Audio Corner: Designing Spaces for Sound

Does your building echo? Do you struggle to get the message to the people in the back?  There are some easy steps to take, especially if you have funds for a retrofit.

1. Floors: carpet can dampen sound, but it can also be expensive to clean and maintain.

2. Furniture: Carpet and fabric cover chairs or pews are always helpful.  If you’re stuck with hard wood or tile, then rubber feet on the chairs can minimize clatter.

3. Ceilings: If there are groups above you, or airplane noise is an issue, acoustic tile ceilings can help a lot. consider SheetBlok or other isolation barrier material. In addition, sheet rock ceilings with Resilient Channels can virtually eliminate sounds from above, including loud foot steps.  Here is an example, from Auralex: >> external link

4. Walls:  Odds are,  if you’re working with an existing structure, you’re in a big rectangle. Parallel walls, so common in construction, are the least desirable, acoustically. Sound waves bounce around and harsh echoes are perceived as noise, making it hard to hear voices clearly. You can still mitigate the problem, and a small focus here can pay off with big results. Some churches use cloth banners in the back to reduce echo. Others use free-standing or wall-mounted sound boards, to change the shape of the space. If you’re fortunate enough to be planning new construction, consider adding acoustic boards behind the sheet rock to block sounds from the adjacent rooms. Here is an example, available from Home Depot: >>external link

5. Equipment: This is a vast area to cover. There is equipment that can help pin point sound to only the audience and not wall, that can cancel echos, that can create delays (in large churches,  delay sounds for the members sitting in the back is necessary). There are many any types of equipment to deal with feedback, clipping, equalization, etc…  It’s wise to seek professional guidance.

Below, two images of walls – left and right side – from a church in the San Francisco Peninsula region.  Like most buildings, this one was originally a large rectangle. The panels were added later. You will notice how one side is flat, and the other side has panels, breaking the surfaces.  The result is acoustically quite wonderful; sound carries beautifully, without distracting echoes:

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 Church walls. Photo (taken with permission): Lauren Speeth.

Whatever steps you take to improve the audio quality of your worship space, your congregation – and your band or choir – will thank you.

Categories Featured Articles | Tags: | Posted on April 22, 2014

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