Acoustic Panels: Do You Really Need Them?

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Do you really need acoustic panels in your home studio? Keep watching to find out.

Hey, this is Jason from Behind The Speakers, and in this video you’re going to learn everything you need to know about acoustic panels. You’ll learn whether or not you really need them, which panels I recommend, and how to get the most bang for your buck.

But before we dive in, I also put together a free PDF with links to my favorite acoustic treatment resources, including a guide to building your own DIY acoustic panels. Now if you want to download this, it’s completely free, just click the link in the description below, or up there in the video right now.

So first of all, what are acoustic panels and how do they work? Now when you listen to the sound coming out of the speakers in your room, you’re not just hearing the direct sound from the speakers – meaning the sound doesn’t just come out of the speakers and go directly to your ears and that’s it. You’re actually hearing what’s called reflected sound as well. And what happens is when the sound comes out of the speakers, those sound waves, they actually bounce around your room, so they hit various walls and furniture and all sorts of other things in your room, and then at some point they come back to you, so they hit your ears again and you hear that sound as well. So you hear both the direct sound coming straight from the speakers to your ears, and also the reflected sound coming, bouncing around the walls of your room. So why does this matter? Why is this important?

Now we all obsess over making our records and mixes sound really good, right? And if you’re like me you probably spend a lot of time tweaking plug-ins and settings and trying to get balances perfect in your recordings so that everything sounds perfect. But it’s important to realize that every decision you make is influenced by the sound that you hear coming out of your speakers, right? So you’re constantly making judgements of balance, tone, EQ, compression, all of the decisions you make in the mixing process, and in the recording and production process, are based on the sound that you’re hearing.

But it’s important to realize that what you’re hearing is not necessarily what actually exists in your mix, because when that sound bounces around the walls in your room it changes. So the walls actually absorb certain frequencies and reflect other frequencies, and the couch behind you reflects and absorbs certain frequencies. And so when the sound comes back to hit you after bouncing around the walls in your room, it changes. So it actually sounds different, the frequencies are actually different. And so what ends up happening is you hear this reflected sound and you think “oh wow, there’s too much low end” right? So I must have to cut the low end in my mixes. But really you’re not actually hearing what’s actually going on in your mixes, you’re being influenced by the sound in your room. And so this can cause you to make bad mixing decisions.

What acoustic panels and acoustic treatment are about is about minimizing the negative impact that your room has on the sound so that you can hear a more accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes, and this is going to help you make better mixing decisions. Your records are going to sound better, they’re going to translate better, meaning they’re going to sound better on different speakers outside your studio.

And so again going back to this idea of acoustic panels, basically what acoustic panels do, you put them in certain areas of your room and they actually absorb the sound as it bounces off the walls in your room. And so instead of having all that sound come back to you and hit you, suddenly there’s less reflections bouncing around your room, and so you end up hearing more of the direct sound. From a ratio perspective, you hear less of the reflected sound and more of the direct sound from your speakers, and that’s a more accurate representation of what’s really going on in your mixes because the room hasn’t colored the sound itself. So if you can set these acoustic panels up in the right places in your room, you’re going to minimize the negative impact of the room on the sound of your speakers, and that’s going to help you again to make better mixing decisions.

So the next question – do you really need acoustic treatment and acoustic panels? Well I think the answer is yes, because it’s really impossible to make the right mixing decisions, the right production or recording decisions too, if you can’t hear what’s really going on in your tracks. So if your room is coloring the sound in some way, there’s really no way to tell whether or not that’s actually what’s really going on in your mixes, or what’s just being caused by the room itself. So you end up being led in the wrong direction while you’re mixing or while you’re recording, you make bad decisions that cause your mix to kind of fall apart in the car or on other speakers outside your studio. It’s just so much hassle and frustration to have an untreated room that’s not giving you a good representation of what’s really going on in your tracks.

So if you can spend some money on acoustic treatment, I know people don’t like to do this and you know the panels are not very attractive, you know, maybe you have a wife or a girlfriend, you know, who doesn’t necessarily like the way they look, or boyfriend or whatever, but if you can get over that hurdle and just invest some money into acoustic panels and acoustic treatment, I promise you mixing is going to become a whole lot easier. Your tracks are going to sound better, and obviously that’s what we all want for our music.

Okay so you’re ready to plunge into getting some acoustic panels, so where do you start? Well the biggest problems in the acoustics of most rooms are in the low end, meaning everything below, you know, three hundred hertz let’s say, two hundred hertz, all the low frequencies, that’s typically where the biggest problems in your room exist. And so what you need to do first is buy acoustic panels that address those specific problems. And those panels will actually absorb those low frequencies and that will make the biggest impact right away on the sound of your studio and your room.

