Acoustics, in simple terms, is the science of sound and its reactions with its environment. There are many disciplines within the field, like architectural acoustics, underwater acoustics, vibration and its related effects, electronic generation of acoustic signals (sound engineering), community noise control, industrial noise control, audio metrics etc. The list is an imposing one. Architectural acoustics is easily misunderstood with Audio and visual systems design (the design of sound and visual reinforcement systems), which is a sister field, but an entirely standalone one.
Acoustical consultants use a combination of scientific theory, experimental data, experience, and judgment to analyze new problems and resolve common ones. Sometimes answers to common problems can be immediate. However for most of the problems, the acoustical consultant would require to take measurements or do some mathematical analysis or both to come to a satisfactory solution or set of solutions options.
From the design stages, for any space, an architect or interior design is crucial to develop an aesthetic & space effective solution. Similarly, an acoustical consultant is crucial to provide the best cost effective acoustics from the design stages for any space. This allows the design team to take informed decisions to set expectations.
The diverse backgrounds, specialties, and service among consultants can make it hard to find the best consultant for some projects. Acoustical consultants should be selected based on a careful comparison of their qualifications, services with needs of the project. The work of most acoustical consultants is properly limited to questions related to acoustics and noise control and sometimes vibration control.
The goal of any space is that it must have the ability to deliver its intended usage in terms of acoustic performance and at the same breath be visual pleasing or stunning to the human eye. Most building spaces have to be a compromise of good aesthetics and correct functionality. As the architect is required to make the visual aspects of the space unique, an acoustical consultant is required to ensure that the acoustical functionality of the space is not comprised.
An architect may or may not be trained to look at the aspects of sound in terms of the chosen material desired for the space. Although architects learn about acoustics during their educational program, it is very difficult to be prepared for the various types of acoustics and noise control issues involved in spaces. The acoustical consultant typically fulfills that responsibility.
There is a true saying, which goes to show the interdependence of both, the architect, and the acoustical consultant, on each other in terms of a space, as coined by Robert Apfel's for his signature textbook - "Deaf Architects & Blind Acousticians?"
To quote Don and Carolyn Davis, from their landmark book - Sound System Engineering, (Second Edition) - "Most text books on sound system fail to recognize that the acoustical environment is an integral part of the sound system. Indeed the parameters of the room are directly intertwined with complementary parameters in transducers and electronics. Few sound engineers would connect a rack full of electronic equipment to an unchecked electrical source hoping it had the correct voltage, frequency, and type of current (ac or dc). Yet the majority of these engineers would plug that same sound system into a strange acoustical environment (room acoustics), often with a disastrous results as if the rack were accidentally connected to 240 V dc instead of 120 V ac."
The point is the room acoustics is a crucial element of any sound system designer's design. Sometimes the designer can be prepare for this, but many good designers would rather incorporate the advice of acoustical consultants to determine the room acoustics or acoustical environment, and to conform the room acoustics to the desired needs of the sound system designer. The point is there is good opportunity to optimise the use of acoustical treatment to help control the acoustical environment and also optimise the design of the sound system to meet most functional requirements spaces, especially with the advent of 3-D modelling programs such as EASE, ODEON, MODELER among many.
MEP (Mechanical air conditioning, Electrical systems and Plumbing) consultants design for various equipment to deliver building related services to each space. Many a times, the equipment generates noise and vibration which is detrimental to the function of the space and or adjacent spaces depending on the activities of the space such as a studio, an auditorium or even a typical meeting room in an office or a guest room. Most times, it is very common to consider a very elementary approach to noise and especially vibration. However the results can be very disastrous for the end user. An acoustical consultant can help evaluate and even quantify the noise and vibration generated by the respective equipment. As a result MEP consultants can consider suitable products, during design stage, to attenuate the noise and vibration into the spaces. These products do not introduce a significant cost in comparison to the corrective actions involved when the problem is generated.
Most architects and project management teams involve a process of so called "value addition", when it is more apt as "cost cutting". This is to meet the budget limitations of the client. However, one of the most common victims of cost cutting is generally acoustics as it is ignored by all involved, i.e. the client, the architect, and the project management team without understanding the consequences. Therefore, an acoustical consultant is crucial to the client/ project to ensure that the desired cost cutting is allowed for without comprising on the desired specifications and essentials of acoustics environment for the space.
In addition, the acoustical consultant can identify different options to meet the acoustical needs of the client and at the same time provide some options to achieve the budgetary constraints. The result is to allow the client to make an informed decision about the budget constraints and the acoustical necessities of the space as most times "good acoustics" do come a price.