People Make Spaces Quieter

By Kathi Mestayer

I used to think that crowded spaces were noisier. But I was wrong. More people can make a space quieter, especially if it's an echoey, reverberant room. That's right—people make spaces quieter.

I noticed this the other day when I was leaving a large gathering that I attend often. The crowd was much smaller than usual, but the echoes were way worse than usual. I asked a couple of friends, who echoed (really!) my observation. Way noisier than usual.

So I got home and emailed an acoustician, Richard Peppin, of Engineers for Change. My question: "Is it possible that the space was really noisier with fewer people in it?"

His terse, but (as always) helpful, reply: "Yes. Because people absorb sound and hence reduce reflections."

Who knew?

Kathi Mestayer writes articles on a wide variety of aspects of hearing loss: office acoustics, building acousticsADHD and hearing loss, hyperacusis and recruitment, nonverbal communication, and language and culture.

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