal walls often share studs and transmit sound easily, but various approaches exist to deal with this. You can de-couple walls or double-up drywall layers with a low frequency blocking material like Green Glue. This serves to both increase walls’ density and isolate them from adjacent spaces.

    There are also many ways to soundproof floors which typically employ an underlay with sound absorbing qualities, such as our ACOUSTIK™ Sound Deadening Floor Underlay. Alternatively, our DURACOUSTIC S.T.O.P.™ Floor Impact Noise Reduction Underlayment offers a cost-effective solution which reduces impact and airborne floor noise and can be used with a variety of floor finishes.

    Acoustical Treatment Essentials: Balancing Absorbers and Diffusers

    Acoustical room treatments aim to improve sound quality within a given space by controlling the way sound is reflected, absorbed, and diffused by the interior surfaces.

    If you will, imagine that sound is like an infinite number of really small rubber balls. If they were to all get simultaneously pelted in every direction at the highly reflective interior surfaces of a room, well, to put it mildly, all hell would break loose.

    So we need to turn hard, flat surfaces like walls and ceilings into sponges that can absorb some of the sound energy, but we can also add curved diffusers that alter the surface of walls or ceilings. This helps to scatter sound, thereby reducing echo, while still retaining some of the natural reflections that we use to make sense of our spacial positions.

    It’s really about finding the right balance between absorption and diffusion. Overdoing the absorption can lead to a dead-sounding space, but not having enough can result in too much reverberation and unwanted echo.

    Absorber Panels for Walls

    Fabric-Wrapped Panel Install Still FrameNOISE S.T.O.P. FABRISORB™ fabric-wrapped wall panels are affordable fiberglass sound absorbers that deliver high performance at an affordable cost. They’re easy to work with, and you can install them on nearly any wall surface to provide reduced echo and reverberation. They come in many color and size combinations and do a great job of taming overly-reflective rooms.

    CFAB Cellulose Sound Absorber Panels are also very cost-effective, offering great performance at a low price. They control and deaden noise, reduce airborne sound transmission from surface reflections. They have a Class A Fire Rating, they’re easy to install, and they resist mold growth.

    Sound Silencer™ acoustical sound panels are also Class A fire rated with STC and NRC ratings alike. They’re non-fibrous and resistant to moisture, impact, fungi, and bacteria. These panels provide high-performance sound blocking and absorption, so they’re another fantastic option for you to consider.

    Ceiling Treatments

    Hybrid materials like Noise S.T.O.P.™ Sound Barrier Acoustical Ceiling Tiles combine soundproofing and acoustical treatment properties in one product. They incorporate a noise barrier on the back of the tile to help block sound, as well as sound absorption on the front that helps to mitigate echo and reverberation. You can also use Envirocoustic™ Wood Wool Ceiling Tiles which help to reduce echo and reverberation by absorbing sound


    It’s really about finding the right balance between absorption and diffusion. Overdoing the absorption can lead to a dead sounding space, but not having enough can result in too much reverberation and unwanted echo.

    For as many different spaces and acoustical challenges as there are, just about as many different strategies exist to contend with them. The size, layout, proportion, and nature of the surfaces of a room determine its acoustical qualities, whether good or bad, but the same principles always apply in acoustical treatments. And striking the right balance between absorption and diffusion is the key.

    For more information and a wealth of resources, please visit https://www.acousticalsurfaces.com/.

  2. The ‘Long View’ of Sound

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    There’s a moment early in the movie “Men In Black” – after a big green alien has raised “all his hands and flippers” (and was then blasted into goo) – where a tired-out Agent D says to Agent K “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

    K replies “What?”

    And D says “The stars. We never just – look anymore.”

    NASA hubble telescopea

    Image courtesy of NASA’s Hubble Telescope

    I’m in the sound business, so I don’t worry much about blasting alien creatures into goo – but I can relate to Agent D’s statement, though about sound, not the stars. I tend to lose my “long view” of sound because I’m continually focusing on the technical aspects of a sound, not the beauty of sounds themselves – laughter, a nicely-played acoustic guitar, an espresso machine finishing a cappuccino – these are all intrinsically lovely (especially the coffee machine early in the morning).

