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What Are Acoustic Treatments and Why Do You Need Them?

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What Are Room Acoustics?

Simply put, room acoustics describes how sound behaves within a space. Think of how your speech would sound in an empty room with bare walls and tile floors versus a carpeted room with plush furniture and heavy window drapes: piercingly echoey in the first and soft and quiet in the second.

Because the sound that comes from your speakers is a mixture of direct and reflected sound, the surfaces and objects that make up the theater or listening room in your Salt Lake City, UT home can significantly impact how you hear sound in the room—no matter how great your speakers are. If uncontrolled, reflected sound can distort your audio experience.

Problems Caused by Untreated Rooms

If your room hasn’t been designed with sound in mind, perhaps you’ve experienced these problems:

  • Harsh high frequencies
  • Muddy bass
  • Collapsed soundstage
  • Poor speech intelligibility
  • Imbalanced sound

Even if you can’t put your finger on any outstanding sound issues in your home theater or listening room, you may be settling for an otherwise lackluster auditory experience that could be immensely improved with an acoustic treatment installation.

SEE MORE: How Can You Optimize Your Home Theater Audio?

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3 Acoustic Treatment Solutions to Improve Audio Performance

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Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are thin, discreet wall panels typically made of foam or wool that are used to absorb sound. Because soundwaves easily bounce off hard surfaces, which can cause unwanted reverberation, acoustic panels help reduce the number of rebounding waves and dampen unwanted echoes.

Acoustic panels can range in density to absorb more sound or less sound, depending on your unique needs. It’s important to find a balance as too much absorbed sound can create a dead space.

Acoustic panels can also blend with your room décor or look like artwork on your walls. While they may be in full view, you and your guests won’t even notice them as acoustic treatments.

Diffuser Panels

Like we mentioned earlier, absorbing too much sound creates an eerily quiet space, which can be just as bad as having too many echoes. Diffuser panels help reduce soundwaves from causing piercing echoes without fully absorbing sound so that you still experience an open and natural soundstage.

Diffuser panels are typically made of wood and are three-dimensional, with pieces that stick out at varying lengths. When soundwaves hit these panels, they disperse and return to your ears at different intervals so that you’re not “slapped” with sound all at once. The result is a better sense of spaciousness in your home theater or listening room.

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How to Use Acoustic Treatments to Maximize Sound Quality

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Acoustic Panel Placement

The first element in acoustic treatment is taming reflections. The goal is to subdue reflections, absorbing just enough reverberation so that the sound is natural and presents precisely what the artist and sound engineer intended. Acoustic panels come in different noise reduction ratings, called NRC (Noise Reduction Coefficient). A panel with an NRC rating of .50 means that it absorbs 50% of the sound waves that hit it and reflects the other 50% back into the room.

Acoustic panels should be used at the reflection points of your speakers. For front stage speakers, depending on how they’re aimed, these points could be on parts of the back and side walls. In non-rectangular rooms, other walls may be reflection points, too. Some reflectivity will depend on the types of speakers in your theater, as some are more directional than others.

With a full Dolby Atmos surround system, you have many sets of speakers that are reflecting sound. However, acoustic panels and other treatments are just one part of the sound equation. The seating, flooring, wall coverings, and other furnishings also serve to absorb sound. A professional home theater designer (like Show & Tell AV) understands how furnishings, décor, speakers, and material choices will affect the sound and can recommend the right acoustic treatment strategy for the space.

While there’s no one way to treat a room – each will be different – you can count on some general principles. Side walls in a surround setup will see the most sound reflectivity, so panels with higher NRC ratings may be used for them. Alternatively, décor such as curtains or other soft wall coverings can serve as part of the treatment. In back walls, diffuser panels help disperse sound waves as opposed to deadening them. You want your movie soundtracks and music to be dynamic, so you don’t want too much muffling that takes away the liveliness.

Additionally, front walls can usually benefit from acoustic treatment on either side of the screen. If you have an acoustically transparent screen with front stage speakers behind it, panels on the front wall can also help with those reflection points from the rear, side surround, and potentially ceiling speakers.

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