Acoustics

Technological solution no substitute for governmental action

Introducing open window noise cancellation technology. The Daily Mail (sigh, we know) reports that “scientists” have created “[a] window that can reduce noise pollution by 50 per cent, even when open.” If you click the link, be prepared to fight through the visually noisy Daily Mail site to get to the short answer.  Namely, researchers essentially are using “active noise control” technology like that “found in many high-end noise cancelling headphones.” Makes sense, as do the claims that this device–which the developers claim uses very little electricity–will save money as people can open windows again to help cool a space rather than rely on air conditioning.

Technology is great, and if this device works as claimed, no doubt many people will gratefully buy them. But maybe we should be demanding that our local governments fulfill their responsibility to manage our cities and towns by regulating noise instead of resorting to the gadget du jour? Because this solution can only be enjoyed by those lucky enough to have the means to employ it, or, as Futurism put it: Noise-Cancelling Windows Are Perfect For People Already Rich Enough To Find Quiet in the City.

 

 

The only instance where having noisy neighbors is a good thing

Photo credit: Anker A and Grave S licensed under CC BY 3.0

Noisy shrimp may be helping gray whales find their prey.  Jes Burns, OPB.org, writes about snapping shrimp, a variety of shrimp researchers at Oregon State University have heard, but not seen. How do these shrimp make so much sound?  Burns writes:

There’s a popping static created by thousands of shrimp claws pushing out jets of water at extremely high speed. The speed and disturbance create a tiny bubble that immediately collapses, creating a noise so loud and strong it can to stun prey a few inches away.

The researchers noticed that “the rocky areas where the shrimp live are also home to swarms of tiny zooplankton that whales love,” which made them wonder whether the whales use the shrimp as a tool to find food since they use sound to find prey. More study will be done to determine whether the hypothesis is correct.

And if, in the interim, you want to hear was thousands of snapping shrimp sound like, click below:

Listen to “What Snapping Shrimp Sound Like” on Spreaker.

Finally, restaurateurs think about how noise affects taste

Photo credit: G.M. Briggs

Betsy Andrews, SevenFiftyDaily, reports on “[n]ew research [that] is causing restaurant and bar owners to rethink noise control in their venues.” Andrews writes about Jim Meehan, a forward thinking bar owner, who “wanted a place where he could hear.” So Meehan hired Scott McNiece, the founder of the Chicago-based company Uncanned Music, who designs acoustics for restaurants.

The result was a space where “[t]he muted sound helps patrons relax and focus, not only on their companions but on Meehan’s cocktails.”  Meehan is pleased as is his business partner, Kevin Heisner, who believes noise “dings not just moods but palates.”  And Andrews dives into the world of the science of dining, introducing us to the researchers who are discovering that noise does affect taste.

But the most exciting bit of news from the piece comes at the end, when Andrews speaks to Dallas architect Rick Carrell, whose firm has designed spaces for large chain clients like Panera Bread and Starbucks. Carrell tells Andrews that, “[c]lients are very concerned with noise now. They don’t see it as a motivator like they did 10 years ago.”

Thank goodness.  It’s about time.

Click the link above to read the entire article.

The open plan layout will encourage collaboration, they said

Photo credit: Elliott Brown licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Sadly, the reality is quite different: Francis Crick Institute’s £700m building ‘too noisy to concentrate.’

Robert Booth, The Guardian, writes about the £700 million “cathedral to biomedical science” that was designed with the goal of having “scientists work together to make breakthroughs in cancer, neuroscience, pandemics and genetics.” Unfortunately, following the herd lemming-like has resulted in the following:

A year after opening, some of the 1,250 people working at the Crick Institute, in its central London laboratory, have complained that the open plan design, intended to assist informal collaboration, means some areas set aside for thinking and writing up research are too noisy.

When will this open plan madness end? People who think for a living need some quiet. Not library quiet–if such a thing even exists anymore–but the kind of quiet that allows them to concentrate. You know, so they can do their work. And mind you, the work the researchers and scientists are doing at the Crick Institute is important stuff, not another startup making an app to do something no one really needs.

In any event, we can think of 700,000,000 reasons why the open plan concept needs to die. Stop buying into the collaboration myth and let people do their work.

Good news for New Yorkers who love to dance

But potentially bad news for bar neigbors: After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie.  Annie Correal, The New York Times, writes about the repeal of the law that banned dancing in New York City bars. While this repeal is great news for bar owners and patrons with happy feet, it may not be embraced by near by residents looking for a good night’s sleep. So what should a bar owner do to let her customers dance the night away without disturbing the peace?

The City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the answer. DEP has produced a video that should help bar owners learn how to mitigate noise levels before they roll out the dance floor:

And the DEP helpfully has provided a list of noise control products and services available for all nightlige business owners.

Now let’s hope bar owners show some restraint–or spend some dough on sound insulation–in their rush to create a dance floor. If not, one hopes the next city council bill will be to give the DEP funding to hire more noise inspectors.

