Best Sound Absorbing Materials (14 Examples of Acoustic Materials)
If you’re reading this, you probably spend a lot of time making sure that your home is completely soundproof. I get it — we don’t want our neighbors hearing our business, and we sure don’t want to hear theirs. However, not many people consider the interior sound quality of their homes when making these types of decisions. That’s why I’ve decided to present you with my list of 14 examples of the best sound absorbing materials for home or studio use.
As you may already know, sound waves travel in all directions. When they come across obstacles, they either bounce off them, creating echoes, or they continue vibrating inside the surrounding structures, as impact noise. If you use the right sound absorbing materials, you can significantly lessen these kinds of reverberations.
In order to have the best results, you first need to know what all of these materials can do. But before we get to my list, let’s learn some basics about sound absorbing materials.
You may have heard the term “sound absorption” as well as “soundproofing” before and assumed them to mean the same. However, these are, in fact, different strategies for fighting unwanted noise.
Soundproofing materials (link to more info) should be used when your goal is to stop sound from entering or leaving a particular room (for example, blocking the music from next-door neighbors). Sound absorbing materials, on the other hand, are not meant to stop sound from coming in or out, but to improve the acoustics of a room. More specifically, they are intended to reduce echoing and reverberation of sound already present in the area (for example the sound of music produced within your home studio).
While soundproofing materials are usually dense and quite heavy, sound absorbing materials (also known as sound absorbers or sound diffusors) tend to be light, soft, porous, and/or fluffy. This type of structure enables them to absorb a portion of the sonic energy of the sound wave rather than reflect it back where it arrived. What happens is a reduction in the reverberation time in your space. A shorter reverberation time results in decreased noise and echo, along with clear and audible indoor sound.
In practice, if you are looking for overall sound isolation, you will need to employ both soundproofing and sound absorbing materials. These two complement and improve each other’s functioning. Still, if you are bothered explicitly by echo and reverberations, your only option is to use sound absorbers.
Types of Sound Absorbing Materials (With Examples)
Sound absorbing materials employ their acoustic features, rather than their mass, to absorb echo within a space. Scientifically speaking, there are three main types of sound absorbers:
Porous absorbers, as the name suggests, consist of porous materials. Their sound-absorbing effect comes from the fact that the sound waves can penetrate the surface of the material and flow into the cellular or fibrous structure, where they are dampened and converted into heat (the amount of heat is minimal – less than one millionth of a watt). In other words, porous sound absorbing materials convert the energy of sound into heat energy, which means that only a small part of sound energy is reflected back into the room.
Porous absorbers are most effective when dealing with mid-range frequencies.
Typical examples are different textiles, carpets, curtains, open-cell foams, mineral wool insulation, glass fiber, etc. As you’ll see, most of our examples of sound absorbing materials also belong to this type.
Membrane (panel) absorbers
Membrane absorbers are non-porous and non-rigid materials that are most effective in the bass frequency range but not with higher frequencies. Because of their solid appearance – they don’t look and feel like as though they could absorb sound – they are often overlooked.
Regardless, they are a standard feature in our day-to-day life. For example, common building elements like windows, doors, floors all function as panel absorbers, as well as tables, chairs, closets and other furniture.
Resonance absorbers consist of an acoustical oscillation system, where there is a solid plate on the front end with tight air space behind it. These plates include perforated materials (for example perforated plasterboard or metal) and materials that have holes or other openings. These holes act as the bottleneck that traps the sound and locks it into the space located in-behind the material. If you want to know more about how resonance and membrane absorbers work, then read the article in the link.
Household Items as Sound Absorbers
Now that we’ve gotten to my lists of sound absorbing materials, I should begin by explaining that these first few materials are really household items. Basically, I wanted to start with the things you already have access to.
1. Soft Furniture: Sofas and Cushions
First and foremost, let’s talk about the results you can get simply by choosing the right pieces of furniture. If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you’ll know that I often recommend moving your furniture as the first step in my soundproofing guides.
Depending on the problem you’re trying to solve, a strategically placed sofa can really impact the noise levels in a room. Best of all, you’d be able to achieve decent results using the things you already have — which is why this is also the cheapest soundproofing method I’ve tried.
