Decorative Sound Absorbing Panels

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About: By day, Jeff is the Jack of All Robots at Clearpath Robotics. By night, a mad scientist / hacker / artist / industrial designer wannabe!

What better way is there to spend an afternoon, than having your kids help upgrade the performance of your home theater?  If you're a geek dad, the list is pretty small.

There are many way to improve your home theater, and adding sound-absorbing panels is an inexpensive way of doing it.  In my case, it's almost a necessity:  the hard concrete walls in my basement home theater have a nasty tendency to bounce sound around in unpleasant ways.  The effect was made even worse when the carpet was replaced with hard laminate floors.

The walls themselves were mostly bare, painted concrete.  The walls needed decoration - artwork, pictures, whatever.  Just something to make the place look less sterile.

My home theater also happens to share a space with the kids' playroom.

So what happens when you put all these requirements into blender and pour the frothy goop into a big, chilled mug?  Simple, yet effective child-decorated sound absorbing panels.

Step 1: How They Work

In a room with hard, flat surfaces, sound tends to do nasty things.  Mostly, it bounces around and hits your tender eardrums multiple times from different angles.  It mixes in weird ways, drowning out some parts of a soundtrack while emphasizing others.  In short, the hundreds or thousands of dollars you spent on a nice amplifier and speakers is wasted because the acoustic properties of the room are lousy.

The purpose of a sound absorbing panel is obvious:  it absorbs sound in a room.  When placed in strategic locations along the wall, the effect is dramatic.  High frequency "ringing" is killed off, and bass is no longer muddy or boomy.  All those sound waves that would have bounced off the walls are instead mostly absorbed by the panels, so that the primary wave from the speakers is what you hear most.

The basic construction of these panels is simple, and certainly nothing new.  They are simple artistic canvases with thick wood frames, stuffed with sound-absorbing "eggcrate" foam.  The panels are decorated to suit the decor of the room. In my case, decorated with the help of my wife and kids, to add colour and fun to our home theater/rec room/play room.

Step 2: Materials and Tools

To make one sound absorbing panel, you will need:

- One 1.5" deep art canvas, with dimensions of at least 2x2 feet.  I bought mine at a local art store chain called Curry's for about $10 each.

- One 2x2 sheet of 1.5" thick sound absorbing "eggcrate" foam.  I bought a whole roll of it online for about $40.

- Acrylic paint to decorate the canvas, from any art store

- Paper backing, to hold the foam in place.  You could use old newspaper if you wanted to, as long as it's big and strong enough.

- Picture hangers, two per panel, from a hardware or art store.


And the tools you'll need include:

- Scissors
- Paintbrushes
- Staple gun (to staple the backing onto the frame)
- Hammer (to attach picture hangers)
- screwdriver and/or drill for mounting the panel to a wall


Of course, you'll also need some willing volunteers to help decorate the canvases.  If your volunteers are under 5 years old, I suggest doing the painting outside, as the likelihood of spillage and messes is very high.  You've been warned!

Step 3: Paint the Canvases

The colours and content of the "artwork" splashed across the canvases is completely up to you.  You can let your kids have at it (as we did, with a little guidance), you could have a professional paint portraits of all the members of the Addams Family, or you could paint them the same colour as your walls so they blend in.  Really, the paint has little effect on the performance of these panels so do what you like.

Another great option is to have cherished photos "printed" on the canvases.  There are a few places online that will do this for you - send them your photos, and they'll print them on any size canvas you like.  They can even do cool things like spreading the photo across two or three canvases.

Step 4: Install Foam

I bought a large roll of "eggcrate" acoustic foam online.  It was pretty cheap, even with shipping.  You could also buy 1/2" thick sound absorbing fiberglass panels for this purpose.  The fiberglass is denser, so it absorbs more bass than the foam can.  Choose the material based on what your needs are.

So this step is pretty simple.  Once the paint is dry on the canvas, flip it over.  Simply cut a square (or rectangle) of foam to fit inside the space.  It should fill the space completely, but not bulge out.  Place the foam inside the canvas with the bumpy side facing the painted face of the canvas.

Now, cut some pieces of paper large enough to cover the back of the panel, but not hang over the edges.  Staple the paper down with a staple gun.

Step 5: Install Picture Hangers

Picture hangers usually come in packs of two to six.  You'll need two for each panel.  I chose to use a pack of inexpensive brass "self-centering" low-profile hangers, though you could use whatever you like.  Really, any method you use to attach the panels to a wall should be fine.

Install the picture hangers in the two top corners.  The hangers I used are attached using small finishing nails.

Once the hangers are attached, the sound absorbing panel is ready to mount!

Step 6: Mount the Panels

Decide where you want the panels to be located.  Measure carefully, being mindful of both the height and the rotation of the panels.  Since there are two hangers on each panel, the screws for mounting the panels must be level or the panel will be on an angle.  Mark the locations for the screws or nails and install them.

