The bad news for commercial integrators is that the majority of the time, they are working on an existing building, an edifice that’s been meticulously planned by architects and interior designers and constructed with wood, metal, glass and the like for aesthetic purposes rather than how it meshes with technology.
The good news for integrators is that this can open up a world of opportunity for helping these property owners enhance the sound quality of their spaces - and showing them how (typically) poor the rooms are as a starting point.
The other good news for integrators is that there’s a range of solutions at different price levels that they can present to a client, and that even if the category is outside of their scope of expertise there are professional acousticians and consultants that are more than happy to collaborate.
On a base level, the conversation that can lead to acoustical treatment sales involves talking to a client about return on investment: better acoustics enhances worker comfort and productivity, which benefits all parties involved.
“Bad sound is everywhere,” says Eric Smith, founder and president of Auralex Acoustics, echoing the 35-year-old company’s marketing mantra. “I think money is often left on the table because in customers’ minds, the gear is often the bright shiny object they focus on. Acoustics too often takes a backseat to what may be perceived as the sexier part of the project, when in fact it is the acoustical control package that will help reduce the equipment budget and will allow whatever equipment is chosen to perform to its maximum potential. I reiterate: You cannot overcome a bad room with more gear.”
Actually, a type of solution that’s gaining momentum in the commercial space does involve adding more gear, and more sound - only it does so in a way that can increase a space’s work comfort, productivity and speech privacy levels. It’s a form of treatment known as sound masking. Proponents such as manufacturers Cambridge Sound Management, Atlas Sound and Lencore explain that sound masking works by piping in ambient sound to mask other noises within the environment. It’s used mainly in corporate and heath care markets, where comfort and privacy are especially pertinent to employees and guests.
Systems like Cambridge Sound Management’s Qt Quiet technology, Atlas’ Generators and Lencore’s Spectra products work by distributing user-adjustable sound - usually white or pink noise - through plenum or direct-field loudspeakers to single or multiple zones, and also including music and paging options.
Cambridge Sound Management, for one, has tried to ease integration headaches by making sound masking more attractive to clients with implementations such as the direct-field approach to speakers, “coffee-mug” size loudspeakers, flexibility of a standalone system, and a category cabling architecture.
“We use direct-field methodology, so the speaker is in the space you inhabit, in the ceiling tile or ceiling proper. All other audio devices use direct-field technology, so you and the speaker are in the direct field of sound,” notes Danny Barr, VP of Sales at Cambridge Sound Management. “Secondly, rather than using custom or specialized cabling, which can be more expensive, our system uses Cat 3 or Cat 5 or 6, which is everywhere. If you know how to run cables and terminate, you can install our system. And, the product is designed acknowledging that office spaces or hospital building have different physical attributes, functions or requirements.”
It may seem counter-intuitive to add sound to help mitigate acoustic effects, but if you’ve worked in an environment where you can hear a “pin-drop effect,” you’ve probably experienced a setting that could have benefited from sound masking. Manufacturer Primacoustic produces more traditional acoustical treatment solutions, but president Peter Janis notes the scientific and pragmatic functions behind the masking products.
“The primary market is in offices, where increasing the noise level so that the brain then psycho-acoustically reduces it is the magic behind the science,” says Janis. “It is pretty much the same idea as having a waterfall in your backyard. The noise blocks out the street noise and gives you a sense of peace and quiet.”