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Make acoustic panels for your recording studio or home theater

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Picture of Make acoustic panels for your recording studio or home theater
Acoustic treatments are often used to help improve the acoustics of a room by taming "flutter echoes," "room modes," and other problems which arise from a room's dimensions and construction.

Although a variety of treatments are available for commercial use, they tend to be quite expensive. After some research both online and in print, we came across several sources for DIY acoustic treatments using rigid fiberglass panels and simple frames. These are often referred to as "bass traps," although the ones that we're focusing on have a fairly wide rage of absorption. While commercial versions are available for almost $100, we were able to make these panels for about $24 each.

We can not take credit for this design, but have combined several people's ideas into a step-by-step guide. Most importantly, we give credit to Ethan Winer's excellent article, Build a Better Bass Trap.

For more information, check out the good folks in the acoustics forum at recording.org
 
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Step 1: Plan your setup

Picture of Plan your setup
Check websites such as the acoustics forum at recording.org or read a book on acoustics or recording studio construction such as Home Recording Studio, Build it Like the Pros by Rod Gervais to help determine how many treatments you need and where they should go. Keep in mind that it's easier to build one or two more than you think you need than it is to get everything ready to do the whole project again, so when in doubt, make more than you think you need.

For our room, we decided to build 12 panels. Since it's a room for music recording, we can take down some of the panels when we want a more lively sound, or we can put them all up when we want a more controlled sound. IMPORTANT: a "dead" sounding room is not natural, and causes the ears to fatigue much faster than in a typical space. Since the point of this project is to enjoy music sound MORE, you want to avoid too much absorption.
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dannygrey2 years ago
Can you give a brief estimate of the prices of all the materials you used so I can kind of gauge how much to spend to get it down to the $24 dollars you said you guys spent
bwyan (author)  dannygrey2 years ago
Hi Danny,

I built these in 2007, so I can't remember all of the exact figures, but I believe that those numbers were pretty attainable with the quantity of materials I purchased. The most expensive component was the insulation itself, which I recall to be somewhere between $16 to 20 per sheet. I was able to get some MDF scraps, which brought the cost down a bit, but even new MDF through home depot should cost about $10 for a 2x4 sheet. This can make about 12 long boards or 24 short boards. So for 12 panels, you would need a total of about four sheets. $40/12 = about $3.33 per panel.

The assembly hardware can be purchased from Home Depot for a few dollars (total for all panels), and the mounting hooks and picture wire will be under $10 from an art supplies store.

Finally, we got discounted fabric from Michaels with a store coupon (check the newspaper), which cost about $1.75 per panel.

I hope that helps. Even paying full retail for everything, you're probably not going to spend more than $40 per panel, which is still less than a third the cost of pre-built panels.

Good luck!

-bryan
Nexho2 years ago
If it cost you $24 for each acoustic panels and commercial panels cost $100 I personally would have gone for the commercial ones as they are manufactured with a degree of quality (not judging your skills,lol).

Anyway, these look great though the placement looks a bit ugly.
Best tool, bar none, for cutting rockwool or fiberglass board is an electric carving knife. Very little mess and it cuts through like butter.
-chase-3 years ago
Nice panels TheHighwaysBeautiful.

How did you go about tuning your room? I mean the actuall tuning to decide which panel depth needed to be where? Or did you not take it that far in depth when designing your studio room? or jsut go with a guess-ta-ment?

Some when building one as nice as yours some do and some  don't is why i ask [tune a room i mean]- and it can be some what complicated to tune a room properly - if you did do this - an instrucable on how you went about it would be a nice add.

Did you use a GoldLine Handheld AA or BMX anilyser? (if you did)

As mentioned the panels are really nice looking and look like they would work.

My first "studio room" we used the square egg crates glued an screwed to the wall and ceiling and then sprayed them with foam... then sprayed the whole mess flat black- didn't exactly look pretty - pissed off my parent when they found out what i did to my room - but all in all it worked well enough to make a fairly decent recording at the time. ;0)

again nice job and easy to follow instructable.
bwyan (author)  -chase-3 years ago
Thanks!

We did do some tuning, using a room analysis application for Mac. Unfortunately, I don't remember what we used, and I no longer have that computer. Some basic tuning can be done on paper using the room's dimensions and doing some simple algebra. It's a little beyond what I can explain in a comment, but you might want to get the book I mentioned in the introduction. That has a very good look at the process.

