Topic: The Best Sound Absorbing Materials
At first glance, soundproofing seems like an easy endeavor — all you need to do is add as much sound-dampening material as possible, right? Well, not quite. Sound travels through a variety of means, and each of these requires different materials to block it out.
To successfully soundproof your room or recording studio, you’ll need to think about both the structure of the room itself and which type of noise you’re trying to absorb in the first place. Read on for some great information on selecting the best sound absorbing materials for your purposes!
What are sound absorbing materials
Sound absorbing materials are materials that use porous spaces and surface friction to slow down and absorb sound.
There are two main properties you’ll want to keep in mind when selecting your sound-absorbing material: How good is it at absorbing mid to high frequencies?
How much of a role does mass play? Understanding these factors will allow you to make educated decisions when choosing your material and help determine whether you need treated fabric, acoustical foam, or both.
In practice, most people will end up using a combination of various types of sound absorption in their studio or home. However, no matter which route you choose, it’s important to understand what makes one material better than another.
Let’s take a look at some of the best sound absorbing materials for home or studio use.
List Of Best Sound Absorbing Materials
The Top one on our list of best sound absorbing material is not acoustic foam or fiberglass panels—it’s untreated fabric. Why? Well, there are many reasons but I think it boils down to three big ones:
1) Fabric absorbs across all frequencies (including bass).
2) Fabric absorbs better due to its massive surface area.
3) Fabric can be easily shaped and draped over objects with great accuracy.
When treating fabric for sound absorption, it’s important to note that different fibers work best for different applications. For example, if you were looking to treat a wall then wool would be ideal as it has excellent low frequency absorption characteristics while being less susceptible to ambient noise than other fabrics.
On the other hand, if you were looking to treat an object like a chair then silk would be more appropriate as it offers superior isolation from ambient noise while still offering good low frequency performance.
Of course, every situation is unique so don’t feel like wool and silk are your only options. If you have any questions about how to select your best sound absorbing material, feel free to leave them in the comments below!
The second best sound absorbing material is acoustic foam. This type of foam is often used by studios and recording engineers because it works well at blocking out low frequencies while allowing mid and high frequencies through.
As far as foams go, polyurethane tends to offer superior attenuation compared to other types of foams (i.e., polyethylene). This isn’t surprising given that polyurethane is stiffer than polyethylene meaning it’s able to better resist compression under pressure thus making it a good choice for absorptive purposes.
However, there are some downsides to using acoustic foam. For example, if you’re trying to treat a large surface area then you’ll quickly find that foam can be expensive—especially if you want good performance across all frequencies.
Additionally, some people find that acoustic foam can be too dead sounding when used in excess so they opt for more natural looking materials like fabric instead.
The third best sound absorbing material is fiberglass panels. These panels work great at treating mid-to-high frequency noise and can absorb bass frequencies as well.
They’re also relatively inexpensive and easy to install but their biggest downside is that they aren’t very flexible.
In other words, if you have an irregularly shaped room or object then fiberglass panels may not be your best option since they require precise placement to get good results.
It should also be noted that fiberglass absorbs moisture over time causing its ability to block sound to deteriorate.
So, if you’re planning on installing these panels in a basement or bathroom then make sure they’re kept dry.
The fourth best sound absorbing material is rock wool insulation. This stuff is commonly used by home builders and contractors who need good performance across all frequencies at an affordable price point.
Rock wool comes in either rolls or batts depending on whether you need it for horizontal or vertical applications respectively.
It can also be purchased with varying densities ranging from 1 pound per cubic foot up to 6 pounds per cubic foot though 4 pounds per cubic foot seems to be most common among consumers.
One thing to keep in mind though is that denser rock wool will cost more than less dense versions. Another thing to keep in mind is that rock wool has poor fire resistance so don’t use it around flammable objects.
The fifth best sound absorbing material is wood. Specifically, hardwood plywood and MDF (medium density fiberboard) are both good choices for DIYers who don’t want to spend much money on their project but still want good performance from their sound absorption solution.
