Home theaters, TV rooms, and the like have increased awareness of the need for acoustic treatment in homes and other spaces. Sadly, the high cost of hiring professionals to carry out this job has forced many to decide on a DIY route, leaving them asking questions like how far apart acoustic panels should be.
Acoustic panels should not be placed farther apart than twice their width. However, you don’t want to place them too close together, either. This is a general guide that may require some adjustment, especially for professional listening environments where greater absorption precision is needed.
In this article, I’ll be discussing some tips that can help you position your acoustic panels as efficiently as possible. Since what can be regarded as the best position will be dependent on the purpose of the space being treated, we’ll be looking at how best to use acoustic panels in different scenarios.
How To Properly Space and Place Acoustic Panels – A General Guide
Let’s begin by looking at a general guide for placing and spacing acoustic panels in a room or space. It’s important to state that this isn’t a rule but a guide. A specific direction cannot be given without seeing the room, the types of surfaces it has, the sound sources, and a few other factors.
Only after carefully looking at all the factors contributing to sound production, reflection, and absorption can a specific guide be provided. Since I don’t have the luxury to obtain this info, I will provide a general guide that will help in any space.
While there’s no actual rule for spacing your acoustic panels in a room, placing them too close to each other doesn’t make for efficient use. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you intend to cover the entire walls with these panels.
If you only have a few panels and want to get the best out of them, then you should space them out efficiently. Depending on the number of panels you have for the space, it’s best for the distance between panels not to exceed twice the width of a single panel.
For example, if the width of your panels is 2 feet (61 centimeters), the maximum space you should have between panels should be 4 feet (122 centimeters). It can be less but it shouldn’t be more.
Among other things, such spacing will allow for a breakup of the sound waves. When the sound waves hit the wall, the parts without the panels will reflect the sound, while the parts with the panels will absorb the waves, maybe reflecting a very minimal amount. This breaks up the sound wave, reducing the instances of standing waves between parallel walls.
The optimal height to place your acoustic panels should be at the level of the sound sources. If these are human voices, then calculate the average height of the voices while seated and while standing. This will give you a good idea of what height will be optimal.
You can actually try to create designs by staggering the heights of the panels in an alternate sequence. If you do, you must be careful not to place them too high or too low so that they are removed from the path of the sound waves.
Another reason not to place the panels too low is human traffic. Being close to the floor can expose them to easy damage. They will also not be doing their job optimally from such a level. Avoid placing your acoustic panels lower than two feet from the floor.
This is the most important thing to note while placing acoustic panels. This addresses just more than how high or low it should be. It pinpoints the exact positions where the panels should be placed for optimal absorption.
Aside from the two points stated above, one important tip I’d share (in the absence of access to the actual layout and configuration of the space) will affect rooms with parallel walls.
When arranging panels in a space with two or more walls facing themselves, ensure that no two empty walls face each other. If you place panels on one wall, do not place other panels directly opposite these. Instead, let the panels on the opposite wall face the space between the panels on the opposite wall.
Factors To Consider Before Placing Acoustic Panels
Different spaces will have different acoustic demands, and so, will require solutions that are tailor-made for them. Some of the factors that you’ll need to consider before deciding on your acoustic treatment include the following:
- Your goal
- The purpose of the room
- The type of materials used for room’s surfaces
What’s Your Goal?
This is a crucial question you must first answer before attempting any project. It’s no different with acoustics.
There are two general goals for which folks begin to consider using acoustic panels. These two goals are:
- Soundproofing (Isolation) – This refers to processes that try to reduce or completely prevent sound from getting into or out of a room. It’s essential to state that this cannot be achieved with just acoustic panels.
- A better sounding room – This is known as acoustic treatment, and it helps create a better listening environment. This is usually achieved by reducing flutter echoes, standing ways, and enhancing better sound diffusion.
These two goals must not be confused as the way to achieve each one is different from the other. While the two goals can be achieved together, one can be achieved without achieving the other.
Determining which your goal is will help you target your efforts appropriately.
What’s the Purpose of the Room?
You will likely already know what you want to use the room for before even deciding on your acoustic project’s goal. It’s essential to understand this purpose as it has everything to do with what your goal should be.
A room that will be used for professional audio projects will most definitely require a more detailed acoustic treatment than one that will be used as an office or for shooting videos.
