Why do we care about room acoustics? Despite the fact that we spend most of our lives inside rooms, most people pay little attenuation to the “sound” of those rooms. That, of course, is a mistake. The sound of some rooms directly determines the success or failure of the room. For example, a concert hall that is visually stunning, but makes an orchestra sound lousy, is a disaster. Likewise a recording studio control room that causes mixing engineers to consistently turn out recordings with a deficient bass response, or a hotel room that denies a good night’s sleep because of the busy interstate nearby will not be in business very long. At home, we might obsess over a room’s architectural flair and its décor, but its sound is often ignored. While you might easily hear a conversation with the person next to you, you might also be subjected to noises from the kitchen, laundry room and upstairs plumbing. And imagine a lavish home theater that makes your expensive components sound mediocre.
Admittedly, for many rooms, the acoustical performance is not a top priority. But in other rooms, acoustical performance is paramount. These acoustically sensitive spaces require careful planning and construction, as well as expert evaluation. Also, clearly, acoustical performance carries a price. The additional design work, special construction materials, and skilled labor that bring premium performance all also add to the bottom-line cost.
Room acoustics can make a profound impression on a listener in ways that are hard to quantify. For example, imagine that you enter a concert hall foyer that is heavily damped. There is almost no reverberation and even if the space is physically fairly large, it seems closed and small. Now you walk into the concert hall itself and the sudden change in acoustics is evident. You hear that even small sounds are magnified and linger with a luxuriously long reverberation time. The concert hall acoustics immediately gives you a sense of immensity and a feeling of anticipation. In other words, in some rooms, the acoustics is very important.