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How to Reduce Echo in a Room

How to Reduce Room Echo

Identifying the causes and reducing them in your home or workspace

How to Reduce Room Echo

Identifying the causes and reducing them in your home or workspace

Room echoes are never pleasant, whether you’re trying to have a conversation, get work done, or just enjoy a movie in your own living room. Although your kids might get a kick out of hearing their voices bounce off the walls, chances are, you’d be happier without the echoes. It’s not just limited to your home either — reducing room echoes will drastically improve sound quality in any space, from a high school gymnasium to your place of worship.

If you’ve ever moved into a new home and experienced a noticeable echo before adding furniture, you know how quickly the novelty of an echo wears off. Let’s keep the echoes in the caves. Read on to understand the causes of room echoes and steps to take to reduce them.

Room echoes are never pleasant, whether you’re trying to have a conversation, get work done, or just enjoy a movie in your own living room. Although your kids might get a kick out of hearing their voices bounce off the walls, chances are, you’d be happier without the echoes. It’s not just limited to your home either — reducing room echoes will drastically improve sound quality in any space, from a high school gymnasium to your place of worship.

If you’ve ever moved into a new home and experienced a noticeable echo before adding furniture, you know how quickly the novelty of an echo wears off. Let’s keep the echoes in the caves. Read on to understand the causes of room echoes and steps to take to reduce them.

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How Echoes Work in Rooms

You clap your hands in the middle of your kitchen and hear what you think is an echo, but it actually isn’t. What you heard was reverberation. Reverberation is a continuous “stream” of noise you hear after the source of the sound stops. Reverberant noise tends to build in a space as noise is added to it, and will result in sound that is “garbled” or hard to understand. An echo is a distinct sound with a start and end that is loud enough to be heard repeatedly above the general reverberation.

It’s easier to understand the difference between a reverberation and an echo when you think about where you’re more likely to encounter them. Reverberation is more likely what you’re hearing in smaller spaces (kitchens, bathrooms, doctor examination rooms). You’re more likely to hear echoes in medium or large spaces (gymnasiums, large conference rooms, banquet halls, or an underground cavern). The reason is that the larger the volume of the space, the longer the reverberation time because low frequency and high frequency sound waves will encounter surfaces less often in large spaces than in small ones.

overview of acoustics
overview of acoustics

The good news is that sound absorbing materials will solve problems with both reverberation AND echo. And of all the examples we gave (except for maybe the cavern…), acoustic wall panels are just what the doctor ordered.

Types of Echo in a Room

When we hear an actual echo in a room, it’s usually one of two types:

Slap Echo

A slap echo (or a slapback echo) is a single echo that can be heard almost immediately after the sound source stops. You’d notice this type of echo when you sharply clap your hands together and then wait to hear the quick response. While Elvis used this technique on some of his tracks in the 1950s, you probably don’t want it in your soundproof home office.

Flutter Echo

A flutter echo is the quick back-and-forth echoing of a single sound trapped between two hard surfaces. You may hear a flutter echo in a gymnasium if a referee loudly blows a whistle.

Primary Causes of Echoes in Rooms

The #1 cause of echoes in a room is a lack of acoustical treatment. Adequate and effective sound absorbing materials will “soften” the sound in a room by reducing the number of hard surfaces. Less hard surfaces means less places for sound to reflect off. Less reflections means less time for the sound to continue to reverberate around the room.

Another potential cause of echo is the misplacement of acoustical treatment. In a room with very specific requirements, like a recording studio, where you place your acoustic materials matters. Another common example many of us are familiar with is a large room with a speaker at the front speaking, like a house of worship. The speaker’s voice is amplified and projected towards the back wall of the room by the sound system. If the back wall is not effectively treated, the speaker’s voice will bounce back and be heard a second time by the audience. In this example, the placement is key because most of the sound is originating from and traveling to one part of the room.

WhAT Rooms are likely to need echo reduction

What types of rooms are likely to have problems with echoes? There are three conditions for lots of room echoes. We call them the “Big 3”, and they’re guaranteed to drag your hometown team to an NBA championship.

Sorry… bad joke. The “Big 3” are the biggest factors causing a room to have bad acoustics.

Tall Ceilings 

Vaulted ceilings have become more and more popular over the years. Taller rooms have more cubic volume, and tend to have more problems with echoes.

Big rooms

See above comment on more cubic volume. When there is a larger amount of open space, there are less surfaces to absorb or reflect sound.

Hard surfaces

Concrete/brick/glass walls, hardwood floors, metal siding — they all reflect noise and increase the likelihood of echoes.

Tall ceilings
Vaulted ceilings have become more and more popular over the years. Taller rooms have more cubic volume, and tend to have more problems with echoes.

Big rooms
See above comment on more cubic volume. When there is a larger amount of open space, there are less surfaces to absorb or reflect sound.

Hard surfaces
Concrete/brick/glass walls, hardwood floors, metal siding — they all reflect noise and increase the likelihood of echoes
.

acoustic panels reduce echoes in a large room

There are other factors that play a role such as having too many people in a space or having wacky room dimensions, but the “Big 3” are the biggest indicators in most rooms we run across.

