DIY ACOUSTIC PANEL GUIDE
by Corey Bautista
If you’re reading this, that means you are interested in treating your acoustic environment. That’s great! Treating your room can immediately make your mixes translate far better than before, and you will have a more enjoyable time listening and recording in your room.
The downside? It can get pretty expensive.
Treating just your first reflection points using commercially made panels can cost upwards of $1,000, and that’s just the start. Not to mention the customization is often limited, and shipping can cost even more than the panels themselves!
Thankfully, it is very possible to build your own acoustic panels on a budget with just a few tools, materials, and a little guidance.
First off, if you want to know more about acoustics and exactly what’s going on in your room, I highly recommend heading over to Jesco Lohan’s website AcousticsInsider.com.
Read his articles, and subscribe to his email list. His content will give you a great start even before treating your space, and he has helped me tremendously in knowing what I’m doing with all of this.
"Acoustics doesn’t have to be hard. As with most things, the return on your money and efforts when treating your room follows the 80/20 principal. And if you can resist the confusion by most of the information out there on the net, and focus on getting the fundamentals right instead, I think you’ll find that with a little planning and effort, you can make a great sounding room without too much hassle and breaking the bank.
But remember, ultimately it’s how you use the sound that you crafted for yourself that let’s you work fast, be confident in your decisions and get reliable results without having to second guess everything.
„Good sound“ is about taking many steps in the right direction. And knowing which of those steps give the best bang for your buck on your journey is essential if you want to be successful in your home and project studio.
Corey put together a great guide that helps you take an essential one of those steps. One that gives you a flexible and effective tool to shape your room’s acoustics."
Let’s get started!
Below I’ve provided links to all the necessary (and optional) tools and materials you will need to get this job done, as well as alternative options that are more budget friendly and a few notes about each item.
1 - 1x8 @ 8 feet long ($11.19 @ Home Depot)
2 - 1x8 @ 10 feet long ($13.94 @ Home Depot)
3 - 1x2 @ 8 feet long (97¢ @ Home Depot)
TOTAL COST : $41.98 plus tax per 2 panels
This will be enough wood to make two 2'x4' panels @ 6 inches deep. This design allows for customizable width and depth, so figure out what you want and adjust accordingly. Whatever depth you want, get 2 inches more than you need (ex. 4 inch panels = 1x6 boards)
Owens Corning 703 - This is the most popular insulation for acoustic absorption. It generally comes in 24"x48" boards that are 2" thick. The link I've provided is a box of 6 boards, this will be enough to make two 6" thick panels.
Roxul Mineral Wool - Another popular insulation material that's a bit cheaper than 703. It's the same dimensions and amount for about $15 cheaper.
Knauf Earthwool Insulation - Another alternative insulation material, but the most expensive choice.
**I used 703 for my panels, which I purchased directly from GIK Acoustics. I live 15 mins from their actual location in Atlanta, so I didn't have to pay for shipping which saved me hundreds of dollars. I recommend doing some research to find the cheapest options for your location.**
As far as fabric goes, honestly any fabric will do the trick. The myth that it NEEDS to be super breathable isn't exactly true. The fabric would have to be essentially solid for it not to work properly, and that doesn't really exist. As long as you're not using leather or something, you should be fine. I recommend a cotton/polyester blend. If you can see through it when you hold it to a light, that's perfect. That being said, here are some options.
Guilford of Maine - This is purpose made acoustical fabric, and they have tons of options. If you want to be super legit with your panels feel free to drop the extra cash on this fabric.
Burlap - This is a much cheaper alternative, and a popular one among acoustic panels.
Cheap Fabric - You can find extremely cheap fabric on Amazon. I have no experience with this, but a quick search led me to this. Purchase at your own risk.
**I purchased fairly cheap fabric from Joann Fabric, it was $4 a yard, and I had a coupon for 50% off. I ended up spending 50 bucks on fabric for 14 panels. I suggest finding fabric that doesn't stretch a whole lot, as this will make stapling it to your frame much easier.**
Tools & Hardware
Circular Saw - Required to cut the boards to size. You can have your hardware store cut them for you if you'd like. But if you opt to do it yourself, I recommend a Ryobi saw.
If you decide to buy these tools, consider saving some money by purchasing a combo kit, like this.
Random Orbital Sander - For sanding down the edges of your wood. Alternatively you can use a sanding block like this, but having an electric sander will save you SO much time and pain. You'll also want to pick up 60 grit sandpaper, and 120 grit sandpaper.
