The Ultimate Guide to Acoustic Panels for Home Recording

70c-acoustic foam panelsIn order to record good sound, you NEED acoustic treatment.  That’s a given.

And after your bass traps are in place, the next step is adding acoustic panels.

But when tackling this project, newbies often wonder things like:

  • How many do I need?
  • How much will this cost me?
  • Can I make my own?
  • How do I put them up?

If you’re at this stage now

Then what I have for you today is an in-depth guide that covers the answers to all these questions, and more.

Let’s begin.  First up…

Choosing Your Strategy

diy vs commercial acoustic panelsThe 2 basic strategies to add acoustic panels to your studio are:

  1. Build your own – which requires a trip to Home Depot, and some carpentry skills…but also saves you money.
  2. Buy them – which requires less work, but is also more expensive.

If you consider yourself the handyman type, you’ll probably be inclined to build your own.

And if you’re good, you can make something far cooler than anything you could buy online.

However

If it’s your first studio and you have zero experience with acoustic treatment, I recommend starting with at least 1 box of commercial panels, to get an understanding of how an acoustically treated room should sound.

Then later, if you build your own, you’ll know exactly what type of sound you’re aiming for.

So before we cover any advanced DIY techniques, let’s start with the basics…

Commercial Acoustic Foam 101

auralex d36When shopping for acoustic foam online, the 4 key features commonly compared are:

  1. Thickness
  2. Surface Pattern
  3. Dimensions/Count
  4. NRC Rating

So here’s what I recommend for each one:

1. Thickness

Acoustic panels typically come in thicknesses of either 2″ or 4″.  And while traditional wisdom states that thicker is better

In this case, 2″ panels are considered the industry standard.

They won’t absorb frequencies as low as 4″ panels, but that’s OK.  Because if you’re doing things right, your bass traps should already have those handled.

2. Surface Pattern

Most panels will have some type of 3D-pattern on their outer surface…wedged and pyramid being the two most common.

And while the exact pattern can affect performance…the differences are minimal.  And there is no single pattern that outperforms all others.

So feel free to choose whichever pattern suits you.

3. Dimensions/Count

The standard bundles normally come in packages of:

  • 6
  • 12
  • 24

…with the following possible dimensions:

  • 1ft²
  • 2ft²
  • 2ft×4ft

Individually, the size and count are meaningless.  But together, they mean a lot, because they make up the total surface area of wall coverage.

And while the ideal wall coverage varies by room, a good starting point for most home studios is around 48ft².

Which is why many starter packages include 1 of 3 combinations:

  • 48 – 1ft² panels
  • 12 – 2ft² panels
  • 6 – 2×4 ft panels

While any of these will work fine…

For a typical home studio, where wall damage is a BIG concern…I recommend using smaller panels because they are lighter, and can be more-easily mounted using non-permanent adhesives.

4. NRC Rating

Read the product descriptions of any reputable brand, and you’ll notice that each model has a “Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) rating” between 0 and 1, which measures its effectiveness at absorbing sound.

The higher the number, the greater the absorption.

And while this number may seem important, the truth is…it’s pretty-much worthless for recording studios.

And here’s why:

The test to determine this number only measures absorption at 4 frequencies:

  • 2000 Hz
  • 1000 Hz
  • 500 Hz
  • 250 Hz

Which means…NOTHING is measured below 250 Hz, where virtually all problematic frequencies in the studio exist.

Some manufacturers may even manipulate the conditions of the test to post inflated numbers.

A different metric, known as Sound Absorption Coeffecient (SRC), gives a much better representation of true performance, because it measures absorption at a specific narrow band of frequencies.

Unfortunately, it’s pretty uncommon to see SRC numbers posted.

Moving on…

10 Great Packages I Recommend

Now that you have a good understanding of which features matter, and which ones don’t

Next I’ll show you 10 of the most popular packages on the market, so you have plenty of options to match your room/budget.

Here they are:

The Smaller Packages

The Larger Packages

Up next…

How to Build DIY Acoustic Panels

acoustic panel materialsIf you don’t like the prices of the packages I just showed you…

OR, if you just like making stuff…

You can easily build your own homemade panels with a little patience, and a few basic components.