Now, I should specify that not all furniture will be able to absorb sounds. For example, you’d think that big cushiony sofas would be excellent sound absorbers. Well, you’d be right: the foam interior of those types of furniture would be ideal for this kind of job.
However, you should keep the material of the cover in mind. Leather covers are obviously more reflective than fabric ones — so if you have a leather sofa, smothering it in cushions and blankets will increase its absorbing potential.
2. Thick, Fluffy Carpets
While sofas and furniture are obstacles the sound hits while traveling through the room, you’ll also need materials you can use on your walls, floors, and even ceilings. Believe it or not, you can use carpets for all of those surfaces — but let’s start with the basics.
Of course, having thick carpets on the floor can significantly reduce the amount of noise our footsteps make. If you have downstairs neighbors, having a carpet would lessen the vibrations you’re passing down to them. Furthermore, wall-to-wall carpeting also does wonders for office spaces where everyone’s shoes are making clicking and tapping sounds.
But really, if you don’t have a thick carpet, you can always get a memory foam carpet underlay. It’s basically a half-inch thick cloud you would slide under your carpet — and an all-around fantastic investment if you ask me.
I also said that you could use carpets on walls and ceilings. It may sound a bit crazy, but it’s a really effective sound absorbing solution — not to mention a quirky design choice. And hey, you can always call it a tapestry or even just get one of those instead.
3. Paintings or Tapestries
If you want to eliminate reverberations, you need to take as many hard surfaces as you can out of the equation. If you have completely bare walls, sound waves will easily bounce off and become louder. That’s where canvas paintings and tapestries come in.
Anything that can cover the vast open space on your walls is going to be your friend. Obviously, you probably won’t find a painting that’s large enough to cover your whole wall. But really, as long as you find one that can cover a large section in the middle of it, you’d be able to hear the difference.
However, tapestries might be an even better solution. After all, they often come in large dimensions that are upwards of 90 by 90 inches. Again, it would be ideal if the tapestry you end up going for could add some weight to your walls so that it might also act as a soundproof barrier. But really, you can also just attach other soundproof materials to your wall and cover them with a tapestry for esthetic and absorbing purposes.
Additionally, you can basically use tapestries as an accent wall. The cotton ones on Amazon are super cheap, so you can switch them out whenever you feel like it.
4. Sound Absorbing Egg Cartons
Out of the many soundproof myths I’ve busted over the years, the fact that people think that using egg cartons is a good soundproofing method is one of the weirder ones. Still, as I’ve explained in my article on the subject, even though egg cartons can’t block noises from entering or exiting your room, they may be able to stop sounds from echoing.
After all, egg cartons are often made of paper fibers, which are famously great at sound absorption. So could this soundproofing myth be hiding a grain of truth? Well, why not? If a thin cotton tapestry can help you soften your walls, so can egg cartons.
Now, the one thing to note here is that the crates probably won’t do much on their own — just like the tapestry. Instead, you’ll want to fill the crates or combine them with more effective techniques, as I explained in the article I’ve linked to.
Still, it’s certainly not the most attractive solution, so you can either try another one or conceal the egg crates once you have them on your walls. These next items on my list could be perfect for both of those tasks.
5. Regular Curtains and Blankets
In addition to my furniture tip, this is another one that I like recommending to people who ask me for cheap solutions. If you happen to have old blankets and curtains lying around, you can use those on your walls, windows, doors, and even ceilings.
As you can imagine, the thicker the blanket or curtain, the better. So you really won’t get great results if you break out your mother’s old flimsy curtains. Still, if you get ones that are a bit more substantial, they should soften up the surfaces that would otherwise cause sound waves to bounce. In fact, if you’re wondering how you would use blankets around your home, I’ve written a guide that can be used both for regular and soundproof ones.
The Best Sound Absorbing Materials and Products
Now, we’re going to cross into the category of professional acoustic products. Naturally, these things are also going to be more effective than the household items. I’ll explain exactly what you can expect out of each of these, so you’ll be able to reach an informed decision about your soundproofing solutions.
