Where to Place Acoustic Panels For Best Sound Effect
It’s enough of a challenge to figure out where you lie in the spectrum of people who need acoustic treatments or soundproofing and similar dilemmas. As discussed before, it can be a bit of a fine line to walk.
I know, for us, it wasn't exactly an easy feat, when we set it up in our home's theater room. It's always a struggle to decide what you need and how to achieve it best. It doesn't help when you consider that a wrong investment can cost a lot if you make mistakes.
Obviously, it's not that hard or costly to purchase some acoustic panels, but it can add up if you end up going in without a solid plan. Costs do add up if you need to buy multiples of even the best deal.
That’s why the goal here today is to make sure you:
One word of warning: there is no ideal solution that can magically solve all your acoustic problems. In all honesty, the science of acoustics often relies on a person’s feel of it all and their opinion on how things ought to be, more than it relies on something precisely and coldly based on math alone.
Where to Place Acoustic Panels
First of all, you need to be sure of what your end goal is, which is usually what sort of room you plan on having and thus what they need to achieve the best results out of the paneling you intend to install. It differs based on the purposes of the room itself.
Let’s go through some different types of rooms that might need acoustic treatment and generally discuss what their main needs are:
Keep in mind that using the panels as described above is just a general solution. Now, let’s take a look at the steps necessary to provide the best possible acoustic treatment to your space, depending on what you need and want to accomplish:
1. Extensive Measurement
It is always best to measure twice, if not thrice and only cut once. After all, measuring is a process that can be repeated a number of times, while a cut cannot be reversed.
This is something to keep in mind when “measuring” your acoustic needs in the space. Slow and deliberate, patient approaches yield significantly more than guessing and estimating based on your gut feeling alone.
The first thing you need to do is check for any acoustic anomalies. That is to say, you need to research if any parts of the room could be an issue in the future.
Playing various sounds, in various ways, around the room, helps with this. For example, taking your phone and walking around the room, playing a song, generally helps you discern if there are any anomalies, such as:
These are just my own descriptive names for what is basically fairly commonplace. Areas of wall or ceiling that tend to absorb sound can really mess your plans up.
Dead corners can occur, alongside the absorbent areas, if the material is too porous. This tends to be a bad thing since absorbed vibrations of sound will inevitably ruin the quality of that sound.
Echo is also poor for sound quality, caused usually by either ceilings being too high without proper compensation or materials at specific parts being too hard. Often times, both.
2. Deciding on the Panels
You can generally get panels that claim they can both absorb and diffuse sounds. However, I recommend spending a bit of time online and deciding what panels are recommended for which specific task, since hybrid panels tend to be largely useful in general terms, not for specific tasks.
Overall, your best bet is to buy these only after you have a firm plan in place and you’ve done preliminary recordings or viewings, speeches and so on, first. Then you go on to decide what you need for the placement itself.
3. Placement, According to Necessity
The Floor and Ceiling
They can be used to adjust the “height” of the sound. If you put diffusing panels on both of them, you get sound that’s permeating the room from all sides.
Emphasizing one and giving the other more absorbent panels produces an upwards or a downwards effect. This isn’t very useful in most cases, but for some specific large area applications.
In small areas it’s best to go with a mixture of absorbing and diffusing, to ensure a balance. This works for all sorts of needs, from home theaters to listening rooms, since the distribution is more even.
As a general rule of thumb, avoid going too heavy on the absorbent panels with the ceiling, since it may produce a sort of “squashed” effect.
The Left and Right Side Walls
You need to treat these as a single entity, practically, due to the fact that the effect paneling them produces tends to be very interconnected and noticeable. Keep in mind that this isn’t true for irregularly shaped rooms, of course, but in general is going to serve you well to be wary of.
When it comes to the issues that may arise here, there’s only one a couple, but both of them are fairly messy. First of all, you get the problematic image shifting.
Essentially, without paneling, the side walls can interfere with the sound stream being made and then they distort or even ruin said sound. This can lead to the more problematic form of this issue, which is image displacement, wherein a big enough room, you can have the sound seem sort of "moved" from its original point.
Unlike before, absorption is key here. You cannot be too free with it, however, as you might ruin the acoustics by going too far.
This is why you did such extensive and careful checking before. Ideally, you place differently thick absorbing panels along these walls, depending on the need and what the problem areas are.
The Front and Back Walls
These are the walls largely in charge of the depth and the length of the sound, that is to say, how well and far it carries. This is why it’s tricky to discern what you need to do with them, precisely, even when you know what your room needs.
In general, diffusion is the way to go with these walls, more specifically the slightly confusing process of quadratic diffusion. It works by using different types of paneling, to achieve a mixture of depths and diffusion intensities.
This way, you get sounds that can get bounced around and even spread in the manner you wish them to be, ensuring they serve their purpose well. Often times, a cone effect is achieved here, allowing for a full spread of sound across the room itself, even with any obstacles or an initially low sound.
Placing the panels, in this case, largely depends on what your room is used for. If the back wall is the seating of a home theater, then you need more and thicker diffusing panels at the back, with a few at the front, where the home cinema speakers are, to push that sound outwards to you and then spread it there.
This is the principle you apply to most rooms, where the single origin of the sound is key. With multiple origins, it's better to focus the paneling on the receiving areas more heavily, to give the best results.
Conclusion: Where to Place Acoustic Panels
It may seem a bit hard to understand right now since it's all just theory to you at the moment.
However, the acoustics are there to make sound better for us, so you'll see that it's all a lot simpler to both understand and implement once you get into the steps and begin applying what you read here.