If the tuning process seems overwhelming, then here's some basic advice: concentrate the panels near the corners and the longer walls. The worst reflections happen between the walls which are the shortest distance apart. By putting the panels on the longest walls, you'll better tame those shorter reflections.

Good luck!

-bryan
-chase- bwyan3 years ago
Hmmm - Interesting - I'll have to check into some software apps and see if they make something similiar for PC.

I've tuned rooms before using a Goldline Hand held 1/3 octive audio anilyser before. I use to use one when i was a SE for live proformances and tuning the system to the venue. Of course i must admit it's been a while and i don't have a Gold line any more. So a software solution may be more practical for a perminent installation/ studio.

thanks for the tip on guess-te-mating the room tuning.

And Happy New Year to you and yours.

- chase -
DavidM453 years ago
Great,
my new design studio is "boomy" (maple floors minimal furniture) and I listen to the stereo all day, so I really need these! My only thought was to use 3" wood and skip the batten, wouldn't the corner braces hold the material in fine? Lighter and simpler!
thanks again ... David
bwyan (author)  DavidM453 years ago
Yes that would leave you with fewer pieces. However, the panels would be closer to the wall, reducing their effectiveness in key frequency ranges. It's up to you whether or not you want to be concerned with that level of precision.
getack4 years ago
For some strange reason Stumbleupon brought me to this page. Not the beginning of the 'ible, but step 10?! Anyway cool ''ible! If you have the time and resources, you should post comparisons against commercial products, for interest's sake.
smendo14 years ago
In addition to insulation supply houses, check with drywall/ceiling supply houses as well. You can also find the same product sold as "duct liner" in thicknesses up to 4" and the standard color is black.
Aud1073cH4 years ago
The sturdy framing of this design gives me an idea.

Every studio seems to have a pair of large speakers on the wall - often for "wow factor".
     When I set up my studio, I may make a pair of these panels with hidden windows, and built-in platforms to mount speakers in them. This should reduce bass reflections from the wall, and hide the big speakers :)

   Has anyone done this?  I'll have to experiment.
all10thumbs6 years ago
Sounds like a great economical solution for studios. Would you use the same type of panels to improve the acoustics of a performing hall? Large room (10x19 M, with 5.2 M high ceiling, plus columns and balcony) with all concrete and tile construction. The sound (live band, projected speakers) echoes horribly - we have to turn volume down to barely above nothing in order to have clarity. But then everyone complains that they can't hear enough. If you don't have suggestions, can you recommend a website? We live in South America, where obtaining professional help and/or prefabricated panels is almost impossible, so homemade options are a must.
I would certainly use these fiberboard panels in the back of the room behind the audience.  You may also want a few on the side walls at about the middle point of the hall to reduce side-reflections.  I've made some that were hung vertically from the ceiling to reduce reflections off of a metal roof.

Another home made option is curtains.

I've seen some performance halls add curtains along their walls.
Use a heavy velour, velvet, or something with a thick felt backing. You can adjust the sound absorption by adjusting the fullness of the pleat. 
   0% fullness is completely flat, 50% fullness 1.5m of curtain is hung in 1m space, and 100% fullness is 2m of curtain in 1m space.
   If the curtains are hung tracks or rods, you can adjust the fullness, or temporarily draw them back to expose the walls to fine-tune the sound for each performance.

At first it seems odd to hang curtains over empty walls, but it works.
  As always fire proofed or fire rated material is a must for performance spaces.
bwyan (author)  all10thumbs5 years ago
Thanks for the comment! While these panels are meant to absorb bass notes more than anything else, they might be of some help. In a room that size, there may be a better solution though. I'd check the forums at recording.org . The people there are knowledgeable and friendly. You'll probably be able to find a great solution that's more specific for your room--including the types of treatments, and also the placement of each treatment. The placement is just as important as what you're doing. Good luck!
jag574 years ago
Hello Mr. Highway. Just finished building 5 panels for my home theater room. I used 3/4 " plywood only because I don't like particle board. I sourced out some fiberboard in Toronto where I live . The fabric was ordered from Guilford of Maine. I had them send me their color swatches first, so that I could see the exact product . I looked at other designs , but felt that yours was the best . Yours was one of the few designs that insisted on having the panels off of the wall . Your instructions made it very easy to build. They look less obtrusive that I expected . They give the room a professional look and finish. The improvement in the sound dynamics is indeed worth the effort and minimal costs . Thanks
jeff-o4 years ago
I'm planning to make something like this, and am trying to source these fiberglass panels.  I think I found what I need at Home Depot, though the panels they had have foil on one side.  Since my primary goal is to squelch high frequency echos and ringing, should I face the non-foil side towards the room?

