How to Use Acoustic Panels to Control Sound in a Recording Studio for Professional Results
When it comes to acoustic panels, sound control, and studio setups, there is a profound amount of confusion regarding sound and how soundwaves work. Many mistakenly believe that acoustic panels are used to block sound. For example, hanging a few acoustic panels on studio walls is expected by many to block any sound from the exterior coming in – say a noisy neighbor, the TV from the living room, or a baby crying. This is incorrect and it is the wrong use of acoustical panels, as they are not meant for blocking sound, but for controlling sound via sound absorption.
For studios, this is extremely important and much more useful in production than just blocking out sounds (although that is important, too). In this article, we’ll take a look at acoustic panels and how to properly use them to control sound in home and professional studios alike.
A Brief Understanding of Sound
To understand how to control sound, it’s useful to take a small dip into physics. Sound, like light, travels in waves from its source. Whether from a human voice, a speaker, a motor humming, or a guitar, sound is energy being carried through the air that our ears pick up via the frequency and amplitude of the wavelength. Different frequencies create different sounds, different amplitudes control volume, and our extraordinary auditory system converts this wave energy into useful inputs for our brain, a process called mechanosensation. What this fancy word means is we are sensing something mechanical, because a sound wave is a physical thing, just like a wave in the ocean is a physical thing. So in order to control, or block, sound waves, our tool must likewise be mechanical, or physical.
How to Block Sound, or Soundproof a Room
In order to sound block or proof (what many think acoustical panels achieve), these physical sound waves must be physically blocked. Let’s think about a simple analogy: walls. What is the purpose of walls? Besides some being useful for load bearing, walls create separation; they don’t let things in. You cannot physically go through a wall, which is why we utilize doors, something that can be both a way to enter, and a way to keep things out.
Likewise, if you want to soundproof a room, the sound must be blocked. Sound waves, while physical, can still penetrate walls, and most walls in residential and commercial buildings are “thin” enough to allow sound through. This could be because they’re physically thin, or because the material used to build them is itself “thin.” Consider the difference between a pillow and a stone. While they could be the same size and shape, one is extremely dense and the other is not. Density is a measure of how tightly packed molecules are in a material, or how much space is or isn’t present within the molecular structure. The less space between the molecules, the harder the material, and the less space for things to travel through. Another way to say that is, the more molecules to absorb energy. This is how we block sound.
The reason sounds do not linger forever and come to an end is that they run out of energy. After a period of time, their initial energy will be sapped from various things in the environment, and they will no longer have enough to be audible. In order to soundproof a room, we need a blocking material, or wall, to be so dense that all of the sound’s energy is taken from it before it can cross through the wall into the room we’re looking to soundproof. It is a relative challenge to sap sounds of all of their energy as they cross a few inches or maybe a few feet of wall, so the wall itself must be incredibly dense.
Typically, soundproofing a room means having the walls, ceiling, and flooring made of concrete or something similarly dense, and extra thick. We need a material dense enough to sap the sound’s energy before it enters the room. If this is the case, then what possible use could soft, thin, and “weak” acoustic panels possibly do to block sound? Nothing, and that’s because they do not block sound. Acoustic panels absorb sound, and this control is one of the most important aspects of any studio.
Understanding Reverberation, the Quality Acoustic Panels Control
The usefulness of acoustic panels is allowing for the ability to control sound by controlling reverberation. Reverberation is the persistence of sound after it has been produced, or how long it can be heard. It is dependent on the strength of the soundwave, but it is also impacted by the size of the room.
Let’s say a sound is powerful enough to last for 5 seconds. If you calculate for the size of a room and the speed of sound, that sound might bounce off of the walls a number of times before losing its energy, causing reverberation, or reverb. Conversely, if you were standing in a flat, open field and shouted at the top of your lungs, the sound wave would be transmitted outward from your person, and since it has nothing to bounce off of, will rapidly grow quiet to your ears as it has more room to dissipate and is moving away from you with no way to bounce back. That same shout in a small studio without any sound absorption will create a literal cacophony of sound bouncing every which way until its energy is spent.
Most important to consider, a shout is just one sound. In the studio environment, we are never dealing with just one sound. Music and the human voice, even just one instrument or one voice, is a very complex sound wave, and it’s happening more than just once. A singular sound will bounce around the walls of a small studio room, but the speakers aren’t just producing one sound. It’s many sounds coming out in a steady stream. Visualize the mess of all of these sounds reverberating all over and you will begin to understand the chaos that would be created with no sound absorption control. Enter acoustical panels.
How to Control Sound with Acoustic Panels
Finally, we come to the power of acoustical panels and why they are critical to recording (and any) studio setup. Whether or not a room is soundproofed is unrelated to controlling the sound created and recorded in a studio. We are now talking about controlling the sound you are producing from your studio sound system, not external sounds.
Acoustic panels are utilized to control reverberation in the room so that the mess of physical sounds we call music and speech can be cleaned up and appropriately packaged together in the cleanest way possible. To do this, a room’s dimensions must be analyzed and calculated based on the way the sound is firing from the positioned speakers, and then based on these results, acoustic panels are applied on the walls and/or ceiling to “clean up” the sounds, aka reducing reverb.
Incredible Studio Acoustic Panels from Acoustical Solutions
When looking for acoustic panels, a useful metric to check is the NRC rating or Noise Reduction Coefficient. The NRC rating measures the effectiveness of the material at absorbing sound. At Acoustical Solutions, creating the best acoustic panels is our specialty. Depending on your specific studio’s needs, you can utilize our technical data sheets to find not only the best acoustic panels but the most precise ones. After all, precision is the goal of any studio.
Here is a look at some of our best acoustic panels for outstanding sound control:
AlphaSorb® Acoustic Foam Panels
AlphaSorb® Acoustic Foam is our no nonsense, cutting edge acoustic foam. Available in flat, anechoic, pyramid, and linear configurations, AlphaSorb® is ready to meet any of your unique needs. The foam is available in 2’x2’ sheets in either 1”, 2”, or 4” thicknesses, offering .75, .90, and 1.05 NRC ratings, respectively.
AlphaSorb® Fabric Wrapped Acoustic Panels
AlphaSorb® Fabric Wrapped Acoustic Panels offer studio designers the same functionality while adding aesthetic sensibilities. AlphaSorb® Fabric Wrapped Acoustic Panels come in a variety of different fabrics, including custom Guilford of Maine acoustic fabric, and a host of colors and sizes to fit your every need. They aren’t just pretty; take a look at our data sheet to see their technical prowess.
Trust in Acoustical Solutions for the Best Studio Sound Control with Acoustic Panels
Acoustic panels to control reverberation are absolutely essential for any studio looking to craft professional products. The most beautiful voice, guitar lick, or designed sound coming from the best speakers in the world can easily turn to muck without acoustic panels to physically clean them up to perfection.
At Acoustical Solutions, our mission is to offer producers and professionals the best modern acoustic panels to bring their visions to life. Contact our experts today to find the best acoustic panels for your studio space.
To learn more about how Acoustical Solutions can solve your noise control problems, use our contact form, call one of our Acoustical Sales Consultants at (800) 782-5742, or visit us on the web at acousticalsolutions.com.