I often get asked the best ways to reduce echo in a room cheaply, as this is a surprisingly common issue in many homes. While you might be doing this to improve the audio quality of your home theater system, reducing echo in a room is useful for everyone.
The main way to reduce echo in a room cheaply is simply to materials that are effective at absorbing sound waves. These are generally open-celled materials such as foam or fiberglass insulation.
While reducing echo in a room is as simple as that, it’s worth having a bit more detail so you know how to combat the problem effectively. In this article, I look at the best ways to reduce echo in a room on a budget, but also at what are the most problematic surfaces that you should address first.
Why Does Sound Echo?
Before looking at the best ways to reduce the problem, it’s first worth understanding why sound echoes in the first place. Some of you may already know this, as it’s fairly basic science, but it’s worth recapping the information so we know where we are.
In short, sound waves travel through the air from the noise source to our ears. In the process, however, the sound waves often come into contact with a surface, which the sound waves will bounce off. This is what creates echo. This simple diagram explains it in enough detail.
A good analogy is a rubber ball bouncing off a surface. You throw the ball; it bounces off a surface, and will then travel back in the direction it came if the surface is flat. If it bounces at an angle then it’ll travel in a different direction, and the same is true for sound waves.
Sound waves reflect most effectively off hard, smooth surfaces. This is because these surfaces have little to no absorption potential, and so the sound waves just bounce off. The most problematic hard surfaces in your home that’ll reflect sound waves include:
- Stone or tile
As you can see, these are all fairly common materials found in a home. As a result, it’s fairly common to experience echo in a room, particularly if you don’t have much furniture in it.
How to Reduce Echo in a Room
So now that we understand why sound echoes, and which are the most problematic materials, we can look to solve the problem. As with any other soundproofing project, it’s worth planning everything first so you can tackle the problem head-on.
The first thing worth considering is where the sound waves originate from, as this will dictate where you start with your echo reduction. For example, if you have a set of speakers, your first step should be to add some acoustic treatment opposite the speakers. This is because their first point of reflection will be directly opposite the source.
Starting here should reduce the amount of work you need to put into this project. If you cut the echo early on then it has less chance of bouncing around the room, which creates further echoes. That said, I’d always recommend trying more than one solution to effectively manage the problem.
Below are my top solutions for reducing echo in a room. I’ve listed these options in order of effectiveness, working under the assumption that your echo will come from something like TV/music speakers. However, if this isn’t the case, then start with whichever you think will be most effective.
1. Design fiberglass panels
Fiberglass is a material commonly used to insulate walls, but it’s also pretty effective at reducing echo in a room. It does a very similar job to dedicated acoustic foam because it has a very similar open structure. While designed to insulate heat within a wall, sound waves work on very similar principles.
Another option is to use a product called Rockwool, which is acoustic cavity wall insulation. This is really easy to turn into acoustic panels because it comes in slabs that can be cut to size and then hidden behind some fabric.
Rockwool is slightly more expensive than standard fiberglass insulation because it’s designed with superior acoustic properties in mind. However, if your budget can’t stretch to the specialist product then normal fiberglass insulation will also do the job fine.
If you’re handy with tools, try the tutorial below for designing your own sound absorption panels. The materials are easy to source from any DIY store (or online), and they’re actually fairly easy to build.
Once you’ve got your acoustic foam panels you need to decide where to place them in the room. Corners are a good place to start, along with directly opposite the speakers. This video covers in more detail the importance of appropriate placement.
2. Use acoustic foam
Acoustic foam panels should be one of the first things you try, simply because they’re designed for the job. Acoustic foam is essentially an open-celled structure in which the sound waves become trapped, which stops them from echoing.
Many of you will be familiar with acoustic panels, as they’re the things you find in recording studios or other audio spaces. The egg crate structure helps break up the flat surface on which they’re put, making them very effective at reducing echo.
The science behind acoustic foam is that the sound waves enter the foam and are then converted into heat, which reduces their ability to reflect and echo. This is why the open-celled structure is so effective, as it allows sound waves in to be dissipated within the foam. This article explains it in much more detail.
As opposed to acoustic panels, which are cut to size and used strategically, a roll of acoustic foam can be used anywhere. For example, you might choose to lay a roll on the floor to reduce echo or buy acoustic foam in the shape of bass or corner traps.
