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Tech Roundup: Acoustics and Sound Masking 2021

In an acoustically well-designed space, a cheap sound system can sound better than a very expensive one that is installed in a bad environment; yet there are cases everywhere in which good systems are fighting bad rooms. Budgeting a new sound system should always include a careful acoustic evaluation of the space in which it will operate. The solution can be as simple as adding absorption panels or as ambitious as designing an active system that can dial up different apparent room responses. For office workers, a properly designed and installed sound masking system can enhance privacy and actually increase productivity. The systems and components surveyed here illustrate a huge range of options for good sound in the auditorium, recording studio, church, and the office.

The Acoustic Geometry Sound Silencer is a porous expanded polypropylene (PEPP) wall and ceiling panel that is especially useful in rooms where people are in close proximity to the panels. These panels are non-abrasive, Class A fire retardant, and impact and water resistant as well as fungi and bacteria resistant. The panels are available in 2x2ft. and 2x4ft. sizes with 1 or 2in. thickness. They have a tackable surface in charcoal or white colors. The construction of the panels works for sound blocking and absorption. The moisture resistance feature makes them suitable for a wide range of environments.

Busy and noisy areas can tame reverberation and become quieter with Acoustical Fulfillment CORE Panels. These 6-7 pcf fiberglass panels can be 1 or 2in. thick and are fitted with a 1/8in. high-density fiberglass facing. Their white finish can really brighten up an otherwise drab room and they are available in custom sizes up to 4x8ft. The panels are wall-mounted using standard 4-prong impaling clips but in environments where more firm fastening might be needed they can be attached by way of two-part impaling clips with a Z-bar system. Another mounting option uses Rotofast snap-on anchors. Ceiling mounting hardware includes painted pucks, T-Grid mounting brackets, cloud rings, Rotofast cloud anchors, and Rotofast snap-on anchors. Edges can be square or beveled and all components have a Class A rating per ASTM E84.

Available in a variety of colors and stitch patterns, the Acoustical Solutions AQFA-10 Absorber Sound Blanket can reduce echo and reverberation in any space in which it is used. It consists of two layers of 1in. thick quilted fiberglass absorption (QFA) topped with vinyl facing. The AQFA-10 blanket comes in standard 4x8ft. but it can be ordered in sizes up to 4x25ft. The blankets are Class 1 fire-rated and they feature a sound absorption rating of 0.85. For a more customized approach the material can also be bought in rolls with the user providing the mounting. The blanket panels have bound edges and are fitted with grommets on the top edge for hanging.

The Acoustical Surfaces Echo Eliminator does just that, using bonded acoustical cotton (B.A.C.). The Echo Eliminator can be used in recording studios, gymnasiums, churches, auditoriums, and a variety of other environments. Available in white, gray, blue, graphite, black, and tan, they can match a wide range of room décor. The panels are also Class A fire rated. Mounting is simple using panel subfloor adhesive in an “X” pattern and spray adhesive for the areas around the glued “X”. When mounted in this way the seams between panels are virtually invisible. There is no formaldehyde and no glass particles.

Walls, ceilings, and floors are not the only acoustically treatable areas of a room as Acoustics First ArtDiffusor Trim elegantly shows. This high-frequency quadratic diffuser can be bought in either of two profiles that can be used individually or together. Customization options can really unleash creativity by mounting on top of panels and using varied spacing. They are available with finished or unfinished surfaces in maple and other types of wood. The standard size plank is 1x4x48in. but longer planks can be ordered and they can be mounted as frames, door and window molding, and a used in a number of other ways.

Made to appear as standard millwork, lightweight ASI Architectural Microperf ceiling and wall panels absorb sound and they can be mounted in several ways. They can be found in a range of different wood types as well as vinyl. Standard panels can be easily cut to fit into irregular spaces. Their appearance is especially impressive when covering large areas such as the walls of an auditorium. Each panel is made with a fiberglass core and they are paintable to make a perfect match anywhere. These can be hung like traditional wall panels using Z-clips or installed on an HD T-Bar grid.