1. Acoustic Window Film
I thought that we should start with windows. After all, glass is incredibly conducive and reflective when it comes to sound, so it can easily cause echoing or vibrate upon impact. Still, until recently, I couldn’t even let myself consider vinyl film as a viable option for window soundproofing. However, I now realize that the right one could make all the difference.
The single-pane windows I had in my childhood bedroom would shake so much every time a car would drive past that I was convinced the glass would shatter. Maybe the windows wouldn’t have been as fragile if there had been a plastic sound dampening film holding them together.
Granted, the layer of vinyl is incredibly thin most of the time. The exact features differ across different brands and products — you can check out some of my recommendations in the article I’ve linked to. And yet, despite the relative thinness of these types of products, the plastic will definitely soften the glass panes on the windows.
Due to the properties of vinyl, the film will certainly absorb some of the impact sound waves have on the glass. However, you can certainly improve its performance by pairing it with soundproof curtains.
2. Sound Absorbing Curtains
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Soundproof curtains are without a doubt some of the most attractive soundproofing solutions on the market. They’re basically the same as regular curtains, except thicker and denser. In fact, they’re so dense that many of them are blackout curtains as well. Because of the tight weave, they’re also somewhat effective at noise blocking.
However, their sound absorbency is more important for the purposes of today’s article. Actually, you could count on soundproof curtains to be even better for this task than tapestries. All they need to do in order to absorb the sound is to prevent it from hitting a wall or a window.
However, in addition to being a soft and loose obstacle for the sound, they’re thick enough to block some frequencies as well. Just remember to have the curtains pooling on the floor a bit if you want optimal results, at least if you want to block noise and light as well.
But really, the best thing about these things is that you can actually use them on walls as well as windows. I’ve even used them to cover less attractive wall soundproofing solutions. If you’d like to see my favorite ones, they’re all in the article I’ve linked to above (or see them on Amazon).
3. Sound Absorbing Room Divider Curtains
As great as soundproof curtains are, most of them have a pretty major flaw. They’re mostly made of materials that are differently colored on the front and the back. In fact, some soundproof curtains have completely different materials on the front and the back. They typically utilize triple weave technology — so there are three layers of fabric there — but the back layer is a different color from the front one.
Well, that’s a problem soundproof room divider curtains aim to solve. Since regular soundproof curtains are designed to go on your windows, there’s no need for them to be symmetrical. After all, only one side would be facing the room. And who cares what the people outside see when they look in — they shouldn’t be snooping anyway.
On the other hand, room divider curtains were made to hang in the middle of the room. In that case, you really want both sides of the material to match. As far as I can tell, room divider curtains are actually only two layers of fabric sewn together back to back. So that’s why the same color is on both sides.
In some of my previous guides, I also suggested that you open up your room dividers and attach MLV inside. That would definitely up their soundproofing capabilities.
4. Sound Blankets and Moving Blankets
Of course, sound blankets are probably the most effective of these kinds of fabric soundproofing tools. These heavy and thick blankets were originally made for moving furniture from one place to the other. After all, they provide just enough padding to soften the blow of any collisions, and they’re dense enough to withstand the weight.
Now, we’ve come a long way since these types of products were used exclusively for moving heavy furniture. However, even when only moving blankets were available for purchase, musicians and audiophiles of all kinds were also using them to line their walls. So, manufacturers were quick to figure out that a majority of their customers were using their products for soundproofing. Once they understood that, they rebranded their products as soundproof blankets.
Additionally, they also changed some design aspects to allow people to hang soundproof blankets on walls easily. Many blankets come with grommets along the sides, although I personally like to pin them on. And, you can also use them in combination with MLV, just like curtains. Once again, you can see my favorite soundproof blankets in the link above.
5. Acoustic Partitions
Out of all the acoustic products I’ve reviewed, acoustic partitions are probably my favorite. They may not offer much in terms of noise blocking, but they’re great for sound absorption. In fact, these things would basically give you a similar effect to the one you’d have by using soft furniture. But let’s start at the beginning: what are acoustic partitions anyway?