While acoustic tiles will usually be squares, acoustic foam covers other shapes. Bass traps, which I mentioned above, are designed to fit in corners and have a valley-peak structure to disrupt and absorb the low-frequency bass sound waves.
The main thing to consider here is that buying acoustic foam in these ready-made shapes will be a bit more expensive than buying acoustic tiles. However, a bit of shopping around online might find you some bargains.
3. Try some acoustic tiles
Along with acoustic foam, the next best option is to try acoustic tiles. These work in the same way as acoustic foam, but are generally easier to work with. Acoustic tiles have the same open-celled structure, and many have the same egg crate design but are instead cut into small tile pieces.
This makes acoustic tiles much easier to work with because they’re a consistent size, rather than starting with a single roll of foam. You can pick up acoustic tiles fairly cheaply online, although ones that are more intricate than the standard black foam design will be more expensive.
Acoustic panels are particularly good in high-ceiling rooms or those containing large speaker systems, such as a home theater. While the other suggestions on this list take a “throw as much as possible at it” approach, acoustic panels allow you to work on the problem areas specifically.
If you decide to go with acoustic tiles, you shouldn’t need too many. I’d recommend starting with a panel opposite each speaker and then one in each corner too. If you have a particularly large room, then continue to add panels along the wall, spaced roughly 12 inches apart.
Acoustic foam is fairly easy to personalize to the décor of your room. All you need to do is attach some fabric to the room-facing surface and secure it in place. The easiest way to do this is to build a wooden frame and then staple it on.
When it comes to attaching the fabric or fixing the panels to the wall, try to avoid glue if possible. Glue blocks up the holes in the foam and reduces its ability to absorb echo. Use nails, staples, or pins to do any fixing.
4. Add echo reducing material to the floor
After the walls, the floor is the next largest open space in a room. This means that it’s also bad for reflecting sound waves, and so should be tackled next. That said, it’s another really easy one to solve with standard household materials.
If you already have carpet on the floor then there’s little else you really need to do. Hard flooring is obviously going to be more problematic, particularly as stone, tile, and wood (the 3 most common flooring materials) are all great at reflecting sound.
Thick, shag pile rugs are a great start if you have hard flooring in your room. Obviously you should cover as much floor space as possible with the rugs, but if that’s going to be a problem then ensure you focus on problem areas.
When it comes to sound reflection, these areas will generally be the corners or edges, where the floor meets the walls. These places give sound waves multiple surfaces to bounce off, particularly when they’re at right angles to each other.
If you can afford it, then I’d recommend just laying a carpet. A thick carpet with some good underlay will do an amazing job of reducing echo and will also add a level of soundproofing if there’s a room below the one you’re working in.
Obviously not everyone will want to lay a new carpet in their room, particularly if they have a nice hardwood floor. In that case, stick with rugs, but make sure they’re fairly thick. Laying a thin woven rug will do something, but a shag pile rug will be much more cost-effective if you’re on a budget.
5. Add furniture in the room
Once you’ve tackled all the large open spaces in the room it’s time to try one of the most effective solutions to reducing echo: filling the space. We’ve probably all noticed how much an empty room echoes, and how much difference putting furniture in makes to this problem.
This is essentially all I’m recommending here: to put furniture in the room. Adding more surfaces will generally disrupt the sound waves’ path around the room, which in turn reduces the chance of echo.
Realistically, any type of furniture works, but the softer the better. While something like a bookcase will generally be made of reflective material like wood, the sheer density of a stack of books will do a good job of absorbing sound waves.
However, the most effective thing you can use is soft furnishings. Couches and chairs are a great start, and fabric works much better than something like leather. Similarly, throw cushions are a great way of adding bulk (and style) to the room while also reducing echo.
Even decorative items such as plants and vases will do something. The point is that you need to fill the room with stuff to reduce the chance of the sound waves finding a hard surface to reflect off. You’re really looking to disrupt their path around the room and to also absorb/dampen them in the process.
Some Final Thoughts
Reducing echo in a room really doesn’t need to be an expensive project. As you can see, it’s possible to do it with some fairly inexpensive materials. Similarly, you can save plenty of money by buying the things you need and then assembling your own acoustic panels.
That said, the project can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. If you’re building a home theater, then it might be worth spending a bit more money on dedicated equipment.
Either way, all of these options are a good start that’ll make a difference within minutes. Just remember to plan ahead though, as this will save you plenty of time and effort along the way.