What are Acoustic Panels and Do they Actually Work?
Acoustics are part of every aspect of life, from the inside of our homes to the outside of our cars. We can hear echoes, and we can hear noise. Noise is usually unwanted, but sound that is wanted or expected can be useful too. In general, noise is undesirable, but there are many things that require sound, like music and speech. A soundproof room or car needs to be able to absorb the noise of all of these sounds.
A sound absorbing wall or panel can help to achieve this, and acoustic panels provide the best results in terms of absorption and diffusion. They work by converting the sound waves into thermal energy and dissipating them, as opposed to reflecting the sound. They can also diffuse sound evenly through the room or vehicle, creating a quiet environment.
There are a number of different kinds of acoustic panels. Some are made from rigid material, and others are flexible. The choice of which kind of panel to use will depend on the frequency range of the noise and the acoustic requirements. A flexible panel might not be ideal for an application where noise is high or low. Likewise, a rigid panel will provide better results for applications that are typically more intense.
To make an intuitive comparison, think of a room full of people talking. The louder the group, the less ability there is to hear the individual speakers. A good sound system can overcome this, but when you add more people, it gets tougher. As more and more people are added, the space starts to echo and reverberate.
An acoustic panel helps to solve this problem by absorbing and diffusing sound waves. This prevents the echoes from bouncing back to the original speaker, keeping the sound quality consistent.
The panel type you need depends on your application. For example, when we say "acoustic panel" we can generally mean either:-
- Sound-absorbing, perforated (spongy) panels
- Sound-absorbing, rigid (solid) panels
The first is ideal for the front or back of a room, and the second is useful for a wall or ceiling. In the picture below, the panel is sound-absorbing (with holes) and placed against the wall.
Attenuation, the measure of how effectively sound is absorbed or diffused, is a big factor. Sound travels through a room very differently than light does. Light bounces off surfaces, bounces off ceilings and walls, and generally moves through the air. Sound, on the other hand, does not bounce off surfaces as easily. A person standing in front of an acoustic panel can hear their own voice clearly without having to shout.
Do acoustic panels reduce noise? And, what is the difference between acoustic panels and soundproofing?
The two are not mutually exclusive. Many soundproofing companies offer an acoustically treated space, and vice versa.
Acoustic panels are usually made of an aluminum alloy and/or polyurethane material, with many panels being attached to a wooden frame. Sound proofing usually comes in the form of a solid panel. Both can be used to help reduce noise levels in certain areas, but the type of material used makes the end result different.
Soundproofing is done to reduce the amount of sound that travels through a space and is a separate issue. Acoustic panels are usually used in conjunction with soundproofing, as soundproofing will not prevent sounds from entering a room, so adding acoustic panels will make the room quieter.
Acoustic panels are usually made from an open cell foam that allows air to move through, but traps sound waves. They are usually covered in a mesh fabric to allow for easy installation.
These are two separate processes. Both have benefits and downsides.
To see if and which acoustic panels are right for you, you can use our Free Acoustic Calculator.