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4 Best Insulation Materials for Acoustic Panels

In Acoustic Panels, Buyer's Guides by Jonah MatthesLeave a Comment

Acoustic panels can do a lot to increase the sound quality of your space. If you understand how they work, and how effective they can be (out guides), then you’ll be happy to learn that making them yourself allows you to design them around your unique requirements while saving a good amount of money. However, one of the first questions DIYers usually have is what kind of insulation they should use in the panels.

The most popular materials used for acoustic panel insulation are:

  • Owens Corning 703 Fiberglass
  • Rockwool Mineral Wool
  • Recycled Denim Insulation
  • Acoustic Foam Panels

Whether you’re using them to control the constant noise of a busy workplace, to increase the quality of sound coming from an expensive surround sound system, or to build out a studio or recording space that will allow you to make high-quality recordings, acoustic panels are a great tool. Selecting the right insulation is critical for getting off to a good start with your setup.

The 4 Most Commonly Used Acoustic Panel Insulation Materials

Although there is no shortage of materials that may seem like it can get the job done, this list is a good source of some common, tried-and-true options that are guaranteed to do the trick:

  • Owens Corning 703 Fiberglass, which comes in at a bit of a higher price point, but is frequently sighted as one of the best performing insulations by people who have used it for their own acoustic panels.
  • Rockwool Mineral Wool, which is still somewhat pricey, but has unique properties when compared to Fiberglass which make it easier to work with.
  • Recycled Denim Insulation, which isn’t quite as good on the sound absorption front as the options above, but is much more eco-friendly.
  • Acoustic Foam Panels, which offer some alternative/unique use cases when compared to insulation options, but can still meet your needs as an acoustic panel filler.

Although the first three options on this list are forms of insulation, we’ve gone ahead and included some discussion around acoustic foam panels since they’re also a tool you can deploy in a slightly different way to address sound absorption. That said, all of these materials are great candidates for DIY acoustic panel filling.

And if you do move forward on making your own acoustic panels with one of the materials on this list, be sure and read through our article on the best options for acoustic panel fabric covers. The fabric covering, which you’ll see all the time, has a huge aesthetic impact on your space, and choosing the right fabric will ensure the insulation you select is able to do its job properly.

Let’s talk a little more about these insulation options, as well as how you might deploy acoustic foam either instead of, or along with insulation options when building the perfect, acoustically controlled setup.

Owens Corning 703 Fiberglass

Owens Corning 703 is a material that many acoustic panel DIYers swear by. This material is specifically designed to be used in making acoustic panels and bass traps, and because you can buy it pretty easily, that makes it perfect for your DIY acoustic panels. The “rigid fiberglass” structure is perfect for letting sounds in, but not out.

Purchasing the Owens Corning 703 material is pretty straight forward as well–it’s available at some specialty home supply stores, as well as on Amazon, and it’s typically already cut into 2ft by 4ft panels, which is likely the biggest size you’ll want to make panels. 

You can even purchase it in different thicknesses, which is handy if you prefer 2in panels to 4in for any reason. This flexibility is nice because, although it’s easy to cut one of these fiberglass panels in half, it’s much harder to cut them down their length. You want to buy them at the right thickness.

Working with the Corning 703 fiberglass can be a little intimidating if you’ve never handled fiberglass material before. It’s soft and spongey, but you really don’t want to be handling it much. The small fibers can get in your hands, so you should definitely use gloves when working with it. And if you do get fiberglass in your hands you can usually it out with a piece of tape.

But stick to the gloves and that won’t be a problem. You’ll want to use a mask and safety glasses as well, since fiberglass dust can get in the air when you’re working with it. Other than that, there’s nothing too complicated going on from a materials perspective: simply cut to size, or put the 2ft by 4ft sheets of it into your frame and you’re good to go with fabric.

Rockwool Mineral Wool 

Rockwool (also known as Rockboard or sometimes Roxul) is another great material for acoustic panels that, like Owens Corning 703, is designed with acoustic panels in mind.

In fact, on the Amazon page for Rockwool 60 it specifically claims a “Very High NRC Rating, better than Owens Corning 703”, but when you actually check the stats on the Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) for both materials here and here, that actually isn’t the case.

But still, one little fib aside, there’s a reason Rockwool is comparing itself to Corning 703 directly in its product listing: both of these products are premium options that will give you great sound absorption, and they’re designed for acoustic panels.

The main difference with Rockwool is that the material is actually created from rocks. It sounds a little strange, but Rockwool is actually created by melting down rocks and then spinning them out of a furnace so that they cool into small strands, almost like cotton candy. Then, all of those strands are compressed and cut to shape.

It sounds a little absurd to melt down rocks and make this Rockwool material out of them, but the Rockwool actually ends up having a lot of interesting properties. For one, it’s not absorbent at all to water, and it has a high thermal insulation value as well. 

Luckily this all means that the material is perfect for acoustic panels. And you also won’t need gloves when handling it (although glasses and a mask are still a good idea if you’re cutting it up, generating dust).

Recycled Denim Insulation

You may be surprised to see denim on this list, since most people’s main interaction with denim is in the form of jeans. But recycled denim actually goes on to live several more lives, and one of them is as shredded and compacted denim insulation.