While plywood and MDF won’t perform quite as well as commercial grade acoustical panels or commercial grade acoustic foam, they do cost significantly less—making them ideal for those on a budget.
Commercial Grade Acoustic Foam
The sixth best sound absorbing material is commercial grade acoustic foam. This is a step above standard acoustic foam and it’s usually found in professional studios, churches, and schools.
Commercial grade acoustic foam can provide excellent performance at a reasonable price point and it’s also highly durable making it ideal for areas that see lots of traffic. Its only real downside is that it can be difficult to cut without damaging its structural integrity.
Another great sound-absorbing material for your home or studio is soft furniture like sofas, beds, pillows and bean bags.
This material is an inexpensive way to keep sound from traveling through your living space by bouncing it around objects in different directions.
If you have soft furniture on hand, you’ll never go wrong when trying to kill noise with materials that are meant for absorbing sound.
In fact, a lot of people will tell you that a combination of hard and soft surfaces is best for keeping out unwanted sounds.
Soft surfaces help prevent some of those low frequencies from being reflected off of walls and into rooms, which can cause annoying reverberations.
Plus, if you’re dealing with something louder than your own voice (like snoring), soft furnishings can really help soak up some of those higher frequencies too!
Thick Carpets & Rugs
A common mistake is trying to achieve maximum sound absorption by using thin, carpet-like soundproofing products.
We’re fans of these too, and recommend them for some jobs, but thicker carpets and rugs will absorb sound better for two reasons:
First, thick material offers more surface area for absorbing sound; second, thicker material holds its form better over time than thin material—and after all it’s what you hear while walking on a rug that matters.
And don’t forget about your ceiling! Thick carpets can be installed directly above floor joists or ceiling tiles in an attic space.
This approach can help reduce low frequency noise transfer into your living space. (See our How To Soundproof Your ceiling guide for more info.)
Paintings Or Tapestries
If you’re interested in soundproofing on a budget, then paintings or tapestries are an ideal solution. These can be hung up on your walls to trap noise and should dampen sounds enough to make a difference without breaking your bank.
Just be sure not to hang these too close to windows, doors, or ceilings as it will only amplify any outside noise! Also don’t forget that painting with colors like red or yellow may help absorb sound even more.
Keep in mind that hanging heavy pieces of art might lead to structural damage over time. The other option is to buy some sort of fabric material (like canvas) and have them professionally stretched onto frames by a local framing shop.
This can get pricey though, so be prepared for some serious sticker shock if you choose to go down this route.
Sound Absorbing Egg Cartoons
The humble egg carton may look like a simple thing, but it has the ability to save your ears from hours of music-related discomfort.
Instead of filling your studio with an uncomfortable and potentially damaging sound environment, invest in some egg cartons as they’re one of the best sound absorbing materials on the market.
As you can see below, they come in all shapes and sizes – so whether you need something big or small, you should be able to find what you need without too much hassle.
Just make sure that any product is made from recycled material – otherwise, there’s no point!
Curtains & Blankets
Curtains are one of those things that often get overlooked as useful sound-absorbent materials. If you have window seats or tall windows, curtains can help with absorption by covering up any hard surfaces within hearing distance of a speaker.
Make sure to use heavy fabrics like velvet or wool if possible—they’ll do a better job at absorbing sound than lighter fabrics like cotton and polyester.
Most people don’t realize it, but blankets also make great sound-absorbing materials! Throw some down on your speakers and it will cut down on ringing and resonance quite nicely.
Blankets are a bit more flexible than curtains—they can be draped over just about anything—but they won’t do as good of a job at absorbing mid to high frequencies. If you have problems with higher frequency sounds like sibilance or reverb, you might want to stick with curtains for those applications.
The major drawback of using regular curtains and blankets is that they need to be replaced often since they wear out quickly when exposed to intense volumes of sound.
