Gustavo Pires - Vicoustic
If we asked audiophiles which element of the stereo system is the most important in their opinion, most of them would definitely bet on speakers, an amplifier or a source, or - in some cases- on something like cables, power accessories, or anti-vibration pads. A large group will answer, however, that the room in which all this equipment works has the greatest impact on the final sound result. In a room with poor acoustics, even the most expensive and the most refined equipment will not be able to show even some of its capabilities, while in interiors adapted to listening to music, even inexpensive equipment should do well and give us a lot of pleasure. What to do to find ourselves in the latter group? There are, of course, many simple home methods to improve acoustics, but more and more people are choosing a "real" solution - the assembly of professional acoustic panels. There are many companies on the market offering specialized products for the adaptation of room acoustics - not only listening rooms, but also recording studios, concert and conference halls, offices, hotels, restaurants, and public facilities. One of them is Vicoustic. The Portuguese have long been providing audiophiles, sound engineers, and installers with panels that do not look like typical, ugly, gray pieces of foam. A lot has changed recently, so I decided to explore the subject in more detail and talk to Vicoustic's technical director, Gustavo Pires.
My interlocutor joined Vicoustic in 2017. As he explains himself, he was prompted by ordinary human curiosity to study physics and more specifically acoustics. He wanted to understand why certain things work in a certain way, and in the field of acoustics, science and art come naturally. After completing his course and then a Master's in Engineering Physics, he began his career as an acoustic engineer, managing a diverse range of projects in many sectors and regions for nearly fifteen years, from architecture, construction, and room acoustics to environmental, urban, industrial and environmental noise. construction. During this path, Gustavo became a member of the Institute of Acoustics in Great Britain and the Portuguese engineering council Ordem dos Engenheiros, obtaining the title of specialist in the field of acoustic engineering. As he says, joining the Vicoustic crew, he crossed over to the other side of the force. Previously, he used various acoustic products in his work and developed custom solutions for the projects he led, and later helped develop panels that met the needs of engineers, architects, and designers. He is also responsible for the Vicoustic Academy - an intensive training program in the field of room acoustics that the Portuguese company conducts each year.
The standard thinking about acoustic systems is average in people, either none or such that they are ugly pieces of foam, a huge quarter-quarter or wooden trusses, with which even a nice room can be turned into an "audiophile dungeon".
I would tend to say that this "audiophile dungeon" concept is a pre Vicoustic concept. Vicoustic stands for Visual Acoustics, and the idea since day one is to make available to everyone acoustic panels with design, preventing having to have a dungeon kind of room to make it sound good. However, if that is the purpose, that is having a dungeon kind of room, we also have an available solution for that.
I first heard about Vicoustic in the context of acoustic systems for a recording studio. Later, panels with interesting patterns and even reproductions of paintings appeared. It was already a step towards their civilization. Today? Seeing panels imitating concrete or clever, colorful "puzzles" that you can arrange at your own discretion, I begin to think that we are already living in another era...
Yes, I agree. We are now living in an era where many different people start valuing good acoustics. This means that we need to find answers to different challenges posed by the variety of places where our panels can be installed. Consequently, having panels with only great acoustic performance is not sufficient anymore. We need to look at the acoustic panel with a broader view, understanding that when you put such a panel in a room, this panel needs to accommodate several characteristics to make the room work as planned. For example, it doesn't matter if your panel has a great acoustic performance if when installed in a room makes people uncomfortable with its design or if, for example, it releases VOC to the atmosphere ending up compromising the air quality of the room. Nowadays when developing a new product Vicoustic takes a holistic approach and thinks about acoustic performance, air quality, human safety (fire-rated), ecology (use of recyclable materials), design, quality, etc.
Acoustics are rarely taken into account when building or furnishing a home, apartment, office, or even a waiting room in a dental salon. Floors - yes, walls - yes, furniture - yes, lighting - yes, but the sound characteristics of such rooms - no. Is this slowly changing?
