When you think of sound, what springs to mind? Music, speech, birds chirping…? And if you think instead of noise, does it remind you of the distant hum of an HVAC system or nearby highway, the muted conversations of passers‑by, or other everyday noises we usually tune out? We typically consider sound as one clearly defined thing: what we hear coming from a specific source. Yet most of what we hear is actually a mishmash of direct and indirect sound from the source itself as well as from reverberations of sound waves against objects in our environment. In fact, apart from physiological differences that make people process sound differently than others, the environment largely dictates how we take in sounds.
The complex relationship between space and sound
If you’re a musician or work in the industry, you understand that there’s so much more to quality acoustics than cranking up the main sound source and dampening background noise. Low, medium and high frequencies don’t travel at the same speeds, and although some sound waves make it directly from the source to your ear, the rest take off in every direction, bouncing off surfaces that absorb, refract or reflect them to varying extents. Depending on the location, shape and texture of the objects in a room, low or high frequencies might be amplified or dampened, or might reverberate at different intervals, resulting in distorted, uneven sound. That’s why we so often hear cars vibrate with what seems to be nothing but bass, while the driver perceives the song as perfectly balanced. For crisp, clear acoustics, a space needs to be designed to minimize indirect sound and amplify direct sound.
Micro and macro considerations
To do this, you have to understand your space and needs. Is the space big and airy or small and crowded? Are the surfaces shiny, smooth, matte or textured? What noise do you need to dampen and what sounds do you want to capture? If your studio’s stocked with state‑of‑the‑art recording equipment, that equipment may be so good that it amplifies acoustic design flaws, or if you have older equipment, it may have weaknesses that effective acoustic treatments could easily mask. If you’re recording music at home, you might want to mute dogs barking or a neighbor mowing the lawn, or achieve professional‑level recording quality. Ask yourself where you need to absorb sound, reflect it or disperse it, and to what extent.
Simple hacks for unparalleled acoustics
Once you’ve figured out the specifics, there are really simple ways you can soundproof and optimize acoustic quality. The first and easiest is to consider what you already have in the room and whether it can be (re)moved to optimize sound performance or serve as a diffusor. Then, consider whether an acoustic wall panel—or several—could serve as a sound absorber. Thinner panels made with fiberglass or mineral wool are great for high to mid-range frequencies, while special, extra-thick panels (a.k.a. bass traps) are great for low frequencies. Baffles (hanging panels) may also be needed in very large spaces. Acoustic panels can be bought ready-made, but they’re a pretty straightforward DIY project, too.
Expert help for DIYers
If you decide to go the DIY route, here’s a tip from the pros: be sure to pick a fabric that doesn’t impede the sound waves from reaching the core material (pick one with high acoustic transparency). Guilford of Maine and Duvaltex offer acoustic and panel fabrics in a host of colors and patterns. These textiles made from recycled materials meet the highest testing standards, and the weave and material makes all of them suitable for residential, commercial and institutional use. As a bonus, they also wrap well, which will make your job that much easier. Keep an eye out for our upcoming posts to see why wrapped panels are superior to foam and get insider advice on the ideal panel placement for your room.