Want to soundproof a room? Stumbling into the world of soundproofing can be a little confusing at first. Whether looking to install a home theatre, create a recording booth for vocals or music, or trying to balance out an office, café or gym, the options on hand are myriad. Two fundamental categories will stand out at first: acoustic panels and soundproofing foam.  They’re good at doing different things, appropriate for different scenarios.

In this article, we’re going to shed some light on what these products actually are, how they function, their individual benefits, and in which situations they’re best suited. Whether soundproofing a room for the first time or for the hundredth, this guide will be a useful tool.

acoustic panel in nice design-soundproofing
acoustic panel in nice design

What is Soundproofing?

Before diving into the products, we have to think carefully about what we mean by soundproofing a room. Generally speaking, it’s a two-fold process, in which one aim is to eliminate any sounds bleeding in and out of a room, and the other is to reduce the degree to which sound reverberates within the room. When considering acoustic panels and soundproofing foam, the type of soundproofing we’re talking about usually is the latter, as it is a form of acoustic treatment applied to rooms where construction is already complete.

When a room is said to be ‘echoey’, what this really means is that there is a high level of reverberation – noises bounce off hard surfaces, and can end up sounding a bit hollow and sustained. Soundproofing involves the controlled reduction of this effect. Different scenarios will require different degrees of reduction. For example, in recording studios the aim is often to reduce reverberation so much that the air feels ‘dead’, to get the purist recording of whatever sound is produced, which may then be altered during production. In cafés and other public spaces, however, some reverberation is desirable, to create a sense of ambience. Soundproofing, therefore, is a tool to achieve an appropriate acoustic balance.

Soundproofing Foam

soundproofing foam
soundproofing foam

Most people will be familiar with the image of soundproofing foam (also known as acoustic foam), even if they can’t recall ever having been in direct contact with it. Ubiquitous in recording studios, as seen in YouTube videos, movies and TV, it’s a polyurethane mesh, shaped with pyramidal structures on one side, and a flat surface on the other. It’s light, relatively cheap, and in its basic form is best at absorbing sounds at high and mid frequencies. For lower frequencies, thicker foam or alternatives are more effective. It tends to be sold in one-foot or 30cm squares.

Acoustic Panels

Smart Panel: polyester & coconut fiber-soundproofing
Smart Panel: polyester & coconut fiber

Acoustic panels typically comprise three main elements – a wooden frame, a fibrous internal panel that looks similar to rock wool insulation, and a fabric cover. In the case of ZENFEEL Smart Panels, as pictured above, the internal panel is made of Eco Fiber – which is either coconut fiber and latex, or wool – which is then covered by a polyester acoustic panel, in place of fabric. These present advantages not only in soundproofing, but also in aesthetic customizability, as the polyester may feature cut-in designs and can be printed on. Their sizes vary, but are usually larger than individual squares of soundproofing foam.

Generally speaking, acoustic panels are much more aesthetically pleasing than soundproofing foam. They also tend to be more effective at absorbing a wider spectrum of sound, from high to low frequencies, and have a higher absorption rate to size ratio.

Advantages of Soundproofing Foam

  • Cost. Going by square foot, soundproofing foam is the considerably cheaper option. However, when considering the lower degree to which it absorbs sound, the difference in value is debatable.

  • Simplicity. In situations where complete soundproofing of a room is needed, foam panels can cover entire walls, and be cut to size to fit awkward angles.

  • Approachability. For those who just need soundproofing regardless of design, the relative cost and ease of installation allows for experimenting.

Recording booth-soundproofing

Advantages of Acoustic Panels

  • Aesthetics. Acoustic panels don’t just blend into rooms, they make them look better (when used well, anyway). With a huge range of options available for colours, shapes, fitting positions and more, they can become a feature of a room’s visual design. Alternatively, when needed, they can be made virtually unnoticeable.

  • Flexibility. Acoustic panels can be cut, carved, assembled, customized into all sorts of shapes and designs  for both walls and ceilings.

  • Sound. These panels aren’t just priced higher for their looks – they generally function better than soundproofing foam too. Just a couple of panels can completely change the acoustic balance of a room.

  • Sustainability. Not only are these panels built to last for a long time, and easy to clean, they’re also increasingly made with environmentally sustainable products, unlike the plastic used to make soundproofing foam. ZENFEEL’s Eco Fiber Acoutics Panels, for example, is made with either coconut fiber or wool.

When to use Soundproofing Foam

  • Recording booths. For soundproofing a room to the point where there is virtually no audible reverberation, such as in the case of a recording booth, complete wall coverage is usually only possible with soundproofing foam.
  • Small spaces. For confined spaces,  the installation of foam can be adjusted.

When to use Acoustic Panels

acoustic panel in public area-soundproofing
acoustic panel in a showroom
  • Public Spaces. Offices, libraries, gyms, coffee shops and more benefit from the powerful sound absorbing quality of acoustic panels, combined with their cosmetic edge.

  • Home theatres. These look great in home theatres, and ensure that surround sound systems can work to their maximum potential.

  • Entertainment. Such as movie theaters, karaokes, museums…These look great in home theatres, and ensure that surround sound systems can work to their maximum potential.

  • Education. Such as schools, training centers, child care, libraries, etc.

Time to make a choice

Hopefully it will be clear now, for anyone looking to soundproof a room, whether to opt for acoustic panels or soundproofing foam – or both! For those looking to soundproof larger spaces, it’s always worth getting a professional acoustic evaluation too, to figure out how to balance the acoustics best. Companies like ZENFEEL can provide more personalised advice, on a case-by-case basis, to ensure the most appropriate soundproofing solutions are found.Welcome to contact us for more professional acoustic solutions.