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$20M Project: Acoustical Nightmare

The Grand Room and Sitting Room have horrible sound problems: an echo with massive reverb from the concave ceiling and reflection from glass and stone finishes.


The wood coffered ceiling in the Grand Room has multiple layers that help diffuse the sound since the rest of the room is glass and stone.

A few months ago, as the sheetrock was going up, one of my worst fears was realized: round ceilings look attractive but sound bad.

Like a satellite dish, acoustical energy can be focused into one point in space, like an echo in a canyon.

Both master bedrooms, the sitting room, the owner's office, the library and, of course, the 3,200-square-foot Grand Room have circular or oblong concave ceilings. I brought this up at the design meetings, engineering meetings and once the sheetrock went up, and everyone heard it. There are “fixes” and treatments, but most are Band-Aids.

Photos: $20M Project: Work in Progress

I was mostly concerned with the Grand Room since it is a focal point in the home (no pun intended). Turns out it isn’t the worst room. The sitting room, which is between the two masters, is where the client had us add a full surround system. The audio and reverberation are almost "funhouse scary." (Watch the short video and listen to the reverb.)

Sipe details the reverb and bad acoustics in the sitting room of the Paradise Project.
It doesn’t just echo, sound lingers in the room. It would be hard to plan something that worked this well (or badly, depending on your perspective). The owner and the architect said the echo/reverb went away when the scaffolding was in the room so they said they should be able to “fix it.”

Related: Tracking $20M Project: Grand Room Challenges

I tried to explain to them that the focal point is in the center of the room, about 5 to 6 feet off the ground. And because of that, it will be hard to put a table there. No one believed it would be as bad as the consultant said it would, I was just fear mongering. Now they think there is some magic wand that will make it go away.

The problem is the concave ceiling. I have suggested an acoustical fabric and diffuser. This will maintain the shape but kill the reflection before it starts. There is no magic, but science is the next best thing.

Grand Room's Coffered Ceiling Helps a Little
The client bought a warehouse to store goods for the job and as a staging area when he first broke ground. The Grand Room's coffered ceiling has been under construction in this warehouse for almost a year. They started to move it into place a few months ago and it is now completely finished, including staining.

Related: 3 Myths About Room EQ

The coffered ceiling in the Grand Room helps diffuse the sound since the rest of the room is glass and stone.
The multiple trimwork layers and amazing detail of the Grand Room plays to our favor. The ceiling is turning into a giant diffuser, rounded edges, flat edges at angles, deep recesses. Not perfect, but considerably better than a smooth curved ceiling next to a 30- x 60-foot glass wall and the rest covered in rock.

The original spec called for a Renkus Heinz digital system which was nixed in the first round of cuts. The current design is four Totem Tribe speakers under the balcony, close to the sitting areas. The closer to the people in the room, the lower the volume; therefore, the less energy to bounce off the walls. Add two subwoofers under each staircase for bass.

The primary function of this room is entertaining so we had to imagine it would sometimes fill up with lots of people calling for more sound. Bodies act as great diffusers (there is plenty of silk and silicon in Scottsdale) so when the client is having a large party, two more Tribe speakers to the left and right of the exterior glass wall will fire down along a heavy fabric drape that is against the wall to add more sound. This was only ever meant as background or a PA system so we don’t expect Carnegie Hall, but it should sound very nice for small family gatherings or a room full of tipsy donors and politicians.

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Article Topics

News · Audio · Acoustics · Installation · All topics

About the Author

Mark Sipe, System Designer
Mark has been both a commercial and residential integrator and systems engineer for over 25 years. He works with Builders, Homeowners and Architects to design and support all types of projects around the world. He is also a software developer (SalezToolz) and mad scientist/inventor (Xspot Products) all developed around what he saw as a need for the businesses he works with and supports. He has been a CEA Mark of Excellence judge the last 6 years and CE Pro Best awards Judge.

