Sound panels seem deceptively simple at first, but if you’ve seen our article on how they work, it’s clear there’s more to figure out. When it comes to placement, you may start to wonder where and how to place them. Depending on the goal you’re trying to accomplish, the right answer can vary a lot.
For managing surround systems, acoustic panels should be placed centered at speaker reflection points. For managing sound in from voices (in an office, for example), acoustic panels should be placed at the level sound is being generated at.
There are plenty of details to think through, like what to do if you’re trying to manage sound for music or podcast recordings, or how to think through whether you need acoustic panels on your ceiling. Our article on how effective acoustic panels are makes it clear that there is a serious opportunity to increase the sound quality in your space, but only if you get the placement right.
General Guidelines for Acoustic Panel Placement
Every space is different, and so you should consider the features of your space before locking in an acoustic panel number. You can also feel free to go low, buying fewer panels to see what the effects are before you consider the acoustic treatment “done.”
However, to get the best from your panels, you should consider how the height and placement of the panels impact sound in different situations, described more in-depth below.
When it comes to how high your acoustic panels should be, there are a few things you’ll need to get right based on your purpose for the panels. Placing them too low or too high can reduce the effectiveness of the panels, leading to poorer sound quality in the room.
Large Rooms and Offices
If you’re trying to control sound in a large room where people are standing around talking, or maybe in cubicles–this type of work environment will benefit the most from panels being placed at centered at the level of which sound is being generated. So for a bar with people standing, panels centered around 5-7ft high will do the best, likely mounted horizontally (for rectangular panels).
If it’s a working office, it may benefit from panels being placed lower, 4-5ft off the ground. You want the panels to be centered on where the sound is generated to make sure you’re capturing the most direct, loudest sound waves that will otherwise bounce around the space.
For control of speakers, you’ll likely want to put panels centered on the wall, but if they’re rectangular, they should be mounted vertically. That is to say: a 2ft by 4ft panel should be placed so that it is 4ft high.
If this is centered on an 8ft wall, for instance, you now have the center 4ft of the wall covered. Unique to speakers, there is some more thought around placement at reflection points, and that’s discussed further below.
Lastly, if you’re going for studio quality recordings, spacing requirements are very easy: either put panels exactly where the reflection point is, or cover everything. This means if you’re recording audio or podcasts at a desk, you need to spot treat a few spots in front of you and to the sides (if you’re near walls) to protect the recording quality, like with a panel like the Auralex Acoustics Studiofoam Wedgies (on Amazon).
If it’s a studio, where loud instruments will be played, you’ll need to treat everything: the sounds are simply too loud and powerful for height to matter. The sounds will reflect off any exposed surface. You’re probably going to want to use foam, not panels, and here’s an article with a little more information on what the difference is.
Spacing will also be driven largely by the use case. In the office example above, where we mentioned mounting a 2ft by 4ft panel (like the Acoustimac Sound Acoustic Panel, on Amazon) lengthwise, so that the 4ft side is horizontal, you would benefit from running these end-to-end, with no space in between them. This way you end up with a strip of acoustic paneling around the room, right at the height sound is being produced.
For a home theater, again there’s more detail on how to think about reflection points below, but as far as spacing you will likely want them to be close together. After finding the reflection point, you may need more acoustic panels based on how far the sound has spread out, and since the sound spreads evenly, it will be better to put the panels as close to each other as possible.
For example, picture a front-firing speaker aimed directly at the listener, with sound waves passing them and hitting the back wall of a room. These waves spread out as they travel back. One panel 2ft wide won’t be enough to collect them, but 2 or 3 of them might be enough. But any exposed wall will still reflect the sound off it, so the best recommendation is to have the panels as close as possible, centered on the reflection point.
Lastly, for studio-quality recordings, the same advice as above applies here: spacing will be less important to think about because you are either using a “scalpel” or “sledge-hammer” approach: Put a few panels exactly where you need them, or put them everywhere.
Home theater audio systems have a few unique things to think about when it comes to acoustic panels. The speakers are all firing together, and they’re all aimed at the listener from several different spots. At one extreme, you have only left and right front-firing sound (stereo) which will require acoustic panels on the back wall. But what about larger systems?
Working with Larger Systems
For a good representative example, consider a 7.1 channel system. There are 7 speakers total positioned around the listener in this case, and one subwoofer. The subwoofer requires a bass trap in one of the corners (maybe two for better bass control), but the speakers require extra thought.
You need to think about the sound waves leaving the speaker, and then visualize a straight line to where that sound will reflect off the wall or ceiling after being heard by the listener. These are your reflection points, and where you’ll need acoustic panels the most.
So in this example, in which you have 1 front-firing speaker, two front stereo speakers (left and right), two speakers behind the listener (also left and right), and two speakers side-to-side (left and right), you’re already up to 7 unique sound sources all firing across each other. It’s clear there’s a lot to think about. So much that we have a separate article on how acoustic panels can help out home theaters especially.
How to Approach Any Surround System
In general, you should methodically trace out the reflection points, placing one or a couple of acoustic panels at each spot based on how much you anticipate the waves have spread out by the time they get to the wall. Start with once each, and scale up as needed.
