Vicoustic Takes the Hocus Pocus Out of Room Treatment
No matter how much you pore over the layout of your home theater and its dimensions, you’re going to need acoustic treatments if you want to experience your system’s full potential. Chair and speaker placements only do so much to counteract natural obstacles such as standing waves, modal peaks/nulls, and reflections. Even the best audio equipment and speakers can’t fully compensate for them; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Bad room acoustics can make the very best gear sound horrible.
Unfortunately, while acoustic treatments can counteract much of what physics throws at us, they’re typically very expensive and rather ugly. Boring rectangles of solid color, large fabric tubes standing in the corner, or worse yet, expanses of egg-crate-looking panels. There are exceptions. I’ve seen lots of gorgeous wood diffusors in high-end setups that look fantastic, but most of them cost more than the price-no-object equipment in the room. Fortunately, a company named Vicoustic now brings some options to the market that not only deal with your room’s acoustic issues but also look great, are easy to install, and are cost effective to boot. I’ve previously reported on the company at soundandvision.com. For this article, I actually got to take their products and services for a spin in my own theater room, pictured above and throughout.
More Than Just a Pretty Panel
Vicoustic operates via dealer networks throughout the world and offers room- planning services that provide even more value than the acoustic products themselves. Based on your room dimensions, type of construction, and speaker and listener location, the company will do a full room analysis using software that models your room and gives a glimpse of the acoustic issues you will likely face. This is done for a small fee (starting as low as $150 for a typical home theater), and the results are delivered in an informative report. Not looking for this type of analysis? Vicoustic USA offers a free design consultation that addresses the most common acoustic issues (first reflections, bass trapping) and provides a model of the room with recommended treatments, to give you an idea of what you can expect. For this review, the Vicoustic team performed the full acoustic-modeling process of my room, using extensive measurements I supplied—from the location of speakers and windows to the placement of smoke detectors.
Within about a week, I received a proposal that showed a full 3D rendering of my space with the suggested acoustic treatments in place. The report provided a modal analysis of the room, pointed out the trouble spots I would have (based on dimensions and seating location), and discussed which treatments Vicoustic would recommend to deal with these problems.
The second part of the report dealt with the room’s RT60 (reverberation time), which is the amount of time it takes for sound reflections to decay by 60 decibels at the main listening position. Highly reflective rooms are constantly working against you, causing sound to bounce all over the room. The more bounces, the longer vestiges of the original sound will hang around (increasing reverberation time) and arrive at your ears at different time intervals. This can cause the impression of a soundstage to lose focus and collapse as your brain gets confused by the incoming signals. Treatments such as absorption and diffusion panels are installed to counter this, so that most of the sound you hear is made up of more direct than reflected energy.
Vicoustic computes the room’s RT60 without treatments and what you should be able to achieve if you follow their suggestions. They guarantee this result if the proposal is followed completely. One small note here: Their proposal assumes you’re starting this process before you have added anything else into the room, including furnishings. So your actual RT60 is probably already shorter than the time quoted in their proposal, based on the acoustical interactions of chairs, a sofa, and even people. Vicoustic is trying to make the room the best it can be before you put anything in it.
While room treatments that provide absorption are the type most commonly found today, Vicoustic’s line includes hybrid products that combine both absorption, via an acoustic foam, and diffusion, with wood panels laid over the foam. The paneling not only breaks up sound waves hitting it but also gives you a nice mix of styles aesthetically. For my proposal, Vicoustic recommended a mix of absorption panels, diffusors, bass traps, and hybrids.
The main item was the hybrid Wavewood panel ($85 each), which is the company’s sig- nature product and their first acoustic panel. It’s a 2 x 2-foot foam square with a wood panel on top that is slotted to break up sound waves striking the front. Rather than being a 100 percent absorption design, it ends up providing about 70 percent absorption and 30 percent diffusion. The panel is very light, thanks to the BASF-sourced acoustic foam, so mounting it can be accomplished in various ways.
For those areas that required more absorption than diffusion, Vicoustic recommended the Cinema Round Premium ($85 each). It’s a curved 2 x 2-foot foam panel that can be wrapped in a variety of colored fabrics—your choice. This is a very dead panel, and its effects are easily gauged by simply walking up to one and talking at or near it; the panel just sucks the life out of your voice. Rather than mounting large swatches of this absorptive panel on my walls, we mixed some in with the hybrid Wavewood panels and ones that were strictly diffusors. This gave me a bit more absorption in areas that encounter first reflections, without having to worry about overtreating any one area.