I often get asked about the advantages of soundproof curtains vs. panels for quick, temporary solutions to noise pollution. I’ve done some research to come up with a quick answer:
When it comes to soundproof curtains vs. panels, curtains offer an easier and more versatile solution. However, soundproof panels absorb a greater range of mid and low frequency sounds, making them a better all-round option.
In this article, I’ll go over the main differences between soundproof curtains and panels so you know which will be best for you.
Differences Between Soundproof Curtains and Panels
To some extent, it’s not really ideal to compare soundproof curtains and acoustic panels. This is because they largely do different jobs and have slightly different applications.
That said, both can be used for something like partitioning or dividing a room quickly and easily.
In order to understand which is best, it’s worth covering the construction of each and how they differ in function.
We’ll start with soundproof curtains. At the most basic level, these are normal curtains with an extra layer of insulation sewn in. This extra layer can be made of:
- Cellulose insulation
- Mass loaded vinyl (Amazon link)
Lower-end products will often contain something like wool or felt. While these are dense by fabric standards, they’re nowhere near as effective as mass loaded vinyl.
Acoustic panels come in a wide range of styles and functions, but the most popular are room dividers.
In short, these are portable panels made with acoustic foam. They’re the sort of thing you’d find in an open-plan office to divide it into smaller areas.
Both soundproof curtains and acoustic panels serve the same general purpose: to absorb airborne sounds traveling through a space.
Fabric has a level of sound absorption, but denser fabrics perform better than lightweight ones.
Sound absorbing panels are able to do thanks to their acoustic cores. Usually made of acoustic foam, they trap sound waves and prevent them from escaping.
Sound absorption is the process by which a portion of a sound wave’s energy is spent making particles in a material vibrate.
Thicker and denser materials are more effective because there’s simply more of them for the sound waves to pass through.
However, mass is also useful, but for blocking sound rather than absorbing it. This is why soundproof curtains with a core of MLV are much more effective.
Bear in mind, though, that sound absorbing is only one part of a greater soundproofing project.
Soundproofing means blocking or isolating sounds, while sound absorption is more about managing acoustics in a space.
Therefore, for best results, you need to use either soundproof curtains or acoustic panels alongside a range of other solutions.
Comparing Soundproof Curtains vs. Panels
That said, there might be some occasions when these products are the best option. As mentioned, dividing a room into smaller areas requires temporary solutions that are easy to move around.
To see which is better for your needs, here’s a handy comparison chart.
|Soundproof curtains||Acoustic panels|
|Material||Fabric, noise-reducing core||Acoustic foam|
|Ease of use||Easy-medium||Easy|
|Effective against||High frequency||High-low (most effective against high)|
|NRC||Up to 0.4||Up to 0.8|
As you can see, acoustic panels generally come out on top in all the important factors.
This is mostly because they contain solid materials, such as acoustic foam, rather than being made entirely of fabric.
However, it’s worth breaking this down into a bit more detail.
Acoustic panels are effective against a wider range of frequencies. There isn’t an exact figure to represent this, as it entirely depends on materials and thickness.
But acoustic foam is always going to be more effective than fabric. What’s more, acoustic panels are thicker than curtains anyway.
Then there’s the NRC. This stands for noise reduction coefficient, and is a value between 0 and 1.
The number represents what percentage of sound the material absorbs. So, for example, acoustic panels have an NRC of 0.8, which means they absorb 80% of a sound wave’s energy.
The rest is either reflected back to the source or passes through the panel.
Soundproof curtains have a much lower NRC rating. Again, this is because they’re made of fabric and are thinner.
NRC is dependent on thickness and materials used, which is why I stated it goes up to a certain figure. Where possible, check the product’s specific NRC.
Finally, it’s worth considering ease of use. Granted, this depends on your intended purpose, but there are a few things to be said.
Soundproof curtains require a curtain pole; that much should be obvious. You can still hang them in front of walls or doors, but you’ll need to put in a bit more work to get them up.
Acoustic panels, on the other hand, are pretty much ready to go. Sure, you might need to put the feet on yourself, but that’s hardly a big task.
Perhaps one thing that does work in the favor of soundproof curtains is the range of colors they come in.
Soundproof curtains are treated much like normal curtains, meaning you can get them in a wide range of colors, patterns, and fabrics.
Acoustic panels, however, usually come in neutral colors, like black, white, and gray. While this isn’t the end of the world, it can be a bit drab.
So in short, acoustic panels will be the better option in most situations. They’re easier to use, better at absorbing sound, and are more versatile. You’re only let down by the poor range of colors and the slightly higher price.
How to Make DIY Acoustic Panels
One ideal solution to these problems is to make your own. DIY acoustic panels take very little work and only a few materials.
I’d even say it’ll work out slightly cheaper than buying acoustic panels, particularly if you don’t need many.
For this you’ll need:
- Fabric of your choice
- Acoustic foam or insulation
You realistically have complete freedom of choice over what material you use as the panel’s core.
But I’d recommend something like mineral wool insulation (Amazon link). Although a thermal insulation product, its density makes it pretty good at absorbing sound.
You can also get acoustic panels but they’re not very thick. You’ll therefore need more, which can get expensive.
Depending on your needs, you could also add a few layers of mass loaded vinyl, but this isn’t completely necessary.
Here’s the method:
1. Get your measurements
The benefit of making your own panels is that they can be whatever size you need.
Consider factors such as portability and purpose when deciding on size, but also consider that gaps above and below the panel will let noise through.
2. Make the frame
Using your measurements, cut the lumber to size. You’ll need to use 2x4s or something similar – 4 pieces in total.
Arrange these into a rectangle and nail together. Adding glue between the joints will add strength, as will adding some angle brackets.
3. Add the core
Next, fix the core in place. It’s easiest to do this with glue, although what kind of glue you need will depend on what material you’re using.
Stick it to the frame, but be sparing on how much glue you use. Too much will clog up the acoustic material, which will reduce its efficiency.
If you’re using mass loaded vinyl, now is the time to add it.
4. Cover in material
The final step is to cover the acoustic foam in the material of your choice. Cut it to size first and do one side at a time.
Stretch the material, starting in one corner, and either glue or staple in place.
I’d recommend using a fabric that’s not too lightweight. While it won’t have a massive impact on the panel’s performance, you don’t really want to see the foam through it.
Once you’ve done the other side, you’ll be finished.
Depending on how you want to use this acoustic panel, you can always mount it on casters. This will make it easier to move about in a space.
Alternatively, you could always hang it on a wall instead.
So Which is Better, Soundproof Curtains or Acoustic Panels?
In my opinion, acoustic panels win over soundproof curtains every time. Not only are they more versatile, but they’re simply better at absorbing sound.
Remember though, neither product should be used on its own. Sound absorption is just one of many factors you need to consider when soundproofing a space.
For best results, you’ll also need to add mass and sound dampening materials. Ideally, you’ll want to decouple walls too.
Some Final Thoughts
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide on the advantages of soundproof curtains vs. panels.
To understand which is right, make sure you plan out your project in detail, including needs and budget.
If you need to manage acoustics in a space, I advise sticking with acoustic panels. There are few situations when soundproof curtains are better.