What is the impact of A/V technology on architectural designs?In many circumstances, sound can be difficult to manage, especially with certain architectural designs. It’s not easy to diagram where sound is going when it leaves the source, and how it will be perceived in the space. But this is exactly what A/V integrators are tasked with doing. Controlling sound in a meeting room or collaboration space is paramount, as even slight imperfections in the room’s acoustics will result in noticeable, and distracting, audio artifacts. Fortunately, A/V integrators have several tools at their disposal in rectifying audio issues and can deploy those tools with precision. Room acoustics are affected by several factors, some of them including:
1. Room layout – Many meeting rooms and collaborative spaces are clearly built for visual aesthetics instead of acoustic fidelity. If a room is large and features parallel, even surfaces throughout, it will likely reflect any sound, and occasionally many times before that sound runs out of energy. This phenomenon is known as flutter or a standing wave. Flutter occurs when a sound bounces off of a pair of walls, back and forth until the sound wave finally runs out of energy to keep traveling. A standing wave also involves a reflected sound, but in this case, it may involve more than two walls, and the result is that some frequencies will be amplified, while others are attenuated, or reduced in loudness.
Both flutter and standing waves are, in part, due to even, parallel surfaces. Such surfaces are to sound what mirrors are to light. If there’s nothing stopping or redirecting the sound, it will just keep going.
2. Construction materials – When companies build out their spaces, they often don’t prioritize acoustics, especially when it comes to materials. That’s understandable, as priorities like cost, maintenance and safety are clearly important. However, some materials common to office spaces do not work well with acoustics. Glass, for example, reflects a lot of sound, and standard drywall will transmit much of it into adjacent spaces.
3. Objects in the room – Just as the ceiling and wall can reflect or transmit sound, so can furniture and other additions, which can negatively affect the room’s acoustics. The interesting thing about sound is that it moves faster and transmits more readily through many solid materials than it does air. For example, sound travels through wood about 10 times faster than it does through air, and even faster through steel.
A room filled with hard surfaces, then, can exacerbate acoustic issues. This is extremely common, given that collaboration spaces are often fitted with dry erase boards, glass partitions and the like.Aside from these in-room obstacles, A/V integrators can work with (or against) a space’s acoustics with audio technology selection and placement. Microphones that are far away from the audio source (normally a speaking person) will pick up more audio artifacts than a microphone kept close to the meeting’s participants. This is the reason A/V integrators prefer to mount the microphones on the table when possible. Integrators have a knack for providing solutions that will counter a room’s poor acoustics, and they can precisely map those acoustics out using sophisticated diagramming software. The software enables A/V experts know exactly where sound travels through the space, what it is bouncing off of, and where optimal audio inputs and outputs should be placed. This is the first and most important step during the integration process. Most acoustic issues are correctible, either by configuring the A/V equipment appropriately or by improving the room’s audio characteristics. The right approach may depend on what is easier and more economical. Here are some potential solutions for a room plagued with acoustic issues:
1. Soundproof materials – There are plenty of materials on the market that can offer superior acoustic qualities to standard drywall. Soundproof drywall is one option and appears identical to standard drywall, but is made with greater density. Soundproof drywall is more expensive, but it can absorb any sound that contacts it, trapping it in the room and keeping it from producing flutter.
2. Soundproof curtains – Soundproof curtains are made with weighted vinyl. Technically known as mass-loaded vinyl, these curtains are dense and heavy, and they are highly effective at blocking sound. They are attached to special frames and are easy to manage, so they can be taken down or put up as the situation calls for it.
3. Acoustic ceiling tiles and baffles – Acoustic ceiling tiles are an extremely popular and economical option for reducing sound, though if the room has a drop ceiling, then mineral boards may work better. Baffles, which can be hung or placed on the floor, are panels that are positioned perpendicular to the ceiling and floor. They come in a huge variety of designs and can provide an aesthetic boost on top of controlling sound transmission.
4. White noise emitter – A white noise barrier can effectively create a sound perimeter, preventing sound from getting through. This is used to great effect in courtrooms to keep others from hearing conversations between attorneys and the judge. It can also work in a corporate setting, though emitter placement is essential, as poor placement might affect sound quality inside the room.
5. Improved audio equipment – In the end, better microphones, speakers and signal processors are often the best solution, especially if a company is relying on badly outdated technology. Modern audio and video conferencing technology, for example, is often designed with source recognition and dampening functions, which means they can detect what sounds are interfering with the desired source and automatically attenuate them.Acoustics are a challenge, but A/V integrators are up to the task. With diagramming software, natural insight and an array of tools, no space is without a solution.