How to Reduce Echo in a Room

Although there is a lot of good information out there on stopping echoes, much of it is mixed with bad advice. When you boil it down, it’s pretty simple — the key to reducing echoes in a room is to break the pathway between hard surfaces with soft, absorbent surfaces. You should be skeptical of any solution that touts it’s effectiveness, but doesn’t accomplish that basic goal. While not every room is the same, we can give you some basic advice based off the size of the room.

echo reduction in your typical small or medium room

Solving reverberation problems in smaller spaces tends to be cheaper and easier than in larger ones. Let’s say you’re experiencing some bad reverberations in your TV room and it’s seriously affecting sound quality. The best way to fix the problem is by adding an acoustical treatment to the room (sound absorbing materials). While the most effective treatment is going to be sound absorbing panels, that doesn’t make it the right solution. Fabric wrapped acoustic panels are usually the right answer for a small conference room, but you may not want them in your living room.

There also are sometimes practical solutions that will eliminate the need for specific acoustic treatments, like being intentional about your furniture choices. Or for the cheapest solution… just open the door and let the sound out!

Most Effective at Reducing Echoes

As we just said, acoustic panels are going to be the best solution for any commercial space, and likely for your home office as well. To determine how much acoustic paneling you’ll need, use the following formula: length of room x width of room x 40% = sq ft of acoustical panels needed. We call this the “Rule of 40%”, and it’s a good starting point for most rooms.

For other rooms around the house, the most effective solution is going to be big, fluffy furniture, pillows and blankets. The thicker the better, as thickness and softness are two key indicators of sound absorption. Leather, wood, and metal furniture won’t do much. Skinny little pillows won’t do much either.

 

TL;DR: Professional acoustic materials or materials that are thick and absorptive will have the biggest impact on reverberation and echo reduction.

Helps with Echoes a Little Bit

Just like leather furniture doesn’t absorb much noise, neither do many carpets or curtains. They’re often just too thin to effectively absorb sound. That being said, even a thin carpet is going to be more absorptive than a hardwood floor.

If you’re trying to reduce echoes in your home with carpets or curtains, every little bit helps, but keep your expectations realistic. And give yourself the best chance of success by choosing the thickest versions you can find. Thick curtains will absorb noise better than thin curtains. A thick carpet with a thick carpet pad underneath will absorb noise better than a thinner rug.

Let’s throw one more option into the “helps on the margins” category, which is portraits or works of art. The canvas material is more absorptive than drywall, so it can be helpful to reduce echoes in a room. That being said, if you cover the canvas with a pane of glass… you’ve actually reduced the room’s sound absorption.

 

TL;DR: Everyday items like carpets, curtains, and blankets help a bit on the margins. The thicker the better.

Not Effective for Reducing Echoes

Now we’re in myth busting territory. We really hate to give airspace to “solutions” that actually won’t help with a room’s echoes, but sometimes you can’t just ignore bad information. You’ve gotta take it head on. Let’s make this fast.

Instead of the Big 3, let’s call these the “Meh 3”. No, a bookshelf does not absorb sound and will not reduce echo. The books on a bookshelf will not absorb sound either. Add bookshelves because you need a place for books, not to improve sound quality. No, egg cartons will not reduce echoes. The cartons are paper thin, and will not absorb sound. Do not cover your wall in egg cartons. And finally, no, plants will not reduce echoes. There are no plants that absorb sound. They do look nice though.

We ran through that quickly on purpose. If you say anything enough, some people will believe it. Save yourself the trouble and stick to solutions that work. Time to move on.

 

TL;DR: Don't bet the farm on bookshelves, egg cartons, or plants. If you're lucky, these acoustic myths will deliver a pleasing placebo effect.

how to eliminate echo in a large room

For large rooms like gymnasiums, restaurants, auditoriums, and more, the best solution is to install acoustic paneling. We recommend Acoustic Pro™ Fabric Wrapped Panels, our specially-designed acoustic panels constructed with a rigid fiber absorber core. The edges are hardened for increased durability, and then the whole panel is wrapped in designer fabric to ensure they look good in any room. Our panels come standard in six shapes, eight colors, and two thicknesses (1” and 2). Customizations are available depending on your specific needs.

Solving sound issues in a large room is more complicated than in smaller rooms. To get a good recommendation, you’ll need to contact us so we can collect some more information from you.

At the end of the day, a room with bad echoing is a room few people want to be in. If you’re going to tackle an acoustics project, start by taking a hard look at the room in question and do your best to soften it up a bit. Not sure where to start? Give us a call! We are happy to help you determine what products are needed, figure out the recommended square footage, and provide you with installation tips. Reach us at 1.800.679.8511 or chat with us by clicking on the icon in the bottom right corner of your screen.

Say Goodbye to echoes with Acoustic Pro Fabric-Wrapped Wall and Ceiling Panels

Solving reverberation problems is just a step away. Our standard panels are great for most acoustic projects and versatile enough to reduce echoes in nearly any space. Choose your preferred shape, with square, rectangle, plank, circle, hexagon, and triangle all available, and between 8 different designer fabrics.

The acoustic panels come in two standard thicknesses – 1” and 2” – but we can do any thickness from ½” to 4”. If you are in need of a bigger size, let us know! We can custom build acoustic panels up to 5’ x 10’.

Need Help Choosing a Fabric Wrapped Acoustic Panel?

By now you’ve got an idea for what acoustic panels can bring to a space, but if you still have questions on how many you need, or how to effectively install them, feel free to reach out. Contact us anytime and our experts can help you find the right materials to elevate the sound in your space.