Acoustic panels are one of the best ways to squeeze more quality out of an advanced speaker system or to get higher-quality recordings. They can also be used to manage loud and echoey spaces like public offices or restaurants. You’ll definitely have questions about where to place acoustic panels (our guide), but another question people usually have is how many acoustic panels they’ll need to start out.
While the number of panels you need varies based on the purposes of your space, a typical starting number is 8-10 panels. However, that number can go up to 20-25 panels for purposes requiring greater sound control.
This can be a little intimidating. After all, there’s a big gap between “8-10” and “20-25”. Be rest assured there is logic behind these numbers, and they’ll make more sense once you understand the various factors that influence the number of panels you need. We have other articles about how acoustic panels work, and how effective they can be if used properly, but here let’s look at a few specific cases.
Number of Acoustic Panels Needed for Different Room Sizes
For a “typical” room, maybe a bedroom-sized space used as a home theater, a good starting number is 10. This is assuming management of a typical 5.1 channel sound system.
There’s another example of this down below, but the source of the number comes from adding up the number of speakers, figuring out their reflection points, and then factoring in that the sound will spread somewhat.
For a larger room, where the sound can spread out more, the number of panels for the same 5.1 system may need to be higher, 12-14 panels even. And as you add speakers, the number will go up bit at least 1 for each speaker you add.
And for different purposes, you’ll need a different number of speakers. For recording audio (like a podcast) in a typical room, a few panels might be enough to control the sound in the space around the microphone. But in a recording studio where someone is trying to record music, the number of panels in the same space can be much higher, basically whatever is needed to cover most, if not all, of the walls.
So, there isn’t a “right” answer here, but by examining some of the factors in play you can figure out what’s right for you. Some even choose to mount acoustic panels on their ceiling.
By taking a little time to learn about the details and plan out your space, you can make sure you’re starting out with the right number of panels for your unique needs.
Factors that Influence the Number of Acoustic Panels You’ll Need
I really wish there were a fixed number that I could give you. Some will claim that they know exactly how many panels a given sound system or other audio management situation (loud environments/recording) will require, but there are simply more details when it comes to acoustic panels and how to deploy them in your space correctly. Our article on when to use acoustic panels goes into more detail on this.
However, the added value really is there, in both listening or recording experiences. And luckily, there is some good general advice to give about how many acoustic panels you’ll need, but that advice is different based on the source of the sound you need to manage and the size and shape of your space.
The number will also be different based on the size of the panels you’re using and the level of fidelity or sound quality you need.
The Source and Type of Sound
The source of the sound you’re trying to control will dramatically influence the number of acoustic panels you’re going to need. While control of sound from instruments or speech for recording requires generally more coverage, control of the noise generated by crowds of people talking and speakers systems can all require very different approaches.
Musical Instruments or Voices
When you’re recording or otherwise trying to control the sound quality going into a microphone, the game is total sound control: you want to cover as many surfaces in the room as you can. This is true for audio recording of music, as well as preserving speech quality when, for instance, recording podcasts.
When trying to control the sound of crowds in larger spaces, the conversation shifts a bit: you no longer need a tone of acoustic panel coverage to preserve sound quality, but you need something to address the cacophony of lots of people talking.
In a busy office place or crowded restaurant, a few panels on the walls may be plenty, but depending on the ceiling you may consider dropping panels into the space from above as well (there’s more on that below).
Speaker systems have their own special acoustic panel requirements. In fact, we have a separate article about why acoustic panels are important for home theater systems specifically. The requirements for managing a speaker system can get complicated because those requirements change a lot based on the number of speakers that are in the system.
A 3.1 channel system may require about 5 panels to notice a difference, although as many as 10 may be required, but where do we get those numbers? Since a 3.1 channel system has three speakers firing and 1 subwoofer, we can generate the number of panels required by considering a hypothetical rectangular room.
The one front-firing speaker needs at least two panels behind the listener, on the back wall. The left and right channel speakers also need dedicated panels mounted at their reflection points. And the subwoofer requires a bass trap.
