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Acoustic absorber panels - buy or DIY?
by Nyal MellorJuly 26, 2011
This blog article is the first in a series looking into the DIY potential of acoustic treatment. Today we are discussing acoustic absorber panels, typically just referred to by the shorthand 'acoustic panels'. They are also known as acoustical panels or sound absorber panels but whatever they are called they are definitely the most straightforward to build and therefore the most suitable for DIY.
For a survey of commercial products and the differences between them read this article: Acoustic Panels - a Manufacturer survey.
If we are going to understand the ease of contructing an acoustic panel the first thing we should do is understand how they are made, so let's take a look at the materials and how they are used in the panel construction.
Inside an acoustic absorber panel
Acoustic panels have three main construction elements:
A core which does the 'work' of converting sound waves into heat and therefore providing the acoustic absorption. The core is typically made of compressed fiberglass but rockwool or acoustical cotton can also be used. Foam is also a potential core material although it is only around 50% as effective an absorber as fiberglass so the thicknesses need to be roughly twice those of an equivalent fiberglass panel.
A fabric covering which provides two functions: firstly it keeps the core elements from becoming airborne and becoming a potential health hazard and secondly it allows for a nice aesthetic finish in a choice of colors and textures
A structural element which provides stiffness to the core and allows the fabric to be fixed solidly. Some commercial manufacturers use a resin on the corners which dries hard, others a wood or metal frame around the core.
The actual assembly is also simple. The core is reinforced by the structral element and wrapped in fabric. That's really all there is to it!
Buy or DIY?
Now that we've understood the construction let's take a look at the pros and cons of making a DIY acoustic panel vs. buying one.
The 'idea' of money saving - that it is cheaper to do it yourself rather than paying for someone else's time and profit.
You can DIY a product that is just as acoustically effective as a commercial product.
Potential to build into the room as an architectural element such as a coiffered ceiling or framed element.
Low cost of commercial products makes DIY less attractive. If a commercial product is priced keenly, as many of them are, the time it takes you or I to source the materials and assemble them makes DIYing less of a money saver. Of course many of us DIY not for money saving but for the excitement of having a project completed!
Wood is generally used as the structural element in DIY products making the panels heavy and visually intrusive. Commercial products can have mitered or beveled edges to reduce the visual bulk of a 3"+ absorber panel.
In my mind there are four main types of acoustic treatment, divided principally by their construction and hence their application in high end home theaters and listening rooms. This article looks into the DIY potential of each type and lays the foundation for future more detailed blog posts.