Going to the movie theater should be an enjoyable experience. It gives you a crowd to watch the movie with, a surround sound experience, and an overpriced bucket of popcorn. In these settings, it’s easy for two hours to pass by engrossed in plotlines and Hollywood after effects. When you go to the theater, though, there are a few expectations, surrounding the movie’s audio presentation.
1) You aren’t going to hear your next-door neighbor’s movie.
Some movies don’t have great execution. They’re hard to focus on, and you’re stuck checking your watch every five minutes. Noise from neighboring movie theaters couldn’t make these movies worse. However, some movies have great execution! And they evoke emotion! In these movies, you don’t want the most heart-rendering portion of the movie to be overpowered by crashes from an action movie next door.
This happens all too often, though. You pay to see one movie, and you hear the muffled theatrics from the neighboring theater throughout your two-hour film. It’s frustrating and takes away from the cinematic experience.
2) The actor’s and actress’s voices aren’t going to echo.
It is also difficult to watch a movie when the room is echoing from the sounds of the story. With noises flying around the theater, you may misunderstand a movie’s key plotline through poor speech intelligibility.
Speech intelligibility is the ability to be understood, and it depends on the reverberation time in the space where the sound occurs. A theater’s reverberation time is measured by the amount of time it takes for a sound level to reduce by 60 decibels after the steady sound source has stopped. In an action movie with background music, sound effects, and quick dialogue, a long reverberation time will decrease speech intelligibility dramatically and the listeners will feel overwhelmed rather than excited.
3) The sound deviations should reflect the actions on the screen.
As you look at the screen, you’ll see actors, actresses, and sound effects come from all over the screen. If, from your vantage point, you see an actress speak while on the left side of the screen, you should expect to hear the noise coming from the left side of the theater. If, instead, you are hearing the noises from the right side of the theater, you may be in an overly “live” room acoustically.
In an acoustically live room, noises bounce and reflect off the surfaces rather than being absorbed by them. These rooms usually have an excess of hard, reflective surfaces, such as a hardwood floor. In some areas, like a gymnasium, this could help improve the experience. In a movie theater, though, it is best to aim for a “dead” room acoustically.
Management of Movie Theater Acoustics
Most movie theaters take precautions to make sure your expectations align with reality. A lot of the unique, decorative things you see in a movie theater are ways to prevent noise from echoing around the theater and transmitting into the next room.
Ceiling Acoustics and Wall Acoustics
If you look up, there are black movie theater acoustics tiles that you see in the ceiling of each theater. These fiberglass tiles offer excellent sound absorption properties that also help reduce reflections and control excessive room reverberations.
If you look at the walls, you’ll see bright colors and artistic patterns that may look and feel carpeted. These look like decorations, but they are also specifically used for sound control, as they manage echo and sound bounce within a room.
Center Channel and Comb Filtering
Another problem movie theaters face is comb filtering. Comb filtering is interference between you and a speaker. This phenomenon exists both because noise travels and because it has a time component to it. If you have a home theater, and you place the speaker on the floor or in between chairs, the noise will hit the floor and chairs that are in the way before it reaches your ears. This noticeably distorts the noise you hear. In cases where there are multiple speakers, an unobstructed speaker’s sounds will reach your ears slightly before a speaker with obstruction. This subtle difference has the potential to create confusion and frustration in your listening experience.
Comb filtering will be a factor that movie theaters need to consider when planning their speaker systems and seating designs. By having speakers optimally placed throughout the theater, they give customers the opportunity for the best audible experience of the movie they are watching.
Other Tips and Tricks
Ceiling panels and wall tiles aren’t the only ways movie theaters can control noise during your movie. There are options for movie theater acoustics everywhere! Carpet isn’t the best material to use if you’re worried about spilling your soda, but it acts as a great absorbent for noise pollution. It can also be used to cover an additional acoustical underlayment that can be used on the floor.
Likewise, everybody loves to sit in comfort while watching a good movie. A plush, padded seat is a cozy way to do so, but it can also act as a double agent. The padding materials can be used to absorb the sounds of the movie experience.
Even the HVAC system plays a movie theater acoustics role. Nobody wants to hear the air conditioning kick in as a movie’s championed couple recognizes their love for the first time. In order to avoid this, movie theaters can cover the HVAC system with an acoustical duct liner that will cancel these noises.
How Conwed Can Help Improve Movie Theater Acoustics
Different types of panels determine how sound is controlled within the area. At Conwed, we sell six different types of acoustical ceiling products. Some are designed specifically for high-traffic areas like hallways or lobbies, while others are better suited for more open spaces like auditoriums or theaters.
We suggest our Respond A Series as movie theater acoustics panels. This series is used on walls and ceilings as an economical, all-purpose noise control solution in areas aiming for sound absorption and quality. They work perfectly in movie theaters, as they are designed to combat noise in places where lighting is low, and there isn’t continuous coming and going.
For more information about our products, you can click here. You can also find a representative near you to learn more on how you can create an optimal movie theater acoustics experience.