No matter how much money you invest in a videoconferencing system, you’ll inevitably be disappointed in the experience if your conference room acoustics are bad. Conference room acoustics are frequently a challenge because these environments tend to be full of hard surfaces: gypsum board walls, glass, tables, screens. All of these elements create what is referred to in the acoustical world as a “lively” space – one in which sound reflects numerous times without being reduced in strength, resulting in reverberation. Furthermore, conference rooms are usually located adjacent to busy open-office settings with high ambient noise levels. These factors present a complex acoustical situation that can be succinctly summarized with one question: How do you keep outside noise out, and inside noise manageable?
Although every conference room is different, we have found that three specific design solutions can make a huge difference:
#1: Mass Loaded Vinyl
When designing conference rooms, full-height walls (i.e., floor-to-deck) are best, but they’re not always possible. Sometimes, due to budgetary constraints or mechanical equipment in the plenum, demising walls must be partial height. When that’s the case, the conference room sound isolation and speech privacy performance becomes acoustically compromised because sound can escape through the drop ceiling. The solution? A sound barrier curtain suspended from the deck above which drapes over the partition top track onto the ceiling tile grid. Made of flexible vinyl, these barriers achieve an adequate level of noise reduction for many conference spaces.
#2: Door Bottom Drop Seals
Another acoustical weak point in conference rooms is the doorway. Even when closed, many doors have an air gap along the bottom that allows sound both in and out of the room. A great solution to this problem is to specify doors that include a drop bottom seal. Triggered by a small pin that releases when the door is closed, the door bottom seal “drops” to the floor and creates an airtight barrier to minimize sound transfer. In order for the seal to work correctly, however, door sills must be installed plumb and flush, which can be a challenge for inexperienced installation teams. The hardware may add $50 to $100 to the cost of the door, but when it works, it’s worth every penny.
#3: Sound Absorbing Artwork
Acoustical treatments are available in a variety of finish types. One of the most appealing, in terms of conference room aesthetics, is a large-format acoustical panel that’s digitally printed to look like a photographic mural. These murals are ideally mounted between three to seven feet above the finished floor and, in addition to serving as artwork or branding, they absorb sound – or, more technically, turn sound energy into heat energy. This significantly reduces reverberant sound build-up, which can cause poor teleconferencing quality, especially for remote participants.