Tape Measure - Pretty obvious, for measuring your cuts.
Right Angle Square (Optional) - This is used for marking your cuts straight across your boards, as well as guiding your circular saw to ensure a straight cut. This is optional, but highly recommended!
Right Angle Clamp (Optional) - These are used to ensure your frame joints are a perfect right angle, they come in extremely handy, though they aren't required. I recommend getting 2.
Wood Clamps - For securing your boards when you're cutting and drilling. I recommend getting at LEAST 2 of these. They will help a lot.
Kreg Jig Pocket Hole System (Optional) - This is the method I chose to join my boards together, it's not required that you use this method but it's a very easy and reliable way to join wood and I can't recommend it enough. You can get the R3 system that I used, linked above, or you could go all out and get one of the more advanced, easier systems. The K-4 System OR The K-5 System.
1 1/4" Pocket Hole Screws - If you decide to go with the Kreg Jig, you'll need these specific screws. The Jig comes with a few, but I recommend grabbing a box off of Amazon. I paid about $20 for a box of 150, on Amazon you get 500 for less than $20.
2 1/2" Screws - These can be alternatively used to build both the outside and inside frames.
Ear Protection - Using a saw, and even the staple gun can get pretty loud. Being as our ears are our money makers, I HIGHLY recommend you use some sort of ear protection while using these tools.
Eye Protection - While sawing and sanding, I recommend wearing eye protection as well.
Scissors - Used to cut fabric and plastic wrap, any scissors will work but keep in mind that they need to be heavy duty enough to cut fabric.
Plastic Mattress Bags (Optional) - These will be used to wrap your insulation in plastic. This is honestly the most challenging part, and entirely optional. If you decide to do this, you'll also need some packing tape.
Pencils - For marking your cuts, any pencil will work. For the sake of being thorough, I've linked actual woodworking pencils if you want to be super professional.
Wood Glue (Optional) - It's a good idea to add a bit of wood glue to all of your joints, but it's not required.
Eye Screw Hooks - If you plan on mounting your panels in the corner, you'll need some of these.
Picture Hanging Wire - Again, this will be used for mounting on corners.
Wall Hooks - The last thing you'll need for corner mounting.
French Cleat Hanger Hardware - This is my preferred method of mounting the panels flat to a wall.
Insulation Knife (Optional) - If you plan on making panels shorter than 48" then you'll need to cut your insulation.
Hopefully you've got some of these tools already, and if not there are definitely work arounds to some of them. These are the tools I used, and this is just my take on how to make panels. Once you've got everything you need, it's time to get started!
This is the exact wood I used from Home Depot -
The 8 ft board will be the tops/bottoms of your outside frames, and the 10 ft boards will be the sides.
Starting with the 8 ft boards, measure out and mark 24" sections across the entire board (24, 48, 72, 96). It's possible you'll end up with a little bit extra at the end of the final board, just cut it off to make it 24". Wood is pretty much never perfect, so keep that in mind.
Using your circular saw and right angle square , make the cuts. You should end up with 4 equal 24" boards like this:
Next, measure out the 10 ft boards. When you're measuring the sides, be sure to add an inch and a half to the side boards to account for the thickness of your top boards. Each 1x8 is actually 3/4" thick. With that in mind, for panels that are 4 feet tall, you'll want to measure out 49 1/2 inches. This is why we got 10 foot boards instead of 8 foot boards.
When you're finished, you should have something like this.
This is where, if you decided to go with the Kreg Jig, you'll begin drilling your pocket holes. If you decided to get the K4 or K5 system, here are some videos on how to operate them.
First, set your Kreg Jig and drill bit to 3/4" pocket holes. Read the manual that came with your jig, it will show you how to set your drill bit depth.
Clamp your jig to one side of the 24" board, and then clamp the board to the edge of your table or workbench. Drill two pocket holes on each side of your board, do this on each of your 24" boards . It should go something like this.
Now, we'll join the top boards and the side boards together.
This is where the Right Angle Clamps come in SUPER handy in order to get the joints perfect.
Lay your side board out and clamp it together with the top board using two right angle clamps. I highly recommend getting the type of clamps that have separately adjustable sides like the ones above, this will allow you to adjust them to perfection and undo one side to lift and apply glue.
Undo just the top side of each clamp, and slide the board up so that you can apply a bit of glue. Then slide the board back down and clamp it again tightly.
