Noise pollution is one of the biggest complaints in offices and shared living arrangements. Just try reading a book in a coliving space, while your roommates are watching YouTube videos. If there’s a flashing light, you can look the other way. If there’s a distracting sound, you can’t listen the other way, says the Dutch designer Sanne Gelissen.
To solve this problem, she created the Sound Scene. It’s a speaker system that uses a simple acoustic setup to direct sound waves in a single direction, muffling them for anyone else who might be in the room.
“I found out a way of defining a space within a bigger space without visual boundaries,” she says. “With this speaker system, I can direct sound really linearly. If you stand in the line, you can hear the sound. If you get out of the zone, you hear the sound less and less.”
The system uses the same basic technology as a flashlight, where a reflective bowl focuses light in a single direction. In the Sound Scene, the speaker faces a large parabolic bowl at the back of the device, which reflects the sound waves back toward the listener. The bowl is made of glass fiber laminate, creating a hard surface to better reflect the waves, and is shaped to target the most common midtone frequencies. At just over two feet across, it directs sound out in a two-foot circle: step into the circle, and music can be heard crystal clear, but step outside its range and Gelissen says it sounds like the music is playing in another room.
In the process of designing the device, Gelissen was aware that the Sound Scene’s use might not be immediately apparent since the parabola at its back could evoke a lampshade. Instead, she says, she created a form that evokes the essence of a gramophone speaker to visually cue the user that it’s a speaker.
It’s easy to imagine placing the device in front of your chair if you want to watch a movie while a roommate is reading in the same room. While debuting the prototype at Dutch Design Week, Gelissen says that people have quickly understood the use for the product, but have been surprised at how the sound swells and diminishes as they walk back and forth in front of the Sound Scene.
Gelissen hopes to develop the prototype further by partnering with an engineer who knows how to work with acoustics and sound, or even companies like Bose or Bang & Olufsen.