How to Reduce Echo in a Large Room with High Ceilings

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Reverberation- the technical term for what we usually call echo- is a finicky creature. Most musicians have had this experience: you find a long tunnel, tall stairwell, or perhaps a huge church with vaulted ceilings, and you make some music just to experience the power of the reverberation in real-time. We love to sing in the shower because the bathroom provides a satisfying echo chamber.

In fact, Simon and Garfunkle’s stirring “The Sound of Silence” was written in a bathroom. The music and lyrics were inspired by the feeling created by the intimate echo.

But you might also want to control echo even if you’re not planning on recording anything and you just want to enjoy your living room without reverb.

So how can you reduce echo in a room with high ceilings?

You can reduce echo in a space with high ceilings by adding sound absorption panels, heavy blankets, or curtains to the ceiling, walls, and floor. You can also add more furniture or even hanging plants to reduce echo while improving the look of your space. 

As far as which technique to try first, that’s going to depend somewhat on your room but starting with the first reflection point is a good idea. So if you’re trying to reduce echo from a studio monitor you’ll want to treat the wall it faces with something to absorb sound like a panel or piece of furniture.

If you’re trying to reduce overall echo in a living space like a bedroom then implementing several of these methods at once can work. That’s the quick answer but let’s take a closer look at all your options and what you need to know about echo and high ceilings.

What Makes Rooms Reverberant and Echoey?

From a scientific perspective, we can define echo as the “persistence of sound after it has been stopped as a result of multiple reflections from surfaces such as furniture, people, air, etc. within a closed surface. These reflections build up with each reflection and decay gradually as they are absorbed by the surfaces of objects in the space enclosed.”

Simply put, sound bounces around the room, and the fewer things there are to absorb the sound the more powerful an echo. Rooms with especially high ceilings have extra space for sound to travel and can have significant echos as a result.

If you’ve ever been in an empty home and walked into a room that you’ve just cleared of all furniture and possessions, you’ve probably noticed that the room has much more echo than before- especially if it’s a living room with higher ceilings.

In that situation, you have just experienced one of the most basic principles of reverb. An empty rectangular or square room, with bare walls and ceiling (and especially an uncarpeted floor), is one of the most reverberant spaces.

Sound can be hard to understand intuitively, because we are visual animals, and it’s invisible. I find it helpful to use visual metaphors to explain sound. A large, flat, hard surface is like a mirror for sound. Sound bounces off these surfaces without losing much energy. Two parallel surfaces like this are like a room with mirrors on either wall- the sound bounces back and forth for a while before dissipating. So an empty square room has loads of parallel hard flat surfaces, and the echoes linger.

Keep that visual metaphor in mind as you check out this video and think about all the different places that sound can bounce around:

However, some materials absorb sound rather than reflect it. Particularly, soft materials like fabric tend to absorb sound and you probably noticed in the video above that every surface is hard and smooth.

Uneven textures also help to break up sound reflections. If you have seen professional recording studios or large theaters and concert halls, you have probably seen sound-absorbing panels and strangely-textured sound diffusers. The sound-absorbing panels contain insulation that’s very effective at absorbing sound, and the diffusers scatter the reflection so it’s minimized.

While these pro-level furnishings are usually highly specialized and expensive, there are actually some simple and inexpensive solutions that work extremely well. I’ll run through some great solutions, moving from the simplest to the most complex.

The Sound Source Will Decide Your Best Solution

Sticking with the mirror metaphor, we’ll want to focus our echo-reducing efforts on the part of the room that acts as the first reflection point. This reflection point usually happens before the sound reaches the ceiling, which is great because we probably don’t want to try and add sound absorption panels on a 30-foot ceiling.

Instead, we focus on the walls and flooring that the sound reflects on before it reaches the ceiling.

In cases where there’s no specific sound source, then you can incorporate several methods but usually adding furniture will be the best solution for those types of spaces. Keep this in mind as you review all your options.

4 Ways To Reduce Echo and Reverb In A Room (Even If It Has High Ceilings)

Now that you know how echo happens we can look at the specific techniques for reducing it.

1. Soften Hard and Reflective Surfaces with Rugs and Curtains

The first thing you can do to control echoes in large, reverberant rooms, is to make the hard surfaces less hard. Hard surfaces are just what they sound like and includes walls with plain drywall, concrete floors, or glass windows.

