Since Snowsound burst onto the North American office scene in 2014, the company that makes acoustical architecture has won three top awards at NeoCon. That’s an impressive achievement by any standard, but what makes it especially impressive is that Snowsound won in three different categories, testament to the growing breadth of its product line and the versatility of what it creates.
Add to the accolades a market that has grown to embrace acoustical solutions for increasingly loud offices, and you have the recipe for success. Snowsound’s sales grew 100 percent last year. This year, the company is projected to grow an additional 150 percent to 200 percent, says Mike Dardashti, executive vice president of Snowsound in North America. Not bad for a company that has only been shipping products for 27 months or so.
“Acoustics are much hotter than they were even a few years ago,” Dardashti says. “There are more competitors as well. But we are not a me-too brand at all. We are doing things that other acoustics companies aren’t because of our technology. It is a different way to approach how sound is absorbed.”
Getting rid of noise in an increasingly open workspace is becoming critically important. Here’s the problem: Unwanted sound is formed by waves that are reflected from solid surfaces that have limited absorption, such as stone or wood floors, glass, walls and ceilings. Ideally, sound travels in one direction from the speaker to the listener. The Snowsound sound absorbing panels attenuate high, mid-range and low frequencies and are designed to improve surrounding acoustics. According to the company, lab testing has verified significant sound absorption across 0 to 4 kHz.
The company has competitors, but most use felt or plastic fibers, which does reduce noise but not across all three frequency ranges, according to Dardashti. The technology and resulting noise reduction is impressive, but the company, with its roots in Italy, believes in creating beautifully designed products as well. Snowsound products can make a space quieter, and the designs can make it more beautiful.
Combined, that can increase productivity and enjoyment in a space. Take, for example, the Starbucks Coffee at the corner of Lake and LaSalle streets in Chicago. The coffee shop opened in the space which has high ceilings and lots of concrete — a common design in urban aesthetic in urban areas. The problem was the noise that chattering customers and baristas made in the space. The sound bounced around the room. It was an unpleasant place to have a cup of coffee.
So Starbucks called Snowsound, which installed its Flap product on the ceiling. The geometric shapes of the Flap panels creates a cloudlike effect on the ceiling and greatly cuts down the noise in the coffee shop. The manager reports customers are staying in the coffee shop longer (and buying more coffee).
As Snowsound adds more products — more than a dozen new shapes and applications in the last few years — Dardashti says it is becoming more of a system than simply a panel or acoustical shapes placed on a wall or ceiling. “You can put our products on a desk, on the ceiling, mounted on glass and in offices, conference rooms and open spaces. In a building, you might use many Snowsound products, but they are all married together,” he says.
Snowsound continues to come up with new products. Look for Diesis and Bemolle to be launched soon. Designed by Alessandro Mendini and Francesco Mendini, the two new products will use the company’s patented fiber textile technology. Diesis and Bemolle are built on a frame that allows the fiber to hang like drapery. The products are perfect for more classic environments where the modern design found in most of the company’s products might not be appropriate. Snowsound-Fiber is made of soft polyester fibers with silver ions, intrinsically fire-resistant and bacteriostatic. The interaction between the special acoustic fibers and the calculated curves of the objects makes it possible to reduce annoying sound reverberation in the environment.
“When sound hits this fabric, it gets trapped in it,” Dardashti says. “If you just took polyester fabric and wrapped something with it, it wouldn’t work the same. This particular weave breaks down the sound.”
Snowsound has found itself in the right time and the right place. Everyone is moving into the open plan, and the aesthetic in the office is, simply put, really loud. Hard surfaces, more glass and open spaces create an unpleasant din. Companies are responding to loud workspaces in a variety of ways. Some are adding sound masking — basically adding noise to eliminate noise. Others are turning to products that might not have the technology behind their noise reducing products.
“Everyone is trying to get into sound-absorbing materials, but very few have the proper testing to back up those products,” Dardashti says. “Snowsound uses acoustical software that can simulate what the actual reverb time is in the space, which lets specifiers know how many panels are needed for acoustical comfort. With other products, they might not that kind of confidence.”
That technology is important. When designing a space, you wouldn’t randomly put lights in it and say, “All right, it’s brighter now.” And Dardashti says you can’t simply throw up acoustic panels on a wall and say, “OK, it’s quieter now.”
“What we want to do is focus on controlling sound,” he says.