13 Best Sound Absorbing Materials to Improve the Acoustics in Your Room
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These days a lot of people have the need to install sound absorption products whether in their house or office or somewhere else.
They keep asking me what soundproofing materials do the job, and how you can pick the ones that absorb sound efficiently.
Knowing what is the perfect sound absorbing material can make your sound proofing project half-way done from the get go.
With this in mind, I decided to provide an answer to your questions. Although you may already know what sound absorption is, let us revise that, just in case.
Best Sound Absorbing Materials
What is Sound Absorption?
Sound absorption can sometimes be confused with soundproofing, which, actually, does not make much sense because they are pretty different.
It is important to know that, when a sound encounters an object, only two things can happen: it can be either absorbed (sound absorbing) or reflected back (soundproofing).
If you want to prevent an unwanted noise from entering or leaving a space, you need soundproofing. However, the situation with sound absorption is unlike.
You need sound absorption when you want to improve the acoustics of the room. By doing this you are, basically, reducing the echo because it is being absorbed, and all you get is an audible and clear sound within the room.
To put it in this way, sound absorption happens when there is a loss of sound energy due to sound waves being absorbed by sound absorbing products placed on places such as walls, ceilings, floors.
However, the sound made in one room can be audible in another room since the sound absorbing material only reduces an echo but it does not block it.
But why is all of this insignificant? Why would you ever need this?
First of all, the installation of a sound absorbing product can contribute to a suitable acoustic environment within a space, which is, you could agree, an enjoyable place to be in.
Even though it might put you through a sound insulation experiment to find the perfect balance, it’s totally worth the time and effort.
Also, sound absorption is a desirable, or even necessary, solution for schools, sports halls, recording studios, lecture auditoriums, theaters, cinemas, or concert venues.
Therefore, you can find sound absorption solutions everywhere. Since they are so widely used, you should know what types of materials are there and how you can distinguish them.
Characteristics of Sound Absorbing Materials
When it comes to sound absorbing materials, also called sound absorbers or sound diffusors, they are, usually, soft, light, fluffy, or porous, which enables them to better absorb an echo.
While products made of sound absorbing material can soften up the surfaces of the room, they are also designed to contribute to the aesthetics of the room.
However, their essential function is to improve the quality of sound within the room.
It’s most likely that you will be coming across different types of sound panels, but knowing what material to look out for is going to save you some money and provide you with the best results possible.
Furthermore, you should pay attention to the fact that the sound absorbing ability of a material is not always the same depending on the sound frequency.
So, low frequencies, below 500Hz, can be much more difficult to detect and absorb while higher frequencies are usually easier to absorb.
Before moving on to the materials themselves, you should know that they are divided into three main categories.
Porous sound absorbers
As the name says, they are made of a porous material. However, they may be divided into two forms: fibrous material and open-celled foam.
Fibrous material can absorb a sound since a sound wave is able to penetrate its surface where it gets bended and dampened and then converted into heat energy.
This means that their essential function is to convert the acoustic energy into heat energy where most of the sound is absorbed into heat and only small parts of it are reflected back to the room.
On the other hand, open-celled foam absorbs a sound by the air movement of the sound waves through passages of the material. As a result, the sound is reduced and the heat is generated.
Porous absorbers are widely used because they are effective and successful in reducing noise transmission especially in mid-range frequencies. Also, thicker sound absorbing materials have a greater impact on sound absorption.
They are, on the other hand, made of non-porous and non-rigid materials.
Also called membrane absorbers or single absorbers, they present a group of common building elements, such as a table, a chair, a window, a door, etc.
Their main function is dealing with low or bass frequencies of a sound where their best effectiveness of absorbing a sound can be achieved.
Do acoustic panels work? Most of the time they do – but the trick is to still pay attention to the material as not every acoustic panel will provide the same results.
They contain a mechanical or acoustical oscillation system where they have plates with an air space. Those plates can be either of perforated materials or with a hole or an opening.
The holes or openings are able to trap and lock the sound inside, so the echo is successfully absorbed and reduced.
These absorbers present one of the most effective ones when it comes to low frequencies.
