Importance of good acoustics

It surprises me how many people still fall for the trends that are focused purely on the visual side of buildings, yet they tend to completely overlook factors influencing the sound quality.

When I was studying film our sound teacher once told us that if the sound in a movie is done right you won't hear it, but if it is done badly, you will notice right away. The basis of sound couldn't have been described more accurately.

The essence of good acoustics have been known for centuries. From as early as Roman theatres the builders have been working with acoustics very carefully. For example, in the breathtaking gothic cathedrals they used bigger parabolic and non obstructed corners in structures to amplify the sound and shiny surfaces with smooth textures to enhance more reverberation where needed. The same principles - reversed do apply in order to keep noise down and at comfortable levels, and are the fundamental of good acoustics in our homes.

Roman theatre

Do you remember the sound of overpowering clanking cutlery in a restaurant while you can't hear a word of the person sitting right next to you? That's the noise I don't want to hear.

Looking at the current fashion of high gloss finishes, bare smooth walls, minimalist furniture and large window panes no wonder the acoustic quality in today's family houses has gone astray. The notion of large format shiny tiles doesn't only freak me out by its cold, hard, unwelcoming and sterile quality, not to mention anything breakable ends up in trillion fragments, but they help to create a terrible flutter echo. By all means, mentioning tiles is my personal antipathy. Creating a pleasing sound environment requires a rather complex fine-tuning. I'd like to suggest a few ways how to improve audio and conversational atmosphere.

Minimise the reverb by using a lot of sound absorbing materials and shapes.

  • Furnish the room appropriately for its size.
  • Add an area rug on to bare floors, thicker, softer the better.
  • Try to hang some fabric on one of two opposite walls, a curtain, a blind, a tapestry, decorate the walls by pictures.
  • Use upholstered furniture as much as possible.
  • Irregular shapes such as open bookcases, shelves and cladding also help.
  • Avoid tall ceilings and long rooms.
  • Make walls slightly angled - not parallel, to reduce undesirable acoustics and to prevent colouring the tone of your voice.
  • Combine different materials, textures and angles.
  • Natural materials like clay plastering, non fired bricks, straw and cork are excellent sound absorbers.
  • If you have to do without any of the above, there are plenty of professional acoustic insulations available on the market.

A room with good acoustics:
Room with good acoustics

We humans naturally avoid loud noises. Decreased volume levels around us create more pleasing and comfortable environment, a lack of reverberation creates warmer and cosier ambience without sounds being too disturbing. On the other hand, cold sharpness of echoing causes restlessness and discomfort.

Remember that good acoustic absorption reduces outside noise pollution as well as localised loud noise indoors. Enjoying good music or home cinema without waking up your kids comes as a lucky bonus.