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Try Harder To Understand Acoustics, Please.

By November 25, 2012No Comments

Piano Woman

I just left a customer, well at least I thought possible customer. Isn’t this the basis for our business appointments. Customer x has an acoustic issue and company y is there to design a solution for the issue. That is the basis for our meeting and spending time together. In fact, if it wasn’t for that reason, we may never have met at all.

Acoustic Issue

The acoustic issue is usually described as “It sounds bad” or “The sound in the room drives people out of the room when I play piano”. There are others such as its too loud in this part of the room and you can not hear anything at all in this part of the room like you can the other part. After all of these comments, I am not so sure I want to go into the room.


I was referred to this customer by a dealer. She had a grand piano in her room and it was a larger room actually a good size for just a piano. Unfortunately, the room had to be a living room, a dining room, and a music room for the piano. One of the comments above was from this customer. It does not matter which one.

Need Surface Area

When I spoke with the customer on the telephone, I informed that her acoustic issues would take wall surface area to fix and would she be willing to install absorption technology over those wall surface areas. She said she understood and had no issue with that. She did not have an issue with that. I never thought to ask about the husband. It never even occurred to me. I figured if the wife was fine with wall surface treatment the husband was good, too.

Room From Hell

When I walked into the room, my worst fears were realized. The room was good size with 25′ ceilings but the piano was in the corner. To make matters worse, one of the corner walls was glass. I should have ran as fast as I could at that point, but I remembered my conversation with the woman customer on the telephone about willing to treat offending surfaces.

Issues Described

After about 15 minutes of explaining the issue and the treatment, I settled on a room tuning approach. The customer had no idea on what type of sound she wanted, but she definitely did not like the sound that she had. I decided to let her tell me what she liked after I brought in some acoustic foam to assist her in her tuning efforts. This is 2″ open celled acoustic foam.

Starting Point

I estimated she would need about 10, 3’x 5′ pieces strategically placed to produce a noticeable difference in the rooms decay times. It would not bring the reverberation times down far enough into the acoustically acceptable range, but there would be a distinct audible difference to the lay person. This was my hope, since the woman was a musician.

Plan In Place

We all decided on an approach. I would bring the 10 pieces over and place them in her room around the piano. She could then practice or play the piano and listen to the result. She could add or remove units at will and try to find a sound that was more to her liking. It is difficult to try and figure out what people consider good sound. There are too many human and subjective variables to consider.

A Four Unit Start

I did not have 10 with me but I did have 4 in my vehicle. I positioned the foam pieces around the panel in the room corner covering the one glass “wall”. I instructed her to take her time with the foam and I would be calling her next week to deliver and set up the remaining pieces for her to complete her room tuning process with. They both agreed and on my way I went.

Call Back

About two miles down the road, I received a telephone call. It was the client and she said that her husband was upset because he found the 4 panels too visibly obtrusive. I said that I would return since I was still in the area and we could discuss this issue. I headed back to the appointment.

Role Reversal

After I arrived, I listened to the husband tell me that numerous foam panels on the wall would destroy the balance of the room. He stated that panels on those two walls would be overwhelming and bring a lop sided balance to the room when one was looking out the window. Everything the husband said was what I would have expected from the wife. I thought I was in a parallel universe.

I explained that 4 units would just be a beginning and that we all agreed to try 10 total. If you find 4 obtrusive, what will you think about 6 more. I picked up my foam and left, mumbling to myself, “Please, try harder to understand acoustics”. Well, something along that line.


I am a structural engineer as well as a master furniture maker. I design cabinets for low frequency, activated carbon absorbers. Connect with me on Google+

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