They’re often made of sound reducing materials which are ideal to improve acoustics inside your room.
Sound Transmission Class
STC is a rating system that rates how well a material reduces unwanted sound.
Most professional soundproofing materials also list their Sound Transmission Class (STC).
It is widely used in the US and is the industry standard for modern interior and exterior designs of buildings. The noise level is mostly expressed in decibels (dB).
A higher STC rating equals better sound reduction. It is represented in decibels reduced by the sound isolating material. Architects pay attention to this metric when designing buildings, interiors or open areas.
You can increase the STC rating of a building or a room by using different soundproofing materials.
Let's take a look at some of them.
Types of Soundproofing Materials
Soundproofing can be achieved using different materials. Some solutions may be better than others depending on the type of noise, source, building structure, etc.
In order to pick the soundproofing material that suits your needs it is good to understand what they are made from.
Before we do that, let's first define what sound is.
Sound is energy traveling through space. Whenever sound hits a surface it causes sound vibrations that are then reflected. The material of the surface as well as its thickness play a big role in how the sound waves bounce off it.
Here are the most commonly used soundproofing materials.
Acoustic foam is commonly used in studios due to it being very effective at absorbing sound. It can easily be attached to walls, ceilings, and corners used as bass traps for low frequencies.
Acoustic insulation batts are quite dense and made out of mineral wool, rock wool or fiberglass. They are perfect for soundproofing metal and timber stud walls, ceilings and floors in your home.
Acoustic panels are a fancy version of sound absorbing foam. Used primarily for their decorative qualities, they can brighten up any room or a workspace. They come in different colors, shapes, and designs.
Rather than reflecting sound waves off its surface, acoustic fabrics are designed to let sound energy pass through an acoustical panel and absorb it. Compared to acoustic curtains, acoustical fabrics are thicker and heavier.
Mass Loaded Vinyl
Mass Loaded Vinyl is a very dense rubbery material used in very noisy environments such as cars, factories, or appliances. The sheer mass of mass loaded vinyl acts as a thick sound barrier.
Not only is it a great solution to absorb sound, it is also easily installed with studs or joists. This can be further covered by seams and joints with acoustic caulk. Acoustic caulk provides an additional seal for the seams for the best soundproofing results.
Flooring underlayment is made out of rubber, fiber, felt or foam. This thin material rests between two other materials. Some of the purposes for floor underlayment are
- reduce sound transmission
- moisture protection
- sound insulation
List of the Best Sound Absorbing Materials
But how can you choose the best material for your sound absorbing needs?
Here is the list of the best sound absorbing materials and their characteristics so you can choose the one you need
Best For: To improve sound quality in recording studios, and small to medium sized rooms.
Acoustic foam is a common sound absorbing material due to its easy installation and affordability as well as its effective absorption of a sound.
Usually, the foam consists of an attractive fabric and design with different patterns, which contributes to the aesthetics of your home while also blocking sound.
However, it is not of great help if used in huge spaces since it is best to install it in small and middle-sized ones, like rooms or offices.
Specifically, there are a few acoustic foam panel forms, such as:
Auralex Studiofam Wedgies are our top pick for home studios specifically. You can pick any shape and size that can fit perfectly in home studios, voice over rooms, and even home theaters.
Studiofam is known for its exceptional ability in blocking ambient sound. They have an NRC rating of 0.8 which significantly reduces reverberation and flutters.
This is why it is loved by both music producers and audiophiles wanting to achieve pristine sound conditions with zero unwanted noise.
Best For: To enhance the aesthetics and get the best sound quality in a recording studio.
Acoustic Fabric Panels are made of wood frame wrapped in fabric with some other sound absorber, such as high-density fiberglass, or foam.
A dense fiberglass panel is one of the widely used materials as bass trap, dealing with low frequencies of a sound.
Acoustic Pro Anchorage Fabric Panels come in the following shapes:
Pair that with 8 different colors and you have yourself a quiet and stylish interior.
The NRC rating of 1.15 will ensure calm afternoons and peaceful nights.
By successfully controlling reverberation and echo they provide an effective and superior sound absorption.