First, here are the tools you’ll need:

  • Hammer/nails – to construct the frame.
  • Glue – to secure the insulation within the frame.
  • Staple gun/scissors – to secure and trim the outer fabric.
  • Mounting brackets – to mount the finished panel to the wall.

Next, the materials:

  • Wood – to construct a standard sized 2ft by 4ft frame.
  • Fabric – to cover the up the exposed insulation and give the finished panel a nice look.
  • Owens Corning 703 – which is a special type of fiberglass that costs about 1/5th the price of acoustic foam and is just as effective.

While the wood and fabric can be easily bought at any local home improvement store, Owens Corning 703 is not available everywhere, so you may want to order it online instead.

Once you’ve got everything you need, here’s a great video I found that walks you through the entire building process step-by step:

Once your panels are built, you’re ready for the last step…

Positioning the Panels in Your Room

tridedral dihedral cornersWhether you’re using commercial foam, or your own homemade panels…

The basic concepts of positioning are the same.

Assuming you’ve already mounted your bass traps according to the recommendations in this post

The next step is to cover the open dihedral corners (shown in the picture as blue lines) with acoustic panels.

With commercial foam, fold your panels around the corner as shown below, remembering to leave an air gap for added low-end absorption.

acoustic panel corner

With homemade panels, position them diagonally across the corner like this:

panel bass trap

Use a few of your panels this way if possible, but be sure to save the majority of them for the walls, which we’ll cover next…

Planning Your Wall Coverage

acoustic panel locationsDepending on the severity a room’s acoustic problems…

The ideal wall coverage could vary anywhere between 20-80%.

In your room, the only way to know how much coverage is necessary…

Is to constantly re-test the acoustics after each new panel, using the clap test as described in this post.

And while it’s not likely, it is possible that you won’t even need all your panels to reach the sound you want.  However in most cases, home studios have fewer than the ideal number of panels.

So to get maximum results from a minimum number of panels, here’s what you do:

When covering an area of one wall, leave its reflection point open on the opposite wall…because one panel is sufficient to kill standing waves in that spot.

And if those instructions are too confusing, check out the diagram above, and it’ll be crystal-clear.

How to Mount It Without Ruining Your Wall

If you haven’t yet figured it out, the most difficult part of mounting acoustic foam is doing so…WITHOUT ruining the paint on your walls.

The other problem that some people don’t realize is…

If you ever want to sell your used-foam, no one will buy it if chunks are missing after you tear them down.

The challenge here… is finding an adhesive strong enough to support the weight of the foam, yet weak enough to be cleanly detached when necessary.

Unfortunately, since every wall/paint job is different, there is no single solution that works in all cases.  Which is why so many products exist to solve this one problem.

And Auralex, more-so than any other company, has developed a wide-variety of adhesives to choose from…these being the top 3:

  1. Auralex TubeTak Pro – (price/reviews)
  2. Auralex FoamTak – (price/reviews)
  3. Auralex Temp Tabs – (price/reviews)

Of the 3, TubeTak is the strongest, but can be difficult to remove.  TempTabs are the weakest, but don’t always hold well.

And FoamTak, in my opinion, offers the best compromise between the two.

But the problem with FoamTak or any other spray-on adhesive, is that it leaves a big mess behind once everything is removed.

So here’s trick I discovered in my own studio:

By FIRST covering both the wall and the back of the foam with clear packaging tape, and THEN spraying the FoamTak in between…

I was able to mount my panels while leaving ZERO adhesive residue on anything.

HOWEVER…If you try this idea, proceed at your own risk, because like I said…every wall and every adhesive is different.  Test the tape on a small area of the wall first to make sure it can be removed later without damage.

And if all this stuff seems way too complicated, there’s one final option you can try which may be the best of all.

Rather than using an adhesive, you could instead try Auralex OFFset Impaling Clips, which screw into the wall, and are used to hang your acoustic foam by “impaling” them.

While there are flat impaling clips you could buy that are cheaper, I highly recommend the Auralex ones because of the 2″ spacer which allows you to leave an air gap behind the panels for added absorption.

Once everything’s up, and the room sounds good, you’re all done.

And That’s It

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