$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.

$20M Project: Acoustical Nightmare
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.
Mark Sipe · July 29, 2011

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.

  About the Author

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. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Mark at [email protected]

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