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Home Theater Acoustic Treatment and Soundproofing

Improving Acoustics and Soundproofing your Home Theater

Improving Acoustics and Soundproofing your Home Theater

Right now in most places in the country, theaters are closed. It’s been one of the things I miss most. Believe me when I say I would give anything to go see a movie in a theater again. It doesn’t even have to be a good movie… I’d watch CATS in theaters if I could. Ok, maybe I’m not that desperate. Maybe.  

While other people have taken up hobbies like baking bread and embroidery, all my time has been spent on building a home theater. But my home theater likely doesn’t look like my neighbors. People spend anywhere hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands building their entertainment oasis. No matter your budget a few components are key. A high definition billboard sized TV, a killer sound system, and a recliner that you can sink into and never escape from. But what often gets forgotten when thinking about that perfect home theater is all the soundproofing and acoustics. If you get all this right, you can feel like you’re sitting in a state-of-the-art theater, and you don’t even have to put on pants.

Right now in most places in the country, theaters are closed. It’s been one of the things I miss most. Believe me when I say I would give anything to go see a movie in a theater again. It doesn’t even have to be a good movie… I’d watch CATS in theaters if I could. Ok, maybe I’m not that desperate. Maybe.  

While other people have taken up hobbies like baking bread and embroidery, all my time has been spent on building a home theater. But my home theater likely doesn’t look like my neighbors. People spend anywhere hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands building their entertainment oasis. No matter your budget a few components are key. A high definition billboard sized TV, a killer sound system, and a recliner that you can sink into and never escape from. But what often gets forgotten when thinking about that perfect home theater is all the soundproofing and acoustics. If you get all this right, you can feel like you’re sitting in a state-of-the-art theater, and you don’t even have to put on pants.

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Popular Home Theater Acoustic Panels


Acoustic Pro™ Fabric Wrapped Panel
Acoustic Pro™ Ceiling Cloud

Choosing a Room for Your Home Theater

For your home theater, the size of the room depends on how many seats you want to add to it. If you just want a single row with 3 seats, you can get by with a room that's about 14' x 14'. That'll give you room for a big screen that you're not too close to and some captain's chairs. To do stadium seating, plan on about 6' in addition room length to add that second row and then 6' more for the third row.

The location of your room is absolutely key. Pick a room or part of the house that will require the least modification and won’t easily disturb others. Ideally something on the ground floor away from living areas, bedrooms, and offices with no windows and just one door. The ideal space is a rectangular shape with walls that have space to add acoustic paneling.

If you get the right location in your house, you have more leeway to crank up the volume to immerse yourself in the movie without driving the rest of the house crazy. Soundproofing can really save your bacon here and make up for any sound leaks. And then because you aren't like your neighbor's teenage son who drives around with his stereo pumping at max volume, you know that there's nuance to a great theater experience. You gotta get the sound right for the full spectrum of experiences: from the quiet speeches to the musical score to that giant explosion. Good acoustics and sound quality will substantially improve the listening experience. Lucky for you, we’re here to help you nail all of it.

acoustic panels for home theatre
acoustic panels for home theatre

Home Theater Soundproofing

As we mentioned earlier, soundproofing is important so you can blast your entertainment as loud as you want without anyone else complaining. The sound from home theaters can be difficult to contain because it ranges so widely. Low bass will rumble down to the floor below, and high frequencies can penetrate to bedrooms down the hall. There’s a lot that you can do, from plugging up leaks to replacing the entire flooring, but how soundproof you make your personal theater all depends on your budget for the project and your goals. We’ll walk you through some soundproofing fundamentals, but you can always call us for a custom plan for your home theater.

At minimum you should focus on door soundproofing and sealing any windows into your space. These are the weakest points in most rooms. Preferably you wouldn’t have any windows to worry about and just one door. Once you’ve soundproofed the entryways, you should focus on the walls, doors, and ceiling.

The standard for how well a wall or barrier blocks sound is something called an STC rating. Contractors aren’t particularly concerned with soundproofing when building houses (the code doesn’t require many soundproofing best practices) so a typical wall in a residential home has an STC rating of about 30-34. For your home theater we recommend a minimum STC rating of over 50, which is absolutely doable as a DIY project. For reference, most professional theaters have an STC rating of 65, you can achieve this too if you’re willing to do some remodeling.

Home Theater Acoustic Treatment

While soundproofing benefits everyone outside the room, improving the acoustics is what benefits those enjoying the show! The key to acoustics is controlling the reflections of the sound emitting from your stellar sound system. Check out our article on echo vs reverb if you haven't already. If you don’t control the reverberations, that reflected sound will muddle up the noise and make it harder for you to hear Bruce Willis make another quip as he tears through bank robbers in Nakatomi Plaza, or in my case, hear Prue give her judgment on an upside down cake on Great British Bake Off.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to do this is by installing Acoustic Pro acoustic panels throughout your space. Our easy-to-install panels are made from designer selected fabrics and come in a variety of custom shapes, sizes, and colors to fit the aesthetic of your entertainment haven.

First determine how many panels you’ll need. A good starting point is the Rule of 40%. To use this formula measure the length x width of room x 40%. This will give you the amount of square feet of paneling you should install. It’s not necessary to completely cover the walls in acoustic panels. Our acoustic materials have a high NRC rating as it is. In fact, complete coverage on walls can be counterproductive as absorption taken to the extreme will make the room start to sound ‘dead’. A dead room loses some of the dynamics of sound. It’s kind of like yelling underwater, the sound becomes flat and less engaging.

home theatre acoustic panels
home theatre acoustic panels

Once you’ve assessed how many panels you need on your own or with the help of our acoustic treatment calculator, you need to decide where to install them. Sound moves through air molecules in all directions from the emitting source. The air molecules are energized and bump into each other, losing some energy as heat (due to friction) as the sound wave is transmitted. The faster you turn sound energy to heat, the more sound control you have. That’s what adding more absorption to the room to the room accomplishes – it creates more friction for sound waves.

A home theater works a bit different than your typical room, because you have consistent sources of sound that don’t ever move (the speakers) and you are optimizing for peak sound quality. Because of that specific situation, it can help to think of sound instead moving like a billiard ball bouncing around a pool table. Every time it hits a hard surface, it changes direction while losing a little bit of energy. By interrupting the sounds at the “angle of first reflection”, or the first bounce of that billiard ball, you are interrupting the most direct path sound can reflect to your ear. You can find this first angle of reflection with a friend and a mirror. Take a seat in the captain’s chair and place the acoustic panel on the wall where the mirror allows you to see each speaker. Besides the angle of first reflection, you should be adding bass traps into the back corners of the room and the rest of your acoustic panels on all four walls and the ceiling. Set wall panels at about the height you would a picture frame. All acoustic panels should be placed them at least 6 inches apart to maximize absorption, but you can break that rule if you’re going for a certain aesthetic.

Get a custom plan

Whether you're into high octane action, intense dramas, or bubbly rom-coms (we love both), home theaters provide a great escape without the sticky floors or overpriced snacks. And since most contractors don’t build houses with theaters in mind, it’s up to you to get a little creative. But you don’t have to do it alone! Reach out to us anytime with some information about your space and what kind of setup you’re interested in building. We can help you customize a plan to create a home theater that would make George Lucas jealous.