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  • Samantha Hathway

Which Acoustic Panels Absorb the Most Noise?

Acoustic panels are physical structures that can be attached to the walls and ceilings within a room. They are used to mitigate background noise, and improve the clarity of sound, by absorbing unwanted sounds. The panels can be retrofitted to an existing building, making them a very attractive option where noise reducing measures haven’t been considered during the construction phase.


Acoustic panels can help combat noise build-up within many spaces, big or small. They are used to mitigate noise in a diverse range of settings, including cinemas, bars, restaurants, conference rooms, offices, libraries, hotels, schools, music venues and recording studios.

In order to understand how acoustic panels work, and which offer the best noise absorption, it’s important to understand how materials absorb, reflect and transmit sound.

Sound absorption

When we talk sound absorption, it’s usually about improving the quality of sound within a space. By increasing sound absorption, reverberation time is reduced, meaning noise fades away quicker and any echoes are minimised.


What is reverberation time?

Reverberation time (RT60) is essentially the time it takes for sound to decay within a space. Each type of space will have a different optimal reverberation time – for music venues where you want rich sound its 2-3 seconds; in a quieter classroom setting, an R60 of 1 second or less is desirable.


The importance of the sound absorption coefficient

The most important metric to look at here, however, is the absorption coefficient. This will tell you how much sound is absorbed, within a set frequency range. For example, an absorption coefficient of 0.40 tells you that 40% of the sound will be absorbed, and 0.60 (or 60%) of the sound will be reflected or transmitted through the material. In the construction industry, the absorption coefficient is averaged out to produce a Noise Reduction Coefficient; this value is used to determine whether a material absorbs or reflects sound. An NRC of 0 indicates complete reflection of sound; an NRC of 1 represents perfect absorption.


Which materials are the best for absorbing sound?

In general, soft, lightweight, fluffy materials such as foam and mineral wool are good sound absorbers. Hard materials such as concrete and glass have a low absorption coefficient of 0.03, meaning 97% of the sound will be reflected or transmitted around a space. So ideally every space should have the right combination of sound absorbing and sound reflecting surfaces to ensure it’s optimised for function.


Acoustic panels

For the majority of homeowners, installing soft furnishings, carpets and curtains are a great means of absorbing and dampening sound. However, commercial businesses can look to enhance sound by installing sound absorbing panels, or acoustic panels, to control and clarify sound.


Here are examples of some of the best types on the market today:


Insulation – The best panels for removing unwanted noise (such as echoes, reverberation and muffling) involve insulation wrapped in an open-weave fabric. These come in a range of sizes and colours to fit your design aesthetic and budget and some manufacturers offer the ability to print your own image or company logo across the fabric. They can be fitted to a wall or ceiling, meaning installation is straightforward. These acoustic panels are also usually made of recycled materials, making them the most sustainable choice, and come with an excellent fireproof rating.


Foam – If you run an online search, you’ll find that foam panels are a really popular choice for absorbing unwanted noise. They can be fabric-wrapped, much like the insulation option. The foam absorbs sound waves, preventing it reflecting back from hard surfaces such as walls and ceilings. If you’re looking to quieten down your environment, then foam panels represent a budget-friendly option. Furthermore, they’re quick and easy to install in both residential and commercial buildings. Foam acoustic panels do however tend to break down over time, so will need to be replaced more frequently than insulation options.


Perforated wood panels – the dents in these panels, often combined with an absorptive backing, help to absorb and centralise sound waves, so they’re an excellent choice for music venues. They can be hung from ceilings in order to maximise sound quality, and can also be used to add privacy and intimacy to a space.


Sound absorption versus sound proofing

We’ve already stated above that materials interact differently with sound. Those that absorb sound are used to improve the listening experience, by softening and damping sound. However, although sound absorbing materials can diminish sound transmission, they’re not necessarily going to sound proof a room.


Sound proofing is used to reduce the transmission of unwanted sound waves, blocking noise from entering or leaving a room or building. While absolute noise reduction is physically impossible, noise can be significantly reduced by implementing several measures.


These include the installation of sound absorbing AND sound proofing materials, such as acoustic panels and soundproofing materials. Measures such as decoupling walls and fitting anti-vibration dampeners can dramatically reduce structure borne sound, making a significant difference to the overall sound transmission.


So it’s important to understand what you’re trying to achieve, improved sound quality or sound proofing. They will both require a different approach, and while acoustic panels improve the listening experience, they are only part of the solution for soundproofing.

In order to make the right decision for your construction or design project, it’s essential to engage the services of an Acoustic Consultant. By doing so, you can find the solution that’s right for you. Remember that what works in a recording studio won’t work in a classroom; and what works in a library could be detrimental in an open plan office. A professional will look at the function of a space, carefully assess sound levels and tailor a solution specific to your budget and requirements.


If you need advice on selecting the best acoustic panel then please get in touch with us today. Here at Auricl, we’ve extensive experience not only of controlling noise levels, but also optimising sound quality, taking a bespoke approach to each project and venue. Contact us today on 020 7859 4530, for our London office. For the South East, contact our Reading office on 0118 207 7324, or get in touch by emailing hello@auricl.com.


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