26 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Rich  on  07/29  at  08:11 AM

This is something that was already pointed out as a potential problem area and your client gets what he paid for..
Why is he paying for someone like you if he is not willing to make it right? Cash those checks as fast as you get them…

Posted by Jon  on  07/29  at  09:25 AM

Why did you not see this coming and high an acoustical engineer to help the design.  This could have been fixed very easily in the basic design of the rooms. Now your client has to pay twice as much to fix it and will probably have to look at the band-aids. 

RPG has products that can help you without hurt the aesthetics too much. $$$

Posted by Soundsgood  on  07/29  at  09:31 AM

It may not be possible now but you need a product like this.

Posted by Michael Hamilton  on  07/29  at  10:05 AM


Nice tip!

Posted by audioandnetartist  on  07/29  at  10:26 AM

@Soundgood that Baswa product looks good as expensive on the installation procedure ! but hey it is a solution to the Nightmare!

Posted by touch 33  on  07/29  at  10:27 AM

Refreshing to know that the Laws Of Physics continue to be universal - even in the Homes Of The Wealthy…

Posted by Jared  on  07/29  at  11:19 AM

How many of those rooms will eventually be carpeted?

Posted by isf4hd  on  07/29  at  11:38 AM

This project needed a highly qualified professional acoustician (the likes of Keith Yates, Tony Grimani, Art Noxon, etc.) from the beginning as evidenced by the myriad audio problems now raising their ugly heads. Just another example of the old adage “there’s never enough time (and/or money) to do it right but there’s always enough to do it over.”

Posted by Norman Varney  on  07/29  at  11:51 AM

There are many solutions to choose from. It’s a matter of discovering what the customer is willing to bear regarding costs, decor, sound quality, etc. to determine the best one(s).

Posted by exactav  on  07/29  at  12:20 PM

What a concept! A single point-source speaker for multi-directional sound field. I love round rooms! Put the speaker in the middle pointing up to the ceiling and Voila! All around surround sound. Build a round seating around the speaker and combine that with 3 or 4 projectors with the right lenses and you could have continuous video around the room and sit anywhere for truly surrounding experience. Now how do you do 3D?
Sorry it’s Friday, had to get silly.


Posted by Jimmy  on  07/29  at  04:47 PM

ENOUGH OF THIS SILLY PROJECT!!! I am tired of reading about this 20 million dollar project and about a guy who does not understand nor respect our industry. And Yes I have worked on 10,000 to 26,000 sq foot houses and the home owners are nothing like this guy.I would have walked away from this project once I noticed how he was going to run this job.No dollar amount is worth the damage this could do to your company’s reputation.

Posted by Frank  on  07/29  at  05:38 PM

Solserene by Owens Corning would help the sitting room.

Posted by haneyr  on  07/29  at  06:45 PM

I’m not sure why the negative insults to this contractor are coming from the peanut gallery, but the owner and builder were warned and Mark seems to be trying to work through a project from hell. It’s great that a couple of you are professional enough to suggest some fix solutions. This is what I come here to see, solutions not chest thumping.

Posted by audioandnetartist  on  07/29  at  06:53 PM

Sure you guys haven’t went to a project like this in Puerto Rico were neither the home owner or contractor or designer takes in mind Acoustics. We face this and make sure we state the inefficiencies that the acoustics faces at least I do that. Finally we end up with a system that looks good and sounds some how not good depends on the Owner perspective of volume and knowledge. If this project is a lesson it is as to learn how this jobs can be done and learn, after all this is a learning curve we are!

Posted by avinteriors  on  07/30  at  05:40 AM

It’s like deja vu. My only comment would be our ‘expertise’ never seems to be taken seriously but when it goes pear shaped it becomes our problem both practically and potentially legally. I have been there and next time things like this appear on the horizon, I won’t just do the acoustic analysis and recommendations, I will add a disclaimer which I tend to find focuses the attention of the client nicely.

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