Posted in education on July 29, 2014 4:30 pm EDT

Straight “A” Sound Design for Education Spaces

A look at the role of technology and acoustics in promoting understanding.

By hanging vertically, Cloudscape baffles expose nearly twice the sound absorptive area of a surface-mounted wall panel, according to Acoustics First Corp. This configuration also further minimizes angular reflections off the ceiling. Images courtesy of Idibri.











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TAGS: audio, education,


By Cathy Hutchison

While technology for education continues to grow exponentially, one of the simplest forms is still the most important. How do you create spaces where people can understand and connect with the spoken word?

"Sound reduction does not follow cost in a linear fashion. Cutting the reverb time in half takes [a certain amount] of money. Reducing reverb by three-quarters (75%) requires twice the amount assuming the same type of material is used."

—Nick Colleran Vice President, Acoustics First Corp., Richmond, VA.

Intelligibility matters (if you want to connect)

“Studies prove that the intelligibility matters,” explains Nick Colleran, vice president of Acoustics First Corp. in Richmond, Va. “If you can’t understand what someone is saying, it is easy to be distracted. Listening to even the most interesting teacher, preacher or speaker, you can get a headache if the intelligibility is compromised. People get frustrated with the strain of listening—almost like eyestrain. It can even affect mood.”

“You can’t separate the technology from the acoustics of the space,” highlights Vance Breshears of Idibri in San Diego (previously Acoustic Dimensions). “If the acoustics are good, a sound system may not provide that much benefit, but if the acoustics are poor then you need to overcome those issues before addressing the technology. Everything is about the signal-to-noise ratio. You have to improve signal—what you want to hear—and decrease noise—what you don’t want to hear. Understanding and learning is about clarity and intelligibility.”

Lovvorn Hall at FBC Dallas, image courtesy of Idibri.

In a learning environment, this signal-to-noise ratio is determined by many factors, including the instructor’s speaking ability, the system used for speech reinforcement, the acoustical characteristics of the room (good or bad), background noise levels from exterior or interior sources, audible and visual distractions, or anything else that adds or detracts from the ability to hear and understand.

The acoustics of the space are determined by shape, volume and finishes. “In terms of shape, rectangular rooms typically have better acoustics for speech than square rooms,” interjects Colleran. If acoustic designers can influence the size and shape of the room, then often less treatment is needed, but in spaces where the geometry is set by external parameters, the next step is to treat ceilings and walls, or to use an electronic solution to try to overcome the room.

Central control and a solid backbone can create flexibility

“Many times, the justification to make the investment in technology happens through designing for flexibility,” says Armando Fullwood, director of Wave in Charlotte, N.C. “For example, an education space designed with audio through the fiber network can also be used for overflow. When we worked with Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Fla., we created flex spaces. The only way for churches to validate putting that much money into the spaces is if they are used for more than education on Sunday.”

“When it comes to technology and systems, the more flexible it is, generally the more complex it is,” comments Breshears. “If you have a lot of sources available to you, there are simply more variables. To resolve this requires designing control systems and work flow that function in a way that is intuitive—which may include a bit of trial and error with the users.

If you can operate your smart phone, you can operate a well-designed control system. It functions in the same manner as your everyday technology.”  continued >>