To gain an appreciation for the significance of a room’s acoustics on what we hear, take a few minutes to perform a simple test.
You probably do this every day, but if you’re like most folks, you probably haven’t been paying attention to the results.
The test: take a walk through a large building and listen to the sound of your footsteps as you move from room to room. Move from a small room to a big room. Walk down a hallway. Walk through a large meeting room or gymnasium. Finally, walk outside.
As you listen, you’ll find that the differences are dramatic! Words like “live,” “dead,” “bright,” or “dull” might pop in your head as a way to describe what you heard.
Then, do the test again while conversing with a colleague, and listen to both voices. You’ll quickly see why room acoustics is important, even vital, to a pleasing listening experience.
It could be argued that none of the sounds that were heard were actually your shoes hitting the floor or your natural voice. Most of what was heard was reflections that the room produced in response to an acoustical stimulus.
And after this test, you’ll never be able to ignore room acoustics again. Sorry about that! It’s called the Catastrophe Effect.
A lifetime of study would be required to understand why each room sounded different, let alone which ones sounded “good” and which ones sounded “bad.”
Most things in the world around us have an example of perfection that can be used as a standard to by which to judge other things. An atomic clock can be used to resolve arguments about the correct time. A platinum iridium one-meter bar at the American National Standards Institute could be used to resolve arguments about correct length.
Yet there are no acoustical standards - no perfect loudspeakers, microphones or rooms. Because of this, sound is often considered to be subjective, where beauty is in the eye (ear) of the beholder, like music or a painting.
Yet clearly “good” and “bad” sound does exist, and we want our auditoriums and sanctuaries to sound pleasing to all who visit them.
Acousticians are tasked with dealing with the subjective and objective characteristics of sound to make the room sound “good”, even though “good” is not a clearly definable objective.
One thing is for certain. Bad acoustics in the form of room reflections and excess noise can render a space virtually unusable for speech communication and music playback.
I work in such spaces all the time - they are the reason I can make a living in the sound business.
It’s also interesting to note that many of the worst sounding rooms are produced by some of the most highly respected architects. These spaces are often visually stimulating yet sonic disasters.
Clearly a balance must be struck between efforts to make a room beautiful and efforts to make it sound good.
While these two goals are not mutually exclusive, they often work against each other. If we hold the view that an “auditorium” is “a place for hearing,” then room acoustics must be taken into consideration – not just the sound system!
Pat & Brenda Brown lead Syn-Aud-Con, conducting audio seminars and workshops around the world. Synergetic Audio Concepts (Syn-Aud-Con) has been a leader in audio education since 1973. With nearly 15,000 “graduates” worldwide, Syn-Aud-Can is dedicated to teaching the basics of audio and acoustics. For more information, go to http://www.synaudcon.com
More Church Sound articles by Pat Brown on PSW:
How To Illuminate The Audience With Beautiful, Consistent Audio Coverage
Proper Loudspeaker Placement: How To Avoid Lobes and Nulls
Ten Reasons Why Church Sound Systems Cost More
What Makes A Quality Loudspeaker?