There are way too many acoustic panel fabrics in the market. In fact, with so many options to choose from, it often gets hard to narrow it down to your preferred choice. So, I went down in the trenches of the acoustic paneling world to find out once and for all which fabric is the best to use in DIY acoustic panels.
The fabric covering is of utmost importance for a DIY acoustic panel because it plays a huge role in the panel’s acoustic properties. In other words, the fabric for acoustic panels can make or break your investment.
Putting together your own panels will help you save money, and it’s going to be an experience on its own. But if you don’t choose the right fabric, you’re going to reduce the effectiveness of your acoustic panels.
Which Fabric Is Best For Acoustic Panels?
The best fabric for DIY acoustic panels is Guilford of Maine since it’s the industry standard and is specifically designed for acoustic panels. However, if Guilford of Maine isn’t in your budget, then you may want to try Cotton Duck Fabric or Speaker Grill Cloth. Options like burlap are not recommended due to poor strength and durability which will reduce the amount of time your acoustic panels will last.
There’s a lot more that goes into choosing the right fabric since each one of these acoustic panel fabric types has its own merits and demerits. Let’s take a deeper dive into the topic and check them out.
What Makes the Fabric So Crucial for DIY Acoustic Panels?
You are already aware that the acoustic panels are tasked with absorbing the sound in the room. But the acoustic panel fabric isn’t just there to add to the aesthetic; it plays a more significant role.
The sound is supposed to be able to pass directly through the fabric, and it should not serve as a barrier between the sound and the acoustic panel. In other words, sound should get absorbed entirely by the panel.
If the fabric is deflecting the sound back to the room, then the acoustic panels are practically useless.
But, How Does the Fabric Work?
The acoustic panel textiles you need absorb sound – enhancing the quality of sound emitted in the room by minimizing reverberation and avoiding forming an echo chamber.
Such a fabric marginally decreases the transmission of various frequencies between rooms. All the sound should pass through the fabric – a phenomenon known as “acoustic permeability”. When the sound waves enter the fabric, they get trapped in its folds and fibers after which the sound energy is transformed into heat.
The density, fullness, thickness, and placement of the fabric will all contribute to the way it receives sound.
Now that you’ve got a decent understanding of the kind of fabric acoustic panels require, let’s dive into the 4 types of acoustic panel fabrics available in the market and which one should you go for:
1. Guilford of Maine
Seated at the top of the market of customized acoustic panels, Guilford of Maine is the leading provider of quality cloth for acoustic panels. You’ll be able to customize your panels according to your aesthetic taste because Guilford offers almost every style imaginable.
You can find a massive assortment of fabric on their site. With such a diverse collection, it’s highly improbable that you won’t find what you’re looking for.
They manufacture acoustically transparent fabric that’s fire-rated (it resists burning and is heat resistant) and available in 12 colors. The weave is a 255 thread count per inch that allows air and sound to seamlessly pass through and effectively cloak the material it is covering.
Guilford of Maine is a well-renowned name in the industry so rest assured you’ll be getting premium fabric.
An example of their exceptional quality is that none of their acoustic panels have nylon textile. Because nylon soaks humidity from the air, causing it to sag over time.
Their fabric is non-reflective, meaning that all sound will pass through. The cloth is 60-inch wide and is sold by the yard so if you are wrapping a ‘2×4’ insulation for panels or diffusers, then one yard should be sufficient.
There are tons of great reviews for Guilford of Maine fabrics even in the DIY audio panel community. It’s all been tried and tested. Keep an eye out for the fabric descriptions because there are some that are bleachable which means a longer lifespan with little maintenance.
So, which aspect does the prized Guilford of Maine cloth take a hit in? You guessed it – the price tag. You probably saw this coming because of how premium and niche the product is. Given all the features, it’s probably worth spending a bit more than going for a subpar experience.
2. Cotton Duck Fabric
The second contender for the best types of acoustic panel fabrics is the cotton duck canvas. It goes by many names, for example “duck fabric”, “cotton duck”, or “duck canvas”. And the name might have you confused but it isn’t made from ducks.
Cotton Duck originates from a Dutch weaving practice that simply translates to “duck canvas” and its property is such that it is woven more finely than an average canvas.