    Because my work is listening “critically” to sound, including how a room interacts with that sound, for me, leaning back and just listening – as a simple emotional experience – doesn’t happen as often as it should.

    I’ve found, and you might have, too, that good acoustic environments allow me to more easily lose myself in the long view of sound, to more naturally enjoy my sense of hearing without thinking about it. Few of us contemplate the sonic damage done by lousy acoustical spaces, which separate us from “an enveloping sound experience” – marketing-speak for “simply listening”.  The acoustic signature of the space in which we’re listening, with all the room flaws imposed on the original sound, can easily pull us away from the emotional pleasure of sound itself, even if we don’t know anything about the bad acoustics causing the issue.

    Humans have highly-developed hearing systems which have evolved over millennia to be able to quickly discern danger. Our hearing is especially sensitive to directional information (“which way should I run?”), based on timing differences between our two ears. Because stereo (two-channel) sound depends greatly on timing information between the two stereo speakers to create the illusion of 3-dimensional space (and reality), speakers and acoustics that disrupt our natural ability to accurately hear timing, or “phase”, have a destructive effect on how well we receive emotional cues from sound and music. Closely relating room acoustics and a “long view of sound” might seem like a stretch, but my experience has proven to me that it’s a very important part of fully enjoying sound.

    If you think about something while trying to enjoy it, you’re probably enjoying it less… in bad-sounding rooms, much less. Ultimately, it’s why acoustically-oriented people do what we do – everyone deserves to hear sound clearly, without room problems, as much as possible. To that end, Acoustical Surfaces stays current with scientific and manufacturing technologies, offering acoustical products that will greatly improve the sound of nearly any space. Whether you need to improve the sound of a home theater, a corporate meeting room, or a commercial facility, our sales and support team knows the best products to enable hearing sound clearly. The stars are beautiful, as Agent D said, and so is listening to sound in rooms with good acoustics.

  3. Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatments in the Workplace: Luxury or Sound Investment?

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    Soundproofing and acoustical treatments are often neglected in the planning phase of commercial buildings and workplaces. Architects and design professionals focus on structural integrity and spatial function, but it’s only when people start to work in those spaces that acoustic problems are revealed. Always looking to trim budgets, business owners may question whether investing in soundproofing and acoustical treatments is really necessary.

    There’s plenty of research, however, that shows that unwanted noise impacts workers’ health and productivity, and this will hit you where it really hurts — your bottom line. The World Health Organization calculates that excessive noise levels cost Europe annual losses in the range of $52 billion!

    Soundproofing: Blocking External Noise and Ensuring Privacy

    If you’ve ever worked in an office close to a railway, a densely populated urban center, or an industrial area, you can probably relate to the frustration and stress you feel when you’re forced to pause a conversation or meeting while a mile-long train clangs by, honking traffic and fire trucks screech past your window, or heavy machinery whines, crashes, and hammers all day.

    Blocking external noise is crucial to workers’ mental and physical health, so it’s closely tied to the success of your enterprise. In fact, WHO has said that traffic noise alone is harmful to the health of almost every third person in Europe, and researchers in Hong Kong have found that “noise is probably the most prevalent source of annoyance in offices.”

    Beyond that, most people would simply prefer their private conversations to stay private, but even more importantly, speech privacy and confidentiality is an absolute requirement in medical, legal, and business settings. Discussions behind closed doors are meant to remain behind closed doors, and they require protection from external noise and distractions — whether from the outside or inside of a building.

    Soundproofing vs Acoustic Treatments

    Soundproofing blocks sound from entering or leaving a space by changing structural elements to acoustically isolate one space from another.

    Acoustic treatments, on the other hand, improve sound quality within a given space by controlling the way sound is reflected, absorbed, or diffused by walls, floors, and ceilings.

    Soundproofing Offices and Conference Rooms

    So, what’s the best approach to blocking external noise? Likewise, what’s the best way to keep sound inside a room — for privacy and confidentiality?

    Start with the weakest points: windows and doors.

