Sound scaping for dummies

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

A big part of good quality sound is, besides a good pair of speakers, the room design. Imagine yourself and a friend opposite of one another in a big empty factory hall, the echo makes it harder for you to understand each other. The same principle works for loudspeakers, it is more difficult to appreciate the sound they make in a very echoey and reflective room.

Empty rooms with lots of hard surfaces will have an echo that weakens the sound quality. Now it is likely that you do not want your living room to look like the picture below either. So what could we do to improve sound and make your room look even better?

To understand how to improve sound quality we will have to understand sound first, sound can be seen as a pressure wave. With loud sounds, the wave is taller/higher, the height of the wave we call amplitude. You can see the difference below where we compare an acoustic guitar against concert speakers. The higher-pitched a sound is, the quicker the waves follow each other, this we call the frequency. This difference can be seen below with a bass drum against a cymbal.

Now we understand waves we can look into how to "catch" them. You want to stop waves from bouncing back and forth excessively. Reflected sound creates echoes and degrades the clarity of your speakers. Within architecture and the sound industry, we call these small echoes reverberations. The picture below gives an example of what soundwaves could do in an empty room.

Now to get the reverberation time, that is the time it takes for a sound to lower in volume, down we can apply three different techniques; Scattering, absorption, and trapping. As seen below scattering reflects the sound in many different directions, this makes an echo less clear and lowers the impact it has on the clarity of the original sound source. Absorption is the act of materials absorbing the energy of the soundwaves this takes the sound out of the room directly. The last strategy is trapping, with trapping, we capture waves within a hole.

So what does all of this mean for your room and the furniture you want to put into it? To absorb waves use soft materials in your design, couches, thick curtains or long fluffy rugs are great at absorbing the energy from the wave and stopping reflections. Those long smooth walls you have really reflect the sound, apply some texture to the wall in the form of bookshelves, heavily textures wallpaper or wooden wall art. Lastly, the sound can be trapped by placing open styled cabinets, high couches with a big “cave” underneath, etc.

How to choose the right piece of furniture to help with sound? An important part to keep in mind here is that the different frequencies need different solutions, the bigger the wave the bigger the roadblock needs to be to stop that wave. So for high pitched sounds, textured wallpaper is enough to have an impact, where the couch and curtains will work better with the low pitched sounds.

Curtains: The thicker the better. Thick curtains will absorb a wider range of sounds than thin curtains. Sounds will go straight through a thin lace curtain like they are not even there.

Shelves and cabinets: An open display or book cabinet will do a good job at trapping and/or reflecting the low pitched sounds.

Carpet: Any carpet will help, especially if you have a wooden floor. But just as with curtains, the thicker the carpet the wider the range of frequencies it will absorb.

Wall decoration: To give some texture to your wall will not only look fashionable, but it will also help with the reflection of sound. Smaller shallow groves will help with higher-pitched sounds and deeper wider groves with lower-pitched sounds.

Some ideas of what you can do can be found below.

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