The 10 Best Acoustic Foams
10. Foamily Panels
9. Soundtrax Pro
8. Studiofoam Metro
7. Auralex Lenrd
6. Sound Addicted
5. ATS Wedges
4. Monoprice Shield
3. Pyle Isolation
2. Auralex Sonoflat
1. Auralex Roominator
A Far Cry From The Egg Crate
When I was in high school, my bandmates and I set out to transform our drummer's basement in to a recording studio. Without a lot of money to spend, we started tuning the room with egg crates, taking them from our respective parents' refrigerators as soon as they wore down to their last few eggs. Eventually, I started asking the local supermarket for crates they intended to discard, and we got enough material to cover most of the walls and ceiling.
The reason egg crates worked for us was twofold. Firstly, we didn't know enough about audio engineering to really be able hear the difference between what these crates offered and what professional acoustic foam could do. Secondly, the space sounded so bad to begin with that anything would have been a vast improvement.
As far as the physics go, the crates performed one of the two tasks acoustic foams are designed to perform. The bubbles where the eggs had been, when pointed outward off the wall, mimicked the corrugation of good acoustic foam, the points of which literally break and scatter the flowing sound waves. It's the difference between a balloon hitting a flat surface and the same balloon hitting a surface of little needles.
Once scattered, acoustic foam absorbs the sound energy, a feat the egg crates couldn't quite replicate. Now, there can be no loss of energy here. That defies all physics. The foam doesn't just drink the energy and that's it. It dissipates the energy of the sound vibrations as heat, which is why it's a smart idea to curve any foam you place at a corner so that there's a little gap between it and the wall. This will also serve to reduce extra bass frequencies where the walls meet the floor.
Breaking The Waves
You can double and triple check the acoustic foam options on our list all you like; none of them are egg crates. That means you're bound to get much better quality dampening than we had back in the basement, but you'd do well to go even further and find the perfect foam for your space.
Right off the bat, it's important for us to look at the standout among the foams on our list, which is the Silvertone foam sheeting. This is particularly good for reducing the kind of high frequency noises you might encounter from a computer fan or from certain instruments and amplifiers in the recording space, but it isn't designed to do the same job as the corrugated foams on the rest of the list.
Among those other foams, most come in sets of 12 or 24 square tiles that you can position around the room as you see fit. You'll notice, however, that the images of most layouts feature an alternating alignment pattern, in which one tile is placed with its ridges running vertically, while the tiles on either side of it have their ridges running horizontally. In this distribution, the larger pattern of tiles enhances the smaller pattern of the ridges themselves, creating a more diversely effective scattering.
Thickness is also a concern with your acoustic foam, as thicker tiles will absorb wider frequency ranges and a higher percentage of sound waves. All of the tiles on our list are well-suited for vocal work, though, so most will eradicate reflections of anything in the 1KHz to 3KHz range. There are some foams, however, that don't come as a set of tiles for you to arrange, but as a miniature, desktop audio booth.
The configuration of this booth is absolutely ideal for tracking vocals and voices pretty much anywhere you set it up. It's ideal for podcasters, in particular, but beware that small bits of sound that don't get fully absorbed can hit a wall behind you and bounce back into your microphone. Even with this set up, it's advisable that you get a hold of an additional few tiles to mount behind you.
Want Good Tone? Go To Church.
Acoustic design is an old architectural art form, reaching at least as far back as the construction of early Greek amphitheaters as well as royal concert halls and performance spaces throughout Europe. The growth of European Christianity also coincided with some of the most elaborately designed holy buildings in history, most of which were built specifically with acoustics in mind.
Walk into any cathedral and make the smallest sound. Hear how richly and purely it reverberates through the space. Throughout the history of recorded music, producers and engineers often recorded in churches due to their superior acoustic construction.
More recently, as digital manipulation of sound has made it possible to take a signal and build a theoretical room all around it, the desire has shifted from tracking tones rich in natural reverb to tracking tones that are as dry as possible. There are still some producers who prefer to track a natural reverb sound recorded in-microphone, but their kind won't be around forever. As the new guard takes control of the landscape, acoustic foam will prove to be the ultimate tracking tool.