Better Acoustic Design Isn’t Just for Recording Studios

Acoustic design improves the sound in bars and restaurants, but using pro audio also helps mass notification systems to be heard in a range of environments.

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Better Acoustic Design Isn’t Just for Recording Studios

One of the most interesting blogs in the commercial electronics industry belongs to the company AVI Systems. Not too long ago, the Minneapolis, Minn.-based integration firm broached the topic of acoustic design.

In the entry, “How Sound Masking Improves Collaboration,” author Ashton McGinnis points out that it’s common for collaboration rooms to have poor listening backgrounds during meetings.

McGinnis says there are also plenty of privacy issues. Citing a report from Gallup, MicGinnis says that three-quarters of workforce employees “frequently hear noise while working.”

Noise issues aren’t exclusive to workplace environments. Restaurants, bars and other public areas are also subject to noise levels that can easily approach 100dB. The only common solution for all of these environments is proper acoustic design.

Acoustic Design Improves Listening Environments

People outside of the world of pro audio typically associate acoustics with recording studios and, in some cases, live performance venues.

Steve Dickson, Eastern territory manager at Primacoustic, says that despite the public’s misconception, more non-audio businesses are examining the benefits that proper acoustic design brings to their facilities.

Dickson asserts businesses outside of the pro audio market increasingly seek out acoustic products, and these products and services are no longer exclusive to the pro audio channel.

He says business environments such as bars, restaurants, boardrooms and corporate lobbies are all poised to benefit from acoustic products.

“It reduces echo, reverberations and eliminates standing waves. That allows for clearer communication, clarity and a calmer working room. It also reduces ear fatigue, which means those environments are less stressful and tiring places to work.”

“Most commercial spaces are square or rectangular rooms and therefore very easy to treat,” he comments. “It’s a simple matter of working out the correct percentage of absorption for the room and placing the appropriate amount of treatments on the walls or ceiling.”

Addressing specific applications such as the volume levels in bars, restaurants and similar public spaces, Dickson emphasizes acoustic design can provide improvement by reducing noise levels.

“In the U.S.A., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s [OSHA] noise standard [29 CFR 1910.95] requires employers to have a hearing conservation program in place if workers are exposed to a time-weight average noise level of 85dB or higher over an eight-hour work shift,” he explains.

“Many restaurants break these rules on any busy Saturday.”

Acoustic Design Allows Businesses to Benefit from Controlled Background Audio

David Smith, VP of marketing at Lencore, reiterates that most businesses are aware of some type of noise ordinances. However, despite their general awareness of noise ordinances, many businesses do not concern themselves with righting the wrongs.

Putting the onus on integrators, Smith states that it’s important for a number of reasons for dealers to familiarize themselves with these ordinances as well as similar issues such as sound masking.

Digging into the topic of sound masking, which AVI Systems discusses in its aforementioned AVI Systems blog, Smith says sound masking solutions are a good fit for the corporate, education and healthcare markets.

Explaining one of the most common technologies associated with sound masking—white noise—Smith says there is a lot of misinformation circulating about the technology.

“White noise is a common misnomer for sound masking and creating speech privacy. White noise tracks like white light and is defined as having equal energy across all frequencies. White noise is a component of sound masking as it contains human speech frequencies, but it is only one component,” states Smith.

More examples of pro audio equipment and their functions in various environment can be found on the AVI Systems blog.

“Sound masking provides speech privacy because the signal provided is typically just louder [47dB to 48dB] than the indirect noise level [46dB to 47dB].”

“However, to make a space comfortable, you must consider many other factors such as the full broadband spectrum, including the use of pink noise, multiple noise sources to make it random; the repeat of the signal because it is a digital output and the uniformity of sound must be constant throughout a space.”

“Typically, sound masking does not impact the OSHA standard as it is below the threshold of 90dB for eight hours a day.”

Getting back to the topic of sound quality in environments such as bars, restaurants and retail environments, Smith says that integrators should also view these businesses as potential clients for pro audio upgrades that provide intangible values.

“Bars, restaurants and retail environments can leverage a pro audio distribution system for everyday applications such as background music, and they can also employ these systems for mass notification in the event of an emergency,” he stresses.

“Unfortunately, there seems to be considerable oversight in the ability to communicate with building occupants in the event of an emergency. Whether it is a fire-, weather- or human-related threat, it is important to be able to clearly direct occupants to safety and avoid panic through a confused understanding of where to go.”

Some Helpful Acoustic Design and Pro Audio Tips

Smith recommends that dealers consider the end result with these solutions: the sound.

He advises integrators to listen and determine whether employees and building occupants will be able to work and interact for long periods of time in these environments. His second recommendation concerns the design of whatever system or solution is specified for the client.

Smith stresses that regardless of what type of solution is recommended, a system provide uniform, consistent sound. He says that means avoiding spots so that occupants don’t feel like they are walking in and out of sound masking zones.

On the sales side of the sound masking equation, Smith underscores that integrators should take time to carefully analyze clients’ needs and respond with solutions that provide value.

“Design trends are driving a need for sound masking and the industry continues to grow. This is a business that is easy to adopt, as part of the value integrators can provide their clients.”

“Manufacturers offer a variety of systems and it is important to partner with a company that provides an engineered approach that matches the clients’ needs and doesn’t fit them into a limited offering,” he recommends.

“As it relates to mass notification, NFPA 72 [Fire Alarm and Signaling] continues to be adopted across the United States. This code states that ambient background noise must be shut off in the event of an emergency in order to deliver a more intelligible message.”

“Furthermore, mass notification systems are being adopted in order to deliver the right message in the right manner, across a variety of platforms in order to direct people to safety.”

“The system integrator can add tremendous value to their clients’ [systems] by integrating mass-notification systems within existing infrastructure and then leveraging those systems for everyday use such as background music and paging—or even sound masking.”

Related: 4 Reasons Earthworks Microphones Were Selected for Wisconsin State Capitol

“At Primacoustic we have strived to demystify and take the dark arts stigma out of acoustically treating room,” he adds.

“The reality is that if a dealer is contracted by a client to provide an audio/video consultation and they do not offer room treatments they are selling the client short. Room infrastructure is probably the most important thing that has to happen to a room along with cabling and wiring. It also provides good margins. It’s a one-way sale, no software upgrade, a sustainable well-being product and no service calls.”

Check out the AVI Systems blog here.