So it’s easy to see how the number of speakers sets the minimum number of acoustic panels because each speaker has an obvious reflection point. But sound spreads out as it travels, which is why the one front-firing speaker in the above example gets two panels behind it.
The minimum number, then, is set by the number of reflection points and anticipated spread of the sound, but the maximum number is set by the unique features of the space, discussed more below.
The Height of the Ceiling and Room Size
Your ceiling height and room size can have surprising effects on the sound quality of the space. For a more-or-less “normal” ceiling height (8ft) and rectangular-shaped room, sound created by speakers, speech, or musical instruments will bounce off the ceiling and walls in a pretty predictable way.
So, if you’re doing recording or other work that requires really high-quality audio, you’re probably going to want to treat the ceiling and walls with foam acoustic panels.
You can mount larger acoustic panels on your ceiling pretty easily, but it still isn’t for the faint of heart. And it can complicate setups with advanced surround sound setups or soundbars that fire up.
Higher ceilings in the 12ft to 14ft range, especially in larger rooms, have their own advantages and limitations. Speaker arrays that fire up to bounce sound down at an angle simulating a height component (e.g. Dolby Atmos/ DTS:X) probably won’t be affected too much: they’ll still bounce sound as planned, but it may make you want to move your seats back some to find the sweet spot.
In cases where sound control is important: when recording audio or music, or trying to control the sound in a noisy space like an office or restaurant, the high ceiling actually works to your benefit: the sound can more easily get lost in that “headroom” on the space.
However, one big caveat here is that, if you’re recording musical instruments, the volume is high enough that no amount of ceiling height is going to prevent the ricocheting sound from reducing the sound quality in your space: you’re likely going to still need sound treatment on the ceiling as described above
The Size of the Panels
This may seem like a silly detail to cover, but if you’re just getting started with acoustic panels it may be a surprise to you that they come in such varied sizes. While panels like the Auralex Acoustics Studiofoam Wedgies (on Amazon) come in 1-ft-square foam panels, others like the ATS Acoustic Panel (also on Amazon) come in much larger at 2ft by 4ft.
The difference here is driven by the different needs in sound management by consumers. While a home theater treatment might look like larger panels spread out evenly across the walls in a space, high-quality recording treatments may benefit from smaller panels that allow more robust coverage of the entire space and even some spot treatment.
The size of the panels matters, though, because all sound absorption will scale on the available surface area. With the same materials and thickness, 8 1-ft-square panels can cover as much open space (surface area) as a single 2ft by 4ft panel. And whether or not the panels are foam or acoustic insulation (our write-up) also influences your decisions here.
In this way, the size of your panels drives the actual number you’re going to need, because in the end what matters is the total surface area you’ve covered, not meeting some minimum number of panels. We have another more in-depth article about acoustic panel sizes that you should reference as well.
And for those true DIYers out there, you can make your own custom panels that meet your unique sound management and aesthetic needs. Be sure to reference our guides on how to select a fabric and fill material for your custom acoustic panels, but past that it’s a pretty simple job.
The Level of Acoustic Treatment Required for your Needs
Although this has been touched on briefly in the sections above, it’s worth calling it out specifically here: the number of panels you will ultimately need will be set by the level of acoustic treatment you need for your purposes!
While a home theater can likely get away with 10-15% coverage of the walls to notice a difference, upwards of 30% is recommended to complement an expensive sound system.
While that’s likely enough for augmenting a surround sound system, much more may be required for loud office spaces (30-40%) or recording studios (as close to 100% as possible).
And if all you’re doing is recording a podcast, you might be able to get away with a low amount of coverage so long as you’re using small acoustic panels to spot treat the specific areas that are causing problems (like around your desk space).
The takeaway for how many panels you need, then, is just not as simple as a fixed number. It’s going to scale on all these factors: the source and type of sound, the unique features of your space, the size of the panels, and ultimately what the needs are for your unique sound management requirements.