So what you need to buy are bass traps, and these are big acoustic panels, you can actually see them behind me. They’re typically two feet by four feet, and you stick them in the corners of your room and you start by treating the corners behind your speakers, so in the front of the room – no pun intended – and then you move to the back corners of the room. And you can stack them as I’ve done in the back, if you can see that, so I have you know, most rooms have eight-foot ceilings, so you can stack two four-foot panels and go from the floor to the ceiling, and then cover that entire corner of the room. You can also just put one in the corner to start.

Now if you have a door or something like that like I do, you can get these panels on stands so they can be moved, and again if you’re in an apartment or something like that and you may not be able to mount anything, that’s a good solution as well.

Another thing you might run into is how thick should these panels be. Typically the thicker the better, so I would say go for as thick as you possibly can. I think my panels are eight inches, but you know, six inches, even four inches is going to be better than two inches. So the thicker you go, the more of that low end is going to be absorbed. So start with bass traps, and that’s really the most important step. So if you can get those bass traps in your corners, you’re going to be well on your way to improving the sound of the acoustics in your room.

Now there’s a couple things you really want to watch out for when you’re investing in acoustic panels. The first is you really want to avoid cheap foam acoustic treatment. There are lots of products out there that are made of this kind of thin lightweight foam, some that are even called bass traps, and a lot of these companies sell these products. You’ll find them everywhere online, they tend to be the cheapest, and the problem with these – anything that’s built out of foam or any material that’s relatively thin and lightweight is that they really don’t do a very good job at absorbing low end. So what ends up happening is a lot of the times if you have a room that’s covered in foam, the high end and the midrange will get absorbed, so that will sound really dead, but you’ll still have all sorts of low end problems. And this can lead to a room that sounds very unbalanced and unnatural, just not a good sound.

So instead, you gotta invest in proper bass traps. Typically they’re made of fiberglass or rockwool, which is thick, heavy insulation material that’s typically in the walls of houses, and this is going to be the type of material that’s going to really absorb those low end frequencies and give you the most bang for your buck.

The second thing you want to avoid is all sorts of what I call “poor man’s” acoustic treatment. So egg crates, all sorts of DIY, you know, kind of “hey we’ll just throw a mattress on the wall” type of acoustic treatment. Egg crates do absolutely nothing, so there’s no impact with egg crates. It’s just an acoustic myth that gets passed around. You know, all sorts of DIY stuff that’s not really designed to be used as acoustic treatment, again usually does a pretty good job of absorbing high end and even some midrange, but won’t really be that effective at low frequencies. And so you can end up with the same problem as you get with cheap foam treatment where you end up having the high end in your room that just sounds really dead and unnatural, and you still have all those low end problems.

So I would say avoid these types of you know “poor man’s” acoustic treatment, and you know, you can either build your own panels if you’re tight on cash and you can actually buy the materials, you can buy the fiberglass, rockwool. And again I included a link in the PDF that I created in the description below or up there in the video, and that’ll give you a guide to actually doing this. So I’d go through those steps. You can buy the materials pretty cheaply at, you know, Home Depot or a hardware store, and that’ll get you started, but there are lots of great companies out there that will also sell proper acoustic treatment. But avoid these DIY kind of cheap, you know, egg crate type solutions because usually they are either completely ineffective or really don’t do that good of a job.

The last thing you want to avoid is forgetting about speaker and sweet spot placement. Now this is the fundamental, most important place to start when you’re trying to improve the sound of your room. Acoustic treatment makes a big impact, and these panels can certainly help, but you really want to start by making sure that you’ve found the perfect spot for your studio monitors and your sweet spot in your room. And oftentimes I’ve found this can make a bigger impact than acoustic treatment itself. So if you haven’t done this yet, I actually put out a video where I describe some steps to actually go through to make this happen. So if you want to check that out, I put link to that in the description below or there should be a link up there in the video.

Now if you want to dive deeper, again I put together that free PDF with links to my favorite acoustic treatment resources, including, again, that guide to build your own acoustic panels. So if you want to learn how to build your own affordable, high-quality acoustic panels, click the link in the description below or up there in the video, to download this free PDF right now.

Now before you go, I’d love for you to leave a comment below this video and let me know – do you currently have any acoustic treatment in your home studio? I love to hear from you, again I read every comment, so please leave your answer in the comments section below.

Thanks so much for watching. You can check out more mixing tips right here on my YouTube channel, or at