If you’ve ever been inside a corporate office space, you’ve probably seen a partition of some sort. They’re very useful for separating rooms or cubicles. However, some are certainly better at absorbing noise than others. In fact, that’s essentially their primary soundproofing purpose. After all, anything that doesn’t completely close off parts of the room can’t really block sounds.
I’ve reviewed several great products in my article on this subject. However, if you want to find one without referring to those on my list, you should just look for fabric and foam partitions. Most of the ones I reviewed are polyester or cotton, so they should be able to stop sound waves from continuing to bounce around the room.
6. Acoustic Foam Panels
If you ever need to know anything about acoustic foam panels, I’ve got you. I’ve written about what they are and how you can use them. I even have an article dedicated to Mybecca acoustic foam products since that’s the most popular acoustic foam brand.
Acoustic foam panels are a perfect example of porous absorbers. The sound waves travel outwards from their source in all directions. Having foam panels on your walls or even on the ceiling will prevent the sounds from hitting the hard surface and trap them inside the foam instead.
You’ll also notice that they come in different thicknesses and foam patterns. So you’ll find ones that have egg carton shapes, waves, maze shapes, and many others. As far as I can tell, the various shapes don’t affect the products’ absorbency — but their thickness does.
Now, there are different ways to go about attaching these things to your walls. You can use a spray adhesive if you don’t mind getting it on your walls. However, if you want to be able to easily remove and rearrange the panels, I suggest using simple straight pins.
7. Acoustic Bass Traps
Acoustic bass traps are usually made of the same material as acoustic foam panels. However, they’re designed to go into the corners of the room, between two walls and the walls and the ceiling. Bass traps have two flat sides at a 90-degree angle that fit into the corners of the room, and one side that faces the room. That side can either be flat or have a spiky or stair-shaped texture.
The sizes of these types of products are usually compatible with the sizes of foam panels. After all, they’re meant to be used in tandem. So you’ll often see 12 by 12-inch bass traps or 24 by 12-inch ones. They also come in all sorts of colors, but you’re most likely to find charcoal gray ones. If you’d like to know more about the placement and installation of bass traps, you can read about it in the article I’ve linked to.
8. Sound Absorbing Fabric Panels
Sure, acoustic foam panels are pretty great — but acoustic fabric panels are definitely the more attractive option. Unlike acoustic foam, fabric panels usually have a solid wood frame. Then, the whole thing is wrapped in fabric such as burlap or microsuede. Both of the products I’ve linked to are 24 inches wide and 36 inches long, and they’re 2 inches thick, which definitely helps them absorb sounds.
Ultimately, using fabric panels is the most attractive way to add insulation to your walls if it’s not already under the drywall. Better still, making your own acoustic fabric panels is also a pretty simple and gratifying DIY project. You’d just need some insulation, a wooden frame, some fabric, a nail gun, and a stapler to do it. You can check out my article on cheap soundproofing methods if you want to learn more.
9. Sound Absorbing Vocal Recording Panels
Lastly, I’d like to take a moment to talk about a product I haven’t yet discussed here. It’s a fairly specialized one, so it’s primarily used by musicians. However, it’s so effective that I just had to mention it.
If you’ve ever had to record your voice, you’re probably familiar with vocal recording sound absorbing panels. They’re basically foam panels that encircle your microphone in order to prevent it from picking up echoes.
This one by Neewer is certainly one of the best vocal recording panels I’ve come across. It has 3 stationary pyramid-pattern foam panels in the middle with 2 foldable ones on each side. That setup allows you to get the purest sound with the least disturbance — although you can also add a blanket on top.
In fact, if you can’t purchase something like this, you can easily make something similar. I know a guy who made foldable free-standing fabric panels and set up a mic between them. When he records music, he steps between the two panels and covers the whole setup with a regular blanket. Sometimes you just have to make do — in fact, isn’t that more impressive than just buying a ready-made product?
I hope you have found the answer to your problem among these examples of sound absorbing materials. If not, at least you have learned what to expect from these treatments, as well as how they work. Today’s acoustic market is rich with options, and I am certain you will find something which will meet your every need.