We’ve all been to places where what we hear sounds better—a concert hall where a whisper is musical, a high-ceilinged old room where the clink of a teacup rings like a bell, or a bathroom where running water is as glorious as a waterfall. So why do we so rarely take acoustics into account when we arrange our living spaces?
Acoustics matter, not just in the ability to hear music but to hear sounds in everyday life—from the high trill of a child’s call to the deep boom of our home entertainment systems. Here are some simple ways to elevate the acoustics of any room.
Get Sonic, Part One: Inside
Make an assessment. Acoustics 101 tells us that sound can do four things with the surfaces of a room: be absorbed and diffused or reflected and transmitted. Think of your furniture and flooring choices like you would an audio equalizer on your stereo. Carpeting, or even a thick throw rug, absorbs and diffuses; wood or tile floors reflect and transmit.
If you desire clarity of acoustics, you need to give the sound waves a place to play, to bounce, and not get muffled. Or maybe it’s the opposite—the room is too loud and transmitting way too much sound, causing the click-clack of high heels across the floor or the shrill edge of a toddler’s wail to slowly but surely drive you out of your mind. The key to everything, in home acoustics and in life, is balance.
Tools of the Trade: Interiors
Obviously the way we cover flat surfaces in a room is one of the biggest ways to change a room’s sound. But there are ways to alter acoustics beyond stripping and installing new carpet. Throw rugs represent a middle way if you have hardwood or tile floors. A particularly sneaky sound sucker is a big poofy sofa—it may be great for those afternoon naps, but be aware that it’s also got the ability to muffle the whole room.
You can use a sofa to soften a room’s sound or get rid of one to open it up, or you can find a minimally cushioned sofa with more reflective surfaces, such as real or faux leather (see an array of couch choices here). Another less obvious tweak is the way you use shelving. A large bookcase shrinks a room acoustically, while smaller shelves spread apart in different areas opens things up (again, there’s no shortage of choices, take a here).
Get Sonic, Part Two: Outside
Ah, yes, that pesky problem literally outside your room. That is, the great outdoors, which may include streets, sidewalks, houses, cars, and all the noisy scurrying about that (other) people get up to. We love big windows to let the light in, but look out—here come some sound waves, too.
Here’s a simple thing to remember: Not all curtains are created equal, soundwise. Get thicker fabric curtains if you want to insulate your room from outside and soften things up inside. There are even vinyl-based acoustic curtains on the market if you want to go pro regarding sound. The other thing to look at is how well anything that opens to the outside shuts. How well do your doors and windows seal away outside sound?
The Great Rearranger
Finally, maestro, take a step back and consider your orchestra: the home entertainment system. Which way is it pointing? Toward the more significant part of the room with more surface area for bigger sound, of course, but also consider the effects of wall mounting. (higher is louder) That big couch? That’s your tuba player or bassoonist (yes, there is such a thing as a bass flute). Put them where you want sound lowered.
Every piece of furniture has a role to play. Experiment. Move things around and listen. Consider it aural Feng Shui. That beautiful low hum you hear is the sound of your room harmonizing.
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