It also seems odd to me that such a dense material would be any good at absorbing sound - is it really better than a softer foam (like for bedding or upholstery?)
This is a long-delayed answer that will help anyone with jeff-o's question. It doesn't matter which side you place the foil on, it will still reflect high frequencies more than a panel without the foil. And for the density... a denser material absorbs a wider range of the frequencies of sound. The softer stuff will only take care of higher frequencies, which leaves low-mids and lows completely uncontrolled. Check out the site TheHighwayBeautiful linked in the description, and search 'bass traps' online... almost any question you can think of has been answered online.
 I was going to say, "Paintings!" but i saw that packrat said that already. My main question was when you were going to have the canvas stretching ible? because that's my main confusion and i wanted to make these over then summer when i have more free time, being a busy high school student.

..and i know you are already a pretty big band and have your own website, but i thought u might be interested in bandcamp to help get fan promotion.
henryvrgl4 years ago
I thought your design was well built and clean, even when I made the instructable a favorite a while back. Now,looking at some of the others I've seen on youtube,I'm sure of it. And it's aesthetically more pleasing. Form,function,and style come together very nicely for this one. Definitely the one I'm going to build for myself.  Kudos to you guys.
wozlaser5 years ago
I just wanted to say that was extremely helpful and I will likely make some myself! I have a similar post about sound diffusion with poster board.
bwyan (author)  wozlaser5 years ago
 i'm so glad you think so! Post some pictures when you make them. if you look through these comments, you'll see pics of someone else's practice space. I'd love to see more. If you have any questions, let me know or find me on twitter @bryanwegman
wozlaser bwyan5 years ago
iamtoats5 years ago
Do I just install these at random spots on my walls, or is there some sort of technique? I understand how high/low, but I don't really know where the best spots would be......
bwyan (author)  iamtoats5 years ago
The very best spots are in the corners. Bass frequencies tend to build up there, and so the panels are most effective in the corners. We spread them out a little wider in the middle of the walls, but staggered them so that no two panels were directly across from each other (to help maximize our coverage).
Talky5 years ago
Outstanding instructions! But, do you really need the insulation material? I once worked at a school where they made their own acoustic panels, they only used wood frames with some soft fabric similar to your example, but no insulation material, they were full wall height though. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks and KUTGJ!
bwyan (author)  Talky5 years ago
Thank you very much. I'm glad to see that people are still getting use out of this article! The insulation is a pretty important part of this design. There are indeed traps that work in the way you describe, but in most applications, you'll find a much better response from a panel like the ones we built than you will just from stretched fabric.
ourdavid5 years ago
How about for a home theatre? Is a room's size a restriction? Excellent instructions.
The photos I posted below are of a room that is 20 x 30 ft. with 10 foot ceilings and they worked beautifully there. Granted, I had to build 17 of them, but of all of the options this was by far the less expensive and best looking. And yes, these bass traps would definitely work well in a home theater or anywhere else you would want better sound clarity.
mboggs455 years ago
I can't tell you how much time you saved me by posting this. I just made 17 of them for my studio/practice space. It still sounds a bit bass-y, but it sounds WORLDS better. Oh and I had the same problem of an old air conditioning unit bolted to the wall and I don't think I ever would have thought of covering it with one of thsese. Here are some shots:

