Behind the Science: Meet the ABCs (& D) of Acoustics

Successfully addressing noise in interiors is a complicated undertaking. Acoustic experts can help architects, designers, and end users achieve the right conditions in a range of settings and applications. While the science of acoustics is complex, the principles of controlling acoustics in interiors can actually be broken into four basic categories: Absorb, Block, Cover and Diffuse (ABCD).

Effective acoustical design is not a one-size-fits-all strategy, but the ABCD principle is a useful rule of thumb to follow. Here’s how it works.

Absorb. The principle of sound absorption is used to determine the amount of sound that needs to be “soaked up” or absorbed in order to reduce the amount of sound being reflected throughout the space. In other words, the culprit is the reverberation that happens when sound bounces off hard surfaces. Sound-absorbing products like Snowsound acoustic panels help minimize the amount of reverberation taking place (delve deeper here).

Even acoustic panels with a high NRC rating don’t guarantee complete speech privacy, but they do make a significant impact in open offices and other rooms with many hard, reflective surfaces. Snowsound offers different materials and installation modes to enable selective absorption at precise ranges (low, medium, high) for a more uniform absorption at all frequencies.

Block. The same rule that applies to absorption applies to blocking: not all sound should be obstructed from traveling within a space. Instead, it’s about impeding the ideal amount of the right sounds in the most effective way. The challenge with blocking sound has less to do with reverberation as with transference between rooms. Sound-blocking materials with high STC ratings can be specified in walls, carpet, and workstation panels, but it can be challenging in open offices were partition heights are low. Also, remember, as your STC ratings increase, you’re trapping more sound inside a room, so echo and reverberation will be exacerbated.

Cover. In noisy environments like open offices, schools, and hospitals, sound masking products and systems that create white noise can be an effective way to eliminate distractions and create speech privacy when covering is important. This is done with sound masking.

If a space doesn’t contain sound-absorbing or blocking elements, the danger is adding additional noise to the room with nothing to absorb it and making the problem even worse. So acoustic products should be used in tandem to achieve the desired effect.

The problem with sound masking is that it has become the Ritalin of acoustics: widely over-prescribed or mis-prescribed. There are two rules of thumb to remember. 1. Do not add sound masking to spaces where the goal is to hear each other, like meeting rooms. Instead, put it outside the meeting room so any conversation in the room is not intelligible outside. 2. Do not use sound masking in smaller enclosed spaces, because it adds sound waves, making acoustic challenges worse.

Diffuse. In acoustics and architectural engineering, diffusion is the efficacy by which sound energy is spread evenly in each environment. A perfectly diffusive sound space is one that has certain key acoustic properties which are the same anywhere in the space.

A non-diffusive sound space, on the other hand, would have considerably different reverberation time as the listener moved around the room. In other words, noise isn’t just about the source of the noise, but it’s the reverberation… it’s the way it’s traveling back and forth and just doesn’t seem to go away.

Restaurant owners frequently want to create a buzz with an energetic vibe, but sometimes there’s simply too much noise. Diffusion can help by breaking up the sound. A slightly angled wall can prevent reverberation and echo back and forth. Noise can also be diffused by using soft art sculpture or hanging a chandelier.

Whether designing new construction or reimagining existing space for a new purpose, architects and designers who master the ABCD of acoustics are able to create superior spaces for their clients. Snowsound has solutions in a range of vertical marketsContact us for a free acoustic analysis of your space. A Snowsound representative will assess your mastery of the ABCD principal.

ABCs (A&D) of Acoustics

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