Two experiments examine the effect on an immediate recall test of simulating a reverberant auditory environment in which auditory distracters in the form of speech are played to the participants (the ‘irrelevant sound effect’). An echo-intensive environment simulated by the addition of reverberation to the speech reduced the extent of ‘changes in state’ in the irrelevant speech stream by smoothing the profile of the waveform. In both experiments, the reverberant auditory environment produced significantly smaller irrelevant sound distraction effects than an echo-free environment. Results are interpreted in terms of changing-state hypothesis, which states that acoustic content of irrelevant sound, rather than phonology or semantics, determines the extent of the irrelevant sound effect (ISE). Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.