    Windows and doors

    Standard windows usually fall short in noise-blocking quality –– depending on the glaze and number of panes. Generally, solid-core doors are fairly good at blocking sound, but interior doors are often hollow-core and thinner, so they don’t block sound as well. The critical thing in both cases, however, is how well you seal the gaps between the doors or windows and the frames they’re in.

    Sound is like water; if there’s somewhere for it to go, sound will find it. It can pass through, under, and around doors that haven’t been acoustically sealed. According to an article on Forbes, a 1 percent opening in a wall or doorway will reduce the effectiveness of that barrier by 50 percent.


    Depending on the type of building you’re in, the external walls may or may not provide enough soundproofing from the outside — it’s a function of their thickness and density. Often, internal walls with no insulation and that share studs also transmit sound easily. Various approaches exist — from de-coupling internal surfaces to doubling-up on the sheetrock — that serve to both increase walls’ density and isolate them from external noise that may transmit through the building’s infrastructure.


    Finally, sound can transmit to adjacent spaces via ceiling spaces and/or ventilation ducts, so you need to seal those spaces as well.

    Cost-effective Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatments for Private Offices


    Use our Door Seal Kits for the simplest way to begin soundproofing your commercial building or office space. They’re easy to install, and they offer the most effective solution for the price.

    For  home or professional recording studios, use our Studio 3D™ Soundproof Interior Doors. They are customizable to any size specification and come with ratings as high as 56 STC.


    Products like, Noise S.T.O.P.™ Sound Barrier Acoustical Ceiling Tiles, combine soundproofing and acoustical treatment by incorporating a noise barrier on the back of the tile to help block sound from entering or leaving while also providing sound absorption on the front that helps control echo and reverberation within a space. You can also use Wood Wool Ceiling Tiles. These ceiling tiles reduce echo and reverberation through sound absorption.


    Use high-performance products like Sound Silencer™ or FABRISORB™ acoustical wall panels that come in a wide range of aesthetically pleasing colors.


    Soundproofing and acoustical treatments should not be overlooked in planning office spaces. They represent more than “mere comfort or luxury”; they should be seen as an essential investment in the health and productivity of employees and business professionals alike and, indeed, the bottom line.

    Compared to the potential losses from not addressing noise problems, soundproofing and acoustical treatments are one of the best and most affordable investments you can make.

  4. Can Awful Acoustics in Restaurants Alter Taste?

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    Have you ever been to a busy restaurant that was so noisy you could barely hear your friend across the table? From an acoustics standpoint, restaurants are tricky spaces; the hard surfaces of the tables, bar, and floor are carefully designed to match the menu and overall aesthetic, but they can make a quiet Tuesday lunch sound very different from a packed Friday night.

    Positive young people enjoying a food and smiling at the tavern

    It’s no surprise that crowded, noisy atmospheres result in dissatisfying customer experiences. In a recent Zagat survey, noise level was the second most common complaint of restaurant goers after bad service. Additionally, a Consumer Reports survey of almost 50,000 readers reported that one in every four dining experiences warranted a noise complaint.

    Customers aren’t the only victims of sound pollution; the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) monitors volume to protect employees from environments that could cause hearing loss over time. OSHA’s standards include a maximum noise level of 90 decibels per every 8 hours and 95 decibels per every 4 hours. Oxford University experimental psychology professor Charles Spence noted that noise levels in many restaurants hover around 100 decibels.

    restaurant 1

    Recent studies have found that not only do bad acoustics hurt our ears, but they can also affect the way we taste our food. A 2010 study in scientific journal Food Quality and Preference found that participants perceived saltiness and sweetness more strongly when eating with quiet or no background noise, compared to participants who ate the same foods with loud background noise. A 2012 University of Manchester study found that people enjoyed their food more when they also enjoyed the background noise (pleasant music, for example), while participants who ate with 80-decibel white noise in the background reported dulled flavor perception.

    We’re learning that existing background noise, and the acoustical products used to counter it, have the power to transform the dining experience. Acoustical experts should be consulted at the start of any restaurant building or remodeling to harness this power. Products like fabric wrapped fiberglass or echo elimination panels can minimize the noisy cocktail party effect we’ve all experienced.

    Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. has 35 years of experience in improving surface acoustics. Managing volume can be difficult in a continuously changing environment like a restaurant. At Acoustical Surfaces Inc., we offer a variety of mounted wall panels, silk metal, and ceiling-hung baffles to knock out the unwanted noise and offer a more pleasant experience for your customers and employees.

    To learn more about our acoustical surface offerings and our proven restaurant industry success, please contact us to consult an acoustical expert.


  5. What’s That Noise? Office Environments

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    This month’s edition of What’s That Noise? focuses on office environments—enclosed areas that depend on quietness to ensure the clearest communication possible.


    Millions of Americans spend 40 or more hours working in office buildings each week. Unfortunately, not all the time spent by office employees is productive, as the buildings they work in are a constant source of unsolicited noise.

    If you’ve worked in an office, or even briefly visited one, then you are well aware of the noises people encounter in these buildings—keyboard clicking, calls with clients or other employees, and loud music are a few prime examples. These individual noises are irritating and distracting, but they aren’t the biggest problem befalling offices today; sound transmission from room to room is the real culprit.

    Interestingly enough, the construction of office buildings is what promotes sound transmission. During construction, components like heating and cooling systems, water pipes, are run along the ceiling of a building. Next, walls are built and a “drop-ceiling” is installed to cover the surfaces. Finally, doors are installed and the rooms are finished. In each of these areas, very little attention is given to sound absorbing materials.

    People tend to assume that walls are the main source of sound transmission, but generally speaking, sound travels too fast (1,130 feet per second to be exact) to determine its precise location. Regardless of location, these sounds interfere with office productivity, and often cause confusion among employees.

    How Can I Resolve the Problem?

    It can be challenging, but the first step is to try and pinpoint the general problem area—your choice of noise abatement products will depend on the specifics of the room.

    For ceiling tiles, the Acoustical Surfaces team recommends two exceptional products: NOISE S.T.O.P.™ Sound Barrier ACT Tiles offer both high sound absorption (for echo and reverberation within a room) and are designed with a noise barrier on the back of the tile to help to block sound from entering or leaving an office; Barrier Decoupler  can be used on the back of STANDARD ceiling tiles to reduce sound transmission and contain intrusive noises.

    For office doorways, we recommend Door Seal Kits—these products are adjustable, durable, and are ideal for decreasing the amount of sound transmission through door seals. Our door seals are easy-to-install and available in several custom sizes.

    Finally, adding wall panels will help absorb echoes and reverberation throughout the office. Our NOISE S.T.O.P. FABRISORB™  fabric-wrapped fiberglass panels are custom engineered to provide high-performance noise reduction in any office area.  These panels can also be fabricated with a core of a dense, heavy vinyl that will offer the ability to block sound transmission as well.

    Learn more about our noise abatement and soundproofing solutions by contacting Acoustical Surfaces, Inc. today.

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  6. How Does Sound Work?

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    I think that people, in general, have a hard time understanding how sound works. I know it took me a long time, and I still only know the very basics. Maybe it is because it is unseen and unknown? When you are in a room that sounds great, you don’t even think about it. When you are in a room that sounds bad, you definitely notice it and want to do something to fix it. At least that’s how it is for me. Most people don’t even know that they can do anything about it.

    There are some great analogies about sound that helped me out a lot. Very generic, but they helped me to understand. If you are a visual person, like myself, you will really enjoy this video that helped me understand the way sound works in rooms. John Calder from Acoustic Geometry, our sister company, made a wonderful video that explains how sound works in rooms. He uses a Nerf gun to represent the path that sound travels along with some other fun props. I think it is worth a view, even if you already have a grasp on how sound works. It was produced so that even my mom (sorry mom) can understand what is going on.

    click anywhere on video to play/pause

  7. Summer Sound Series: When The Kids Are Away… Fixing School Acoustics

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    Gymnasium – School Acoustics

    The Situation

    School is out for summer, and we want to take advantage of the time to work on the acoustics in our gymnasium, classrooms, and cafeteria. What would you recommend?

