The Difference Between Reverberation and Room-to-Room Attenuation

The Difference Between Reverberation and Room-to-Room Attenuation

Good acoustics are an important aspect of any interior space, regardless of whether it’s a home, office, school, or a commercial building. One of the key factors that can make a significant impact on the acoustics of a space is the distinction between reverberation and room-to-room attenuation. In this blog, we’ll examine both of these factors and why they’re important to consider when designing or upgrading the acoustics of your space.

Let’s first understand the science of sound in a room

When a sound is created, it propagates from the source in all directions, radiating outwards until it encounters a boundary element. Three different points intersect when sound reacts with its environment that all contribute to what we hear:

Direct sound

Direct Sound implies that the sound, such as a colleague speaking directly to you, has not reacted with its environment, such as a wall or ceiling before it reaches your ears (which is what we want). When someone speaks to you directly the sound should be clear, however, unwanted reflected sound and reverberation can cause speech to become unintelligible.


After a sound has been made, the waves from that sound continue to travel. When those sound waves hit and reflect off surfaces like walls, ceilings, floors, furniture, or even other people, that reflection can cause the sound to persist in the space even after the source of the sound has stopped, producing the sonic effect called reverberation. Reverberation is a common reason it can be difficult to carry on a conversation in a crowded room or why some people don’t sound as clear when you talk to them in a video conference.

Reflected sound

We hear reflected sound when the noise interacts with a surface that sends the sound bouncing back. This reflected sound can be incredibly obstructive when combined with the direct sound we mentioned as it causes the brain to work harder in decoding the two similar sounds to localise its source (which is how humans can tell which direction a sound is coming from). This mental conflict contributes to fatigue and a loss of concentration.

What is Reverberation?

Reverberation is a natural phenomenon that occurs when sound waves reflect off surfaces in a room, causing a delay in the sound arrival time. As sound waves bounce off walls, floors, and ceilings, they continue to reflect and interact with each other, creating a complex pattern of sound reflections. The result is a continuous sound that persists after the original sound source has stopped, gradually fading away as the energy is dissipated through absorption, diffusion, or other means.

The amount of time it takes for the sound to decay by 60 dB is referred to as the reverberation time (RT60). The RT60 is measured in seconds and varies depending on the size, shape, and surface characteristics of the room. Large spaces with hard, reflective surfaces, such as concert halls or churches, generally have longer RT60s, while smaller rooms with more absorbent surfaces, such as recording studios or control rooms, have shorter RT60s.

Reverberation is an essential element of sound quality in many spaces, especially those designed for music performance or speech. Properly controlled reverberation can enhance the clarity, richness, and depth of sound, adding warmth and liveliness to the acoustic environment. However, excessive reverberation can result in poor speech intelligibility, making it difficult to understand spoken words.

When it comes to choosing products to control reverberation there are several options available. Ceiling tiles, wall panels, and suspended ceiling systems are some products that could be used used. The choice will depend on the specific needs of the space and the desired acoustic performance and aesthetics.

What is Room-to-Room Attenuation?

Room-to-room attenuation is the measurement of how effectively sound is blocked from traveling between adjacent spaces. It is an essential aspect of building design and construction, especially in settings where privacy and noise control are critical. Room-to-room attenuation is achieved by using sound insulation materials, such as acoustic barriers, absorbers, and seals, to prevent sound waves from passing through walls, ceilings, and floors.

The sound transmission class (STC) is used to measure room-to-room attenuation. STC ratings range from 0 to 100, with higher ratings indicating greater sound insulation. For example, a wall with an STC rating of 50 would provide significant sound attenuation, reducing noise transmission by approximately 50 decibels.

Room-to-room attenuation is necessary in many settings, such as hospitals, offices, and residential buildings. Properly controlled room-to-room attenuation can reduce noise pollution, maintain privacy, and increase comfort and productivity.

Attributes of sound

What is the Difference between Reverberation and Room-to-Room Attenuation?

While both concepts relate to sound, reverberation and room-to-room attenuation are entirely different phenomena. Reverberation refers to the persistence of sound within a room, while room-to-room attenuation refers to the reduction of sound transmission between two separate rooms. Reverberation is an acoustic quality that is desirable in some environments, such as concert halls and recording studios, while room-to-room attenuation is necessary for privacy and noise control in buildings.

Reverberation vs. Room-to-Room Attenuation: Which is More Important?

The importance of reverberation and room-to-room attenuation depends on the intended use of the space. For example, a concert hall requires a specific level of reverberation to create the desired acoustic effect, while a hospital room may require high room-to-room attenuation to maintain privacy and reduce noise levels. In general, both concepts are important in building design, and a balance must be struck between them to achieve the desired acoustic environment.

In conclusion, reverberation and room-to-room attenuation are two distinct concepts related to sound. Reverberation refers to the persistence of sound within an enclosed space, while room-to-room attenuation refers to the reduction of sound transmission between adjacent rooms. Both concepts are important in building design and construction, but their significance depends on the intended use of the space. Architects, engineers, and building owners must carefully consider these factors to create an optimal acoustic environment.