Also, the fabric can be attractive so you have a lot of colors and designs to choose from contributing to the decoration of a place.
Best For: Indoor and outdoor pool areas, gyms.
Porous expanded polypropylene panels (PEPP) are one of the most unique sound absorption products available today.
The BlocknZorbe sound panel has the uncommon feature of being good both at BLOCKING and ABSORBING sound. It’s rated for STC and NRC!
The PEPP panels come in white and charcoal, and are used when other panels just won’t cut it. Because the panels are waterproof, you can clean them easily – even with a power washer!
The charcoal version of BlocknZorbe is UV stable so it can be used outside, and lasts 20+ years. Cover a wood enclosure or fence to increase how much sound is blocked and also absorb the sound hitting the fence.
These panels may not have the highest NRC rating (0.8 for 2" model) but combined with an STC rating of 13 they are the only acoustic panels that both block and absorb sound. Now, that's what we call a solid sound barrier.
The ReFocus Acoustic Divider not only reduces overall noise but helps get some much needed privacy in an office setting with coworkers.
This can be a godsend in business settings and help your staff have a more enjoyable time at work.
Since lightweight ones are easy to move around, they could be used to divide a room, for example, when you need a private and quiet space.
Many people who found themselves in new home office situations praise these acoustic dividers for their flexibility.
The ReFocus Acoustic Divider can change your home office so that you won't ever feel the need to leave your home again.
The double-layered design can knock off up to 10 dB of noise while also being tall enough to feel isolated in your very own private office space.
Their colors and sized are various, perfect for homes, restaurants, offices, and many other.
Best For: Areas with a higher chance of germ infestation and a great alternative to fiberglass.
ATS Acoustical Cotton Batts are made of natural cotton fibers which makes it softer and with a less chance for germ infection. Also, it may be made of a high percentage of recycled cotton.
The fact about its hygienic benefit is of importance for people with children since the material is friendly to human skin.
Furthermore, it is resistant to fungi, mold but also to flames. Therefore, it may be considered to be one of the best sound absorbers and the most effective and affordable ones.
The EcoVerb Natural Cotton Panel even comes in a variety of colors to easily blend into any environment.
It is easy to install it whether in offices, homes, auditoriums, theaters, or wherever you need sound absorption.
Best For: Affordable alternative to expensive wall panels.
Polyester panels are another cost-effective option for absorbing sound, but they come with the added benefit of looking decorative.
The PolyZorbe Polyester Panel comes in black, beige, or white.
If you want to improve acoustics in a room without breaking the bank, polyester is a great choice because it has an uncommon blend of good looks and low cost.
It is lightweight, easy to install, not pricey, versatile, and it effectively reduces reverberation or some other unwanted noise.
It may be found in the form of a glass made of a large, rigid, and fibrous board suitable for interior panels, ceiling panels, office partitions, appliances, furniture, machine rooms.
Best For: Creating a solid acoustic barrier in windows and doors.
These heavyweight blackout curtains from RYB HOME not only effectively dampen sound and reduce echo, they also ensure no street light gets through.
With 3 thick layers, these sound absorbing curtains keep off a lot of annoying noises coming from the street.
While it's not fully soundproof it is especially good at blocking off low level noise such as airplanes flying by. This can be a life saver in a loud bedroom at night.
We got an average of 5-7 dB reduction with these blackout curtains. When measuring low frequencies in the corner of the room we lowered the noise up to 10db. That's not bad at all.
These blackout curtains also help balance the temperature in the room with a solid thermal insulation. Not only can you keep the room warm in cold climates but you can also protect yourself from harsh light and UV exposure.
RYB HOME helps you create that much needed private feeling.
Best For: For sound dampening when you want to save a few bucks.
Originally used for the purpose of moving furniture, the thick cushioning of the padded cotton fabric of Sure Max Heavy Duty can create an effective soundproof insulation as well.
They go really well in home studios due to blocking the majority of impact noise and absorbing unwanted noise. This results in crystal clear voice recordings.
The versatility of these blankets allows you to hang them on walls, windows and doors.
We've always put them over a sound booth for isolated recording sessions and the results were amazing. The sound was really dry - just the thing you need if you want the highest quality sound possible.
