Surrounded by Acoustics

A common drawback to the hallowed halls of many private institutes is just how hollow those halls sound. Research has shown that background noise and sound reverberation, or echo, in classrooms can have a detrimental effect on communication between educators and students. And those noisy spaces are not just in classrooms.

Everywhere you move around your campus, your ears are subject to a myriad of rooms with varying acoustic properties. Good acoustics is a key contributor to interior quality – along with lighting, thermal conditions, ergonomics, and air quality. An institution that takes acoustic performance into account can increase productivity by reducing distractions, increasing privacy, and upping comfort for students, educators and staff.

In offices and classrooms, acoustical treatments are used to improve speech intelligibility, comfort, and concentration by reducing unwanted noise and distractions. Of course, classrooms and offices are not the only spaces where these effects can be helpful.

Auditoriums, gymnasiums, tutoring and study centers, and even hallways can benefit from acoustic treatment. We will explore some of the goals of treating each of these unique spaces and how to achieve those goals. But first, what is acoustic treatment?

The What and How of Acoustic Treatments

Acoustic treatment is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide array of wall coverings, building materials, and architectural elements that modify the sound inside a space. In most cases, the design of a space does not take acoustics into account, so acoustic treatments are usually employed to make the space more comfortable and productive.

Supporting a modern vision for the sport of climbing The basic acoustic absorber is the most efficient and economical choice to alter the acoustics. Most of the time, these are built as standard sized panels, made with a variety of porous, absorbing materials. This includes, but is not limited to: fiberglass, mineral wool, ceiling tiles, and similar materials. Porous absorbers work, in short, by converting sound energy into heat, and then by diffusing and dissipating the heat throughout the material.

Acoustic absorbers typically absorb throughout most of the frequency spectrum, depending on their thickness. We will examine the use and placement of acoustic absorbers in different spaces found in typical universities. This list is by no means exhaustive, as many universities have specialty and multipurpose rooms; however, the basic principles can be applied in other spaces to evaluate how beneficial treating the space may be.

Minimizing Reverberations in Classroom Walls

The key purpose of a classroom is information delivery whether it is from a lecturer or students collaborating together. However, reflections off walls in the room can produce reverberations or echoes which will periodically cause loss of comprehension for students, especially those next to walls or corners.

Reducing these comprehension losses means less interruptions during class time, resulting in more focus and comfort in the classroom. Fortunately, classrooms are easy to treat by simply using absorbers on the walls spaced out throughout the room.

Reducing Chatter in Auditorium Acoustics

Auditoriums have similar goals as classrooms, but the implementation of a solution is slightly different. Auditoriums are typically shaped as a quarter of a circle, or sometimes more simply as a triangle, which allows a lecturer’s voice to be projected towards the students. The angled walls allow for the reflections in the room to all be directed away from the front of the room.

Additionally, this means chatter throughout the seats will also be directed away from the front of the auditorium. However, this results in those in the back getting a high concentration of reflections from the front, as well as chatter from around the room. Treatment on the back wall will remove these reflections after they have traveled through to the back of the room so that they do not linger and persist. Since all of the sound in the room is projected towards the back, absorbers in the back of the room will be highly effective.

Reducing Echoes in Gymnasiums and Indoors Sports Rooms

In gymnasiums and other indoor sports rooms, team talk can easily be drowned out by echoes of athletes running, impacts on the floors or walls, and others talking in the gym. Gymnasiums also are often used to host social events, and reverberation from conversation and music can make for an uncomfortably loud event. Treating the upper area of walls and ceilings with absorbers can be an efficient means to tackle these issues without intruding in on the space, while keeping them out of damage prone areas.

Creating Quiet in Tutoring Centers

Tutoring centers and student study centers benefit from a quiet environment, with private conversation. Reducing the sound levels in the room lets students work together without talking over themselves. Hallways and corridors can also benefit from treatment by reducing sounds traveling between rooms.

Similar to a classroom, these spaces can be easily treated by panels spread out on the walls. There are of course other spaces inside a university that perhaps more obviously benefit from acoustic treatments, like media production rooms, music studios, concert halls, ensemble rooms, and individual band practice rooms.

Rules for All Applications

Any acoustic panels used in the discussed applications should use absorptive material around two to four inches thick to cover the entire range of the human voice spectrum. If the material is thinner, it will only be treating the higher range and leaving the lower registers unaffected. Thicker panels are typically only necessary for rooms that are primarily for media production.

Most manufacturers have their products sent to an independent, third-party acoustic laboratory to be tested for efficacy, and usually have these results published online. Be sure to request the actual reports issued by the laboratory; these tests are expensive to

produce but guarantee reliable performance. The test data will show the amount of absorption over a range of frequencies for easy comparison with other products.

Types of Acoustic Treatments

Not all treatments are equally appropriate for installation in educational institutions, however. The suitability of a specific acoustic panel can be determined by evaluating performance, safety, and longevity of the product. For universities, the most important concern is the safety of the chosen products.

First and foremost, any installed panels should be Class A fire rated; not just the fabric or materials themselves, but the entire product as a whole should be tested.

To ensure air quality is not reduced by the installation of panels, products should be constructed with wood and insulation material that do not use heavy industrial binders. Further considerations for air quality can be met by choosing LEED certified products, constructed from sustainable and recycled materials. to be sure adhesives or other chemicals that may be used in manufacturing do not contribute to any additional flammability.

Panels built with a frame, as opposed to simply fabric covered absorptive material, will increase the longevity of the panel, allow for more robust systems of mounting, enable replacing the fabric if necessary, and lend a more crisp edge. Other factors that can be taken into account range among cost, availability, warranties, finishing options, installation, and cus

Acoustical treatments are becoming more ubiquitous throughout educational, commercial and industrial spaces due to the extent of benefits with little investment. With a wide variety of uses, absorbers are an excellent tool that can be sampled in many spaces in a university to evaluate the impact on students and staff.tomer support; of course, as with any vendor, you will want to select a company that can provide honest acoustic advice and treatmement recommenations.

About the Author
Glenn Kuras is owner and president of GIK Acoustics, a leading manufacturer & designer of acoustic treatments. For over 10 years Glenn has used his expertise in room acoustics to assist centers of learning, recording studios, music producers, business centers and commercial spaces solve acoustic issues within their facilities. Learn more at