Do Foam Bass Traps Work? Pros, Cons and Alternatives
Every person who’s into recording music knows how important is to have acoustics at the maximum possible level.
This is not always easy since no room is the same, but they all have one thing in common. Low frequencies are the hardest ones to deal with.
Bass traps are some kind of a secret magic thing when it comes to solving the issue. I have done a lot of research on foam bass traps, so let us see if they are worth a shot!
A Closer Look into Bass Traps
If you have done a small research on bass traps as well, you have seen that there are a few different types of them. They all have the same purpose, which is to damp low frequencies. They use friction to turn sound energy into heat. Simply put, bass traps are acoustic energy absorbers.
Speaking of bass traps types, there are two categories: resonant bass traps, and porous bass traps.
Furthermore, you will find two types of resonant bass traps- Helmholtz resonators and panel absorbers. Porous bass traps are made of various materials, among which you will find open cell foam, fiberglass, mineral wool and so on.
The absorption spectrum is not the same for resonant and porous traps. The first ones have narrower spectrum, while the porous are broader.
The issues regarding acoustics have always been topical. Not all the people deal with it the same way nor there’s something we can call perfect room in terms of acoustics.
But, what one should go for is an environment which is predictable and under control. Bass traps have that role - to maintain the desired balance!
Get to Know Acoustic Foam
This open-celled foam is used to treat acoustic problems that go along with different levels of frequencies. The foam increases air resistance which results in reduced wave amplitude. Many of the foam products are treated with fire retardants and dyes, and the foam itself may be of various thickness.
The acoustic foam, which controls various sounds, vibrations, noise levels, and echoes, can be attached in many different places. You can put it on the wall, on the door, you can even attach it to the ceiling. No matter where, it will serve the purpose, and that would be removing residual sound!
The foam itself is made from a lightweight material called polyurethane foam as well as the extruded melamine foam. Polyurethane comes either as polyether or as polyester.
Get to Know Foam Bass Traps
Foam bass traps belong to the group of porous absorbers. They absorb the velocity of sound waves, and using friction, they turn the waves into heat.
Here’s where you should make the difference between sound absorbing and soundproofing. In the case of sound absorbing, the sound will not be blocked. You will still be heard playing or recording music, but overall acoustic will be improved.
Foam bass traps do pretty well in reducing the echo because they are primarily meant for dealing with mid and high frequencies. Bass frequencies, the ones lower than 100Hz are much harder to absorb. Low-frequency sounds travel much longer distances than higher, which is why they are rather difficult to absorb. Foam simply doesn’t have the mass needed for this.
Pros and Cons of Foam Bass Traps
As we mentioned, foam is not a typical soundproofing material, it more of a sound absorbing one. Having in mind what the foam is made of, and what’s “the field of expertise”, I shall list some pros and cons.
They are both related to everyday sounds such as the noise coming from the TV, a barking dog, street noise, and sound in some particular places such as churches, halls, warehouses, and similar.
Speaking of pros, one of the most important is enhanced sound quality. This particularly goes for mid and high-frequency sounds, and that’s what makes this absorber a cost-friendly one. The energy from sound waves is dissipated as heat, which is another good side of the acoustic foam. We could say it has a multifunctional purpose.
A noise pollution is a huge problem in general. Sound, just like the light, can pass through the tiniest hole. This is where foam does the job, by controlling the sound reverbs. So, a foam is more than useful in reducing the noise pollution.
Acoustic foam is available in various colors and textures. Even though this doesn’t influence its main purpose, it still improves the design of the room. You can adjust the room not only to be acoustically pleasant but visually as well.
Now, as for the cons, perhaps the most significant one has to do with fire properties. Due to the material itself, in case of fire, it will release lots of smoke.
The other has to do with placing the foam bass trap. If placed incorrectly, it won’t be effective. So, instead of improving the overall sound, you may end up having the sound reflecting back and bouncing. If you are not sure how to place the foam bass trap correctly, better have it done by a professional.