In most cases, the ceiling is going to be included in this but since we’re talking about a room with a higher than average ceiling we’ll want to focus on easier-to-access areas like the floor and walls. Rugs on a tiled or hardwood floor make the room instantly less reverberant and carefully selecting flooring is a key part of every recording studio. And even if you aren’t building a recording studio, but space for entertaining instead, the principle still applies.

Rugs have the added benefit of adding color and life to your room, and making it more inviting too! You can go for solid colors, sophisticated patterns, or you can mix and match! Either way, it will absorb sound and reduce the chances of sound waves bouncing up to the ceiling.

Curtains do great work here as well and while glass isn’t going to reflect sound the same way that a concrete floor would it can still create quite a bit of echo. If you have blinds, try replacing them with curtains. Keep in mind that the larger and heavier the curtains are, the more effective they will be at sound absorption. In fact, many blackout curtains also advertise sound absorption as a selling point. Their ability to reduce outside noise does double duty and absorbs sounds inside the room as well. 

You don’t need to spend a fortune on any of this either, especially if your number one goal is to reduce echo. Stick with items that you actually like while trying to focus on anything made of thicker, heavier, or textured material.

2. Add Furniture, Art, and Accents to Minimize Large Flat Surfaces

Many people only think in terms of basic functionality when decorating a room. But consider adding decorative furniture such as end tables, credenzas, sideboards, accent chairs, poufs, and more. Items like these can make a space feel more intentional and tasteful, while simultaneously absorbing reverb and echo. The more the better!

When it comes to reducing echo in a living room this is going to be the best option for most folks. Yes, if you’re trying to turn a living room into a recording studio then you’ll want to consider some of the other options on this list. But for just enjoying your living room more, high ceilings and all, adding furniture is going to be very effective.

One of the most surprisingly functional additions is a bookcase full of books or other media. A wall of bookcases acts kind of like the sound diffusers I mentioned earlier. The random bumpy surface scatters reflections and reduces echo.

Don’t forget about houseplants! Even if you don’t have much of a green thumb, look into plants such as the “Swiss cheese plant” monstera, majesty palms, snake plants, ferns, spider plants, and devil’s ivy. These are all popular houseplants, known to thrive indoors with minimal upkeep. On top of absorbing sound, they add so much life and freshness to your space! Hanging planters and tall plant stands will make them even more effective in a large room with a high ceiling.

You can also add art to your space and while this usually means hanging art on the wall, sculptures will also do a great job of reducing echo thanks to their unique texture. Canvas or similar soft materials are ideal for hanging artwork.

Textured wallpaper (often designed to look like brick or a similar surface) can also help but it’s more a final touch than a core part of reducing echo. In a room with high ceilings, the mild groove of textured wallpaper just won’t be enough to stop any major echo.

3. Add Blankets to the Walls and Ceiling

Here, we are getting more specialized and less decorative. However, there are still ways to do this tastefully.

Many home producers have zeroed in on moving blankets for sound absorption. They are relatively thick and heavy-duty, yet inexpensive. You can install grommets to make them more functional, and hang them from wall hooks. If possible, try to hang them with an air gap of 2-4” between the blanket and the wall or ceiling. This gap makes them even more effective at dampening reflections, as they will have space to vibrate and absorb more sound.

As I mentioned, moving blankets are not beautiful, but there are creative ways to hang them tastefully. Hang a simple canvas drop cloth in front of them for a clean and modern look, or check out tapestries for some flamboyant self-expression.

4. Sound Absorption and Acoustic Panels (Professional and DIY)

Professional sound absorption panel kits can be very expensive and it’s not uncommon to see prices above $100 for a 2-foot by 3-foot panel. However, not only do these expensive panels work, they also look great. For someone who just wants to record on their own, the look might not matter.

But for someone who wants to reduce echo in their high-ceiling living the more expensive but better-looking soundproof panels could be a great choice. This is even more true if you’re planning on attaching them directly to the ceiling. It’s going to take effort to reach a high ceiling and you want to make sure that whatever you place there stays.

You have a lot of options here but I recommend this option from Dekiru which you can see on Amazon. These have a bit of a unique shape which can make them easier to place and they also have a huge range of colors so you can match whatever style you’re going for. They’re also reasonable on the budget and designed more for homes and living spaces instead of recording studios.

If the style isn’t a factor or you need something more serious for a recording studio, you can go for something like Roxul Rockboard which are great at absorbing sound and reducing echo, even if they don’t look as aesthetically pleasing. Still, they take some more DIY skills to use and you’ll want to build a wooden frame around the edge of the insulation, mount the insulation inside the frame, and use a staple gun to apply a layer of breathable fabric such as cotton to create a skin.