Complete sound masking systems can be provided with the AtlasIED Z-Series and these can be purchased according to how many zones of coverage are needed. Both Z-Series models, the Z2 and Z4, support sound masking as well as music and paging with their mic inputs. The central units include pink and white noise generators and there is a Bluetooth receiver for wireless music transmission. Each zone can be separately configured for sound masking or just for music/paging. The control unit can be installed in-wall, onwall or in a rack. Wiring is contained behind a secure front panel.

The Auralex Acoustics GeoFusor uses a geodesic dome shape to combat standing waves and avoid flutter echo. The design facilitates a non-reverberant environment without a deadening effect that reduces acoustic energy. The units are 2x2ft. and extend out from the surface 4.5in. but 1x1ft. size is available. They can be mounted on walls and ceilings of auditoriums and other live sound venues. Each diffusor can also fit into a ceiling grid. One model, the GeoFusor 22 FR, is fire rated ASTM E84 Class A while the GeoFusor 11 is not fire rated.

Biamp’s Cambridge Qt X Series protects speech privacy, reduces distracting noise, and enhances acoustic comfort in an office environment. The Qt X Series lets installation techs use direct and indirect sound masking in the same system with the Biamp QtPRO direct-field and DynasoundPRO indirect methods. The design also facilitates connection to building emergency systems, background music, and paging systems without modification. Dante and AVB media distribution are supported and there are eight models from which to choose to suit a specific environment. The Qt X 600/600D controls up to 2 zones of Qt standard or active emitters while the Qt X 600/600D controls up to 6 zones and the Qt X 800/800D controls sound masking speakers/emitters in either direct-field or indirect (in-plenum) installations or a mix of both.

Powered by the DS100 Signal Engine, d&b audiotechnik Soundscape can reproduce the acoustical signature of virtually any performance space. Once a space is prepared with passive acoustical treatment, Soundscape introduces a Dante-enabled and network controlled platform with a 64 x 64 matrix and extensive DSP functions. The d&b R1 remote control software can be used to store scene snapshots and group all acoustic parameters. The ArrayCalc app facilitates formation of speaker configurations. The En-Scene software module is used for object-based signal management with an object-based positioning tool for every input. The En-Space module applies boundary plane emulation to sample dozens of parameters in a venue and ultimately recreate that precise environment in other performance spaces

The problem of researching and shopping for a whole range of different acoustic treatment components is solved by the GeerFab Acoustics MultiZorber OC703DR. It can be mounted as an absorbent ceiling cloud, attached to walls, and used as a corner bass trap. The units are composed of 3# density 2in.-thick Owens Corning 703 substrate encapsulated in a sewn “bag” of acoustically transparent Guilford FR701 fabric on the front and nylon sailcloth on the back. They are wall mounted using a simple D-ring similar to hanging a picture. Two hardware store hooks can position the material into a corner as a bass trap while four hooks are used to hang it as a cloud unit.

The GIK Acoustics 2in. Impression Pro Series acoustic panel diffuser/absorbers offer a good selection of twelve designs and five surface veneer finishes including blonde wood, black, white, Gray Elm, or Mahogany. Available in square, narrow, and rectangular shapes, the panels are made of fiberglass absorption material wrapped in a choice of fabrics. The panels can also be ordered in 4in. and 6in. thickness to further reduce noise and reverberation. All of the sizes can be wall-mounted using sawtooth hangers. For the narrow and rectangular models there are also free-standing supports. The Impression Pro Series Corner Bass Trap can professionally complete a control room or recording studio or high-end home theater.

Up to 12,000 square feet of sound masked area can be provided by the Lencore Gold all-in-one system incorporating up to 8 independently configurable channels for a total of 64 speakers. The central unit is a standard rack mount design that has amplifiers, independent equalizers, zone modification and total control. There are two IR ports and an additional audio source input. The integrated LED screen and front panel navigation buttons can be used to select all features and setup options. Remote setup and control are done via the network connection. The system can also provide background music.

The LogiSon Acoustic Network includes everything needed for a complete sound masking solution in multiple rooms. The control unit can be wall-mounted and controlled from a PC running the Acoustic Network Manager software that allows commands to be sent to one hub, a group of hubs, or all primary hubs. A programmable keypad and remote enable the user to make adjustments directly from the sound masked room to instantly judge results. Audio input modules can be configured to add paging and background music. Normally located above a suspended ceiling, each hub supports its own ceiling speaker and there is a selection of speaker models for different mounting options.

