There’s quiet, and then there’s uncomfortable quiet. A balance of the “ABCs” of proper acoustics – absorption, barrier/blocking and covering – will ensure the right level of speech privacy for office productivity, for example, but Barr says it’s often difficult for integrators to provide clients with all three. It’s often a combination of two of the three. The coverage or masking can help with today’s office trend of reduced cubicle heights and open layouts, which removes the sound blocking element and can lead to complaints.
In general, integrators need to be the ones broaching the topic of acoustics for a client’s space, because they’re usually not thinking about it, Barr says. “An integrator I visited recently said nobody really asks too much about sound masking. I said, “Every open office has the problem. You need to help them understand that they have the problem and we can solve it!” says Barr. He notes that Cambridge regularly schedules instructor-led webinars and has an on-line certification program that covers sound masking comprehension, system design and installation/commissioning. The company already hosts a class for the American Institute of Architects.
“Our product is unique in that we can demo what our product sounds like, and add music or paging. When we will turn it off, suddenly the [potential customer] recognizes they can hear conversations outside of the room,” Barr says. “If the client has an open existing office space, or one that’s been recently refurbished, we ask if they’ve had any issues with speech privacy. If customer is building a new open plan space, it is appropriate to help the facility manager understand the issues of speech privacy and distraction that the users will likely encounter, and communicate that there is a solution that can easily and quickly be installed.”
Cambridge Sound Management’s Qt 600 is a cost-effective, fully-integrated sound masking solution that meets the requirements of any workspace, from single floor, multi-zone installations to large multi-building campuses. Each module controls six zones that covers up to 72,000 square feet. (Click image to enlarge)
Acoustical treatment in general can be a differentiator for an enterprising integrator, and sound masking is yet another way to stand out. “We’re fortunate at this stage that it’s a growing market and not overly saturated,” says Barr. “It’s not like projectors or amplifiers or switchers – there aren’t a lot of players in this space, so typically integrators are able to retain a much better margin.”
Taking the High-End Road
On the other side of the acoustical treatment sales approach, integr
ators are encouraged to enlist a professional acoustician – just as they might work with myriad other trades on a project – to create productivity-friendly environments. Unlike a home theater, where a top-notch sound environment may only benefit the homeowners and whatever guests might occasionally experience the room, the results of a properly acoustically treated corporate office, for instance, may affect hundreds of employees on a daily basis. It’s an impactful sales message, says Anthony Grimani, an industry veteran whose consulting firm PMI works with both residential and commercial integrators.
Grimani advises integrators to flow their sales conversations (for this purpose focusing on corporate office owners) from the level of sound comfort in which background noise is suitably and sound reverberations and reflections are controlled; to the media equipment, like what kind of microphones and loudspeakers will be used with teleconferencing systems, and how they will be aimed; to the engineering issues that need to be addressed; and then underscoring the point that the offices and rooms being acoustically treated are really an investment tool for this business owner that needs to be optimized.
“As an integrator, you have to make the client realize they have a huge real estate investment in their space, not just as a building when it’s empty, but when it’s being used,” says Grimani. “You can talk about loudspeakers and frequencies, but no client is going to want to spend money on you if you keep that conversation going. An integrator can go in with a sales pitch that’s clearly saying, ‘You can do this cheaply, or you can do this the right way, which is going to be more expensive but it will result in a better, more efficient use of this room.’ It’s like, you can buy a cheap car that’s not going to last long, or a Mercedes that lasts 20 years without much work – do you invest now or invest then?”
Grimani acknowledges that going with a professional acoustician is going to be a higher-cost proposition for clients, but at the same time, especially for integrators in larger cities, these upscale solutions will be for companies that can afford it and have a lot riding on the productivity of their workers … who typically are not thrilled to be in conference rooms in the first place.