Achieving the right acoustics for a room can be a bit tough at times. There are many factors involved when it comes to acoustics, and the ceiling is definitely one of them. High ceilings seem to work great for the acoustics in concert halls and cinemas.
So, are high ceilings good for acoustics? In short, higher ceilings are good for acoustics. However, sound is sensitive and easy to distort, so the surroundings of a room, including the walls, floor, and furniture, are equally important for good acoustics.
High ceilings are definitely not the only factor when it comes to good acoustics. On the contrary, you have to consider everything else in the room to make it work.
In the rest of this article, I’ll talk a bit more about sound and acoustics, but more importantly, I’ll give you some actionable steps that you can take for better acoustics in your home or office.
The Importance of Acoustics
Many people don’t realize it, but acoustics is one of the most important aspects of a room. It doesn’t matter if you’re a musician or not; anyone can benefit from having excellent sound quality in a room.
Whether you’re a musician, a student, a writer, or you have your own personal office space; you will want a space with excellent acoustics.
The amount of sound disruption contributes a lot to the disruption in your concentration and focus. A good regulated level of noise can bring peacefulness and comfort, which in turn increases productivity.
You’ve probably been to some type of public space before, where you could literally hear every person’s conversation without even trying to. You don’t want that in your own home or office, right?
If you’re a musician or someone who has a musical hobby, there is a high chance you’re already familiar with how important acoustics can be. Bad acoustics lead to poor functioning of audio equipment and sub-par sound from your instruments.
Every sound made in a room immediately gets divided into two parts:
- Direct sound
- Indirect/reflected sound
The first one, direct sound, goes directly from the source to the ears. Indirect or reflected sound projects everywhere and bounces off all the boundaries of the room before reaching the ears.
The quality of how these two types of sound are mixed together determines how good the room’s acoustics are.
For a moment, let’s consider the floor and ceiling to also be walls of a room. They honestly should be counted as such, and thus paid an equal amount of attention.
The indirect sound reflects from all of the walls/surfaces of the room many, many times and super quickly too.
Imagine that! Those sound waves collide with each other and interfere with each other in every direction. Each and every single one of those countless sound reflections can distort the main direct sound.
The bigger the distortion created by the reflections, the worse the acoustics are. That’s often the main problem which is called reverberation (reverb).
Reverb and Echo
Another common problem that interferes with acoustics is echo. It can either be too much or too little. In some rooms, there is pretty much no echo whatsoever, because the room absorbs all indirect sound. This is also known as a “sound-dead” room.
In other rooms, though, there is too big of a distance for the sound to travel and reflect from a solid surface. This will result in a time delay before the sound can be heard back. If you have been in an empty unfurnished room, you are probably familiar with the phenomenon.
If ceilings are too low it can cause reverberation problems and if the ceilings are too high it can cause echo problems. For the best acoustics, what matters most is often not only the vertical height of the room, but its reflective and absorptive qualities.
You could have the highest ceilings in the world, the best audio equipment money can buy, and the most expensive instruments on the market and your acoustics will still suck if the room is not made to absorb and reflect sound properly.
What Else Can Affect Acoustics?
A key factor is how hard or rough a surface is. The harder and more solid the surface is, the less sound it absorbs. The sound will just bounce off materials like wood, metal, and glass.
One wave might reach your ear after bouncing off the wall, another one might hit the floor tiles, then the table, then the TV and then reach your ear and so on. You get the idea, bounciness creates sound muddiness.
Let’s Take Some Action to Fix the Issue
Before we wrap it up, we should focus on some solutions to the problem. I’ll explain some of the steps you can try as a solution to improve your acoustics for your room.
You can try one of these options, or all of them. It totally depends on your situation and how much you want to improve it.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a magical blueprint or template that will allow you to achieve the ultimate acoustics. Every room has unique features, and no single solution can possibly be a working quick fix for all of them.
It is best to try various methods, and see what improves your sound to the way you want it. Your ear will be your most helpful instrument to tell the differences.
Rearrange your furniture. Remove items or add items to the room. Think about the concepts we covered above, and try to adjust your room accordingly.
2. Don’t Leave the Floor and Ceiling Bare
Remember what I said earlier, the floor and ceiling count as walls too. Adding fans or hanging lights on the ceiling won’t suddenly give you perfect acoustics, but they do help a little.
A carpet or a few rugs on the floor can be life-savers for acoustics. They absorb higher frequencies and get rid of annoying echo.
3. Get Some Absorbers
Absorption panels (link to Amazon) are built from a specific fabric and dense fiberglass that are made to work in your favor. They suck in any reflected/indirect noise coming their way, leaving you to enjoy the clarity of the direct “source to ear” sounds.
The good thing is you can customize them however you want so they don’t just stand out awkwardly and ruin the aesthetics. They can improve acoustics without blowing your entire decor scheme.
However, don’t fill your whole room. Use them sparingly to achieve a balance between reflective surfaces and non-reflective. If you go too crazy, your room will become “dead” with no echo or reflection at all. This can create an eerie and off-putting atmosphere.
If your wallet is not that thick right now, don’t worry. You don’t have to break the bank purchasing custom absorbers. Any soft-material objects can do the trick just fine: pillows, blankets, couches.
You still have to distribute them evenly as much as possible. The more equal and symmetrical frequency absorption is, the better the acoustics.
4. Get Some Diffusers
Earlier I told you that sound waves travel and bounce off surfaces extremely quickly. And I also told you that because of this swiftness, the waves can act very chaotically – colliding, interfering, disturbing each other, creating something unpleasant in our ears.
That unpleasantness is what diffusers eliminate.
Diffusers (link to Amazon) and absorbers complement one another. Once you’ve scattered some absorbers and you’ve dealt with that issue, it’s time to regulate the remaining reflective sound.
These objects control the level and strength of the sound waves reflected from the flat surfaces left in your room. As a result, the patterns of interference and collision are smoother which enhances the listening experience.
As a bonus, they also look pretty cool visually. You can find plenty of different styles available online.
Below is a photo of a recording studio ceiling that utilizes sound diffusers to full effect.
Satellite images of some random city? Nope. These are ‘skyline panels’ used in the acoustic ceiling design for both Studio A & Studio C live rooms. In case you were wondering… Studio A live room height is 22 feet, Studio C is 19’.— Criteria Recording Studios (@CriteriaMiami) August 5, 2020
📷 @sebgrayphoto pic.twitter.com/boxtmE4ie2
You Are Ready for Better Sound
I trust you now have a better understanding of how sound works in a room. Plus, you understand the impact high ceilings have on acoustics while understanding that it isn’t the only thing that matters.
PS: Not only do high ceilings help with acoustics, but they also add more value to your house (link to another article I wrote).