Modern Acoustic Solutions for Interior Environments

Specifying for health, comfort, aesthetics, and affordability
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Sponsored by AMBICO, ASI Architectural, Focal Point, NanaWall, PABCO Gypsum, Pyrok, Rockfon®, and USG
By Rebecca A. Pinkus, MTPW, MA
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With many new interiors leaning toward open spaces with high ceilings, often with cement walls or other minimalist features, noise quickly becomes a challenge. These noisy environments can be tempered with acoustic solutions that include a combination of ceiling panels and acoustic walls, although some spaces may require only ceiling systems. Of the available systems, modular acoustic ceiling panels or tiles are one of the most widely used, effective, and affordable acoustic solutions on the market, in part because of their versatility and modern design aesthetics. Ceiling panels can be made from a range of materials and in different designs. Some common materials include stone wool, cementitious wood fiber, and drywall (often referred to as gypsum board, plaster board, or sheetrock). However some projects, such as performance halls, use special wood paneling for both ceilings and walls.

Photo courtesy of PABCO Gypsum

Sound-reducing gypsum drywall can be installed exactly like standard drywall.

In addition to traditional ceiling tiles or panels, baffles and luminaires provide a more aesthetically interesting option for sound and noise management. As with tiles or panels, they can be made from different materials, including textiles such as polyester.

Photo courtesy of USG

Acoustical drywall ceilings are installed like drywall and sprayed to have a monolithic look.

Of the many available materials for ceiling panels, stone wool panels with suspension grids and accessories can be used to absorb sound in order to create comfortable and productive office spaces, quiet and private health-care suites, cinema theater interiors, and overall aesthetically beautiful interiors.

Acoustic ceilings and wall panels come in many different materials, shapes, and sizes, including cementitious wood fiber, which adds both sustainability and thermal insulation to product characteristics. These easy-to-install panels can be used in any venue where cost-effective acoustic products are specified.

Yet other projects, such as hotels or health-care facilities, require an affordable, easy-to-install solution, such as sound-reducing, gypsum drywall that can be installed exactly like standard drywall while also providing exceptional sound-transmission management. Benjamin Shafer, a technical services manager of acoustic systems at PABCO Gypsum, notes that “sound-damping drywall is an effective and efficient way to achieve high sound-isolation performance without sacrificing valuable floor space.”

Photo courtesy of Focal Point

Integrated acoustic lighting and baffle systems can manage sound in a room and improve the overall indoor experience.

Alternatively, seamless, sound-absorbing acoustic plasters, thin perforated gypsum board, and sprays can provide affordable solutions. With these options, architects and designers can easily integrate sustainable, sound-absorbing products into their projects. Another cost-effective and high-performance option includes acoustical drywall ceiling and wall solutions. These new breakthrough acoustical systems are installed and finished similar to drywall but provide excellent acoustics with a smooth, monolithic look. Custom colors, direct-mount ceiling and wall system options are also available.

Finally, other acoustic solutions can do double-duty to control sound, all while supplementing the daylighting of the space, thus making the indoor environment lighter, brighter, and quieter, all of which can help improve how occupants work and learn. Acoustic luminaire and baffle systems can easily be integrated into a space to provide sustainable sound absorption that works to improve the comfort and indoor experience of occupants of commercial spaces.

Specialty Walls and Door Assemblies

While ceiling and wall solutions can be used for the majority of projects, some spaces simply require a different take on acoustics, such as interiors with versatile, dynamic rooms that can be used for different purposes throughout the day. Such spaces benefit from nontransitional design solutions to manage acoustics. Doors and door assemblies are another important consideration in an interior’s acoustic management system; a perfectly designed interior space without an equally well-considered door system can translate to intrusive sound coming into or out of the room, and more or less undo all of the other work.

Photo courtesy of NanaWall

The Dairy Farmers of America’s new headquarters features acoustic glass walls that offer privacy from sound all while maintaining a bright, light, open space.

Some spaces don’t require acoustic support all of the time, and instead can benefit from acoustic barriers that can be folded away when they are not needed. Libraries and offices, for example, now frequently have flexible meeting spaces that can be either open or closed off with sliding glass walls. These designs can also be used in VIP rooms of event venues, allowing guests to see the event within the quiet privacy of their own space.

Acoustic openings such as doors are referred to as assemblies, which include the door, doorframe, and seal system (perimeter seal, door bottom, threshold, and astragal at paired openings). The acoustic quality of door assemblies plays an important role both in blocking unwanted noise from entering a space and containing sound so that it does not cause unwanted noise in public spaces. These assemblies also contribute to the quality of the sound within a space. These functions are critical for not only performance halls but also hospitals and schools, whether occupants need quiet for their recovery or learning. Acoustic doors and steel doorframes can also provide rated fire control.


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Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in July 2019


Modern Acoustic Solutions for Interior Environments
Buyer's Guide
Acoustic Products
AMBICO products take center stage at the Isabel Bader Center for the Performing Arts. This $63-million project required the architects to rely on AMBICO’s acoustic assemblies to block the sound from room to room. AMBICO designed and supplied nearly 100 wood and steel acoustic assemblies ranging from STC 40–59.
AMBICO Limited
Envirocoustic Wood Wool Corner Detail
Wood Wool is now a leader in the eco-friendly, high-performance, cost-effective acoustical-panel products category. Envirocoustic performs well by absorbing sound while thermally insulating; ecologically, acoustic wool is simple to produce; and panels are available in many size and color variations that can be designed to fit nearly any decor.
Seem® 1 Acoustic
Seem® 1 Acoustic, a linear luminaire and baffle system with an eco-friendly housing, delivers a noise reduction coefficient (NRC) of 1.05. The flexible system can be specified as an illuminated or unlit acoustic baffle to achieve the desired illumination and acoustic reverberation levels with a coordinated look.
STC 36 Sound-Rated Frameless Opening Glass Wall
NanaWall PrivaSEE is the only all-glass single-track sliding system specifically engineered for enhanced acoustical separation.
NanaWall Systems
QuietRock® Sound-Reducing Drywall
QuietRock® is the first gypsum product engineered to address airborne noise control in buildings. Professionals consistently choose QuietRock for its high acoustic performance, low installed cost, easy installation, thorough testing and reliability, and space-saving results. The standard in sound-reducing drywall, QuietRock has been installed in thousands of successful projects across the United States and Canada.
PABCO Gypsum
StarSilent System
The Pyrok StarSilent System is a smooth, seamless, durable, sound-absorbing plaster finish for walls and ceilings. This environmentally friendly system allows designers to utilize a seamless gypsum board look with high sound-absorbing qualities. For more information, call 914-777-7070 or email
Pyrok, Inc.
Sonar® + Plenum Barrier Board
Combine Rockfon’s Sonar® stone wool ceiling panels, suspension grid, and Plenum Barrier Board for a complete overhead system that optimizes both the acoustic absorption (high NRC 0.95) and privacy (STC 45–50) when interior partitions extend only up to the suspended ceiling.
Ensemble® Acoustical Drywall Ceiling
Design with excellent acoustic performance without compromising the smooth, seamless beauty of drywall. Breakthrough innovations across USG product technologies come together into one system to maximize sound control. With this unique system, designers can unlock new possibilities for what a ceiling can do, especially in high-end applications.