Scraps from denim production lines are also mixed in, making this a product that’s more sustainable than the options discussed above. The actual composition of the insulation is cotton, which means it has all the properties you’d hope for in an acoustic panel filler. It’s dense, with lots of space on the surface for sound to enter, but nowhere for it to leave. 

Where denim really shines is the eco-friendliness of this product. Not only will it enable you to make your own acoustic panels quickly and cheaply, but at the end of the acoustic panels’ life, the denim insulation is 100% recyclable (since it’s just cotton). 

And the naturalness of cotton (as opposed to fiberglass or Rockwool) means that there are fewer safety concerns. No worries of cotton fibers getting in your skin like fiberglass, and comparatively less dust when cutting then either fiberglass or Rockwool. So, all in all, it’s an easier material to work with.

As if this weren’t enough, the cotton fibers actually resist growing mildew and mold as well, meaning if you’re in a warm and humid environment, or maybe a room where you have the windows open a lot where the temperature cycles, acoustic panels made from denim will be less likely to begin harboring mold over time as the fibers absorb some humidity. And all of this comes in at a lower price than either Corning 703 or Rockwool.

Acoustic Foam Options

Up until now, we’ve talked about several insulation options, but if you’ve made it this far you’re also probably interested in what foam options you have. Where insulation has to retain heat first, and might be good at controlling sound second, acoustic foam is purpose-built for noise control. Check out our full article comparing these options, and pay special attention to how that decision sets how big your panels should be.

The first main difference you’ll notice is that acoustic foam will almost always have a texture on it. Whether it’s wedged shape ridges or a pyramid print, or maybe something that looks like rolling hills, acoustic foam always has a texture on the front for a very specific reason: it allows them to pack more surface area into a panel than it’s actual footprint on your wall. If you’ve been through our acoustic panel placement guide, you know this can really shift your options.

This is great news if you’re pressed for space, but what about the look of the panels themselves? Most people prefer the larger flat acoustic panels because they can be masked on the wall, and maybe even blend in with the local decor. Acoustic tiles, though, aren’t hiding from anyone.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t put them in your own DIY frame and stretch fabric across it, hiding all those ridges. And this may be a really good option for you if you’re looking to control sound in a space that you want to still have a certain look. A recording studio might be a great place for jagged acoustic panels right on the wall, but not an office or a home theater.

A Great Option for Spot Treatment

It’s worth noting that you may not need to treat a wide-open room. If you have a recording corner, or maybe you just need to control sound better at your desk where you take video calls, you can probably get away with spot-treatment of the area with smaller panels. 

We recommend experimenting with the Auralex Acoustics Studiofoam Wedgies (on Amazon) for this type of situation, because the 2in depth offers you a ton of surface area per square foot, and the price is very approachable for the number of panels you’ll be getting. 

These are certainly going to have a look to them, but again, you can build a frame and cover these with acoustically neutral fabrics to pretty up the space. If you want something that looks a little flatter but still gives you the flexibility of spot treatment, you can try the Auralex Acoustics SonoFlat (also on Amazon).

Either way, these foam panels will give you the flexibility to address sound issues with a scalpel rather than a sledge-hammer. But they still allow you to scale up, and you can build whole DIY panels from them to control the look.

A Full-Sized Foam Panel Option

Although you can take multiple small foam panels and fill a custom-built frame with them, there are larger foam options that make this simpler. The Foamily Red Acoustic Foam Egg Crate Panel (on Amazon) comes in a 2 foot by 4 foot size, with a nice 2.5in depth to match.

The textured surface offers more surface area for catching sound, meaning your acoustic panels will likely have a bit more impact than an equivalent sized panel that is filled with insulation. And if you’re skipping the panel housing and foam, these foam wall panels are designed to be mounted right on the wall if you’d like.

These panels will be better if you’re looking to cover lots of space, like an entire studio room’s interior, or a whole wall or corner behind your desk. They’ll also be a great option for testing your setup, if you’d like to get the panels and position them around the room and test them before choosing what cosmetic covering you’d like to add.

Recap

By now, maybe you have a good feel for which acoustic panel insulation material you’d like to use. If you’re trying to make panels for a wide-open space with lots of walls, and you don’t need to go all the way to studio, recording-quality sound absorption, then making your panels out of Corning 703 Fiberglass or Rockwool Mineral Wool will get you in the right place.

If you want to save a few bucks, you can go with Recycled Denim Insulation, and if you want to experiment with foam options you’ll have some added flexibility on how you deploy your sound absorption. And if you’re already a DIYer, be sure to consider mounting panels on your ceiling–our guide will give you some tips that will be even easier if you’re building your panels from scratch.

All of these options are going to increase the sound absorption in your space, but it’s important to note that every setup is unique, and the amount of panels you need, how you cover them, and the type of insulation you pick should all be part of a cohesive strategy. 

You should plan your setup before you start purchasing materials, and to help with that be sure to check out our other articles on everything you need to know about acoustic panels, the best fabrics you can choose to go along with the insulation you pick, and our guide on acoustic panel placement.

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