    The Solution

    You’re in good company! Teachers and administrators researching acoustical treatment for classrooms, cafeterias, common areas, etc. often contact us for help, and summer and winter breaks are usually the best times to make improvements. Large common areas like cafeterias and gyms have different acoustical needs than most classrooms due to their size, and they must be approached differently. However, there are some common factors and things to consider that can be applied across the board.

    In order to find the right acoustical solution for your particular situation, a bit of planning and preparation is required to learn the advantages and disadvantages of different acoustical products and methods of installation. Some of these products are custom made and will require a 1-4 week lead-time, so you’ll want to make sure to allocate enough time for that. It’s always good to request product samples so that you can see and feel the differences between products to make the best choice for your situation.

    Taking the Edge Off

    In the interest of simplicity, I’m going to discuss the basics of “taking the edge” off of a large space, such as a gym or cafeteria. The goal here is to reduce the reverberation time (echo) in the room so that it is simply easier and more comfortable to occupy.

    I developed the following equation about seven years ago and have been using it ever since, with positive feedback from hundreds of customers. The idea here is not to try to achieve perfection, but rather to give you an idea of how to approach a room that needs acoustical treatment without having to hire an acoustical consultant.

    Assuming your room has hard (usually tile) floors, drywall or cinderblock walls and either a sheetrock or metal deck ceiling:

    .04 × (cubic volume of space) = approximate number of square feet of panels to put into your room.

    This is probably a lot simpler than you thought it was going to be. Awesome.

    The next two questions are always: “Well, where do I need to put the panels?”, and “What type of panels are you talking about?”

    Where Do I Put The Panels?

    The first question is easy to answer. The nice thing about acoustics is that in most elevations, sound travels in the ballpark of 1,116.43701 feet per second, which means that the sound in a room travels too quickly for the exact location of the panels to make any audible difference on the overall echo reduction. In almost all instances where one is just looking to reduce the echo, there is not going to be any overall performance differences between a wall or a ceiling mounted panel. Most of the time, in a gymnasium, it is best to put the panels directly onto the ceiling or high on the walls so that they are not hit as often with volleyballs, basketballs, etc.

    What Type of Panels?

    Now, when it comes to what type of panels, there are three panel types that are probably the most common for schools to install:

    1. Echo Eliminator recycled cotton panels
    2. Fabric-wrapped-fiberglass panels
    3. PVC or Sailcloth hanging baffle

    Echo Eliminator

    Echo Eliminator Cotton Acoustical PanelsThe Echo Eliminator panels are going to be the most cost-effective option; they are generally in stock in 2′ × 4′ panels and are available in ten different colors. They are easy to ship and install, but are also generally found to be less aesthetically pleasing than the other two options.

    Fabric Wrapped Panels

    Fabric Wrapped Fiberglass Panels – Edge OptionsThe fabric wrapped fiberglass panels are very decorative and finished looking, can be made in any panel size needed up to a 4′ × 10′ board and come in hundreds of different colors and fabrics. We can also print custom graphics on the fabric before wrapping for a premium price. They are, however, heavier, and can be more difficult to install.

    PVC and Sailcloth Baffle

    PVC Acoustical BaffleThe PVC and Sailcloth baffles are hung from the ceiling like a flag. They are also custom made with plenty of choices for both baffle size and color – so school colors (or something similar) can be chosen. The downside to baffles is that they cannot usually be used in rooms that have fire-suppression sprinklers. When they are installed in the ceiling, they will commonly inhibit the throw and coverage of the sprinklers, which can violate the fire code for the building. Check with your local fire marshal before getting too far down the design path for a baffle installation.

    As always, I’m happy to do what I can to help you make the best choices for both the type of panel as well as quantity. Feel free to contact me with the dimensions of your room and a few digital pictures, which are great aids for me to help you. Also, please feel free to include your personal or school address so that I am able to send you a few different product samples for your review. Finally, some schools have rooms that need to meet specific ANSI standards, and for these you can contact me directly and we can discuss your particular room further.