Acoustic Window Film
When you need a minimal amount of soundproofing, but want to maximize energy efficiency and aesthetics, window film is a great option.
If there’s one thing it won’t do, it’s soundproof your studio—but that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise if you know anything about how glass works.
What it will do is help keep noise from getting in or out by reducing transmission loss. Plus, you can use it on windows where privacy isn’t an issue, like those in an office or conference room.
This kind of acoustic film ranges in price depending on its size, type (dampening vs. thermal), manufacturer, etc., but you can expect to pay anywhere from $30-$300 per linear foot for a standard width window with installation included.
Sound Absorbing Room Divider Curtains
Room divider curtains are my first suggestion for soundproofing and audio absorption for two reasons. First, they’re very affordable and second, they’re super easy to install. All you need is a little knowledge of your sewing machine. Curtain rods are relatively inexpensive, too.
I paid $10 for mine at Ikea, but there are plenty of other options out there as well. Another bonus: you can use them in more than one room! I have three different sets in my house that I use in various rooms depending on where I want to create a more intimate space or block out noise from outside.
They’re also great for creating a home theater environment because they can be used to separate off an area without having to build any walls. They come in many different colors and patterns so you should be able to find something that matches your décor easily.
They do tend to absorb high frequencies better than low frequencies, so if you’re looking for complete sound absorption, they might not be ideal. But if you just want some privacy while watching TV or listening to music, these will do just fine.
Soundproof Blankets & Moving Blankets
If you’re wondering which sound-absorbing materials you should use, you might be surprised to learn that blankets (like those used in bedrooms) can actually reduce sound absorption. That’s because they are made from thick wool or other fabrics that absorb a lot of air.
This is great for warmth, but makes them poor at absorbing sound waves. If you’re looking for an inexpensive option for your home studio, consider moving blankets instead.
These are designed to keep out dust and dirt while protecting furniture and equipment during transport, so they have holes throughout and won’t take up too much space. They also come in a variety of thicknesses depending on how much sound absorption you need.
What you should be looking for when it comes to sound absorbing materials
First and foremost, you want to make sure that any sound absorbing materials you use in your home or studio are acoustically absorptive, not just decorative.
After all, there’s no point in having a black-and-red mural over every surface if it doesn’t keep noise from traveling.
Acoustical absorption is measured by something called sound reduction index or SRI and is calculated based on how much noise a given material will cut out when placed in front of a speaker.
The lower a material’s SRI rating, generally speaking, the more sound it absorbs. When it comes to choosing between different types of acoustic foam, like 2 open cell foam or 4 closed cell foam, you should consider your needs first.
If you need to block out a lot of sound in one room but don’t have much space for thick panels (like at home), then go with thin panels made from open cell foam.
If space isn’t an issue (like at a recording studio), then go with thicker panels made from closed cell foam. Just remember that closed cell foam tends to be more expensive than open cell foam.
For best results, you’ll also want to look for something with a high NRC rating, which means its ability to absorb frequencies has been tested in an independent lab and proven effective.
In short: Look for low SRI ratings, high NRC ratings, and as many layers as possible—the more layers of foam you have stacked up on top of each other, the better off you’ll be.
And finally, although these materials won’t stop outside noises from getting into your space, they can help diffuse them so they’re less disruptive while you work.
As a rule of thumb, higher densities mean greater diffusion (so look for high density foams).
Wrap Up On Best Sound Absorbing Materials
It’s important to consider not only how much soundproofing you need, but also what kind of material will work best for your space.
I have mentioned the Top Best Sound Absorbing Materials to consider based on your needs and preferences Using these tips can help you find great acoustic materials that won’t break your budget. The key is to be sure that whatever you choose works with both your budget and your style—and brings out a unique sound in every note played!
If you have any questions about acoustics or choosing an appropriate sound absorbing material, don’t hesitate to ask.
I would love to answer any questions or concerns that you may have about absorbing sounds within your studio or home.