Best For: Filling tiny spaces and leaks in door frames.
If you've already done your part and made sure your room is soundproof but still can hear odd noises coming through you might have some leaks and gaps in your doorframe. Many people tend to overlook the importance of sealing those tiny little holes.
The Door Sealing Gasket & Sweep Kit from Knazzy is the perfect solution for sound traveling through any kind of door.
On top of that, you will enjoy the fact that no bugs or dust get through to your lovely home. That means less cleaning and more time for yourself.
Another great thing about door gaskets is the fact that once you seal those pesky gaps you will save a lot on power bills as a lot of the heat will be captured indoors.
The included adhesive is not only super strong but also easy to install. If you ever need to remove it we have good news as it won't damage your door frame.
Best For: Filling various building elements such as ceilings, partitions, wall linings for thermal and acoustic insulation.
When it comes to acoustic insulation solutions, Rockwool Rockboard is a top choice for many industry professionals and enthusiasts alike.
Mineral wool insulation is made out of natural material which is resistant to fire and moisture.
Like to get crafty?
You can build your own acoustic panels using a Rockwool Rockboard.
Here are the steps:
- Build a wood frame
- Fit the Rockwool board on the frame
- Cover it with a stylish fabric of your choice
Mineral wool is an excellent option for homes located near noisy highways and streets. The flexibility and softness make it perfect for soundproofing ceilings and walls. It is also used in building bass traps.
Acousti Coat acoustic paint from Hy Tech Solutions dries fast and is eco-friendly.
Not only is this soundproof paint easy to apply but it's washable too. It doesn't matter what brush, cloth or roller you use. All you need is some soap and you are ready to go.
We have had really good results with Acousti Coat. Once we've covered the whole room with this paint we always noticed a significant drop in decibels heard.
This is truly one a kind product and certainly not a myth in our tests.
Be wary of the strong smell of this point. It's really strong so make sure to air the room properly.
The smell is strong but this acoustic paint is also very effective.
With a proper design of the interior you can look at up to 10 STC increase.
Floor underlayment is usually made out of rubber, cork, foam or felt.
Our favorite type, especially for engineered wood floors, is felt.
If you want to add warmth and softness to your room, Roberts Super Felt floor underlayment might be your best bet.
Not only does it serve as an acoustic underlay absorbing sound pressure but it also increases the longevity of your floor. Now who doesn't want long lasting floors?
The added stability of the floor makes it a joy to walk on. It's like an invisible cushion. Once you walk on it you can immediately tell the difference.
Moreover, this underlayment from Roberts is also a breeze to install with easy to connect strips with guides that overrule the possibility of mismatching the pieces together.
Roberts Super Felt is a great addition to any soundproofing project.
This mass loaded vinyl from Soundsulate really does the trick.
Not only does it reduce unwanted vibrations (such as a drum set or heavy machinery) but it can also cover any remaining air gaps in the walls.
Many car enthusiasts cover their trunks with mass loaded vinyl to reduce the rattle generated by heavy bass subwoofers.
Not only that, put this bad boy between apartments and noisy tenants will be gone. It's that effective.
We've used two layers in one building project with several apartments back to back.
The difference after applying Soundsulate was significant. We couldn't hear the tenants at all.
With 100 pounds per square foot this mass loaded vinyl is pretty heavy yet. But it is totally worth it as it does the job well.
Final Word: On The Best Sound Absorbing Materials
If you want to effectively block sound in any situation the soundproofing materials we have discussed above can be of help.
Taking all of these materials into consideration, I believe you can manage to find the one that will suit your situation perfectly.
We believe that a peaceful environment is conducive to a happy life.
Whether you are sitting in a comfy chair at home reading a book or staring at a computer screen in a busy office you can always make certain improvements that make your life better.
Choosing to make changes in your immediate surroundings, especially when you spend most of your day there, can radically change your wellbeing as well as for those around you.
Pay attention to the characteristics and usage of each material, and in no time you will be free of that annoying noise and have a clear and audible home.
The key is to find an acoustic soundproofing material that will work well with the type of walls and environment you have inside and outside your home.