14 Examples of Best Sound Absorbing Materials (for Better Acoustics)
“Are you troubled by strange noises in the middle of the night?” These words mark the beginning of the iconic commercial from the 1984 Ghostbusters film.
Fortunately, you don’t have to call paranormal investigators if you wish to reduce unwanted echo or reverberations in a room. Instead, a more practical solution would be to check out this list of 14 examples of best sound absorbing materials.
What Is a Sound Absorbing Material
Before getting into any detail, you should first understand what sound absorbing materials are and how they work.
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.
3 Different 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.
List of 14 Best Sound Absorbing Materials (Currently on the Market)
Are you asking yourself, what are the actual products you need to buy to put all this theory into practice? With that in mind, here is our list of 14 examples of sound absorbing materials and products. All of these are available to you on Amazon.
1. Acoustic Foam
Acoustic foam is undoubtedly the most widely known and used sound absorbing material. What makes it such a popular choice is the fact that it is super affordable and easy to install. You usually find it in the form of panels with different pattern shaping their surface (like pyramids or wedges). The pattern doesn’t really affect the performance, so you can pick the one that looks more aesthetic to you.
Acoustic foam doesn’t offer the highest level of echo reduction, which is why it is best suited for small to medium-sized places. You can easily apply it to a variety of locations, from homes to offices and small studios. What makes it practical is that you can use it to spot-reduce sound. All you need to know is where exactly to place it for maximum effect.
If you need more info about where to place acoustic foam, best ways to apply it, or any other question regarding the material and its use, then read this article – Soundproof/Acoustic Foam – A Guide to Better Acoustics.
Alternatively, if you’ve got this part covered already, you can head out to Amazon and check these Acoustic Foam Panels by Mybecca. They are made in USA and come uncompressed, meaning, you can start using them straight away. Each panel covers one square foot and is one inch thick, which means that a 12-pack of panels will cover a decent amount of wall or other surface. You can arrange them in an alternating pattern of horizontal and vertical wedges, and they will end up looking really nice.
2. Acoustic Fabric Panels
Acoustic fabric panels consist of a built-in solid wood frame that is wrapped in fabric with sound absorbing properties. They are an excellent solution for all types of rooms, private or public. And not only are they effective, but they are also easy on the eye. In fact, the good looking texture of the cover fabric makes them suitable for all kinds of interiors.
Acoustic Panels from ATS Acoustics have an NRC rating (Noise Reduction Coefficient) of 1 (out of 1) which guarantees a superior sound absorption and makes them count among the best in our list of best sound absorbing materials. The fabric used for these panels is jute, however, if you prefer a more elegant look, you can pick those that are wrapped in microsuede (click the link and see how they look).
They are really easy to mount to walls, basically no harder than hanging a framed painting. And to make things even easier, they come with all the necessary hardware and instructions for installation.
3. Sound Deadening Curtains
Even though they are often called “soundproof”, these curtains don’t block as much sound as they do absorb it. Besides their acoustical abilities, they can also block the sunlight or act as thermal insulation. These features make them well-suited for bedroom windows, where you require a particular level of calm and quiet.
There are a few things you need to consider before buying your first pair. First, you need to check their weight. While heavier curtains are a pain when attempting to hang them by yourself, they actually prove to be much better at absorbing sounds then light-weight versions. Additionally, you have to take a look at the material that curtains are made out of. Your best bet is to go for something that is tightly woven and has a soft and plushy surface, like suede or velvet.
For maximum results, you should get curtains that go from ceiling to floor and are at least a few inches wider than your window (or door, if you intend to use them for the door). Nicetown Blackout Curtains, for example, are available in different sizes, including a more extended, 96-inch version. They come in a variety of colors that makes them easy to match your furniture and other decors.
If you are not yet convinced about sound deadening curtains, or you need more information to decide if they are the right fit for you, then continue to this article – Soundproof Curtains: An Advertising Trick, Or They Actually Work?
4. Heavy Moving Blankets
You normally use heavy moving blankets to protect your walls and furniture from physical damage when you are moving house. Still, people quickly found out that you can also use these blankets as a cheap solution for sound absorption.
Like with other similar applications, you can’t expect them to absorb all of the noise; however, they can muffle it to a more manageable level. To get the best results, try these heavy US Cargo Moving Blankets that weight eight pounds each thanks to multiple layers that are stitched within the product (these additional layers enable them to absorb more sound).
You can hang these heavy blankets everywhere you want, be it over windows, doors, or walls. They may not be the most professional solution for echo reduction, but they make up for that cost-wise.
5. Sound Absorbing Underlayment
Underlayments are designed to provide you with top quality sound absorption while remaining out of sight. You can install this layer of fabric over a wooden or concrete subfloor, and under a wide array of floor finishes. This product can greatly reduce impact noise, such as the sound of footsteps or falling objects.