What Types of Materials Are the Room’s Surfaces Made Of?
Before you can decide on what acoustic panels and other materials any space will require, you’ll first need to know what the surfaces in the room are made of. This is important because every material has its Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) score.
A room with very hard surfaces (low NRC score) will require more acoustic panels than one with more absorbent surfaces. This will also help you understand what parts of your room or space require more attention.
Your room is the primary subject, and anything you’ll be introducing into that space will interact with the existing materials. Therefore, you’ll have to pick materials (and position them appropriately) that will produce the best outcome in that unique space.
Examples of Listening Environments
There are two broad types of listening environments that I’ll quickly go through. These are:
- Professional Environments
- Recreational Environments
Let’s now discuss these two environments in more detail.
A professional environment here refers to any room or space where professional audio work is done. This includes recording, broadcasting, editing, mixing, and mastering studios.
Within this classification, I like to split it further down into two groups for easier reference. This classification is used because some environments are utilized more for recording than for listening, while others are more for listening than for recording. In fact, some will actually be for both recording and listening and so must combine the acoustic treatments for the two previously listed environments.
In a professional environment for recording, the focus will be on reducing reflections so that these will not be recorded, resulting in a recording with echoes. The treatment will therefore focus on the singing area.
For an environment that is for critical listening, the entire room will need to be treated to reduce flutter echoes and standing waves. The goal will be to have a room that offers a flat frequency response, so what you hear will be precisely what is produced.
You can also use the space used for critical listening for recording. Few changes may, however, be required to ensure that the singing area is treated correctly. This is because focus may have been concentrated on the listening position.
Recreational Listening Environments
I consider non-professional environments as recreational. This will include home theaters, TV rooms, office spaces, etc. The treatment that any of these will require will largely depend on the positioning of the sound sources that will be available. The sound sources could be human or electronic.
I’ve already touched on placement for general spaces above. For TV rooms and home theaters, the acoustic panels will be positioned and spaced according to the directions of the speakers’ sound dispersion.
Because focus will be concentrated to those areas of the wall where the primary reflections will come from, this factor will primarily determine the spacing of the acoustic panels. A simple trick that some folks use is described in the steps below:
- Get a mirror that you can hold.
- Move along the walls, keeping the mirror at the level where your ears will be as you sit to watch your movie or TV program.
- Mark the areas where you begin to see a reflection of the speakers.
- Repeat this process on all the walls.
The points you marked show you a rough estimate of where the first reflections from the speakers will be coming from. These should be the points where you install your acoustic panels. Again, this will primarily determine the exact spacing of these acoustic panels.
You can, of course, place more acoustic panels if you have to spare. Just note that there can be such a thing as too many acoustic panels. This can result in a dead room, that is, a room devoid of any reverberation. This is not the goal, as you need some level of reverberation to give the room some life.
Choosing a Suitable Acoustic Panel
Acoustic panels come in different shapes, sizes, and designs, offering different absorption levels. You will need to understand what you want to achieve acoustically in your space to know the type of acoustic panels you’ll need and what quantity of these panels will be required.
Factors to consider when choosing an acoustic panel include:
There are different types of acoustic panels that you can get. Some options include acoustic foams, decorative panels, framed panels, and more. Which you will choose will depend on your goal.
For an office space and other general space, you may be better off with decorative panels that will fit into your space as decorative fixtures. For studios and other professional applications, regular acoustic foams will do just fine. You won’t need to spend more on decorative panels.
Consider this factor before making a decision.
This is another crucial factor to consider. The size of the panels you decide to go with will affect some factors, including the number of panels you’ll require, where you’ll be able to place them, the type of arrangements you’ll be able to achieve with them, and more.
Be sure that you know how you want to use the acoustic panels you want to get before getting them. This will ensure that you only go for the size(s) that will fit into your plan.
The thickness of a panel will determine how well it will absorb sound as well as the range of frequencies it will be able to absorb. Thicker panels will be able to absorb a wider range of frequencies, while thin panels will be able to absorb more of the high-frequency sound.
If you can determine the frequency ranges you want your acoustic panels to absorb, it will be easier for you to choose panels that can absorb those frequencies.
With the information shared in this article, you should now be able to better understand the use of acoustic panels. This knowledge will help you determine where exactly you should place acoustic panels in your space and how far apart they should be.
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