Does Acoustic Foam Actually Work?
Recording at home is a beautiful thing, or at least, you thought it was. Then you go to listen to the finished product. The way the sound echoes, bounces, and travels has ruined the pristine quality you were going for. Does this mean you’re stuck paying to record in a professional studio? Not necessarily. There’s always acoustic foam.
Does acoustic foam actually work?
Acoustic foam does work, and it can help you achieve the sound quality you want during home recording. Not only does this foam augment a room’s acoustics, but it absorbs sound so it can’t bounce or travel as far. There are several types of acoustic foam, with some having greater sound absorption properties than others.
Now, just because acoustic foam can absorb sound doesn’t mean it’s the same thing as soundproofing. Confused? You won’t be by the time you’re doing reading this article. In it, we’ll explain acoustic foam in more depth, including what it does and doesn’t do, which kind you should get, and how to install it.
What Is Acoustic Foam Anyway? How Does It Work?
If you’re not quite familiar with acoustic foam, that’s okay. We’ll get underway with a definition.
Acoustic foam is favored by musicians and recording professionals for its soundwave-absorbing properties. It’s made of one of several types of foam, including melamine foam or polyester or polyether foam, both of which are types of polyurethane. You can buy several acoustic foam types or just one (more on this in the next section), place the foam panel where you want it, and then listen to the difference in your sound quality.
Okay, so what is that difference? To explain that, let’s share a very brief explanation of the way sound works. When you make a sound with your guitar or bass, it causes vibrations in the air. These vibrations are soundwaves. The soundwaves will move along through the air until they get to your ears. You hear these soundwaves as music.
Of course, music alone does not cause soundwaves. When you open your mouth to speak, your voice produces soundwaves. So too does anything that can make sound, like the hum of your refrigerator or the traffic outside.
When sound is in a room with lots of hard surfaces, including ceilings, floors, and walls, it will bounce and travel further. This can become especially problematic when you sit down to record music, as your sound will have a lot more echo and reverb than you want. Even if you tinker around with your soundboard settings, it’s still hard to eliminate all the reverb from the bouncing soundwaves.
That can put you in the predicament we described in the intro, where your sound just won’t turn out the right way at home. This leaves you thinking the only way you can achieve the desired sound is by paying for time at a professional recording studio. Luckily, that’s not true at all.
If you look at pro recording studios, one thing they have that you don’t at your home studio is acoustic foam. These studios use acoustic foam because it keeps soundwaves from echoing and impacting any recordings. How? Acoustic foam can absorb soundwaves. Now the soundwaves are much shorter. When this process occurs, heat gets released. Another great perk is that acoustic foam betters your acoustics. That’s probably why it’s called acoustic foam, after all.
What Are the Types of Acoustic Foam?
Like we said before, there are several types of acoustic foam for you to choose from. Instead of different materials, acoustic foam is available in a slew of shapes.
Grid foam is organized in a grid pattern or interlocking squares. It’s a more subtle shape compared to some of the acoustic foam options, so if you’re interested in the look and the sound of your recording studio, grid foam may be a good choice.
In a similar vein to grid foam is spade acoustic foam. This looks almost like the spades you’d see in a set of playing cards, except in a more 3D environment. The slightly raised angle of the rows and rows of spades lends them their sound-absorbing capabilities.
Since it’s not a mostly smooth texture like grid acoustic foam, spade foam can enhance your sound quality slightly more. Other acoustic foams with more raised textures are even better than spade foam, though.
If you like the look of spade foam but you’re not completely in love with the sound it provides, some audiophiles favor wave acoustic foam instead. This is more rounded than spade foam, resembling the cresting of ocean waves.
This acoustic foam is cut into 3D pyramids, giving it great sound absorption qualities. The only downside to pyramid foam is it may not absorb as many sound frequencies as some other acoustic foams can. If you use corner block absorbers with your pyramid foam, you can correct this problem easily enough.
Eggcrate foam is an affordable pick and thus a very common sight in many home studios. There’s nothing wrong with eggcrate foam on its own, per se, but it won’t absorb as many sound frequencies as you want (kind of like pyramid foam). By adding acoustic cloth or similar products, you could have superior sound absorption but at a cheaper price.
The most preferred type of acoustic foam is that in a wedge shape. This has a spikier, more pointed end than pyramid acoustic foam, lending its amazing sound-absorbing properties. The bigger the wedges, the better the sound absorption. That said, in larger spaces, wedge foam can’t control sound direction as well as it can in smaller rooms.
Then there’s smooth foam, which has very little if any texturing. This acoustic foam will not absorb sound very well because of that. In some cases, it may even reflect the sound more, pushing it further across the room. You can use some panels of smooth foam, but you definitely don’t want to cover your entire home studio in this type of acoustic foam.
Does Acoustic Foam Soundproof a Room?
Okay, now it’s time to address what is undoubtedly the single biggest misconception about acoustic foam. We’re not sure how this one spread around, but many people think acoustic foam can soundproof.
It probably has to do with the fact that acoustic foam absorbs sound and soundproofing materials well, soundproof. Sound absorption and soundproofing aren’t the same though. By absorbing the sound, acoustic foam chops down the wavelength.