I have concrete walls in my basement, so my only choice was to drive Tapcon screws into the concrete.  It's messy, but (of course) super strong.

Now, hang your panels on the screws and take a breather - hopefully, the acoustics in the room will be much improved, along with the decor!  And, if your kids helped decorate the panels, they'll have something to show off when guests come over to play or watch movies.

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    32 Discussions

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    r.tan

    3 months ago

    This method is absolutely ineffective... the sound waves can never reach the absorption foam because canvas doesn't have an open structure. So, the canvas itself will absorb a tiny bit of sound waves but reflects the sound mostly especially when it's covered in paint.

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    MartinT142

    Question 3 months ago on Step 6

    Did you actually do a before/after test? Do you know if there is any difference between just the painting and the painting alone?

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    June Cora

    Question 5 months ago on Step 6

    I am a third grade teacher, recently, I have been placed in a portable classroom smack dab on the playing field next to the PE Pavilion. Not only can the kids watch but the noise is can be deafening. It interrupts the learning. Does anyone have cheap ideas that I can use to quiet the classroom? Please help!!

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    yucca.htn

    1 year ago

    That sort of foam doesn't really do much to help room acoustics. Usually a deeper pyramid shaped foam is used to kill higher frequencies and prevent flutter echo, but putting a canvas in front of it would null the effect of the pyramid shape. I would tweak the frame to add more depth and use rockwool or any thick and dense material instead.

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    ElaineM41

    2 years ago

    I am going insane in my loft style apartment. my ceilings are 17.5 feet tall. the walls are so thin i can hear the neighbors in their living room talking. kids above me run in the halls and it sounds like elephants. it doesn't help that i have 5 birds. one is an umbrella cockatoo. she is quite for a cockatoo but still loud. what is the cheapest thing i can do to help with the echo? i thought about this before i moved in and tried putting thick quilt batting on the walls. it did nothing but collect dust and look stupid. i love you idea and am going to try it. i also made some fabric covered blue hard foam insulation panels that i need to hang up. it would be great if i could afford to hang fabric from the ceiling to the floor but that would cost hundreds of dollars.

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    RachelK23

    3 years ago

    Do you think this would work in a 2 story tall, round silo shaped space? The library where I work has terrible acoustics in our storytime silo. The peaked roof doesn't help either.

    1 reply
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    jeff-oRachelK23

    Reply 3 years ago

    Worth a shot. Any soft, sound absorbing materials will help reduce the echo in that very cool space.

    Or maybe drape some tapestries across the top of the space like an open, airy tent or market?

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    SusanF3

    4 years ago on Step 2

    I was wondering if the canvas frames didn't partially negate the sound-reducing effect of the foam... And I was also wondering about placement of the panels. Do you experiment with the location?

    2 replies
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    jeff-oSusanF3

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 2

    Certainly framing the foam would cause it to be slightly less sound absorbing than unframed, but the point is that they actually look nice hanging on the wall. It's a trade-off. No experiments with location, I just covered the hard concrete walls.

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    Keznaa

    5 years ago on Step 4

    A seat cushion that's a great idea! I never thought about doing that. Looks like I have a bunch of projects to start :)

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    Keznaa

    5 years ago on Step 4

    Could you use thick mattress top foam instead? I have this really high quality memory foam type mattress pad that I don't use anymore and was wondering if its dense enough, could I use it?

    1 reply
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    jeff-oKeznaa

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 4

    Worth a shot. I'm not sure how it compares to proper sound absorbing foam, but it won't hurt. If you find it isn't working well you can always remove the foam and turn it into seat cushions.

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    ToniRose

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Well done. And the most attractive kid's fingerpainting I've ever seen.

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    Shut Up Now

    8 years ago on Introduction

    Very neat idea, but won't the paint turn the panels into reflective surfaces for sound? Also, that type of foam absorbs only high frequencies. consider using rockwool or 703 fiberglass insulation in your existing panels to get a better end result. (i suggest rockwool)

    4 replies
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    jeff-oShut Up Now

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I thought about that, but then I did a simple test: I held my ear to one side of the canvas and had someone speak on the other. Virtually no difference from having no canvas there. So, I guess most of the sound passes straight through. And yes, if you want to absorb more lower frequencies too, then a denser insulation will help. You can even install fiberboard, which is easier to use in this case than fiberglass or rockwool.

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    NachoMahmaShut Up Now

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    .  While these are definitely not "audiophile-quality" panels, they should have a noticeable (good) effect on sound quality (jeff-o's observations seem to confirm this). Yes, the paint (and the wood frames) will have a detrimental effect, but not enough to matter to most ppl. (And most ppl don't want to look at  (or pay for) exposed, ugly, "real" acoustic panels.)
    .  Ie, I like 'em.

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    jeff-oNachoMahma

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Definitely, if you're going for all-out performance then these are not what you're looking for - but then again, if it's that important then you'd build a purpose-built room with isolated walls and ceilings, and thick carpet on the floor! ;)