Home theater acoustic panels are the unsung heroes of any good movie-watching setup.
Having a home theater can be a great bonding experience for families and provide endless hours of entertainment. Further, it can help to increase the value of your home – and it is most certainly an attractive feature for future buyers!
There is a lot of work that goes into creating a good home theater space. Obviously, the TV or projection system is a major component, along with choosing the right type of seats, proper theater lighting, and, of course, the right speaker system.
But there is one aspect of a home theater that is incredibly important and must be carefully fine-tuned: the acoustics of the room. The quality of the sound – as well as the acoustics of the room – matter a lot.
When creating a home theater system, many people simply focus on the speakers. While having a great surround sound system is a key aspect, too much sound can actually create a terrible experience.
Since home theaters are often quite small (compared to a traditional movie theater), sound waves bounce around and can actually create a reverberation or echo, which results in a muddy, unclear sound.
This is where home theater acoustic panels can provide a solution.
Let’s dive in.
What are Acoustic Panels?
Acoustic panels are sound absorbing panels which are generally made of wool or foam.
Sound waves easily bounce off of hard surfaces. This softer material helps to dampen any extra echoes and reduce the number of waves rebounding throughout a space.
So, How Do Acoustic Panels Work?
Acoustic panels are designed to absorb some sound waves and dampen the echoing or reverberation they can cause. They are placed throughout a room in specific, strategic spots to control the way sound waves bounce.
The ultimate purpose of an acoustic panel is to control the Reverberation Time (RT) in a room. This RT can be different depending on the space. For instance, in areas where complete silence is important (such as a library), more panels would need to be installed, whereas having fewer panels in a home theater can help to control the sound – rather than muffle it entirely.
Acoustic panels have an NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient) rating which measures how much of the sound it can absorb. The NRC rating is equivalent to the amount of sound that the panel will absorb.
For instance, an NRC rating of .70 means that it absorbs 70% of the sound and reflects 30% back into the room. Generally, the thicker the panel is, the higher NRC rating it will have.
But acoustic panels do not just absorb sound and muffle the reverberation; they also diffuse the sound so it creates a pleasant listening experience. If the panels absorb too much sound and there is no echo or reverberation, it creates a “dead” space – which is quite unpleasant when you are trying to enjoy a film.
Diffusion helps to reflect some of the sound back into the room so that it sounds natural without interfering and creating a muffled noise. This helps to create a more immersive, “surround sound” experience in a smaller home theater space.
Acoustic Panels vs Bass Traps
There are two types of panels that can be used to control sound frequencies in a home theater: acoustic panels and bass traps.
What Do Bass Traps Do?
While acoustic panels are used to absorb harsher sounds of mid-range and high frequencies, bass traps are made for low frequency sound muffling, such as bass drums, thunder, or other deep, low sounds. These kinds of sounds are widely used in horror and thriller films as they create a rather unsettling noise – which adds to the eeriness or tension of a scene.
Failing to install panels specifically for this type of sound can create a lot of reverberation and make it difficult to hear noises other than the bass.
For instance, if you have been in a car with the bass turned all the way on, your ears may experience a bit of ringing as the bass vibrates at a low, loud frequency. This can create an unpleasant listening experience as the other sounds (such as the lyrics and other instruments) are completely muffled compared to the loud bass.
While acoustic panels are typically made from foam or other fibers, bass traps are comprised of cotton denim which is highly absorbent. This helps to diminish the reverberation that occurs when low-frequency sounds are played at a high volume.
Bass traps are typically about three inches thick, which helps to absorb much of the extra noise so that only a true, clear sound reverberates back.
It is generally best to use a combination of both types of panels in a home theater to create the best acoustics for an optimal viewing experience.
Home Theater Acoustic Panel Placement
The acoustic panel placement and positioning can have an incredible impact on the sound absorption quality. Putting them in places where sound does not naturally reflect will essentially render the panels useless. You need to find reflection points for optimal placement planning.
The first reflection point in a room is the area where the most disruptive echoing occurs. It is commonly the primary surface that a sound wave contacts coming out of the speaker.
You must eliminate this reflection point in order to create a clear, crisp sound. Thankfully, it is pretty easy to find. You simply need a mirror, something to mark with (such as sticky notes or tape) and a person to help you.
First, turn on a fairly consistent sound from the speakers (such as a song) with a person holding a mirror on one parallel sidewall. This person should then move the mirror around the wall until the speakers are visible in the reflection. Mark this location by placing a sticky note or piece of tape on these surfaces.
There will be a reflection point on all of the walls. However, if your room is not a square or rectangular shape, there may be some reflection points which are in odd places and there may be points on the floor or ceiling, too.
How Many Acoustic Panels Do I Need?
There is no general answer for the number of acoustic panels for a home theater. You cannot get a good recommendation based on a feature like square footage – because room acoustics are dependent on so many factors. Two rooms that are the same size could require a different number of panels due to the placement of reflection points, power of the speakers, or materials used in the room.
There are some factors which will require you to install more panels.
For instance, rooms that are square or L-shaped need more, as they create additional reflection points. If the walls are made of concrete or there are additional hard surfaces (such as a wooden staircase or multiple wooden doors), then more panels will need to be added.
Proper acoustic panel placement is dependent on the location. So, once you have located all of the possible reflection points for each speaker in a room, it is time to place the appropriate acoustic panels or bass traps at each point.
These panels are arguably the most important, as these points have the most reflection and can have the greatest impact on the sound quality, since our ears are closest to these reverberations. You should have your acoustic panels with the higher NRCs at these points. If there are any windows on the side walls, it is recommended that you hang fabric curtains to help muffle additional reflection points where panels cannot be placed.
It is recommended that two acoustic panels are placed on either side of screen or TV and face the back of the room. If you have a perforated screen (such as a projector screen made of fabric) you can put panels behind it to help reduce these additional reflection points.
It is best to put diffusion panels on the rear walls which help to disperse sound waves – rather than muffle them. This creates a “livelier” sound.
You do not necessarily have to place any panels on the ceiling, unless the floors are made of a hard, reflective surface such as cement, hardwood, or ceramic tile. In this case, it is often easier to simply carpet the floors or place rugs on reflection points.
Many people dream of having a home theater system – especially since streaming movies and TV shows is far more popular than actually going out to a movie these days. Further, the movie theater experience will probably be a bit more compromised after the COVID-19 pandemic dies down.
Home theater acoustic panels can make all the difference in the sound quality and overall viewing experience. Therefore, they should be a major part of your home theater design plan.
Octane Seating is here to help you create the home theater system of your dreams. We offer a wide range of comfortable theater seats and other accessories to create a room that the entire family will enjoy for years to come.
Please reach out to our team to discuss the products that you need to create a stylish and comfortable home theater.