This just means the wavelengths can’t travel around the room as far and muddy up your recorded sound. That’s it. If someone were to stand outside the door of your home studio, they’d still hear you playing the notes and thus producing the wavelengths your acoustic foam would absorb.
Acoustic foam is very useful, but it’s not soundproofed. Just like your friend outside your home studio could hear you play, you can also hear the TV downstairs from a room with acoustic foam. Why? Because it’s not soundproofed.
To soundproof a room in your home or anywhere, you don’t need acoustic foam. Instead, you’d want products like putty pads, acoustical caulk, sound insulation clips, or a mass-loaded vinyl sound barrier. You also can’t insulate a wall when it’s fully built without tearing it down and starting over. It can be a lot of time, work, and expenses, but when you’re done, you can truly say you have a soundproofed room.
Lots of acoustic foam products on the market may claim that they’re soundproof, but don’t believe them. Sound absorption is not the same as soundproofing. You can buy every type of acoustic foam we outlined in the last section and none will soundproof your studio. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the foam. It’s just not made to soundproof.
Where Can You Buy Acoustic Foam?
Okay, so now you know what to expect from your acoustic foam. Where can you get it? Here are some of our top picks for your perusal. Just to reiterate, these won’t soundproof your home studio.
Siless’ Grid Acoustic Foam
Our first pick is an Amazon’s Choice product, this grid acoustic foam from Siless. You get a 12-pack of panels for under $20, with each panel measuring one inch by 12 inches by 12 inches. While grid acoustic foam isn’t the best choice for absorbing sound, this is a good, inexpensive solution you can use for parts of your home studio.
ATS Acoustics’ ATS Wedges Acoustic Foam
Unlike grid foam, wedge acoustic foam is a top choice for professional and home studios alike. This wedge foam from ATS Acoustics includes six-packs of charcoal-colored panels. They measure 24 inches by 24 inches by two inches. You’d pay a little under $8 per panel. With those six panels alone, you can cover 24 square feet of your recording studio. That makes this acoustic foam a smart, economical choice.
Monopiece Microphone Isolation Shield
This pointy wedge-shaped acoustic foam shield from Monopiece is another Amazon’s Choice product. You can get your hands on this large shield for under $100. It includes a metal backplate with venting and wedge acoustic foam in the front. The four panels come attached, but you can move them more inward to improve the acoustics, creating a type of chamber. You even get a threaded mount for a microphone.
Foamily Eggcrate Acoustic Foam
If you’re searching for reliable eggcrate acoustic foam for your home studio, look no further than Foamily’s. You can get a single pack of acoustic foam (for about $40), a two-pack, or even a four-pack. Each panel measures 48 inches by 24 inches by 2.5 inches. These convoluted panels promise better absorption of sound. One of the most fun parts of this acoustic foam? You can select from several hues, including ice blue, bright red, pale burgundy, and charcoal.
Auralex Studiofoam Wedgies Acoustic Foam
We also quite like the Studiofoam Wedgies from Auralex. They sell their wedge acoustic panels in huge packs, either 18 panels or 24 for about $150. Each panel measures two inches by 12 inches by 12 inches. Auralex says these are thicker than your average acoustic foam panels to absorb sound better.
How and Where to Install Acoustic Foam
You’ve got your acoustic foam from one of the links above and you’re ready to get started setting it up. Here’s what you do.
Acoustic foam may come in pre-cut panels or sheets you can slice yourself. You then install these on the ceiling, floor, and walls of your home recording studio. How do you choose which surfaces to place the acoustic foam? It depends on the layout of your studio.
For instance, if you have a sound mixer at a desk, then you should put some acoustic foam on the wall behind the mixer. Depending on the size of your wall and the size of the panel, you could only need a single panel for the job. If you require several, that’s alright, too.
The positioning of the acoustic foam matters as well. If you’re not covering an entire wall with acoustic foam, then you want to place the panels in the middle of the wall. They should be roughly at the same level as your ears, so higher on the wall rather than lower.
Besides just installing the acoustic foam behind your mixer, you also want it on the wall directly across from the studio speakers. This prevents sound from getting to the mixer and interrupting recording quality. Again, one piece of acoustic foam should suffice, but you might need more if you have smaller panels.
Using adhesive spray to stick the acoustic panels on the wall, ceiling, or floor will safeguard your paint or flooring from damage when the time comes for removal. Some acoustic foam panels come with a sticky adhesive side, so don’t use adhesive spray for those.
Here’s a fun tip: if you must cut down your acoustic foam panels for any reason, try an electric carving knife. It produces a clean cut that won’t leave you with jagged edges that may not absorb sound as well.
Acoustic foam can work to absorb sounds in your home recording studio. The sound then can’t bounce as far and interrupt the quality of your recordings. Further, you can also rely on acoustic foam to improve your studio’s acoustics.
What acoustic foam does not do is soundproof your home studio. For that, you’d need to install soundproofing materials in your wall during the building stage. You can always renovate your home studio so it’s soundproofed, but acoustic foam won’t be a part of the process.
With many types of acoustic foam in all shapes and sizes, try playing around with a few different types to figure out which produces the best, clearest sound in your home studio. Good luck and happy recording!