Acoustic Panels vs. Acoustic Foam

Room acoustics matter, and controlling the way sound behaves—whether for productivity (as in loud workplaces) or for maximum enjoyment (as in a theater)—is essential. If you’re looking to manage noise, you need a sound absorption solution. Traditionally, that means installing acoustic panels or acoustic foam.

Both options can effectively reduce unwanted flutter echoes, making high-noise areas safer and more agreeable. So, what’s the difference between the two?

From a high level, acoustic panels are ideal for treating larger public spaces, while acoustic foam is more suited to smaller rooms. However, there’s more nuance to the acoustic panels vs acoustic foam conversation. If you’re trying to decide between foam and panels, this guide will help point you in the right direction.

What are Acoustic Panels?

Acoustic panels are products made from an acoustical core (a dense, sound-absorbing material) and an acoustic fabric cover. These rigid panels are installed in key places on the wall or ceiling to absorb sound.

Acoustic panels owe their functionality to the physics of sound.1 In a closed space, a sound wave leaves its source, moves through the air, and bounces off nearby surfaces, creating unwanted reflections that increase the overall perception of noise in the room. Acoustic panels dampen the sound by absorbing some of it, rather than reflecting all of it.

Note that while acoustic panels can reduce the amount of noise heard outside the room, they are not soundproofing solutions.

What is Acoustic Foam?

Acoustic foam, as the name suggests, is a thick, sturdy foam designed to control noise levels by reducing any reverberation and vibration. A piece of foam generally consists of a flat side and a “bumpy” side, making installation on any wall or ceiling effortless.

In a sense, acoustic foam works similarly to acoustic panels; both products absorb sound and reduce unwanted reflections without completely blocking noise. With that said, the amount of sound they absorb differs, as do many other qualities.

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Key Differences Between Acoustic Panels and Acoustic Foam

When it comes to acoustic panels vs foam, there are more differences than meets the eye. Let’s compare the two in several noteworthy categories.

Effectiveness Across Sound Frequencies

Of course, one of the most important distinctions to make is what sound acoustic panels and foam can absorb. While every product will have different sound absorption coefficients and thus affect sound differently, we can make a few generalizations about acoustic panels and soundproof foam.

With acoustic panels, sound absorption varies by material and size. For example, our 1”-thick Fabrisorb wall panel is relatively effective at 500 Hz, while the 2” version can absorb a significant amount of sound down to 250 Hz. At the risk of generalizing, acoustic panels are more effective at controlling mid-range sounds, making them ideal in areas where speech intelligibility is essential.

By contrast, 2”-thick foam can absorb frequencies above 2 or 3 kHz, while 4” foam can absorb frequencies down to 1 kHz.2 However, the fundamental frequency of the human voice ranges between 100 and 200 Hz,3 so not all speech will be controlled by the acoustical foam. As such, an acoustic foam is better suited for mechanical or musical environments where higher frequencies make up the bulk of the noise.

Physical Characteristics

Next, let’s examine the construction of each option:

  • SizeAcoustic panels come in various sizes but tend to be larger—some can reach up to 4’ x 10’. Acoustic foam generally comes in pre-cut segments ranging from 1’ x 1’ to 4’ x 8’.
  • Shape – Acoustic panels are traditionally rectangular, though they can be custom-made into other shapes. Acoustic foam generally comes as squares or rectangles but can be cut into various shapes by the end user. So, be sure to check which is the best acoustic foam shape for your room.
  • Material – Acoustic panels are made of a dense inner material (such as wood or fiberglass) and, usually, a soft outer fabric covering. Acoustical foam is, unsurprisingly, made of a single piece of high-quality foam that’s been shaped to absorb sound.

Aesthetic and Customization Possibilities

While appearance may be a minor consideration compared to functionality, the aesthetic of your space is nevertheless important. And in the acoustic panels vs foam debate, there’s a clear winner.

Most people would agree that acoustic panels are more aesthetically pleasing. The clean edges and low-profile design are more polished and professional-looking. Additionally, they can be ordered in an array of colors and patterns.

Acoustic foam, on the other hand, has a more “unfinished” look. Foam segments are often neutral-colored, jagged, and reminiscent of an egg carton. And while you may be tempted to customize your foam panels with a layer of paint, it’s not recommended. Regular paint can clog the pores and interfere with how sound is absorbed.4

Whether you choose acoustic panels or foam, if you want a specific color or print, it’s wise to ask your supplier if they can customize the product before installation.

Practical Applications

Naturally, the room you’re trying to treat will inform which sound treatment to purchase. Some spaces benefit more from acoustic panels, while others will see more improvement with foam.

Acoustic panels are best suited for larger public spaces that need to control noise and keep up an appearance, such as:

  • Theaters and music venues
  • Conference rooms
  • Noisy restaurants
  • Laboratories
  • Firing ranges
  • Home theaters

Acoustic foam is best for treating smaller private rooms, including:

  • Equipment enclosure
  • Mechanical room
  • Home recording space (for instrument tracking, podcasts, etc.)
  • Professional recording studio
  • Private music lesson facility

Cost Implications

Because of their multi-part construction and size, acoustic panels are generally more costly than acoustic foam.

If aesthetics are a concern and you have the budget, acoustic panels may be ideal. However, if you’re trying to cut back on costs and style is of little consequence, acoustic foam may be the better choice.

With that in mind, costs are always project-specific. To obtain an accurate quote for your specific needs, contact a reputable acoustics expert.

One Final Consideration: Fiberglass in Acoustic Panels

And what about acoustic foam vs fiberglass? How do these solutions compare?

As mentioned, some acoustic panels are made from fiberglass instead of wood or P.E.P.P. (porous expanded polypropylene). Acoustic fiberglass panels have similar sound absorption properties to other acoustic panels but are especially useful when a “drywall look” is required.

Overall, fiberglass panels could be used in place of acoustic panels, but not acoustic foam.

Find the Perfect Solution for Your Room

Ultimately, when you understand the sonic challenges you’re facing, you can make the best possible choice. But even with our wealth of online guides and resources, determining whether to install acoustic panels, acoustic foam, or another product can be challenging.

If you’re not sure of your specific requirements, contact the experts at Acoustical Surfaces. We can provide professional advice and tailored solutions for sound control in every industry and application.

We look forward to hearing about your next acoustic project.



  1. Acoustical Surfaces. How Sound Works in Rooms
  2.  Sound on Sound. Q. What acoustic foam should I use in a vocal booth?
  3. National Library of Medicine. Fundamental Voice Frequency: Acoustic, Electroglottographic, and Accelerometer Measurement in Individuals With and Without Vocal Alteration.
  4. Sound on Sound. Q. Is it OK to paint acoustic foam?

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