If you've ever been inside a large public space or loft with bare walls and hard surface floors, you may have noticed a distinctive ringing sound called flutter echo. This phenomena occurs when sound waves bounce back and forth between the walls, ceiling, and floor, making conversations difficult. Here are a few ways to combat this acoustic issue for an improved audio and conversational atmosphere.
Two opposing walls can allow sound waves to reflect back and forth in a repetitive manner, resulting in a blurred, out of focus, and delayed interior sound. Tall ceilings and long rooms can further increase these distinct echoes, affecting conversations or enjoying music or television at home. But with a little thought and careful placement of the following solutions, you can tame the distracting sounds and create a more peaceful space without the echoing.
1. Hang Textiles and Wall Art on Parallel Walls.
A large canvas painting or cloth textiles will add a little sound absorption to combat echo. Positioning soft surface items on parallel surfaces will especially help disrupt the ability of sound to bounce back and forth between adjacent walls. One additional note before choosing wall art: heavy oil paint can resemble a hard surface when dry and cause reflection and diffusion.
2. Use a Tall Bookcase and Add Objects to the Room.
A large bookcase accessorized with various sized objects can soften/dampen echoes by forcing sound waves to bend around, diffusing and scattering sound throughout the room. Placing books on a bookcase at different depths also enhances this diffusion effect, thus breaking up the flutter of echoes.
3. Add an Area Rug on to Bare Floors.
Floors made of concrete, tile, or hardwood can also act as a reflective surface. Using an area rug not only adds warmth and accents decoratively, but the softer surface is especially useful in reducing echoes in rooms with tall ceilings.
4. Use Acoustic Panels to Enhance Sound Absorption.
Traditional acoustic foam panels can be very effective at reducing sound from reflecting back and forth. I came across a company that allow customers to choose art to embellish normally utilitarian-looking acoustical panels. AcoustiArt marries custom art, text or photography onto materials specifically designed to reduce noise transference and room echoes. A DIY solution is to cut and install foam sheets to place inside the back of canvas mounted artwork; soft foam sheets are often packed while shipping, so you may already have some around. Foam of various sizes can also be ordered online from speciality retailers like Foam By Mail.
An example of AcoustiArt acoustic panels with decorative designs.
A flutter of echoes can make any space feel clinical, cold and uninviting. Treating your room with smart acoustic choices like the ones listed above can improve understanding movie dialog, clarity of music from the stereo, and most importantly, keep conversations easy and comfortable.