One of the most effective ways to manage sound in closed spaces is the use of acoustic panels. These foam and/or fabric-covered surfaces prevent the bouncing of sound waves around the room. These bouncing waves, if left untreated, can interfere, shift and mix with all the reflections of other sound waves in the air, which consequently reduces their quality.
Acoustic panels work reasonably well in reducing sound waves of mid and high frequencies when placed correctly around the room. The material and composition of these panels allow them to absorb sound vibrations from the air and prevent the aforementioned bouncing. They control reverberation, echoes, muffling, and other noise “junk” with the moderate amount of mass they have.
However, they’re not so great with longer wavelengths of low-frequency sound waves and thus won’t entirely block all the noise out of a room.
But how do acoustic panels improve the sound quality in a room? Let’s find out.
How do Acoustic Panels Work?
It can seem a little bizarre to picture waves moving around your space, and a panel taking them or “soaking” them in. Can that practically happen? Do acoustic panels actually work?
Well, if your setup can incorporate a combination of three items, i.e., bass traps (to absorb low frequencies), acoustic panels (to absorb mid and high frequencies), and diffusers (to scatter the remaining frequencies), you’d notice a significant increase in the sound quality.
Acoustic panels can, however, act both as a diffuser and an absorber. A diffuser will disperse the sound back in the room in different directions, whereas an absorber will absorb sound energy and convert it into heat energy.
Composition of Acoustic Panels
Oftentimes, when you encounter an acoustic panel, it’s a saw-toothed or jagged surface panel on a wall or ceiling. Their zig-zags make sound waves bounce back and forth to utilize all their energy in the tunnel-like space. If not the “teeth”, acoustic panels rely on the foam’s absorbing properties to do the job.
Either way, the material that absorbs waves is always dense enough to sip in all the sound waves completely but porous enough to allow entry.
These panels are made of materials such as compressed wool, dense foam, or acoustically useful insulation matter like denim or fiberglass, all of which allow sound to enter but don’t let it leave.
Then comes the fabric covering to hide the foam and make the panels aesthetically pleasing. The fabric cover is made from a thin and porous material to allow sound in. Thick or heavy covers would reflect the sound off and defeat the whole purpose.
How Do Acoustic Panels Improve Sound?
Acoustic panels placed on the walls and ceiling of a room improve the sound by providing softer surfaces that allow efficient sound-wave absorption. Sound energy travels until it meets a resistance where it reflects off and continues its journey. When it bounces off of harder surfaces, it creates an echo, reverb, and an unpleasant ‘noise’ overall.
In other words, acoustic panels improve the sound quality by reducing the number of waves that reflect off the walls (hard surface). The foam traps any sound wave that hits them. No matter how loud you strike drums, scream, sing or shout in a well-treated acoustic space, you’re safe from nasty echoes.
What Are the Types of Acoustic Panels?
There are three main types of acoustic panels.
1. Fabric-Laminated Acoustical Panels
Acoustic panels laminated with a professional-grade acoustic performance with their aesthetically elegant designs offered in a variety of finishes, sizes, and configurations. They can be easily fixed to a ceiling or the walls of your room or studio. Fabric-laminated panels are customizable, so you have the option to choose the size and design of the panels.
2. Wood Acoustic Panels
Wood acoustic panels are perforated and used by musicians and speakers who need to reduce/control ‘noise’ and reverberations within a building. They come with a dented surface that helps in absorbing and centralizing soundwaves to reduce echoing.
These perforated panels deaden and dampen the sound by a process called tuned resonance absorption, where a trapped layer of air and metal works to modify the acoustics of certain sound frequencies.
3. Art Acoustic Panels
The most customizable and aesthetically pleasing panels on the market. These panels are mostly fabric-wrapped with beautiful, decorative artworks on the main surface. They are a great way of adding “insulated zing” to your space.
Places like auditoriums, conference rooms, bars, restaurants, offices, libraries, and studios use acrylic fronted wall panels to create a perfect harmony of reflection and absorption.
What’s more, you can also have a look at our list of the top acoustic panels here and choose one that fits your requirements.
Where Should Acoustic Panels Be Placed to Work Effectively?
Acoustic panels should be placed in spots where most of the sound waves are likely to hit and bounce.
For acoustic panels to work effectively, they need to be placed strategically around your space so that they can absorb sound waves before they touch the walls but only after they have reached you (or their intended audience).
This means you’ll be needing a few panels on the wall behind your setup to catch waves from the front-firing speakers and one for each speaker you have in the room. You can place them on the sidewalls of the room near the corners as well. For more details on how to place your acoustic panels, you can read this article.
Do Homemade (DIY) Acoustic Wall Panels Work?
Homemade acoustic panels work well enough. Building your own acoustic panel gives you customizability that no brand can offer. You can choose the core material, the thickness (which should at least be 3-4” to be effective), and the weight according to your requirements and liking.
As long as the fabric and material you choose are professional-grade and acoustically transparent, your DIY project is a hit!
Do acoustic panels really work? They do!
In fact, acoustic systems offer the perfect solution to noise by balancing sound reflection, absorption, and diffusion in a room. Community halls, offices, schools, restaurants, and meeting rooms extensively use fabric-faced acoustic panels because not only do they create a pleasant environment, they also transform the absorbed sound energy into heat.
The key takeaway is to prop the panels in the right spots so they can completely cover and evenly distribute sound in your space. If you’re building a home theatre, or recording audio, music, or podcasts, installing acoustic panels is a must.