I believe this is changing and we can see this change in three ways. One is that many countries are implementing or have already implemented acoustic regulations, making mandatory the sound characteristics of many rooms, such as schools, offices, restaurants, etc. You also have very well defined acoustic guidelines for hi-fi rooms, studios, home cinemas, auditoriums, concert halls, etc. The second is that if we look to the green building design schemes that are being taken into account when designing new buildings or refurbishing new ones, we see that acoustic is starting to play an important role. People understood that designing a building with only the goal of achieving low energy consumption is not sufficient, and therefore started to talk about sustainability. Sustainability is many times misunderstood. Sustainability is not only a matter of being green, it is rather about designing a building that fits its purpose. For example, imagine a Hi-Fi room with a perfect audio system but where its acoustics doesn't work preventing people from listening to those tiny details that make all the difference. Now imagine that to treat the acoustics of this hi-fi room one will need to install acoustic panels that emit VOC, affecting seriously the air quality of the room and compromising human health. This type of room cannot be seen as a sustainable room, since it doesn't fit its purposes, once for having good acoustics one will jeopardize air quality. Again, the holistic approach I have mentioned for product design, also have it in the building/room design stage. The third reason is that people are becoming more aware of what bad acoustic conditions make to themselves, and are demanding buildings and rooms with good acoustic conditions. Restaurants are an easy example that illustrates this, how many of us have been in restaurants where its acoustic conditions are terrible that make us just want to finish our meal and go home? If we go to any of the most known restaurant platforms, we see that one of the major complaints people have is about noise and how terrible are their acoustic conditions. People are becoming more demanding, and looking for acoustic comfort.
Does Vicoustic reach many customers who realize the problem with acoustics only when theoretically everything is finished? For example, when they move into a new home and it turns out that it's hard to talk about, let alone listen to music or watch a movie?
Yes. This occurs very often. We need to distinguish two issues that may occur. One is having bad internal acoustic conditions such as excessive reverberation, echoes, flutter echoes, etc., this is normally easily accessed and solved even after everything is finished. Another issue is having lack of sound insulation. This is normally very hard and expensive to solve after everything is finished. That is why a good acoustic project since day one is so important.
Living rooms decorated in the style of the sixties, seventies, or eighties seem to be better in terms of their natural acoustics than modern apartments and lofts with their minimalist design, many flat surfaces, large windows, stone stairs, etc. Does it make designing acoustic systems, that could function well in such conditions is harder or easier? In other words, are current trends and materials by no means easier for you?
The sixties, seventies, or eighties decorated living rooms normally have a lot of objects that help to absorb and diffuse sound. On the other hand, modern apartments, as you mention, have a very minimalist design making all hard surfaces uncovered, this enhances sound reflections throughout all surfaces ending up having rooms with excessive reverberation, echoes, flutter echoes, etc. Designing solutions for a minimalistic design room is very demanding. I believe there are two solutions here, one is to assume the product making it part of the design, so the product is almost like a design piece. Another way is to have a product that can blend in the room's design and become almost unnoticed. As mentioned before Vicoustic stands for Visual Acoustics, and therefore one of our aims is exactly to solve these problems. For this, Vicoustic has both types of products, that can assume almost as design pieces and products that can blend in the room's design. In the first category we may mention, for example, Multifuser Wood, Wavewood, Flexi Wood, or the new release Gen_VMT that has just been awarded the Red Dot award Design 2020. In the second category, the best example is all Vicoustic's VMT line, where one can have an acoustic panel that looks like stone, concrete, wood, having any solid color or design one may want. This Virtual Material Technology (VMT), which is a Vicoustic exclusivity makes it possible to have acoustic solutions that can pass unnoticed.
In a variety of acoustic systems, a normal person can quickly get lost. There are structures for walls, for ceilings, but also for desks (for example, those separating office spaces) or standing in free space. There are absorbing, distracting, mixed systems ... Can you think of it all yourself so that it will be good, or is the help of professionals always indicated?
The help of a professional is always indicated. As you say, it is easy to get lost in the number of solutions one has. A professional can easily understand what one wants and guide for a solution. This is the reason why Vicoustic has its own Project Department to help people use Vicoustic products and finding the best solutions for their rooms.
If we choose a complete installation, how should it work? What should a professional do, what will he measure, what he will probably propose to us? What could be the end result?
In general terms, a complete room acoustic installation should address three essential areas: sound insulation, noise control, and acoustic treatment. The aim is to not cause or not be subject to noise nuisance to/from adjacent spaces (sound insulation), prevent being subject of noise nuisance from equipment such as HVAC (noise control), and promoting good internal acoustic conditions that fit the room's purpose (acoustic treatment). If we are dealing with an existing room, we may measure sound insulation between a room and adjacent spaces, noise from the existing HVAC system, and the room's impulse response where we can take several acoustic parameters such as the room's reverberation time (acoustic treatment). Based on the results we should design according to best practice guidelines or regulations that may exist for that particular room type. If the room doesn't exist yet, we may measure for example ambient noise levels to design for the sound insulation of the room's facade. Everything else needs to be designed according to acoustic data and models and best practice guidelines or regulations. The end result should be a room that fits its purpose in terms of all those three areas mentioned.
