What Are Acoustic Panels? An Intro to Acoustical Wall Panels

What Are Acoustic Panels? An Intro to Acoustical Wall Panels

For many people, the inspiration to research acoustic panels comes from one of two polar-opposite experiences:

  1. A) You visited a church, concert hall, home theatre, etc. where the room acoustics just rock. The music, the sound effects, and even speech sounded incredibly clear and came in at the perfect volume. It was a beautiful and immersive experience that left you thinking: “wow, I want this for my home or business.”

Or, just as commonly:

  1. B) You have a sound problem that can’t be ignored. Perhaps your home theatre experience or personal recording studio has been a major disappointment due to excessive reverb with no acoustical absorption. Perhaps your place of business is so noisy that it stresses both you and your customers. Or maybe you are just tired of that eerie echo in the dining room.

Whatever camp you may fall into, we have some good news: acoustically treating a room or building is easier, more affordable, and more aesthetically pleasing than ever before. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars or waste countless hours studying acoustical engineering to vastly improve the sound quality in your home, business, etc. In most cases, a small investment in acoustic panels will suffice.

How Do Acoustic Panels Improve Sound?

In brief: through sound absorption.

Under normal circumstances, sound released into an environment travels until it meets resistance, at which point it reflects of any surface it comes into contact with. One commonly used analogy for this? Imagine throwing a racquetball as hard as you can into the wall of a racquetball court and watching it bounce in every direction.

Of course, this is obviously an oversimplification. (Sound disperses in all directions rather than traveling in a straight line, after all.) However, this example serves to illustrate why rooms with lots of hard surfaces tend to be so echoey. It is no coincidence that racquetball courts are so noisy.

Much like a racquetball, sound bounces off harder surfaces more forcefully than it does with soft surfaces. Imagine bringing that same ball into a recording studio covered wall to wall with acoustic panels and acoustic fabric. No matter how hard you managed to throw, the ball isn’t going to travel nearly as well as it did within the court. Similarly, no matter how loud you may sing, scream, or strike a snare drum, you are not going to hear the unpleasant noise, echo, and reverb as distinctly within a well-treated acoustic space. That’s where acoustical panels come in to play.

Why Reduce Echo and Reverb?

When many people first become interested in improving the acoustic quality in their home, business, or workspace, they mistakenly focus their attention on soundproofing. This term actually refers to the process of acoustically sealing off a room in order to keep sound from entering or leaving the area. Though the practice of soundproofing does have pragmatic purposes (i.e. for a landlord who wants to keep apartment units acoustically separated) it is not going to improve sound quality within your space under most circumstances. It’s also extremely difficult and expensive to truly sound proof a room.

Instead, when you notice that a room in too loud, that the sound within is too unclear, or that an unwanted echo tends to reverberate, your best bet for improving the sound quality is aiming to achieve sound absorption, not soundproofing. In most businesses, churches, home theaters, garages, classrooms, conference spaces, dance halls, recital spaces, and recording studios, installing acoustical surfaces such as wall tiles and ceilings will make the biggest difference.

Complex Acoustic Solutions

In some cases, both soundproofing and acoustic panel sound absorption techniques are necessary. For example, if you are designing your own musical practice space, you may very well have two distinct yet equally important priorities:

  • Keep noise within the room in order to avoid bothering family, neighbors, and anyone else in the vicinity. And…
  • Optimize sound quality inside your practice space by reducing echo, reverb, and excessive noise with acoustic panels.

Similar situations sometimes arise for commercial theaters, dance studios, people living in condominiums, and other similar situations. Because soundproofing and sound absorption actually work against each other to a certain degree, such projects require a greater deal of detail and customization.

Excessive bass sounds can also pose a more challenging acoustical room treatment scenario, as a special type of acoustic wall panel known as a bass trap may be necessary. These panels are exceptionally thick compared to normal wall and ceiling panels, and are optimally placed near ground level and in corners.

*If your acoustics issue needs a helping hand, don’t hesitate to contact us to discuss a customized acoustic design project.

What About DIY Acoustic Panels?

In theory, placing a soft, spongy material and coating it with an aesthetically pleasing fabric sounds relatively easy — which is why acoustic panel DIY projects are increasing in popularity. Though most DIY sound absorption baffles do work to a certain extent, here are a few factors that you may wish to consider before embarking on such a project.

  • Cheap materials such as packaging foam will absorb sound much less efficiently than professional grade acoustic wall tiles
  • If the fabric you cover your acoustic panels with is not acoustically transparent, then it will negatively impact the effectivity of your wall and ceiling panels. This is a big one.
  • Professional-grade acoustic wall panels and ceiling panels look fantastic, blending seamlessly with your existing decor, or even adding to a beautiful interior design style.
  • The price of professional acoustic solutions has fallen dramatically due to improving technology. You can now acoustically treat rooms with top-end acoustic panel kits for just a tad more than a DIY project would cost in the first place.

Looking to learn more about room acoustics and affordable sound management solutions for your home, business, or workspace?  View our selection of effective acoustic panels, to read about the solutions we offer, and to get in touch with a knowledgeable representative who can help you find exactly what you need.