Room Acoustics

Can Acoustic Panels Make Your Home Theater Sound Worse?

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Too much of a good thing.” I’ve often warned people about it with home theater speakers. And tower speakers. And subwoofers. The list goes on. It’s easy to think if something is good, a LOT of that same thing will be better. It often isn’t. This begs the question. Can installing too many acoustic panels in your home theater actually make it sound worse? More to the point, what would that sound like? Let’s discuss.

Rule of 30

One rule of thumb you’ll often come across in home theater circles is the 30% rule. It says that you should cover 30% of the surface area of your room with acoustically absorptive material. If that sounds like a lot, it both is and isn’t. Many people include carpet as part of that 30%. If you do as well, then you just need two more walls of acoustic treatments to fulfill this “rule.”

Yes, that’s more than most people are willing to install in even the most dedicated theater rooms.

If You Have to Ask…

If you are planning your home theater and are worried that you might be planning too many acoustic panels, then you aren’t. That’s really the long and short of it. Most people don’t get anywhere near that 30% rule. If you space acoustic panels evenly around your room, you still aren’t likely to have “too much” acoustical treatment. It is only when people get to the point where they physically can’t find any more room for acoustic panels that they approach too many.

Does your room look like this? No? Then you don’t have too many panels.

Acoustic panels reduce the intensity of reflected sound. The sound coming directly from your speakers will sound just as loud as before. What will be reduced is the sound that reflects off the walls. Any sound that hits the acoustic panels will pass through and lose some of its energy. With enough acoustic panels, your room will sound “quieter.” If you’ve ever been in an empty house and noticed how echoey some rooms can sound, acoustic panels reduce those echoes.

What Would be the Symptoms of Too Many Acoustic Panels?

You’re not convinced. You placed a couple of acoustic panels around your home theater and you think it might have made your room sound worse. It definitely sounds different and you aren’t sure that is a good thing.

If you had placed too many acoustic panels, those reflections would be not just reduced but eliminated. We measure speakers in such rooms. They are called anechoic chambers and they sound extremely weird. The rooms are so “dead” that there are no reflections at all. Some people report being able to hear their heartbeat in anechoic chambers. They are that quiet.

If you had placed too many acoustic panels in your home theater, it wouldn’t just sound “worse,” it would sound “weird.” It is natural for sound to bounce around a room. When we enter a room with too many acoustic panels, it sounds unnatural. Many people report that it sounds like your ears need to pop. Some don’t mind such rooms while many claim they are unable to stay in an anechoic chamber for even an hour.

Wrap Up

Can adding too many acoustic panels to your home theater make it sound worse? Absolutely! But you probably haven’t added near enough to approach “too many.” If you walk into your room and can hear your heartbeat and your ears feel like they need to pop, then maybe you’ve added a few too many. No, the answer isn’t to add some diffusion. Just take a few panels out until your room sounds a little more natural.

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