You can see more of them HERE under the blog titled, "New Year...New Studio...New Album??"
StudioAfter1.jpgStudioAfter2.jpg
pparish6 years ago
Great walk-through! I just finished my first panel and it went swimmingly. I wanted to mention that a strong pair of clamps can make the 'canvas stretching' step a snap, even for one person. Just anticipate leaving a bit more fabric to work with.
curtiswyant6 years ago
For more info, go to the acoustic design forum at http://www.johnlsayers.com. If you post room dimensions/monitor placement/etc, someone with experience will help you determine the best layout of your bass traps. I used rockwool for my traps; it was at least 4x cheaper than OC 703/705 and had better acoustic properties. You can usually find acoustic datasheets on insulation manufacturers' websites (Roxul, OC etc). The frequencies to watch are 500hz and below. I also covered mine with burlap. This was the best money spent on anything in my studio!
allteixeira6 years ago
Hi folks - very nice Instructable (also helpful for building picture frames :-) - I have one question - would this also work as a noise reduction device ? I have a problem at the home-office - 4 people talking on the phone at the same time in the same room, and their voices keep "bouncing" on the walls, thus increasing the noise level - any thoughts ?
bwyan (author)  allteixeira6 years ago
Hello and thanks for the kind words! If you're talking about noise within a room, the panels will definitely make the room feel quieter. From a technical standpoint, there wouldn't be a huge reduction, but sound would become a lot more directional and the panels would cut down on the "bouncing" you're describing. Even if the volume in the room didn't change, the clarity of each speaker would be improved. I would set them up to each be facing a different direction. Hang a panel horizontally so that it's centered at ear level and have them face it when they're speaking on the phone. For maximum results, stagger the desks so that people on opposite walls aren't directly across from each other. You'll get a little more even coverage of the room that way. I'd say that might be an elegant solution for taming the room's acoustics without major remodeling or the installation of office partitions (which don't always do a lot from an acoustics standpoint and would no doubt cost more). I hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions
Would styrofoam or polyisocyanurate panels work too?

How about fiberglass suspended ceiling panels. It's usually 2' by 4' already. It's only 1" thick, so you might require two sheets per unit.

1" by 4" strapping is usually inexpensive, and in my opinion would be loads easier to work with than MDF (unless the leadish density of MDF is acoustically important).

Why not engage local graf artists to decorate each panel? Might even be lucrative, you could have a future Basquiat hanging on your wall.
bwyan (author)  incorrigible packrat6 years ago
I don't believe styrofoam has the same effect. "Foam" can mean a lot of things, but everything I've read seems to indicate that rigid fiberglass is pretty much the best choice for absorbing bass frequencies. Without that ability, building panels like this would make the room sound "boxy." Open cell foam can be purchased for acoustic treatments, but it is mostly intended for high frequency absorption. It is also rather costly. The ceiling panels made of fiberglass are a different composition than rigid fiberglass insulation. Although they might provide some benefit, I don't think they have enough "give" to be useful (rigid fiberglass actually works by absorbing the sound energy and converting it to heat energy). On the subject of ceilings though, the raw panels can be covered and loaded into a drop ceiling with a 2' by 4' grid to help with floor to ceiling reflections. As far as the frame material goes, I don't think it matters too much as long as you can work with the material. We chose MDF because my dad had it left over from another project at work and so we could get it for free. I don't think the material choice has a ton of impact on the acoustical properties of the frame unless you have it touching the walls (and even then, I believe it's fairly minimal). It's funny you mention having artists work on the panels. We've thought about doing this and I have a couple friends who are interested. We're just trying to decide if it fits the mood of our studio or not. We actually kind of enjoy the one room with just the plain panels because the rest of our space is full of art work. It separates that room from the rest and is kind of a nice touch. If we DID have someone paint the panels, we would need to make sure they didn't coat the fabric too heavily because it still needs to "breathe" for the panels to work properly. I wouldn't mind having a future Basquiat on my walls though. I'm a BIG fan of his work and would love to find out that one of my acoustic panels could sell for as much as his paintings!
Yeah. I mentioned graffiti specifically, thinking that spray paint would be a more thin layer type of work than any other painting technique that comes to mind, not that I know much about graffiti, artistic painting techniques, acoustics, or anything else, for that matter. I heard, on the radio, a while ago, about some people that found a Basquiat painting on a wall in an apartment, while renovating. Apparently it had been covered up with drywall for years.
bwyan (author)  incorrigible packrat6 years ago
That's a good point. I guess as long as you have a decent graffiti artist (or maybe airbrush would be even better) you probably would have a thin enough layer that it wouldn't matter. Finding a Basquiat while renovating an apartment. Man, where I live, that wall would be worth more than the whole rest of the place. Lucky people, whoever found that.
shortbus6 years ago
Good work. I was just reading about bass traps an hour ago.
richms6 years ago
You could chuck some ropelight on the back of the panel and make a feature of it too
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