How Acoustic Sound Panels For Churches Improve Clarity

By Ina Hunt

Music and speech are both improved by a small amount of reverberation, but at higher levels it can make both seem annoying and garbled. The choir and sermon are an integral part of many services, but become meaningless when the congregation is unable to hear singing or distinguish words normally. Acoustic sound panels for churches focus amplified waves and natural vibrations, making them more meaningful and pleasant to listeners.

Although there are European cathedrals famous for their fantastic echoes, a fine dividing line separates noise from distortion. Echoes occur when the vibrations that make waves bounce repeatedly back and forth from hard, reflective surfaces. Some buildings are fortunate to include acoustic considerations in the original plans, but many churches today are housed in structures originally designed for other uses.

Even without the benefit of modern computer analysis, there have been several methods historically used to correct the problem. Some included the addition of ash to clay pots located at strategic points withing a room. They were moved about, and burnt material was added or removed to dampen specific reverberations. Support pillars that dominated some buildings were specifically altered, and stone blocks specially sized to inhibit echo.

Current solutions range from high-tech reverberation systems that are able to create interchangeable custom acoustic environments, to simply installing thick carpeting in specific areas. These are not ineffective, but neither solves problems of muffling or echo that are a result of the original and unalterable interior building design. For many rooms, the best solution incorporates flat, standing or attached wall panels that inhibit waves.

Rather than cutting out certain frequencies, these baffles absorb unwanted reflections, often within a particular room. They all incorporate a common design approach, using a frame that houses a filling of absorbent material, covered by a variety of decorative possibilities. The interior is most often filled with fiberglass or foam, and there are less environmentally toxic fillers also available.

Their size depends the extent of the echo and distortion. Some are as small as four square feet, while others may be nearly wall-sized, and most solutions require combinations. No matter their dimensions, they allow vibrations to pass through the exterior material rather than bouncing off, and any waves that return are re-absorbed. This principle is the same one used by music studios to emphasize accuracy, and can be easily adapted to churches.

Far from appearing to be an industrial or high-tech intrusion, these structures easily blend with most modern church decors. They can mirror the patterns and colors of existing stained glass, or can tie a room together by adopting patterns or colors on existing walls and ceilings. While a plain baffle is not particularly attractive, in many cases they end up looking like a part of the intended interior design.

While it is possible to place these baffles in a hall with acoustic precision using sophisticated microphones and computers, the best method of making a final determination is simply by listening critically. What seems within acceptable range to a machine may not to a human ear. When installed properly, they do not inhibit high frequencies or decrease volume, but instead increase the clarity of both speech and music.

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