Understanding the differences between bass traps vs acoustic panels is an important step in improving room acoustics. These products treat different frequency ranges and should be utilized together for the ideal acoustic treatment.
Using sound-absorbing panels and low-frequency traps help to improve poor acoustics by reducing reverb, flutter echo, comb filtering, and achieving a more balanced sound.
What kinds of rooms can benefit from their utilization?
- Recording studios
- Home studios
- Music rooms
- Home theaters
- Podcasting Booths, Offices and more
The rest of this guide will help you to further understand the differences and features of these products and guide you in making informed choices for your project.
What are Bass Traps & Acoustic Panels?
Bass Traps are simply special acoustic treatments designed to target and control bass frequencies in recording studios, music rooms, and home theaters where an even bass response is important.
Bass traps are typically positioned in and along with the major corners of the room, broadband bass traps utilize thick acoustic foam panels across the corners and the physics of sound waves at low-end frequencies to “trap” or dampen standing waves of overactive bass frequencies.
Sound absorbing panels are also made with sound-absorbing foam, but typically at half the thickness of bass traps. The acoustic foam is thinner and laid flat against the wall surfaces to target higher frequencies. Below is a handy reference chart illustrating these differences.
|Acoustic Treatment:||Bass Trap||Acoustic Panel|
|Room Placement:||Tri and Dihedral Corners||Wall and Ceilings|
|Frequency Range:||Low (Below 300 Hz)||Med-High (300 Hz to 2kHz)|
|Typical Thickness:||2-4 inches||1-2 inches|
Corner Bass Traps – Features & Usage
Shapes & Sizes
Bass traps can be bought or made DIY in several shapes, most commonly in panels, triangular wedges, pyramids, and cylinders (aka tube traps).
- Panel Bass Traps are just like acoustic panels but usually twice as thick, and are hung across the corners being treated. The panels are constructed from materials like rigid fiberglass, foam, and even recycled materials like cotton or denim. Panel traps can also be built into frames and directly mounted or hung from eye hooks into the corners and stacked one next to the other lengthwise along the dihedral corners.
- Wedge Bass Traps are solid foam wedges that are also stacked in the corners. Being much lighter, they can be glued or attached with removable strips like 3M Command Strips. Wedge foam has a bit of an industrial vibe to it and is great for use in project studios. Wedges are usually only a few feet in length and are purchased in multiple pieces to make stacking easy and convenient.
- Pyramid Bass Traps are designed to fit neatly in the trihedral corners of a room. So they have four triangular faces, with one being the outer facing Trihedral wedges are also typically solid foam.
- Tube Traps are round, hollow tubes with layers of material sandwiched together for sound absorption of bass frequencies. They are usually 3 to 5 feet tall and covered in fabric. Tube traps are versatile and can be placed almost anywhere in a room.
Bass trap sizes vary but the farther the outer face is from the corner, the better they are able to absorb low frequencies. This can be a problem for some rooms due to obstructions and because giant wedges running the length of an entire wall is not good interior design. The ideal bass trap placement is different for every room, but generally consists of the four main wall to wall corners and the upper wall-wall-ceiling corners.
Bass Trap Frequency Range
Broadband bass traps (not tuned) are designed to reduce the peaks and nulls of low-end frequencies below 300 Hz. But most bass traps have maximum effectiveness in the range of 80 to 250 Hz, falling off at the lowest bass frequencies.
Above 300 Hz the sound absorption again falls off, but this is where broadband acoustic absorbers rise to the occasion and you get what is referred to as the “crossover point”.
The typical setup for effective room acoustic treatment will use both bass traps and acoustic panels to treat the spectrum of frequencies to achieve excellent studio sound.
Acoustic Panels – Features & Usage
Sound absorption panels are made in just one shape – rectangular but can come in almost any size, from 1-foot squares to giant 4 foot by 10 rectangles.
However, unlike bass traps, acoustic absorbers are much more pleasing to the eye.
The core of every sound-absorbing panel is still made from the same ugly acoustic materials, but when encased in frames they can be wrapped in all kinds of designer fabrics and color choices.
So you can have your cake and eat it too, with beautiful acoustic art adorning the walls in your listening room while still keeping good acoustics in mind.
There are two popular sound insulation materials used in absorption panels today, rigid fiberglass insulation and mineral wool insulation.
Owens Corning makes a variety of fiberglass boards that are very popular in DIY sound absorber projects. The 703 is a cheap fiberglass board with good absorption properties. They are even getting into the mineral wool market with their new Thermafiber SAFB batts.
The other is Rockwool, which manufactures a mineral wool product called Safe N Sound. Mineral wool is easier to work with and has none of the health or environmental concerns of fiberglass.
The thickness of these materials ranges from 1″, 1-1/2″, 2″, and up to 3″. Even when a wood frame is built around the insulation, acoustic wall panels are mounted flat against the wall and take up far less space than corner traps.
Acoustic Panel Frequencies
Sound absorbing panels pick up where the low frequencies end, having effective frequency ranges starting at around 300-400 Hz ranging up to 2 kHz. The insulation materials and different thicknesses will ultimately determine the frequency response of the panel.
High frequencies have shorter wavelengths, meaning the absorption panels work well flat against the wall with little to no air gap. When strategically placed at reflection points, the listening position will remain lively and bright, while reducing echo and reverb.
Acoustic Panels on a Budget
You might look at some of the high-dollar panels and think “I could make that” and at a fraction of the price. You’d be right, as DIY sound-absorbing panels are a very popular project among home sound enthusiasts.
There are many DIY tutorials out there to follow, and you should get good results. But don’t go into it expecting the same effect as engineered panels. There are affordable premade panels too, one of our favorites being the Second Skin Acoustic Panels.
Which to Use, Bass Traps or Acoustic Panels?
Ultimately, bass traps and acoustic panels should be used in combination in the acoustic treatment of your small room. It is necessary for achieving decent sound and room acoustics.
Of course, your project budget might have something to say about how much treatment you can fit into the plans. How do you then keep your budget happy while still keeping great acoustics in mind? Making your own bass traps is one option to save money and still get results.
First, the pros recommend you start with treating the low bass frequencies, starting by targeting the most important corners. Placement strategy is an entire topic in itself, so this bass trap placement guide is worth reading.
Second, you start adding acoustic panels for broadband absorption and acoustic diffuser panels as needed or as your budget allows, targeting reflection points to further improve your room acoustics.