Looking through your panels, you can always find very specific parameters and even graphs showing the effectiveness of sound absorption at different frequencies. Can you theoretically design an installation so that even in the worst room with acoustics you get the perfect listening conditions, even frequency response, optimal reverb, etc.?
This is possible using our products. That is why we have so many products since some of them are meant to deal with low frequencies, others with medium and/or high frequencies. So a solution to treat the acoustics of a listening room will normally use a combination of products to get an even room response.
Companies that produce amplifiers or loudspeakers usually have their own listening rooms where they test prototypes. This room is always "fixed". How does it look from the perspective of the manufacturer of acoustic panels? Do you have any rooms where the equipment remains the same and the panels change? In other words, are these products tested under normal natural conditions before they finally reach the market?
Vicoustic has its own Innovative Acoustic Chamber that allows testing all products before they reach the market. The Innovative Acoustic Chamber has exclusive features that continue to be unique in the world. This is an adaptive volume chamber, allowing us to perform acoustic tests in various sized rooms. A 4-ton mechanical wall allows us to adapt the size of the chamber, and in this way deeply study low frequency/room modes solutions. Also, this cutting edge acoustic chamber is convertible from a reverberation chamber into an anechoic chamber, allowing both diffuse field and free field conditions to be achieved, giving Vicoustic the possibility to test and develop different products. By placing the mechanical wall in different positions it is possible to study any product sample at precise frequencies. The sound behavior is captured using the best quality hardware and software, ensuring reliable data for our analyses.
There are three main tabs in the Vicoustic catalog today - studio/professional panels, panels for houses and flats, and products for public spaces and workspaces. Are these three completely different worlds? Or is the technique the same, and only the appearance is different?
These are quite different worlds. Studio/professional is a professional world where listening to detail is paramount. Houses and flats normally are likely to accommodate listening rooms or home cinema rooms, like rooms for having fun and not professional rooms. While in public spaces and workspaces, since we are only dealing with speech low frequencies are not an issue. These are also spaces where the use of fire-rated panels is normally paramount.
In the public spaces/workspaces tab you will find very interesting things - not only acoustic panels but also some strange fillings, foams, anti-vibration systems for mounting beams to suspended ceilings, drywall supports... This is actually a full-fledged construction. But these are also things that the customer must think about very, very early. Later, it is no longer possible to smash the entire ceiling to mount other brackets. Do you often meet with clients who say "eh, if I knew then that there was such a thing..."?
Yes, exactly. One should think about sound insulation in an early stage. As mentioned before it is very hard and expensive to solve sound insulation issues after construction.
Are the office and utility-space market a very large part of your business today?
It is becoming a huge part of Vicoustic's business. These projects are normally huge projects when compared with the pro audio/hi-fi projects.
In your portfolio, we can see finished installations, with photos and a list of panels used in a given interior. It seems very helpful for people who would like to make something similar or even copy the design of a given space. Or is it just for show?
The aim of showing some projects where Vicoustic products were used is not only to help people who would like to make something similar in their rooms but also to give some references to clients to make them more confident when choosing Vicoustic.
Take, for example, ViCloud VMT Flat ceiling panels. There are 15 solid colors and 7 pattern collections to choose from, in each collection there are several or several versions to choose from, and there are also 4 shapes - hexagon, circle, square, and petal - resembling a fidget-spinner. This gives you an unbelievable number of combinations. And this is only one panel, and yet there are hundreds of them in Vicoustic's offer, I don't know, right now? Does such a huge variety of products offer logistical problems? Is virtually every panel made to order? Because in this situation it is hard to imagine that all these versions will be stored in some huge magazine?
We work with a rotation stock where we have our best sellers. Every other product is made to order.
So are there no problems with delivery/waiting times? Of course, on your local market it's probably a little easier, but if it comes to delivery, say to other European countries, Asia, or America, the case may drag on. And yet we often talk about orders, finishes, dates, where contractors for exceeding the deadline get financial penalties. Can all this be reconciled?
We have done huge investments in our factory and production setup. We now have 2 different factories only producing Vicoustic products. For wood products, we are working with a 6-week delivery timeline. For the VMT line, we are working on a 2 weeks delivery timeline. All our clients are informed about these timelines and our Production, Quality and Commercial departments manage all this and keep our clients well informed.
On YouTube you can find many videos where people arrange panels in a given room and everything looks great - there are special tapes, glues, and various other gadgets, but in reality, it does not always look so pink? Are you trying to design your panels so that even a normal user can mount them yourself, without the help of installers?
Exactly. All our panels can be easily installed and all have very detailed and easy installation manuals that go with the product. There is no need for the help of professional installers.