The heart of any sound masking system is the generator and the Lowell Manufacturing SMGA-5A has a number of features that aid both setup and operation. This unit sends out to the system speakers a pink noise signal to mask ambient sound. To provide precise configuration for especially demanding environments, there are pre EQ and post EQ outputs. The output of the integrated 5W amplifier can be adjusted with bass, mid, and treble controls. The steel chassis can be rack mounted and there are brackets provided for this but it can also be wall, shelf, or under-counter mounted.

The Meyer Sound Constellation acoustic system set the mark for active acoustics control when it was introduced. Using a large array of strategically placed microphones and speakers, it applies sophisticated digital processing to generate an acoustic fingerprint of the venue. Then the acoustic response can be accurately reproduced in other venues with very convincing results. Each system is custom installed for the specific room to make live a performance sound as if it is being done in any one of many preset acoustic environments.

Bass traps are an essential part of creating a top performing listening space whether it is a recording studio or control room and the Primacoustic London Bass Trap Kit makes it simple to accomplish. Optimally corner mounted, the trap assures smooth bass response by preventing lower frequencies from being amplified in those corners. The Class1/A fire rated unit absorbs bass down to 100Hz. The kit consists of two 24x48in. Broadband absorption panels that are 2in. thick, corner mounting impalers, sheetrock anchors and screws. The panels are made of micromesh encapsulated glass wool with resin hardened edges and each one is wrapped in acoustically transparent polyester fabric.

For acoustic absorption and diffusion in a small recording studio, control room, or performance area, the ProSoCoustic WaveRoom Pro Small Panel Booster Kit offers a very convenient solution. The kit consists of eight 1in. thick 24x24in. Wave Panels and eight sets of 18in. Z-clips. Each panel is constructed of stone wool, a mixture of basalt and slag, so that there is no flame, no smoke, and no off-gassing. This is wrapped in polyester fabric that is attached with a screen spline instead of adhesive. The panel frame is made of various density upcycled wood chips molded into shape. The panels can be purchased in black or stone colored fabric.

The Revolution Acoustics Ubiqui-T360 Ceiling Tile Adaptor Panel makes ceiling speaker installation easy for background music, paging and sound masking systems. After it has been attached to an existing ceiling tile, the adaptor can house one SSP6 Multiducer. The SSP6 can be used with the RevNet 2140 amplifier which includes a customizable sound masking generator. The Ubiqui-T360 allows the Multiducer to be mounted into an existing ceiling tile so that matching the color and style of the ceiling tiles is not a problem. No tools are required for the installation of the panel.

For many office environments, acoustic treatment must be mobile to accommodate changes in room layout so the Snowsound Battista partition system allows the flexibility needed. Fitted onto frames of epoxy powder coated steel with cast iron bases, the fabric area provides both privacy and sound absorption. The Fiber 1 and Fiber 3 antimicrobial sound-absorbing textile slipcovers are available in several attractive colors and they can easily be removed and washed. The partitions are light enough to be arranged between workstations or larger office areas.

The complete Soft dB SmartSMS-NET sound masking system has controls that enable very precise settings on all parameters to tailor its operation to the specific environment. Among these are an automatic equalization process, real-time adaptive adjustment of the sound masking level, and networked operation that allows simultaneous coverage of large and small areas on different floors. The components include plenum-mount and rack-mount controllers, active volume control sensors, and the sound masking speakers. The SmartSMS-NET system provides individual speaker control as well as the addition of paging and music.

One of the most advanced active acoustic systems is the Yamaha AFC4 using Active Field Control with processed input from multiple high quality microphones that are placed at precise distances from the sound source. Once it is expertly installed and configured, AFC4 can make a space that is acoustically dull take on the apparent sound environment of a world class concert hall or other performance space. Using both regenerative and in-line approaches, it can adjust the sound of a live performance while retaining the natural acoustic properties of the room’s structure. AFC4 is the latest in a series of innovative active field systems developed by Yamaha that create a uniquely immersive sound experience.

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