This is great for acoustic panels because cotton duck is a breathable fabric and has a stretchability factor so that it’s taut when covered across the panels. 10oz-12oz cotton duck cloth will be well-suited for acoustic panels and offer a vast range of customizations.
Check out the Canvas Duck Fabric by Organic Cotton Plus. It’s available in a ton of different colors and is one of the best ones in the market.
Cotton duck canvas fabric allows you to bring out your creative side. The fabric can be dyed in any colour and there are several different patterns available to choose from. If you’re looking for a DIY project from head to toe, cotton duck canvas is just about the perfect fit.
You might’ve undertaken a DIY project for one of two reasons (or both): your love for doing it on your own, or to stay within a budget. Cotton duck canvas works well for both reasons. Particularly in regards to the latter. The fabric is seen more as a commodity compared to Guilford of Maine. It’s, therefore, cheaper and within budget.
3. Speaker Grill Cloth
The name says it all. Speaker grill cloth is the same fabric that goes over speakers and allows sounds to pass through. You might be somewhat amazed at seeing it placed lower on the list. I mean, if something works great for speakers, shouldn’t it be the number one contender for acoustic panels?
It isn’t so much about the performance of the fabric as much as it is about the pricing of it. Also, it’s worth considering that speaker grill cloth can’t be manipulated as easily as, say, Cotton Duck Canvas. However, if you’re willing to overlook these considerations, then Speaker grill cloth is a strong contender.
The cloth is available in black (only) and would work particularly well in a space that leverages some dark colors in its aesthetic. But in all honesty, it works well in most spaces since lighter spaces end up getting a nice pop of contrast with this cloth. It also has a considerable amount of stretch to it to make the fabric taut on your panels.
Speaker grill cloth is often preferred for its higher strength and ability to protect internal elements (which is why they’re used for loudspeakers). Their ability to allow sound to clearly pass is what makes them desirable in many cases.
There are two main types of speaker grill fabrics available: soft grills and hard grills.
Soft grills offer little resistance to the sound passing through because the material is able to absorb vibrations and, therefore, less likely to produce rattling sounds at higher sound pressure frequencies. They are considerably water resistant, in most cases. However, they aren’t as sturdy as hard grills. Consequently, they are susceptible to damage and cannot be stretched too far without breaking.
Hard grills are usually made from construction materials such as metals and plastic. They are, therefore, aptly referred to as solid grills. The basic design of it is of a solid grill with holes drilled out to allow sound to pass. Where it makes up for strength, it compromises on sound quality. At higher sound pressures, the sound might be distorted with unwanted rattling.
Speaker grill cloth is an ideal solution if you’re looking to mimic the exact sound quality you get from any speaker lying around. The same fabric is used and it has several favorable properties. Although, granted some limitations, as well.
If you’re looking for a reasonably priced speaker grill cloth, then check out this Jet Black Speaker Grill. It’s acoustically transparent (i.e. allows sound to pass through) and has an amazing double stretch knit.
Burlap is the least expensive option in this list. It’s great for anyone working on a budget, trying to find something that won’t break the bank or compromise on quality.
However, that leads to the question: Why is burlap placed at the end of the list?
The main reasons would be: strength and durability. While there are manufacturers who’ve worked to overcome these issues, there is still a considerable difference between burlap and the rest.
For starters, burlap is flammable. If your paneling were to catch fire, it would go fast through burlap since it’s practically dry firewood. Adding to this, the material isn’t as stretchable as you’d want it to be. There’s the likelihood of breaking the fabric if you stretch it over its tensile limit.
With that said, burlap is a lightweight, affordable fabric that does not compromise on sound quality. The material has numerous holes for sound to pass through without visibly appearing as such. It is available in a range of colors, although not as extensive of a list as Cotton duck canvas.
Choosing the best fit for your acoustic panel isn’t as straightforward as most people would have you believe. Manufacturers are constantly working towards bringing out more and more options – it might get overwhelming sometimes.
Which is why it’s important to do your research before dedicating yourself to a particular fabric choice. If money isn’t a problem, go for Guilford of Maine as it’s the best out there. Cotton Duck Canvas is another great option. Speaker grill fabric would suit you well if you’re trying to mimic the sound from your speakers. But if you have a super tight budget, Burlap is your best bet.