Looking at the home studio of a professional recording engineer or analyzing the sound of your own room might make you wonder whether acoustic treatment is essential. Adding so many pieces of foam, fiber, and fabric to your recording space feels like overkill. You might feel the same if it were the living room because, well, why waste so much money on bass traps when you don’t have enough cash for monitors, microphones, preamps, and other essential gear?
Bass traps are worth it because they absorb the bass bouncing back from the walls and into your recording. Without them, too much bass may drown out other frequencies. Unlike ordinary acoustic foam panels that absorb high and mid-range frequencies, bass traps absorb frequencies, usually below 300Hz.
Bass traps can be placed in different corners all around your home to help take down the unnecessary rumble, ultimately improving sound quality. But do they really work, and more importantly, are they worth it? Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about bass traps!
What Is a Bass Trap?
A bass trap is an accessory that can be added to your existing sound treatment to absorb bass frequencies in a room or studio. It’s an acoustic treatment that’s placed against a wall or corner to reduce excessive low-end frequencies (e.g., rumble, thumps, rattling), which can cause problems in your recordings.
Bass traps are especially helpful in recording studios, music rooms, and home theaters. They are designed to trap and absorb the lower frequencies emitted from sound equipment, such as subwoofers, and even instruments, such as the bass guitar. A bass trap is usually a thick, heavy piece of acoustic foam, fiberglass, or a block made of other acoustic materials designed to absorb sound and lower the noise levels in your room.
Types of Bass Traps
There are a few types of traps designed to catch and reduce reflected bass frequencies. Here are the most common ones you’ll see:
You probably already know that porous materials such as wool, cotton, or polyurethane are good at trapping sound.
Porous absorbers are made of acoustic foam, mineral wool, etc. Several blocks of the material are often placed at the corners of a room or the wall behind the speakers to trap echoing sounds.
As the name suggests, resonant absorbers have some element of movement to them. Rather than tackle a broad range of low frequencies, they must be tuned to a specific range. They are made of a flexible membrane (diaphragmatic absorber), while others tackle the bass issue with a port in an air-tight cavity (Helmholtz absorbers).
A diffuser bass trap is a type of acoustic panel with a porous surface that scatters sound in all directions, reducing the level of low-frequency sound in the room. This scattering of low-frequency sound prevents it from building up in certain areas and reduces the amount of absorption necessary for the rest of the room’s acoustic paneling.
How Do Bass Traps Improve Sound Quality?
It doesn’t take much to realize that the sound bouncing off the wall and into your recording equipment has an abundance of low-end frequencies. This is since low-end frequencies have longer wavelengths and bounce off pretty much all surfaces in the room.
These low frequencies bounce back from all the walls in the room. The smaller the room, the bigger the bass issue at hand. Bass frequencies tend to bounce off rigid walls, but their “amplification” becomes more prominent when two walls meet.
Bass traps improve sound quality by making it harder for the reflected sound to travel through the air. To do this, the bass trap’s material resists the free movement of air molecules transmitting the sound. This resistance to motion turns the sound energy into heat.
For these traps to work effectively, they need to be placed in the right spot inside the room. The most common places to install bass traps are the corners of your room, behind your speakers, and far off in adjacent and opposite walls. Corner bass traps are best used in small spaces. If your room is larger than 16-feet-by-16-feet (4.9 meters x 4.9 meters), you should definitely install traps where two or more walls meet.
Are Bass Traps Worth the Investment?
The short answer is yes. Bass traps can be a great investment and worth every penny. They can improve the sound quality in your room, reduce overall noise, and even save you money on expensive acoustic treatments and countless hours wasted on manually removing distortion caused by the reflection of too much bass.
While they may seem expensive, bass traps are a smart investment, especially if you work in a controlled acoustic environment where quality is everything. For example, if you record in a home studio that has poor acoustics, you will have to spend time and money to re-record your audio in a better-sounding space.
Bass traps come in many different shapes and sizes, so you can find something that will work for any room in your house. Depending on the size of your panels, you can expect to spend between $10 and $200.
What Are the Best Places To Install Bass Traps?
Bass traps are usually placed in the corners of the room where the walls and ceiling meet. This is because bass tends to reverberate more around these areas. You can also mount the traps in the middle of the opposite wall, but they’re not as effective as at corners.
The best place to install your bass traps will vary from room to room. As mentioned earlier, the smaller rooms have bass or low-frequency issues resulting from the wrong dimensions (length, widths, and heights).
How does this affect the room’s acoustics, you might ask? A low-frequency wave could easily measure 56.5′ (feet) (17.2 meters). Experts believe these waves would never fit into your recording studio at such heights. And when these waves don’t fit, they bring along a more severe issue we like to call “room modes.”