Roberts’ Sound Absorbing Underlayment boasts a Sound Transmission Loss Test score of 66, as well as an Impact Sound Transmission Test rating of 67. It is made of felt. Apart from reducing impact sound levels, this product makes the overall sound in the room softer and reduces echo through absorption.
You can learn more about how to soundproof the floor, here.
6. Acoustic Bass Traps
Bass traps or bass absorbers are popular and sought-after sound absorption products. In contrast to all those large panels and boards we mentioned so far, bass traps are small and portable objects. Another major point is that you can use bass traps to absorb low sound frequencies, which many other absorbers allow through.
This product is made of acoustic foam. You typically place bass traps in the corners of a room, but they are also effective if you install them on flat walls.
7. Rigid Fiberglass Insulation
Acoustic fiberglass is a popular choice of sound absorbent material for DIY installation. It is rigid, weighs little, and you can cut it into the appropriate shape or size with everyday tools. Fiberglass is a porous absorber. You can find these panels in various sizes: 1, 2, or 4 inches thick, in this example product.
You can install acoustic fiberglass panels on walls or ceilings. That shouldn’t be too difficult, given the fact that you can manually alter their shape. We advise you to have the entire wall covered with the panels. Likewise, some users like to wrap the panels with fabric, such as burlap, for a greater effect. Recommended product: Owens Corning Acoustic Insulation (see on Amazon).
8. Acoustic Polyester Panels
AcePunch polyester sound absorbing panels boast an NRC as high as 0.94. You can use them in studios, home theatres, offices, gaming rooms, and other locations. You can obtain these panels in a variety of colors (view the palette on Amazon), which makes them easier to fit into your home decor.
Since they are made of polyester, these panels also serve as great temperature insulation. As an added benefit, that feature makes it possible to save as much as 35% of energy by using these panels. Besides, they are fire rated, chemically safe, and odor and dust-free.
9. PVC Drop-Ceiling Tiles
Acoustic panels are easy to install on walls but are not always the perfect solution for your ceiling. That is why you can choose sound absorbing ceiling tiles as an alternative. These Ceiling Tiles by Genesis tiles are perfect for kitchen ceilings, basements, laundry rooms, bathrooms or any other locations where you would find tiles appropriate
Sound absorbing ceiling tiles are made of PVC. They are easily washable, fire rated, mildew and mold-resistant, and easy to install. Keep in mind, however, that these tiles are somewhat less absorbent than thick fiberglass panels.
10. Sound Dampening Partitions
Wall and ceiling panels can be practical, but they certainly do not meet all your needs. If you want to reduce echo and dampen sound in a certain section of a larger space, room partitions are the best choice for you.
These partition curtains are made of 100% heavyweight polyester. What makes them especially useful is the fact that they block light as well as absorb sound. Thanks to these features, they provide a simple way to create privacy. You can apply them to this effect in shared bedrooms, dorms, lofts, or workspaces. The curtains are black, simple and sleek, which makes them easy to match with any interior.
11. Acoustic Quilted Panels
This product combines two from our list of examples of sound absorbing materials: fiberglass and absorbent fabric. The fiberglass panel is wrapped in a quilt, which is thicker and more effective than other single layer fabrics. This quilt also helps keep all the tiny fragments of fiberglass on the inside.
While this product might be somewhat cumbersome, once in position, it covers a large portion of the wall. Although it is not soundproof, it is, in fact, highly absorbent and makes a great difference when it comes to echo reduction.
12. Acoustic Cotton Batts
Another one of our examples of materials for acoustic absorption is acoustic cotton. These acoustic cotton batts are porous absorbents made of natural cotton fibers. The fact that they are cotton makes them microbe-free, as well as friendly to human skin in case of contact.
Cotton batts are a green alternative to synthetic acoustic isolation materials such as mineral wool and fiberglass. You install them in a way similar to other acoustic panels. What is also interesting is the fact that they are often made of recycled cotton. However, what they lack is the fire rating which some other products have.
13. Acoustic Mineral Wool
Mineral wool can serve as both a soundproofing and sound absorbing material. Besides that, it is highly fire resistant, as well as water-repellent. What’s more, this particular product claims to have a very high NRC rating. It also serves as a thermal insulator.
Acoustic mineral wool comes in the form of large, rigid boards. You can use these boards of raw material to make your own acoustic panels by dressing them up in a fabric.
14. Acoustic Caulk/Sealant
In order to properly gain control over noise and echo levels in your home, it isn’t enough to simply install boards and panels. You will also need to seal all the seams between the panels with the proper acoustic sealant. Among our examples of sound absorbing materials, caulk seemingly stands out from others but is just as important.
Significant amounts of sound can easily leak through very small gaps. That makes sealing these cracks crucial for the success of any soundproofing. You should generously apply acoustic caulk onto any visible seam, ledge or crack on the surface you are working on.
Here, you can learn more about how acoustic sealants work.
Have You Found Your Pick?
We 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 materials, as well as how they work. Today’s acoustic market is rich with options, and we are certain you will soon find something which will meet your every need.