Introduction to Acoustics

In the beginning, there was perfect sound.

Then man invented rooms and forever made it difficult to achieve good sound. The end? Luckily, no. Sound waves emanate out from their sources and strike room boundaries in predictable ways. Since tons of studies have shown that reflected sound is inherently inaccurate sound, controlling reflected sound is the key to making our spaces sound "good." While it's true that we all may have our own ideas as to what's a "bad" mixer, a "bad" loudspeaker or a "bad" microphone, I'm sure we can all agree on what a bad-sounding room sounds like. Two common examples of bad-sounding rooms that you're probably familiar with are gymnasiums and tiled bathrooms.

The good news is that by implementing the proper acoustical treatments, we can make even the worst-sounding room good enough to yield world-class sound. Controlling reflections yields truer sound and allows the "real" sound of an instrument, voice or loudspeaker to come through. The two methods of controlling sound are sound absorption and sound diffusion.

Hard room surfaces are responsible for the most detrimental reflections like standing waves, flutter echoes and low frequency room modes. Ever clapped your hands and heard a ringing, repeating, hollow sound? Say hello to your arch rival, Mr. Flutter Echo. Ever been in a conversation with someone or played music in a room where the low frequencies were overpowering the rest of the sound, making for poor intelligibility? Meet Mr. Room Mode and his nasty sidekick, Low End Buildup. The three types of sound wave reflection are called axial, tangential and oblique modes, which relate to which direction in a room sound is being reflected from one hard surface to another. The worst of these types is the dreaded axial mode, which means sound is being reflected from wall to opposing wall or floor to ceiling.

Corners cause us a lot of problems, too, boosting the apparent amount of bass in our rooms by 9dB, making us think we have 3 times as much bass as we actually do. Corner bass trapping is vital to smoothing out virtually any room's sound. (Your dealer can advise you how to best achieve bass absorption if you don't have any 90° corners available.)

Some people mistakenly think that making a room's surfaces totally absorbent is the only way to make a room sound "good," but this is often not the case. While it's true that many rooms' acoustics can be adequately controlled with 60% wall coverage with 2" Studiofoam, the really great sounding rooms tend to be ones with a proper blend and placement of good acoustic absorption and sound diffusion products. These rooms exhibit a pleasing small degree of natural ambience, but no flutter echoes or false bass buildup. No products on the market are better suited to giving you top-notch sound than acoustic absorbers and sound diffusors from Auralex. The BBC did an interesting study and found that you reap up to 4 times the acoustic absorption if you spread your absorbent material evenly around a room instead of putting it all on just one wall or ceiling. Just how you spread the material around is based largely on what appearance you desire, so come up with a treatment scheme you enjoy the looks and sound of.

Another added plus to spreading your acoustical foam around is that you get some extra (beneficial) sound diffusion off the exposed panel edges of the panels.


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