Do Foam Bass Traps Work?
To be honest, the answer to this question is rather individual. As I said, foam simply doesn’t have the capacity to deal with lower frequencies because it’s too thin and because of the structure of the foam itself. Doubling the thickness won’t improve foam’s performance.
So, you will hear a small difference but it won’t be a significant one. For people with bigger tolerance upon unclear sound this is enough, but for those striving for a perfect acoustic environment as possible, some other solutions are an option.
However, this goes for situations where one puts foam traps in smaller places. If used in larger rooms, such as churches, concert halls or similar, the foam bass trap will give the best of itself. The main problem with large rooms is echo, and foam is more than excellent in solving this issue.
Overall, I believe it’s worth trying, since it is not an expensive solution. You have nothing to lose. As a matter of fact, you do get reduced echoes, less vibrations and more heat. If it doesn’t hit the core of the problem that your room has (in terms of acoustics), do not worry, I will offer you some additional solutions.
Some Unusual Alternatives to Foam Bass Traps
Sometimes even when one has practical ideas on how to deal with acoustic problems in room or studio, there’s another problem called budget which makes one look for various cheaper alternatives.
I have few ideas for you, so if you think they sound promising, give them a try!
One of the ways is to have carpet nailed to the walls. This works fine for higher frequencies, but the problem of dealing with low ones still remain. Carpet cannot absorb them.
Another option is to staple cup holders to the wall. Sounds silly, huh? It looks that way, as well. The problem is the same as with carpets. Cup holders cannot deal with low frequencies.
Egg crate foam, the most similar to the real thing, may be considered as a decent alternative to the foam. But, like with the two abovementioned solutions, it cannot deal with low-end frequencies. Egg crate foam is lighter. Read more about egg crates for soundproofing here.
All in all, I wanted to give you these options so that you know there are some cheaper alternatives to foam. Installing them requires much time and patience and the overall benefits are pretty small.
They are actually much smaller than the ones you can hear when using foam as a trap. One looking for a well-controlled room in acoustic terms should opt for more permanent and reliable solutions.
The Best Alternatives to Foam Bass Traps
As I said earlier, bass traps are divided into two main categories, resonant and porous. While each of them has their pros and cons, the ideal solution is to have them working as a team.
That way you get the best of both sides. Most commonly, diaphragmatic absorbers are combined with porous. When one puts lots of porous traps, one gets a drier studio sound, whereas the ambient live sound is achieved by putting more diaphragmatic ones.
The ideal combination depends on your room or studio exclusively. Moreover, what you want to achieve with sound also determines which traps you will use.
Do pay attention that resonant absorbers require a professional evaluation of the room resulting in a trap built exclusively for that room. If done poorly, this may cause more problems than the fixes. The most common issue is resonating at wrong frequencies.
Porous absorbers are universal and cheaper solutions. Besides foam, they can be made of fiberglass or wood, which are way more effective in dealing with low frequencies than the foam. There are two main types flat-panel bass traps and triangular corner bass traps.
By leaving open “air-gap” between the wall and the panel, they cover more surfaces with less material being used. Corner traps are more massive, which is the great feature to deal with low-end frequencies.
Final Conclusion on Foam Bass Traps
As you’ve seen, the foam is an acceptable solution for resolving the echoing in a room. However, they haven’t got the power to deal with lower frequencies which are far more problematic than the higher ones.
I say, try it out, there’s nothing you can lose, perhaps you find it quite satisfying. Now that you are aware of all the pros and cons of foam, it will be easier knowing what you can expect.
You might like:
- Corner Bass Traps: How to Mount Bass Traps
- A Step-By-Step Guide on Making Your Own Bass Traps
- Auralex Bass Traps Review
- Best Bass Traps: Reviews and Buying Guide
Have you already used foam, and did it work fine for you? Have you come up with more alternatives to foam traps! I’d be glad to hear your experience, and I’m pretty sure the other readers would appreciate that!