In case you aren’t familiar with the term, I’ll tell you a little bit about room modes and why they wreak havoc on your recordings.
Room modes are the extreme peaks and dips in an acoustic space. They are responsible for uneven bass response and unbalanced sounds in the room. When reflected sound waves collide with each other in phase and at specific frequencies, the result is a loud peak. The reverse is true in that when the waves meet out of phase, they cancel each other out.
There are three mode types; axial, tangential, and oblique. Axial modes tend to be the most destructive, although a combination of both oblique and tangential modes can be equally destructive. As you may have guessed, the size of the room and its inequalities in dimensions has a lot to say in the matter.
The best way to treat these modes is by absorbing them where they’re prominent, at the corners. The general rule of thumb is to put traps at the boundaries of your room. These include the walls, ceiling, and floor. Putting traps there will help reduce that noise and give you a more enjoyable listening experience.
Which Rooms Should You Install Bass Traps?
Any room that has a high level of noise or sound, or many different sounds blended together, would benefit from bass traps. The best places to install bass traps will depend on the size of the room. If you have a small space, you may need to place them in multiple areas to help reduce the amount of bass that is being absorbed in your room.
Larger rooms don’t need that many traps. If you have a large space, you’ll likely want to focus on one or two areas to help reduce the amount of bass reflected from the walls.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach; different rooms require more or less bass traps. The best way to determine how many you need for your home theatre or recording room is through experimentation. Try adding one or two bass traps first before adding more if needed (and make sure that they’re all installed properly!) The goal here isn’t necessarily just eliminating all low-frequency noise from your home
If you’re not sure where to get started, here are some examples of rooms where you might want to install traps:
- Recording room. If you’re recording your instruments, particularly bass instruments, in your small home studio, you may be dealing with a severe room mode problem. As such, you need bass traps placed at the tri-corners to absorb the low frequencies.
- Home theater room. Bass sounds are a vital part of the movie content. However, they may do more harm than good if they’re constantly drowning out the speech of your favorite characters. You can reduce the sound by putting bass traps in the corners of your home theater room.
- Living room. Much of the entertainment happens in the living room if you don’t have a dedicated theater room. The living room can benefit significantly from a little acoustic treatment with bass traps in the corner. This will prevent your home theater system and other massive subs from drowning other frequencies in your entertainment.
In general, strive to install at least two bass traps in the corners. Try to cover as many of the top tri-corners as possible to achieve the best results.
Acoustic Panels vs. Bass Traps
Acoustic panels and bass traps are both used to reduce a room’s reverberation and low-frequency sounds. However, they are different in design, function, and application.
- Thickness. Acoustic panels and bass traps are usually made with dense polyurethane foam, mineral wool, fiberglass, and other materials. However, bass traps are thicker, and that allows them to absorb the lower bass frequencies. Thinner acoustic foam is good with mid-range and high frequencies.
- Shape. Acoustic panels feature a flat design that lines up perfectly against one wall. On the other hand, bass traps are made in thicker blocks that go well into corners.
- Cost. Acoustic panels are generally cheaper than bass traps. An ordinary panel can easily go for $12.25 per foot or higher, although building your own will cost much less. A high-quality 4-pack porous bass trap can go in the $200s.
Acoustic panels and bass traps have one thing in common: they help reduce unwanted reverb and improve room acoustics. However, acoustic panels are not as effective at reducing low-frequency sounds. That’s why I recommend buying bass traps in that case.
Tips for Using Bass Traps
Reverb is when sound waves are reflected back and forth so many times that they become distorted. This causes your music to sound “muddy” and “blurry.” Bass traps are designed to absorb those low-frequency sound waves to prevent that from happening. When the bass waves hit the bass trap, they are absorbed and not reflected, so they don’t bounce around your room.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to get the most out of your bass traps:
- Position them in the corners of rooms. Bass traps work best when positioned in the corners of a room. In fact, corners are where most of the room’s low-frequency sound waves hit and bounce back.
- Use bass traps with acoustic panels. If you have a little more money to spare, you may be able to get more with both acoustic panels and bass traps. Using both should create a balance between the highs and lows by absorbing excess reverb.
- Be mindful of the size of the bass trap. If you’re planning on using a bass trap in a small room or space, it’s best to use a smaller one. Large bass traps can absorb too much low-frequency sound and make a room sound “dead.” Keep yours at a thickness of not below 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) and not more than 8 inches (20.3 centimeters).
A room’s acoustic treatment can decide between an enjoyable listening experience and an unbearable one. Even the best speakers will sound terrible in a poorly treated room, and the opposite is true; cheap speakers will sound good in a properly treated space.
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