Drill two 1 1/4" pocket hole screws in the pre-drilled holes to secure the boards together.
Do this to both sides, and you should end up with something like this.
Lay the other side board down, and repeat the same process to the other side. Once you're done with that you've successfully completed your first frame!
At this point you may consider sanding down at least the outside of your frames, it's not required to sand the outside frames, but it makes a pretty big difference aesthetically and how it feels. If you're not a perfectionist like myself, feel free to skip this.
Here's the difference sanding makes.
Now we'll build the inside frames that we're going to staple our fabric to. This is one of the more challenging steps, as each frames dimensions will be unique. Be diligent with your measuring at this step, because it can make or break one of these frames.
Using your tape measure, measure out the INSIDE of the top and bottom of your frame. It SHOULD be 24" but again, wood is never perfect, so you may find that it's off to a small degree.
As you can see here, one of my sides was slightly shorter than 24", whereas the other side was 24" exactly.
Measure out the lengths onto your 1x2 boards, and cut them. When you make your cuts, it's VERY IMPORTANT that you leave about 1/8th of an inch EXTRA on one of the ends. You will then use the 60 grit sandpaper to sand the edge down until it fits perfectly into the frame. They should literally hold themselves up. I also recommend labeling them T,B,L, & R so you can keep track of which are which.
Once you have the T & B boards in, measure from top to bottom on the insides of the T & B boards. If you're following this guide exactly, they should be around 45". Again, leave an 1/8" extra, and sand it down to fit perfectly. You should end up with an exact frame on the inside like this.
Next, take your boards and screw them all together. The right angle clamps will come in handy during this process as well. I suggest pre-drilling holes to guide your screws, since the room for error is pretty small when joining these. Do this to all 4 corners.
Once you've done this, you should have something that looks like this.
Now we're going to attach one last board to this frame, in the very center. Measure out the center of your frame and mark it on each side. Then measure the inside at the center to find the length of your center board. Cut the center board from a 1x2 and screw it in the same way you did the corners.
Alternatively you can use pocket holes to join these boards, but it takes a bit longer.
If you've done your measurements and sanding correctly, the inside frame should fit snugly inside your outside frame like this.
***With the inside frame, it's extremely important that you sand it down thoroughly on the outside edges and sides using the 120 grit sandpaper. This is the frame that the fabric is going to be attached to, and if you bought the cheap 1x2's they are going to be very rough. If you don't sand these down, you run the risk of tearing your fabric while stretching it around the frame. You should be able to slide your hand down the entire thing and not get any splinters.***
The next step is to attach the fabric to your inside frame. This part is probably the easiest step.
Lay your frame out on the table, and roll your fabric along the top to measure out how much fabric to cut. Leave a bit on each edge to wrap around and staple.
Once you've cut the fabric to the length of the frame, open it up and place your frame on top, making sure that the front of the frame is facing downwards. You'll have a ton of excess on the side, so trim that off, using your eye as a guide. It's best to have more than less, as you can always trim the rest off after you staple.
Starting with one of the long sides, pull the fabric around the frame and staple down the entire frame. For this first side, you don't really have to pull it that tight, just make sure it's straight down the entire thing.
Do the same to the opposite long side, this time pulling tightly before each staple. You should notice the fabric becoming firm on the front.
On the top and bottom corners, you'll want to crease the fabric so that it folds flat, and then you can staple it down. You can figure out your own way of doing this, and this part will be hidden on the inside of the frame anyways so it's not a huge deal if it doesn't look clean.
This is what mine looked like.
Continue to pull and staple along the tops and bottoms, until you've secured the fabric to all sides. Once you're done you can trim any excess if you want to, but again no one is going to see this so it doesn't really matter that much.
If you've pulled it tightly the whole way your should be able to lift the frame and the fabric be tight and firm.
It takes a bit of force to push the frame into your panel now that the fabric is on, but once you get it in there it'll look super clean and no one will see any of the creases or trimmed fabric.
Step 6: (Optional)
I'll be honest, this step is the most complicated, not entirely necessary, and if you can figure out a better way to achieve this then please let me know.
We're going to wrap our insulation in plastic, because I don't want open insulation sitting in my room, and because it makes handling the insulation a whole lot easier when you don't actually have to touch the insulation. 703 especially is nasty, and will leave you itching for days. This is where the mattress bags come into play.
I got my mattress bags from Home Depot, but the ones on Amazon are cheaper, and probably the same exact things.