How Many Panels do You Need?
The number of panels you need will vary based on several factors, like the size of the panel itself and the purpose you need acoustic panels to serve for you. We have another article that addresses this question in-depth, but the basics are pretty easy to understand.
For managing sound from surround sound systems, review the section on reflection points above to start getting an idea of the number of panels you need. For managing sound in a larger office or restaurant environment, though, the number of panels will be based on the size and shape of the room. There are a few more details on that below, but, relative to surround speaker systems, it will be fewer.
Then, for studio-quality recording, you’ll want to cover as much of the wall as possible. It’s hard to say the exact number of panels you need, but one handy way to think about it is in terms of wall coverage, not the exact number of panels.
For spot treatment, you may only need a few panels, but from there it’s useful to talk in terms of % coverage. While a noisy office environment may only require 5-10% wall coverage to control the sound, a surround system might need 15-30% (or more) to get good results.
At the other end of the spectrum, music recording with loud instruments can require a studio recording space which is basically 100% covered in panels. But these are really just rules of thumb. Be sure to check out our article on the number of panels you need that goes a little more in-depth if you want some more guidance on this one.
Factoring in Room Size and Shape
Room size and shape can have a huge effect on your acoustic panel placement. For a “normal” rectangular or square-shaped room, spacing can be pretty regular around the perimeter of the space, but there are some cases below which are worth looking at more in-depth.
High ceilings allow sound to spread out a lot as it rises. This can be good in some situations: if the ceiling is high enough and the volume low enough, sound can spread out so much that it dissipates and loses the energy to be reflected down. In an office environment or recording space where you’re only trying to capture low-volume audio, high ceilings can help.
But in a space with surround sound, the volume can be high enough that sounds bounce back down, causing problems. This isn’t unique to high ceilings–all ceilings will be reflective–but a high ceiling can make the problem worse. For this reason, you may choose to install acoustic panels on the ceiling, which we’ll discuss more a little further down in the article.
Some do choose to mount acoustic panels on their ceiling, but as you can see from our guide on the subject, it’s not a trivial operation. There’s also a little more conversation about this option below.
Long and/or Wide Rooms
Long and/or wide rooms have a unique problem: since the room is long/wide/or both, the sound has further to travel, and more time to spread out. This means that, while in a “shorter” room a few panels can capture sound on a given wall, the longer the room is the more spread out that wound will be, requiring more surface area of panels to collect it.
For managing sound in an office environment, for instance, the length and width probably won’t cause you much of a headache, since the goal will still be full-perimeter coverage as described above.
Studio-quality recording is basically the same comment: since your goal is 100% coverage, a long or wide room doesn’t matter too much (other than driving your overall panel cost up).
Surround sound speaker systems are more interested. Based on the discussion around reflection points and sound spreading out as it travels above, it should be clear to you by now that, for a given room, the longer and/or wider the space is, the more panels you’ll need clustered at speaker reflection points.
Special Case: Ceiling Placement
If you’ve decided you need to place acoustic panels on the ceiling, the project can seem pretty daunting at first. However, there are a few good recommendations we can give for how to plan your ceiling panels.
Considering Your Needs
Review our recommendations on reflection points above, and also your overall needs for the space. Are you managing a loud office space or recording studio? That will set the amount of converge you need (a lower or higher % of the ceiling surface area).
Once you know how much of the ceiling you’d like to cover, you have the information you need to purchase panels. Foam panels are lightweight and simple to install with adhesive glue or velcro strips, but if you’re going with full-sized panels, we should talk about the best method.
How to Mount Panels on your Ceiling
The best method for mounting acoustic panels on the ceiling is to drill eyelet screws into the back of the panel frame and then drip matching eyelets into the studs of the ceiling. Then you can use something as simple as zip-ties to attach the eyelets.
This is the best method, since it allows for an air-gap between the acoustic panel and the ceiling, which actually improves the acoustic control of the space. Again, check out our guide on this for more details.
Are the Height and Spacing Actually Important?
There are only a few cases when height and spacing aren’t important. If you’re going for 100% coverage for maximum recording quality, then sure, height and placement can be ignored. But in all other cases, it really is something you should think through as you plan your setup.
In an office environment, too many panels spaced and oriented incorrectly will be a waste of time and money, since you really need to just control sound at a certain vertical level.
Likewise with a home theater system or other surround sound speaker setup: the spacing and height are absolutely important since you have to address specific and unique reflection points. You can’t just put 10 panels up anywhere and expect them to absorb all the sound you want to be removed from the space.
So, take some time to consider your goals while planning your space, and let the direction above about the best height and placement of panels drive your decisions. That’s the best way to get it right the first time around, increasing the audio quality of your space in the most effective and efficient way.
One of the things that can make your placement much simpler is by planning it all out in detail ahead of time. Some choose to physically make their own panels to cut down cost, and to have an ultimately custom setup. But if you choose to do this, you have to make sure you’re picking the right insulation and the right fabrics for your needs (our guides).
And be sure to gut-check your plan with our other articles on when to use acoustic panels, and how big they need to be before you start buying panels or supplies to make them. That will ensure you end up with a setup that matches what you want.