Architects, designers and builders are always searching for unique and beautiful wall and ceiling materials to help make their interior spaces stand out. Clients, on the other hand, are hoping their interior spaces will also sound good—not too much echo or booming reverberation, and in general, better-sounding places where everyone can hear clearly. While having a great design and great sound have long-been perceived as opposing goals, there are ‘new and improved’ materials and approaches that accomplish it all. When considering interior finishes with sound-improving properties, here are some newer types of acoustical products to consider.
Originally proposed in acoustical studies in 1975, micro-perforated panel absorbers (MPPA or “microperf”) now represent an entirely new class of sound-absorbent panels. Made of thin steel, aluminum, wood veneer, vinyl or high-pressure laminate materials, micro-perf panels have become a cutting-edge product category and promise effective wideband sound absorption with many finished solutions that don’t look like typical acoustical treatments. The microscopic perforations in the thin materials—the holes are usually around .5 mm in diameter —have been laboratory-proven to act as a sound absorber when backed with fiber-based sound-absorbent material, an air space, or both.
Aesthetically pleasing wood-veneer microperf wall and ceiling panels have excellent acoustical performance and structural integrity. Engineered to offer multiple benefits, the panels offer seamless integration of acoustic materials for all types of projects. The special lightweight design allows the panels to be hung like traditional wall panels, making them easy to integrate with existing plans for matching wall and ceiling designs. For ceiling applications, hardware is available to allow accessibility in ceiling panels when installed in 15/16-inch H.D. T-bar grids.
Elegantly-smooth aluminum-sheet microperf wall and ceiling tiles are thin metal panels that have a smooth fabric appearance, with excellent NRC Ratings of up to 0.80. These affordable tegular or flat tiles install easily into any standard 15/16-inch ceiling grid, with associated wall-panel applications also available. The panels need only a 4-inch air space minimum behind or above them for excellent acoustical performance with no liner or backer needed. Available finishes include anodized, painted or with custom-printed graphics and the panels are easily installed in ceiling-grids or wall systems. Owing to the panels’ steam-cleanability, the aluminum panel solutions are ideally suited for use in clean rooms, medical facilities and food preparation areas of restaurants, bars and corporate cafeterias. This is especially noteworthy as most other sound-absorption panels do not offer this feature.
APPLICATIONS: Concert halls and auditoriums, atriums, boardrooms, restaurants, clean rooms, medical offices and hospitals, laboratories, airports, critical-listening rooms, residences, houses of worship, classrooms, music practice rooms, and any high-design application where discrete sound absorption is desired.
For many years, linear planks have been used as a standard ceiling and wall finish in commercial applications. Now, thanks to cost-effective computer-controlled manufacturing, these solutions can be produced with side-plank grooves that allow sound-permeable inserts in the reveals between planks, making way for a more economical application. In cases in which better sound control is desired, sound-absorbing backer treatments can then be installed as a hidden acoustical treatment, above or behind planks.
Linear wood wall and ceiling planks are most often available in solid wood, wood or vinyl-veneer products. Standard plank widths are 4 or 6 inches, and many manufacturers offer custom widths up to eight inches. Reveals between planks can vary from 1/8-inch to 1-inch, and partially acoustically-transparent felt filler strips can be placed between planks, allowing fiberglass or recycled cotton acoustical backer to mitigate room echo and reverberation. Many linear plank products offer simple labor-saving installation hardware systems.
Linear planks made from extruded aluminum are now available for modern-esthetic wall and ceiling designs, with side-reveal grooves as well. Aluminum is an excellent choice for exterior applications or high-humidity environments, such as soffits, carports and indoor swimming pools. As with wood planks, fiberglass or recycled cotton, acoustical backer can be installed above or behind the aluminum ceiling or wall assemblies for projects requiring sound absorption.
Available for interior and exterior applications, these extruded aluminum planks are washable, mold- and mildew-resistant, and offer fast and easy installation in scored, radius or barrel-vault designs using radius grids.
APPLICATIONS: Restaurants and bars, conference and board rooms, open office areas, hotels, sports and entertainment venues, transit hubs, casinos, aquatic centers, retail stores, theaters, convention centers, lobbies, gymnasiums, houses of worship, airports and more.
Advances have recently been made in low-frequency absorber research, which will lead to more effective and economical LF absorbers installed behind wall and ceiling slots and in out-of-the-way corner locations. This will allow for greater control of low-frequency noise and reverberation with minimal visual impact in large spaces like auditoriums, gymnasiums and houses of worship.
With a huge (26,000 cubic feet) sound-testing laboratory, NWAA Labs promises to greatly help research the design, testing and manufacturing of more effective LF absorbers into the future. Previous sound-measurement labs have been too small in dimensions and test-room volume (around 10,000 cubic feet) to accurately examine acoustic treatments meant to control low frequencies (below 150Hz). Low-frequency noise poses a health risk in public and private-sectors due to the proliferation of deep-bass noise from jet and diesel engines—such as planes, trucks and mass transit vehicles and heavy-industry machines. While still early in the development of low-frequency absorbers, advances using mass-loaded vinyl membrane-based technology have already been manufactured to reduce LF reverberation and noise problems in large and small spaces, with product research continuing.
APPLICATIONS: Concert halls and auditoriums, industrial manufacturing and assembly areas, airports and transit hubs, gymnasiums, houses of worship, recording studios, high-end listening rooms, home theaters and more.
Acoustic Wall Art
Continuous improvements are being made with printing high-resolution images on sound-permeable fabric. These advancements now allow colorful, highly-detailed graphic prints to be backed with sound-absorbent materials like fiberglass, recycled cotton and compressed poly-fill. Installed in meeting rooms, classrooms and other sound-critical environments, these panels reduce echo and reverberation and increase speech intelligibility, while adding to the overall aesthetics of the venue.
Often dubbed “Acoustic Art,” this new high-resolution printing process can create vibrant images on acoustically-transparent fabric, assuring brilliant images with effective sound absorption. These thin (1- to 1½-inch thick) panels offer a beautiful way to add effective sound absorption to high-design spaces without the appearance of standard acoustic treatment panels, another example of hidden acoustical treatments. Vibrant colors, great for personal or corporate art, are achieved using a dye sublimation printing process. The printed fabric is then wrapped around an aluminum channel frame with the absorbent material inside.
APPLICATIONS: Offices, boardrooms and conference rooms (company logos are very popular), restaurants and bars, family rooms and home theaters, living spaces and recording or video post studios.
Yes, it can sound great too!
These latest technological advancements offer great style along with more effective acoustical improvements; and the prospects for beautiful yet “stealthy” sound treatments have never been better. Choose the finished look that best suits the project, then check with acoustical consultants and product manufacturers to find the ideal products for a specific application. W&C