Can I Put My Acoustic Panels Behind a Curtain? Reader Challenge!
There really seem to be two types of people in the home theater crowd – those that care mostly about aesthetics and those that care mostly about performance. The aesthetics crew will worry more about how a speaker or TV will look in their room than how they perform. The performance crowd will eschew any aesthetic concern if they think it might hamper their performance even a minute amount. These people will worry about a speaker being one or two inches too high or low. I recently had someone ask me if they could hide their acoustic panels behind a curtain. They didn’t want to, but their spouse did (for aesthetic reasons). So, who was right? I answer below, but, before you read on, you decide. What do you think? Why? If you are confident, write your answer in the comments below before reading on!
That performance gang, they don’t want to risk losing even a gram of sound quality. If they think something will harm their sound even a little, they’ll make any change. These are the types of people that will worry that the speaker grilles are somehow affecting the sound from their speakers. So it makes sense that they’d want to get the most out of their acoustic panels. Putting a curtain in front of your shiny new acoustic panel seems antithetical to maximum performance.
What Does a Curtain Do?
We’ve talked about the sound-deadening performance of curtains before. In short, they don’t do much. But your acoustic panels are meant to absorb as much sound as possible. Putting another layer in front of them seems like it couldn’t be a good thing. Our article linked above basically says that you can’t use a curtain for soundproofing. But that doesn’t mean it does nothing sonically. Surely it will have a negative effect on some of the frequencies?
Yes, a curtain can have some absorptive properties. At the highest frequencies that people can hear, they may absorb something. But isn’t that what the acoustic panel was doing anyway? Adding a curtain in front that absorbs more treble would be a good thing, right?
Not necessarily. Over-absorbing those frequencies could take some of the realism out of the sound quality. But your room correction should be able to adjust for that by boosting those frequencies slightly. But, more importantly than over-absorbing is reflecting. It is possible for a curtain to reflect some of the highest frequencies rather than allowing the acoustic panel to absorb them. That would be technically bad.
What About the Bass?
We mentioned a lot about treble, but nothing about bass. The reason is simple. Bass is going to go through nearly any curtain you can put up. The acoustic panel behind the curtain is going to be just as effective. Since bass is primarily the reason we recommend acoustic panels, and curtains won’t really affect it, you can see why we think this is a great compromise.
Our answer is that it is fine to put your acoustic panels behind a curtain. The limited amount of reflection of high frequencies is probably not going to audible and the detrimental effects on the bass are non-existent. Since the main purpose of an acoustic panel is to absorb bass, we see no reason that the aesthetics crowd shouldn’t be appeased on this one.
But…if you really can’t stand the thought that you might lose some performance…
The clear idea here is to have the performance benefits of the acoustic panels while the aesthetic gains of hiding them behind a curtain. The solution? An acoustically transparent curtain. Or as acoustically transparent as possible. The aesthetic crew should be informed on identifying acoustically transparent fabric and encouraged to shop to their heart’s content. If the curtain isn’t fully acoustically transparent, it’ll be fine. We’ll take an acoustic panel behind a curtain over no acoustic panels at all any day.
Granted, per your request I am writing this before reading the rest of the article, but I would say that the sound will easily pass through the curtain because it is so thin, so I think acoustic panels behind a curtain would work fine. Now on to the rest of the article to see if I am correct.