How do your products receive audiophiles? You can see that you really like professionals/sound engineers, you intensely attack the office, hotel and other facilities of this type, and you also have many cinema and listening rooms, but I can't help the impression that in the latter case we are talking mainly about ready installations, showrooms, shops, and even listening rooms for manufacturers of hi-fi equipment. Such stories that someone has an ordinary living room, house, listening room and suddenly changed it with the help of Vicoustic panels is not much in it all. Is this just my impression?
It is just your impression. Our products are very well received by audiophiles. For example in 2017 Multifuser DC2, one of Vicoustic best seller diffusers, the Multifuser DC2, has won the Best Accessory Award in the Hi-Fi+ Magazine Awards 2017. Also, a lot of audiophiles reach our Projects Department asking for our help to treat their rooms, and the portfolio of hi-fi rooms Vicoustic has is huge.
How do different acoustic systems sell depending on the country? Can you see any interesting trends here, any countries clearly standing out from the others?
Vicoustic basically sells worldwide. Maybe there are some design trends that differ a little bit from one Globe area to another, but we don't really feel this a lot, best sellers are best sellers everywhere.
The subject of acoustics has become so fashionable lately that there are many, many companies producing panels similar to yours. Many of them are also experimenting strongly with materials and patterns - various artificial mosses, sponges, foams appear, not to mention that it is easier for companies operating on the local market to meet the needs of customers on the spot. You can often get the impression that "this is something anyone can do" - some sponge, felt, cork, plywood and it's ready. It may sound brutal, but what makes you stand out from the competition?
Many things make us stand out from the competition. If you analyze Vicoustic history you will see that we are always pushing and leading the way. First, we come out with the concept of Visual Acoustics, integrating design and acoustics in a product. For the last couple of years, our aim has been developing sustainable products, we have now become one of the main players developing sustainable acoustic solutions in the world. Last year we have helped taking out from the Oceans 250 Tons of plastic waste that we have used in our new line of acoustic panels. Another thing that distinguishes Vicoustic is our employees. We have very specialized employees throughout all company departments. Starting with the heart of our company, our factory, Vicoustic Factory is located in the biggest production cluster in Portugal, which guarantees very specialized and motivated Factory employees. All other departments within the company are very well linked and values such as truth to our clients, quality, rigor, and organization are something that we value very much. In addition, Vicoustic has its own Quality department that ensures all quality issues giving confidence to its clients. Another important factor that allows us to stand out from the competition is having our own lab facilities. This allows Vicoustic to fine-tune the final solutions accordingly and also to test different product configurations.
When we want to buy loudspeakers, a turntable, or a power cable, we can usually test it - arrange a listening session or rent it. Of course, you can do some tests with acoustic panels, but most often you have to decide on something and keep your fingers crossed that the effect will be what we expected. Or maybe there are some methods to model it, some simulators, where the customer could say put on headphones, download the application, take pictures of your room, and then virtually insert such and such panels into it and turn them on/off to assess their impact on the sound?
There are things that can be easily guaranteed, for example, if a room has excessive reverberation, flutter echoes issues, etc. one can easily point out solutions that will solve them with a very high degree of certainty. In terms of acoustic treatment, the biggest issue occurs with low frequencies control. This is something more difficult to assure, normally because people don't always have the necessary space available to treat them accordingly. However, if there is space, there are also techniques and solutions that can assure good improvements even in this low-frequency region.
You are thinking about our planet - many of your products are made of properly processed plastic and not only that you clean the environment in this way, but these panels will also be 100 percent recyclable. You work with The Ocean Cleanup. Apparently, you have already processed 250 tons of plastic waste... Wow!
This is something that proud us a lot. All Vicoustic employees are very proud and engaged with this mission. Once again we feel that we are paving the way here and changing this market.
You just won the Red Dot Award - maybe one of the most important? Or is it just another statuette for your collection?
Design is part of our DNA, this award is definitely one of the most or even the most important ones we have received in the design field. After 13 years of existence continuing to be recognized for the design of our products makes us feel that all our paths made sense and that we really were able to accomplish the goal of creating Visual Acoustic solutions.
Will you reveal some of your plans for the near future?
In Portugal, we say that the "secret is the soul of the business", not sure if this idea is well translated to other languages. Generically our plan is to stay true to our clients and us. We believe that Vicoustic should constantly be paving the way, innovating and driving acoustic technologies to ensure that we are not only leading the field but producing the best acoustics in every space we are acoustically curating. We will definitely continue the research and development of sustainable acoustic solutions, and improving the design and performance of Vicoustic panels.