Kitting out your home theater with all the necessary components can take a lot of work, and I often have people come to me asking “Why are acoustic panels so expensive?” I did a bit of research to explain the answer in detail.
So, why are acoustic panels so expensive?
Acoustic panels are so expensive because they’re a specialty product that’s made in a particular way. Along with the more advanced technology, acoustic foam can be expensive because there’s not much market competition, so companies can simply charge more.
Acoustic panels are definitely a useful addition to a home theater, but it’s understandable if you think they’re beyond your budget. In this article I look a bit more into why acoustic panels are so expensive, along with some budget-friendly alternatives.
Why acoustic panels are so expensive (detailed explanation)
Having acoustic panels in your home theater is a great way to manage sound reflection, which can massively improve the clarity. While acoustic panels are typically used in larger spaces, such as theaters, they can make a useful addition to your home setup too.
In short, acoustic foam reduces the reflection of sound waves by breaking up the surface they bounce off. It reduces the power of the sound waves through a process called attenuation. While it’s not really necessary to go completely into the science, it basically means that it helps to reduce echo and reverberation.
Acoustic foam is made up of an open-cell structure and often has peaks and valleys or waves. As sound waves reflect best of a flat, smooth surface, the purpose of acoustic foam is to break this surface up. This causes the sound waves to dissipate in the form of heat.
Acoustic foam is typically made of polyurethane foam, but can also be made of melamine foam. While these materials aren’t expensive to produce, the process acoustic foam goes through during manufacture is obviously more complex than normal foam.
This is probably the main reason acoustic foam is so expensive: it’s a specialty product. Generally you’ll pay for better quality products and materials, but as with anything else, there’ll come a time when you’re simply paying for a brand name.
On top of this, there’s the obvious fact that specialty products means companies can charge more for them. The market is much smaller than with other things, as not as many people decide to use acoustic foam in their homes. Typically usage would be confined to musicians and home theater enthusiasts.
That said, it’s also worth shopping around for the best deals on acoustic foam. Doing research will allow you to find the best prices, which will most likely be online. Remember though that comparatively acoustic foam is quite an expensive product, so be prepared to pay out if you want some in your home theater.
Are acoustic panels worth the money?
I’ve got plenty of experience with home theaters, and I’ve helped to build plenty of setups. It’s worth remembering that your home theater will be a unique project because of the space you’ll be building it in. So is it worth you spending out on acoustic foam for your home theater? Consider these following points to help you decide.
Size is definitely a biggest factor to consider when deciding if you need acoustic foam. Generally speaking, larger rooms will have bigger (or more) speakers, and so echo and reverberation will be much more likely. Sound waves will bounce off the walls, and installing acoustic foam will help to combat this problem.
Similarly, the shape of your home theater room will have an influence on echo and reverberation. If you have an irregular-shaped room with lots of corners then it’s definitely worth investing in some acoustic foam. Even placing it in corners and alcoves will make a big difference to sound quality.
The type of speakers you’ve got is also worth considering. After all, if you’ve got a 2.1 channel bookshelf speaker setup then it’s unlikely you’ll be experiencing much reverb. However, if you’ve got a 5.1 surround sound system, or something fancy like ceiling or wall-mounted speakers, acoustic foam might be very useful.
I think acoustic panels are definitely worth the money if you can justify it. It makes quite a difference to the sound quality in the room, and is particularly useful for clarifying voices and other mid-range frequencies. However, there are some options you can consider if you don’t think your budget will stretch that far.
How to make your own acoustic panels on a budget
Buying acoustic panels is obviously the most convenient option, but is also the most expensive. If you’ve got some DIY knowledge and are looking for a project, why not try building your own acoustic panels? It’s really not that difficult, and the materials are pretty easy to source.
Before you get started on the construction, spend some time planning what you actually need. I’d recommend at least 3 acoustic panels to go each side and behind your viewing area. You can either make 3 large ones or several smaller ones depending on your room size and preference.
I’d recommend building panels at a minimum of 2ft by 3ft, but make them as big as you can. This will give you much more chance of catching all the reflecting sound waves.
The sound waves will be most likely to bounce somewhere around your viewing area, as this is probably the direction your speakers are pointing in. Catching them as early as possible will help to limit their echo and reverb.
To build your acoustic panels, you’ll need the following materials:
- This is for the frame, so how much you need will depend on how big your acoustic panels are going to be.
- Rockwool/fiberglass. This is going to be the filling of the panels so you’ll need the correct amount.
- This can be whatever fabric you choose, but is going to be the cover so make sure it matches your color scheme.
- Saw, hammer, staple gun, screwdriver
The stuff generally used in DIY acoustic panels is Owens Coring 703, but if you can’t get hold of that, Rockwool wall insulation also does a good job. Most types of fiberglass will be fine, but check out this handy absorption coefficient chart to see which would be best for you.
Building your acoustic panels is pretty simple. Just do the following:
- Build your frame out of the timber. Use right angle brackets to make sure everything is straight, and glue together for extra stability.
- Cut a piece of fabric to size and stretch over the front of the timber frame. Staple in place, keeping the fabric stretched tight. Flip the frame over.
- Fill the inside with your sound absorbing material. Pack it reasonably well but not so much that it’s going to bulge against the fabric.
- Stretch some fabric over the insulation, pull tight, and staple in place. Make sure the edges are neat because they’ll most likely be seen.
Hanging your acoustic panels
Building was the easy part, but hanging can be a bit more complicated. Before putting your acoustic panels up, you’ll need to find your early reflection points. These are where the sound waves first hit the wall, and so are where your panels will need to go.
To find these you’ll need some assistance. Sit in your viewing area and then have someone walk the length of the right wall holding a mirror. Once you see a reflection of the speaker, you’ve found your reflection point. Do this on the other wall to find the other one, and this is where you hang your acoustic panels.
It’s best to hang the acoustic panels on brackets so they’re not touching the wall. This helps to increase sound absorption, as the panels can catch any sound waves bouncing back off the wall. It’s a bit more complicated than simply screwing them to the wall, but it’s definitely worth it.
Some tips on building your acoustic panels
- Thicker foam will absorb lower frequency sound waves. This method is also suitable for making bass traps.
- If you get printed fabric you can disguise the acoustic panels as prints or wall hangings.
- Sealing the edges of the fabric with some epoxy glue is the best way to prevent fiberglass from escaping.
- Similarly, using a spray adhesive on the fabric can make it more rigid, and also prevent fibers from escaping.
- You’d be amazed at the design flexibility you have with making your own acoustic panels. Check out this massive range of designs for some inspiration.
Some final thoughts
There’s no denying that acoustic panels are expensive, but it’s the price you pay for specialty equipment. However, you’ve got plenty of flexibility when it comes to building your own, and this is definitely the better option if you’re on a budget. Make sure you do some research to make sure you get the best kind of insulation material for your needs.
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.