When you open up the bag you'll notice that the top is open, the bottom is sealed, and the sides fray outward to accommodate for the thickness of a mattress. Our panels are not as thick as a mattress so we'll need to get rid of that side.
I clamped the bag to my table and cut both sides off so that the bag is open on the top, both sides, but is still sealed on the bottom. This is so that I could use tape to seal up the sides and determine my own thickness for the sides.
You're essentially gift wrapping your insulation...
Side cut off
I had King sized mattress bags, which were large enough to wrap two 6 inch panels each, so I cut the entire bag directly in half.
Now you can clamp the bottom sealed end to the table, pull back one half and place your insulation inside.
Now bring the top back over the insulation, and trim the edges however much they need to be trimmed to make a neat fold.
It helps SO MUCH to have someone doing this part with you. I am lucky enough to have had my amazing wife helping me throughout the entire process of making these panels. If you're not so lucky, at least find a friend to assist you during this part.
You're going to fold the corners in and pull the sides up, again, just like gift wrapping, and tape all down the side.
Do this to both sides, and the top, and your insulation will be sealed up and WAY more manageable. Once you get the hang of this step, it's honestly not too difficult. You'll probably fail once or twice at first, but once you've got a method, it's pretty easy. My wife and I did 14 of these.
Now comes the fun part, sliding the insulation into the frames!
If you haven't altered the length at all, this should go very smoothly.
I placed the wrapped insulation on my workbench, lifted the frame over top of it, and slid it right down onto the insulation.
Once you've gotten it in there, you can flip it over and push it down the rest of the way in. This will also push the fabric frame to be flat with the front of the outside frame.
And that's it!
You now have a completed acoustic absorption panel!
But there is one more step...
Installation is super easy, one beam screws into the back middle of the top of your outside frame, and the other one screws directly into your drywall. There's even a level that you slide into the beam for a straight hang. You can hang them vertically, or horizontally using this method.
This is what it looks like!
There are many ways to go about mounting these panels to the walls, but here are a couple of my preferred methods.
For a panel hanging flat against a wall, I recommend using a product by Ook Hooks called a "French Cleat". It's a pretty genius mounting method that works like this.
For mounting bass traps in the corners, you're going to need the eye screws, wall hooks, and picture hanging wire. You can use any eye screws, but I suggest getting some thick ones, because the panels can get pretty heavy. The hooks I used were, again, by the company Ook Hooks.
Basically, you pre-drill holes, and twist the eye screws into the space on the back of your panels, hammer in the hooks into your walls, hold the panel where you want it to hang, and stretch and twist the wire to hold it in place. This is all before putting the insulation inside, or the fabric frame in place so that you can easily reach through the panel to secure it to the wall.
This step is much easier with someone to help you.
It ends up looking like this.
Once you have the frames in place, slide your insulation in while it's still hanging, and place your fabric cover on.
This method works the same for ceiling corner traps as well, you just need to use ceiling hooks as well as wall hooks.
For the cloud, I used GIK's Cloud Mounting Brackets.
I actually screwed two panel frames together using 1 1/4" screws, and installed a bracket on each corner. Secure it to the ceiling using drywall anchors. Again, this is easiest done BEFORE putting your insulation in, or the fabric frame on.
Once you've secured your frames to the ceiling and tightened the drywall anchors, slide your insulation in and attach your fabric frames.
I recommend screwing from the outside into the fabric frames so that one day your insulation doesn't come crashing down on top of you during a mix...
I sunk the screws and then filled them in with wood putty to hide it, but it's not necessary if you don't mind the look of the screws.
That's about all that I can think of!
Building these panels definitely takes some time and work, but it will save you a TON of money, especially if you're treating an entire room like I did. Overall I spent about $900 in materials alone for 14 panels. That's not including tools or hardware.
You would easily spend over $2,000 purchasing that many commercially made panels, not to mention I was able to customize my corner panels to fit the height of my room exactly how I wanted them.
Taking the DIY route has given me an appreciation for my room even more than I would have just having some company come treat my room. I encourage you all to put the work into achieving a controlled acoustic environment! It has made such a difference in my room.
If you have any questions, or are uncertain of a specific process or step, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at CoreyBautistaAudio@gmail.com or contact me on Facebook and I will be more than happy to answer your questions! If you make panels using this guide, please send me some pictures! I'd love to see your results.
Happy building, and happy mixing!
- Corey Bautista