DIY Acoustic Panels

Marcus dePaula

In the early 2000’s my job was installing professional recording studios - both home studios and commercial studios. Soldering audio cables, racking up gear, and then connecting everything up were my daily tasks. I loved the work! I was even one of the large crew that helped wire up the new rooms at the legendary Blackbird Studios here in Nashville.

There were a few jobs where I installed over-priced Auralex panels on the walls and ceilings following the design of an acoustician. I am by no means an acoustician myself, but picked up some common acoustic treatment practices along the way, which I decided to try out in my own home studio/office. In 2018 I built a dozen acoustic panels myself using pine boards, Rockwool insulation, and fabric. The whole project cost me less than $400, including mounting hardware, and took me a couple weekends to complete.

Rockwool “Safe ‘N’ Sound” insulation

For the sound absorbing material, I used the 15.25”x47”x3” Rockwool they have in stock at Lowe’s, which comes in a pack of 12.

For the wood frames, I used 1”x4” unfinished pine boards, but if I make more, I would rip a sheet of 3/4” thick plywood to 3.5” wide boards (which is the actual dimensions of the 1”x4” pine boards). For each panel, if you make them to the size of the Rockwool insulation pieces, you’ll need two 48” long boards for the sides and two 15.25” boards for the top and bottom.

To fasten each corner together, you can use either a couple of 2” screws through pre-drilled counter sunk holes on the sides of the 48” long pieces into the top and bottom boards, or if you have a pocket hole jig, you can use pocket hole screws (which is what I did). Just make sure the boards are flush and form a 90 degree angle. I did not use any wood glue.

For the fabric covering, Guilford of Maine is the popular more expensive brand, but you can go with something like this from Acoustimac - you need 1 yard of 60” wide fabric to cover the front and sides of each panel.

You also may want to add a layer of cheap muslin fabric to the back of each panel to keep mineral fiber dust from escaping. Invest in an electric staple gun if you don’t want hand pain.

I used cheap felt fabric for my first version of the panels, which I later re-covered in acoustic fabric.

I spread the fabric out with the front face down on the table, then lay the wood frame in the center of the fabric. I start at the center of the long side of the frame, wrap the fabric around the side and top edge of the frame, folding the edge of the fabric in on itself as I wrap it over to the inside of the frame, then staple every couple inches, stretching the fabric as I go. Once I finish one long side, I go to the opposite long side, starting at the center again and stretching the fabric evenly as I wrap it around the inside of the frame and staple. Before doing the corners, I’ll do the same for the two short sides. 

Tuck the corner folds under for a clean corner line in the fabric.

For the corners, I’ll trim off a triangle from the end of the excess fabric, and then fold a triangle inside the top and bottom (short sizes) of the panel - like wrapping a gift with wrapping paper but inverted, so the triangle is tucked behind the corner fold to hide it, stretching it as tight as I can and stapling all along the inside corner (see the 3rd photo).

For the muslin fabric on the back, just staple it either to the inside of the frame, pressing the insulation in, or you can staple it to the back of the panel itself and trim off any visible excess fabric so it doesn’t show when the panel is on the wall.

To mount the panels to the walls, you can get French cleat hardware, or make some yourself out of scrap wood by cutting a strip of wood in half with the table saw blade at 45 degrees.

For the ceiling panels you can get 4 carabiners to attach inside the frame to 4 eye bolts and then hook them on eye bolts screwed into drywall anchors in the ceiling. This will require careful measuring on the eye bolt placement both inside the frames and on the ceiling to get them hanging straight and centered between the long walls. If you want the hardware to be mostly hidden, you can make the frames for the ceiling panels wider than 3.5” so there is a lip for the eye bolts to mount to and hide most of the carabiners.

As far as positioning the acoustic panels in your room, I like having at least one panel above my desk directly above my head on the ceiling, and then I cover the vertical surfaces that I can see from my recording position, which will be the first surfaces that my voice would bounce off of. If you make enough of them like I did, you can just space them evenly around the room on each open wall.

You can obviously cut the insulation to whatever shape you need and build the frame accordingly. The thicker your panels, the more lower frequencies they’ll capture. You’ll find that taking time to make your own fabric panels will greatly improve the acoustics of your podcasting space while saving you thousands of dollars compared to buying pre-made panels. And the difference between the cheap foam wedge panels I see so many podcasters using is night and day, since these thicker panels made of better insulation do a much better job of absorbing a much broader frequency range.

If you end up making your own panels, I’d love to see phones and get any tips that might help me the next time I make more! And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email.