Clever hacks for dealing with noise

in your home. Louise Smithers, D’Marge, writes about various tricks and design choices you can employ to keep noise to a minimum in your castle.  While some options are obvious–use rugs and say yes to drapes–others are a bit more novel, like using attractive fabric covered acoustic panels to add visual interest and noise reduction to your space. While no one suggestion will likely solve every situation, Smithers’ list is a good place to start.

Click the link above to read for the full list of options.

Where is the quietest place on earth?

 

Not this one, but close | Photo credit: Max Alexander / PromoMadrid licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A room within Orfield Laboratories Inc. in south Minneapolis, according to Steve Orfield, 69, the lab’s longtime owner. Jenna Ross, Star Tribune, writes about the silence in the anechoic chamber at Orfiled Laboratories and how the silence gives way to the sounds of our bodies, leading visitors to “suddenly hear their blood flow, their inner ears buzz, their artificial heart valves click.”

Orfield’s chamber was originally used to help companies understand “how people experience the look and sound of their products,” but now it has a higher and better use: seeing how the room “might help people with post-traumatic stress disorder, autism and other hypersensitivities.”

Click the link above to read this fascinating article.

 

Who is to blame for noisy restaurants?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Noisy restaurants seem to be in the news these days. Almost every week, The Quiet Coalition comes across another article or television report about them. This piece from the Daily Mail is one of the few that provides names and numbers–the names of the restaurants and actual decibel readings from a sound level meter–and the sound levels they reported were loud enough to damage hearing.

What can you do to protect yourself? You don’t need a sound meter to know if it’s too loud (although we encourage everyone to install one on a smart phone–very accurate ones are available). The auditory injury threshold is only 75-78 A-weighted decibels (dBA). If you have to strain to speak or to hear while trying to have a normal conversation at 3-to-4 feet distance–the usual social distance for speaking or dining in the U.S.–the ambient noise is above 75 dBA, and your hearing is being damaged.

And once it’s gone, the only remedy is hearing aids.

So who is to blame for noisy restaurants? This report from Australia doesn’t blame anyone in particular, but suggests the culprit is minimalist design trends. We would add that crowded dining areas, low ceilings, and, of course, background music turned up to rock concert levels do not help.

Before the mass adoption of the industrial look in restaurant design, restaurants used to be carpeted, with drapery covering the windows, upholstered banquettes lining the walls, and white tablecloths covering every table. One went to a restaurant to dine and to converse. It is obvious that design trends have changed dramatically over the last two decades or so. Newer restaurant designs with open kitchens that allow the clanging of pots and pans to be heard in the dining area and hard floor and wall surfaces (e.g., glass, metal, polished cement, and tile) that reflect rather than absorb sound are certainly part of the problem.

As a result, restaurant noise is now the leading complaint of diners in many cities, according to the 2016 Zagat annual survey, and just barely in second place nationally, slightly behind bad service. As the twelve-step programs might say: First, you have to accept that you have a problem.

The important thing is that the problem of restaurant noise is finally being recognized, and now that we know that restaurant noise is a problem, we can start doing something about it. Some have suggested avoiding noisy restaurants or walking out if the restaurant is too noisy. But that isn’t a realistic choice in most cities. If one did that, one would never go to a restaurant. Instead, ask the manager to turn down the volume of amplified music, and if he or she refuses, tell them that you are leaving and will never return, and that you will tell everyone you know to avoid the place. Tell your city council and mayor that you want quieter restaurants. And post accurate and detailed reviews on Yelp, Open Table, and social media. Let the restaurant owner or manager, and those who read restaurant reviews on social media, know that “the food was excellent, but the place was so loud that we are never going back.”

If enough of us complain and demand quieter spaces, then restaurateurs will have to respond. Or they can ignore us at their peril.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Noisy restaurants in the news again

Photo credit: Matt Biddulph licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

By Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Two reports this week, one from the United Kingdom and one from Baton Rouge, again highlight the problem of noisy restaurants.

Restaurateurs say that a quiet restaurant is a dead or dying one. They want their places to be lively. But there’s a difference between a lively restaurant with spirited conversations going on among the diners, and one that is deafeningly loud, making it impossible to converse with one’s dining companions.

Yesterday, while looking for another piece of information in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) classic 1974 “Noise Levels Report” Information on Levels of Environmental Noise Requisite to Protect Public Health and Welfare with an Adequate Margin of Safety (EPA, 1974). I came across Table D-10, which I had missed on an earlier reading.

EPA Recommended Acceptable Noise Levels for Restaurants  (Click to enlarge)

It turns out that the EPA recommends that restaurants be very quiet, only about 50-60 decibels. These days, that’s almost “library quiet”. In fact, some months ago I measured the sound level to be approximately 45 dBA in the main circulation room of my local library!

So concern about appropriate restaurant noise levels is not a new concern. It’s decades old.

Some have suggested that diners should walk out of noisy restaurants, or boycott them. But in many cities, if we did that, we would never eat in a restaurant. There just aren’t any quiet ones. And as long as the restaurants are full, there is no incentive for them to become quieter.

I don’t know about the UK, but in the U.S., lawsuits under disability rights laws may be the only way restaurants will become quieter.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.