Understand the Science of Sound to Create Better Sounding Spaces
My friends and colleagues would say I’m a pretty techy, analytical guy. I wouldn’t argue that. Growing up, science was always my favorite subject (especially physics!) I’ve been described as a bit of a sponge. I just love learning what makes things work. Thankfully, I’m in good company. We’ve got a team of folks at Acoustical Solutions who are experts in sound and love understanding this stuff too. We help reduce noise, lower sound, and create peaceful environments. We also help people get the most from their sound.
We don’t just stop sound from traveling between rooms, in many cases I help optimize sound performance at concert venues, churches, and home theaters.
To provide effective solutions to sound issues, I need to fully understand how sound operates. I need to know what it is, how it acts, why certain sounds act differently, and what materials are best for deflecting, absorbing, and stopping sound.
I’d like to share this knowledge with you so you understand (at least on a basic level) the science of sound and methods for controlling and optimizing noise.
The Science of Sound: Understanding Sound Waves
Sound is little more than vibrations through a medium. (For our purposes, the medium is air.) We perceive sound when vibrations travel through air and hit the delicate membranes in our ears.
Sound vibrations are similar in concept to a pebble hitting the still surface of a pond, with waves spreading outward in all directions. Sound is similar, but it acts in a three-dimensional manner, by sending waves up, down, left, right, and every direction in between.
Instead of a pebble striking a pond, imagine a book hitting a tabletop. The book and the table vibrate as well as the air gets pushed out of the space between them, and create waves in the air that expand outward. Eventually the vibrations that started at the book meet our ear, and we perceive that a book hit a table.
Sound waves travel outward with a finite amount of measurable energy, known as decibels. They can bounce off of objects and “reverb” in millions of different directions. As sound waves bounce around, they lose energy. Another way of saying they lose energy is to say they have a lower decibel.
Remember that sound vibrations require a medium to travel through. The medium, as far as we are concerned, is air. It can also be water or just about any other material. This is why space is silent; there is no medium through which noise can travel. We can’t hear the Sun, which creates the most violent explosions in the solar system, because there is no substance that can transport the vibrations.
From its original source, sound travels outward in all directions, and bounces off surfaces until it loses energy and becomes silent. In a large area, sound travels further and bounces off fewer surfaces.
Sound is measured in many ways, including frequency, also known as pitch. Frequency is the way in which sound oscillates through a medium. It is essentially the number of times, frequency, a sound wave repeats in a given amount of time. A longer frequency, also known as a lower frequency, creates a lower sound. A bass drum creates a low frequency. A tighter frequency, with less space between the repetitions, is also called a high frequency. High frequency creates higher-pitched sound. A flute, for example, creates higher frequencies.
Higher frequencies tend to be easier to control, while lower frequencies are more difficult.
A Better Understanding of Sound Science Means a Better Control of Noise
By understanding how sound functions, how it goes from the source to the ear, how it bounces off different substances, and how it can be absorbed by different materials, we can make better decisions when improving the sound quality in a home, office, or large space.
For example, I often work with church leaders who want to improve the sound quality and clarity in their sanctuary. One of the first steps is to discuss their use of sound and what type of music they usually prefer. If they prefer modern rock-music styles, we will create a plan that is specific to this sound, which usually has more high-end frequencies. However, if they use a large pipe organ, the plan would be different, as a pipe organ is intended to fill the room with a strong, full, all-encompassing sound, which has a warmer tone than rock music.
For a large church with a pipe organ, I usually recommend AlphaSorb® Fabric Wrapped Acoustic Panel, in the two inch thickness.
By understanding how sound vibrations move through a room, I can help with the placement of panels as well.
For example, if I am helping fit sound panels in a large gym with a wide air duct mounted to the ceiling, and the duct is only a few feet from a wall, I won’t place panels between the duct and the wall, because it statistically won’t be struck as many times as a panel mounted on the wall in a wide open space.
There are three basic ways to reduce and control/stop noise:
- Weight: the heavier the material, the better it will control/stop sound.
- Decoupling: where two objects are separated by either empty space (air) or a material like insulation or Green Glue.
- Air Space: think of double or triple pane windows, they are not decoupled, but the air is trapped between the panes.
You don’t have to be an expert in the science of sound, but it helps to understand acoustic principles, so you know why I recommend certain products and why I place sound-proofing materials in certain places.
Let an Expert Enhance the Sound in Your Space
When you have questions about sound in a home, church, concert hall, theater, or gymnasium, let us help.
We’d be proud to look at your space and provide expert solutions based on our experience and the science of sound!
Contact us today or call 800-782-5742, we’d love to help you with your sound acoustics.
To learn more about how Acoustical Solutions can solve your noise control problems, use our contact form, call one of our Acoustical Sales Consultants at (800) 782-5742, or visit us on the web at acousticalsolutions.com.