So, you’ve decided that you want acoustic panelling in a space (see How To Know When You Need Acoustic Panels In Your Room).  The obvious next question is “how much?” 

The answer is … there is no single right answer!  What matters is what’s right for YOU, based on who will be using the space and what they’ll be doing there.  But there IS a right PROCESS for deciding. And as with all project planning, it helps to begin with the end goal in mind and then take the steps that will achieve the goal. 

Specifically, for an acoustic panels intallation the steps are: 

  1. Qualitatively set the goal: What KIND of acoustic environment do you need? 

  2. Acoustically quantify the goal …

  3. Calculate the starting point …

  4. Calculate the amount of sound absorption needed to get from start to goal …

  5. Check the results against available space and budget

… then design your installation! 

Sounds simple, right?  Actually, room acoustics for most business, restaurant and home spaces ARE fairly straightforward, but it’s a good idea to consult with a knowledgeable acoustics provider.

This post addresses the first step of the process. Later posts will complete the cycle. 

What KIND of Acoustic Environment do you need?

It’s said that “noise is in the ear of the listener”.  In other words, the difference between “sound” and “noise” depends on the when, where and who of the hearers.  Music for example, is welcome sound at a party but it’s likely noise when in the workplace. And “noise”, pretty much by definition, is distracting and irritating! 

Geoff Leventhall, an independent noise consultant and author says “The actual level of sound as objectively measured in decibels makes up only about 30 percent of how it is perceived. People’s attitude can play a big part.”   This is worth a moment’s consideration!  While a good sound meter will reliably and consistently register the number of decibels, it’s mostly up to the listeners to say whether something is loud or not! And those listeners may change their assessments, for different times, places and contexts!   

A room’s acoustics should be tuned to the desires and goals of the people who use it. Whether you are a design professional working on behalf of a client or planning for your own use, the ACOUSTICAL GOAL is the most important conversation to have with your acoustics professional. 

Acoustics need to support the intended occupants, function and mood of the space. Who will be using the room? What will they be doing there?  For example …. 

Acoustics for conversation 

There are many environments where people need to speak comfortably and hear easily. Speech discrimination is essential in schools for teaching and learning.  In fact, there are usually regulated acoustic standards for classrooms, gymnasiums and specialty areas. 

Meeting room acoustics: from large conference and boardrooms to small break-out spaces and private phone rooms, it’s all about conversation. Many businesses and other organizations have installed expensive AV or telephone systems to allow remote participation. Sound distortion here is irritating and unproductive.  

In these environments, speech discrimination is key and the acoustic goal is to support that. Acoustic panels will be used to reduce sound reverberation enough to enhance clarity of speech. 


Acoustics for a party

Other environments call for a little more “buzz”. When the atmosphere is more social or casual, we might include some music and want to be aware of the voices and energy of people around us.    While the need for conversation in these social settings  doesn’t go away, it’s not the only goal. 

Restaurant acoustics: lively restaurants and clubs want an energetic mood and a social atmosphere. So we can get a little louder.  A higher level of sound reverberation turns up the volume. The acoustics can be adjusted in a larger space, for quieter and louder areas. 


A note on specialized acoustics:  Performing and recording environments, such as concert halls and churches, will have specific and usually  complex acoustics requirements.  In these situations, a highly trained acoustic engineer will likely be engaged to plan and design the installations. 

Acoustics for an age 

Many people are surprised to learn that we begin to lose our hearing as young as our 30’s!  And it’s worsened by exposure to loud noise levels, such as live music or high volume through our earbuds and headsets. It’s common now to hear even people in their 20’s complain about not being able to have conversation in a noisy restaurant. And every decade thereafter, it gets tougher!  

So the older the occupants, the greater the need for acoustic absorption.  

Acoustics for everything & everybody! 

Often one space will have multiple usages and people in it.  A restaurant with a bar area, perhaps an open kitchen as well as dining room seating. A workplace with employees of many ages and temperments (introverts are getting a lot of attention these days!) as well as areas for collaboration and areas for individual work.  

In these situations, acoustics zones can usually be configured to match the functional ones and the treatments can be varied within the space. The restaurant can keep the bar area more lively and at the same time allow comfortable conversation over a meal.  Workplaces can support both teamwork and individual wellbeing and productivity, with a variety of permanent and moveable fixtures. 

Now that we’re clear on what we want to achieve, we can begin to plan the acoustic installation. Next posts in this series will talk about how to achieve the goals. 

  Acoustics With Design is a Canadian distributor bringing beautiful products to the Canadian acoustics market. This is the first in a series of posts on the subject of planning acoustic panel installations,   that will address when, where and how acoustic panels can enhance built environments and user experiences. 

Any questions or comments?  Leave them below!

Topics: Acoustics