But with that quick work, you’ll have built a nearly identical product to some of the professional-grade panels but at a fraction of the cost. And you can even get creative with any fabric you like as long as it’s a breathable material. Mount these strategically on your walls and ceiling to taste, and you can control sound reflections at a professional level. Again, try to leave an air gap of 2-4” between the walls/ceiling and the panels, to further amplify echo-reducing power.

For the home, the above options should be all your need. But if your recording studio has a high ceiling you can also look at even more professional materials like mass loaded vinyl panels or even fiberglass insulation.

Beware Cheap Foam Panels

While it’s tempting, cheap foam panels are probably not your best choice, no matter what your goal is. The truth is that they don’t do much, and if they weren’t relatively well-known already, I don’t think anyone would use them. I’m not even sure how they got so popular, but my guess is marketing, and the fact that they resemble certain types of high-end sound treatment.

But these wedges are thin, so they absorb far less than the aforementioned Roxul panels. They are mounted directly onto the wall, so they don’t have the air gap I have been recommending. Their jagged shape doesn’t actually make much sense- random shapes diffuse sound more effectively when the surfaces are hard. Believe it or not, a free-hanging moving blanket mounted a couple of inches from a wall is far more effective than these wedges. And home-built Roxul panels are more effective yet.

If you’re still not sure, you can check out this video which does a great side-by-side comparison showing just how unimpressive cheap foam panels really are compared to the real thing:

Alternative Option For Musicians: DIY Isolation Booth

If you just want to reduce echo in your living space, then consider yourself done! You have everything need to make it happen, no matter how high your ceilings are.

While there are more ways to reduce echo in a room for recording that are specific to musicians, in some cases it makes more sense to simply create an isolation booth. This especially true for a room with high ceilings where sometimes it can be difficult to really tame the space.

I’ve written about building a isolation booth in your home before but these are essentially moving blankets hung from a frame in a rough semicircle behind the performer. They block reflections that would otherwise enter the mic from the back and sides.

Since you are probably recording with a cardioid mic in situations like this, you don’t have to worry much about blocking reflections coming towards the performer’s front, as they are in the microphone’s null spot anyway. If your ceiling is high, try adding another blanket over the performer’s head. With this configuration, you can record beautifully dry tracks in nearly any space, no matter how echoing.

For the record, I am a full-time songwriter and producer, and I use a homemade isolation booth much like this. While most people associate a fully-fledged vocal booth with high-fidelity recording, this is a misconception.

In fact, vocal booths resembling a tiny separate room are usually more of a liability than a benefit for individual recordings. They exist primarily to separate the singer from the rest of a band- unnecessary if you are tracking individually. And they are liable to have an unnatural, boxy sound unless they are also professionally sound-treated. With a homemade isolation booth, you can sound completely professional with far less expense and effort.

Should You Even Worry About Reverb When Recording Music?

For producers and recording engineers, reverb can be a beast, a wild animal that must be tamed and it takes experience to understand when to use it. The dominant approach to recording is to record tracks as dry as possible and to add reverb later. But that’s not always possible if you’re recording in a space with high ceilings where echos will naturally occur.

Recording a track with natural reverb is more often a liability than a benefit- it limits your ability to process the track in most ways. And if you change your mind about how much reverb you want on the track, you are stuck with your recording, unless you want to re-track it.

That said, reverb is very much the life in music. Almost all music features reverb of some kind. Our brains use hear reverb subconsciously, and use it to understand what kind of environment a sound is coming from. Music with no reverb whatsoever sounds dry and artificial (although this is sometimes used to artistic effect. For example, 90s alt darlings CAKE use no reverb whatsoever on most of their albums.) Reverb is almost always added to vocals at the least, and usually to other instruments as well. Consider the classic 80s drum sound, with powerful reverb on the snare.

You probably know this already, but large rooms with high ceilings tend to be very reverberant. This is particularly true if the room has large flat surfaces, such as the walls or ceiling. This principle has been used intentionally throughout history- churches and concert halls have been designed to amplify performers using natural reverb for centuries.


If your large, high-ceiling room is rattling your bones with meddlesome reverberations and echos, fear not.

Even on a relatively small budget, you have many options to vastly improve the acoustics of your space. You can easily get professional-sounding recordings in your room if you follow the steps I’ve laid out.

And following many of those suggestions make your room more pleasant to spend time in as well- a true win-win!