Looking to up your audio quality with some acoustic panels for your home studio? Here is our 2021 guide of what to look out for.
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If you’re setting up a home recording studio on a budget, then you may be searching the Internet high and low to find the best equipment for your control room. You have to think about bass traps, studio monitors, closed-back headphones, open-back headphones, condenser microphones, diffusers, and so on. But, what about the acoustic treatment?
Which acoustic panels do you need to get the most out of your equipment? Perhaps you’re an amateur acoustic guitar musician or a budding voice artist.
Funds for studio improvements are short but recording in your bare kitchen is also not an ideal option if you want to put your best foot forward. So, what can you do?
Acoustic panels, such as acoustic foam panels, rigid fiberglass panels, and absorption panels can be very expensive but there are budget-friendly options that you should consider.
Acoustic Panels for a Home Studio
There are several big names in the acoustic panel industry, and many of them have several options at different price levels. Be sure to check the measurements of any packages you may be looking at to ensure the entire package will cover your needs, or see if you need to purchase multiple packages.
1. Auralex Acoustic Panels
Auralex is a trusted brand name in acoustic panels. Their Designer Series panels are very basic and definitely get the job done for those on a budget. These panels won’t grab your eye or start a new style trend but they will provide high-quality audio.
2. AST Acoustic Panels
ATS Acoustic Panels are another great budget option. The smooth design is perfect for a small home studio setup and provides a clean look as well as a lot of great recording sound.
3. Pro Studio Acoustic Panels
Pro Studio Acoustics is also another brand to consider for budget shoppers. The performance of these panels may not be quite as good as Auralex or ATS but the price is perfect for someone who needs a setup that’s good but not great.
What NOT to do
First, let’s start with what you shouldn’t do. If you search the Internet or talk to friends then you might get some DIY suggestions that aren’t very good. Yes, they may seem like budget-friendly options, to begin with, but they won’t provide the quality you are looking for and will end up costing you more money in the long run when you inevitably upgrade to proper acoustic panels.
First, a lot of amateur recording artists will say to put up sheets of carpet on the walls as an acoustic panel substitute. Carpet is made for walking on—not for recording with. No carpet at your local carpet store has been designed with sound recording quality in mind–so why would you spend money to hang carpet on your walls?
The high frequencies will be absorbed by the carpet while the bass frequencies won’t. The result is a very dull feeling on your recording. Plus, hanging carpet on your walls is just ugly.
A lot of other suggestions may come in the way of putting up cardboard or foam you can find around the house. Some people advocate for fast-food drink containers or egg cartons. However, these solutions provide similar results as hanging carpets on the walls.
The high frequencies are absorbed while the bass frequencies are not. And, of course, your studio will look like the inside of a dumpster if you go this route.
Want to get home studio quality on a budget? Now that you know what not to do, let’s take a look at the other options that will actually work.
Build Your Own Panels
This suggestion might seem contradictory to the above paragraphs. The truth is that you can build your own acoustic panels for your home studio—they just don’t involve any egg cartons or sheets of carpet. This is another great way to build a cheap home recording studio on a budget.
Of course, you will need some carpentry skills and tools. If you have two left hands, then you may want to skip this section. However, if you can follow some instructions and have done some minor carpentry work before then this should be no problem for you.
You will need some basic supplies including wood, glue, fabric, and Owen’s Corning 703 fiberglass. This fiberglass is similar to acoustic foam but it costs a lot less. That will definitely help keep your budget on track.
Building your own panels from there will depend a lot on the area you need to cover. Measure out how many panels and what sizes you need to properly cover your studio. As they say, measure twice and cut once.
Simply put, you will build a wood frame, install the fiberglass, and then wrap it with fabric. These panels won’t look as nice as ones you can buy, and the building will take a lot more time than shopping for panels, but you can definitely save on costs.
Buy Affordable Panels
This is the most expensive option but also the option that will definitely provide the best quality sound once installed. Plus, panels don’t necessarily have to cost an arm and a leg. There is a wide range of acoustic panels on the market that will help you stay within your budget. Here are some considerations when choosing budget-friendly acoustic panels.
First, you may have to avoid stylish panels. Acoustic panels can come in a range of colors with various designs on them from basic 3D cones to something more intricate. While these designs may look nice and provide a small amount of sound quality improvement, they are probably more than you need for a home studio setup. Simple, clean acoustic panels will do the job just fine and help keep your budget low.
Also, you may think that thicker panels are better, but for a home studio setup, the thickness may not play as big of a role as you think. In fact, 2-inch thick panels are most commonly used in professional studios. A lot of people will opt for 4-inch panels which may provide marginally better results but the added cost of the thicker panels may not prove to be worth it at the end of the day.
Don’t allow yourself to be blinded by ratings. NRC numbers are measured between 0 and 1 with 1 being the best. A lot of panels will advertise their high NRC rating, but these ratings are not perfect, and getting the highest rated panels for your home studio is certainly not the best option for sticking to a budget. SRC numbers are more reliable, but similarly, you want to take them with a grain of salt and not allow yourself to be sucked into spending above your budget just because of rating numbers.