The Crucial Role of First Reflection Points in Acoustic Panel Placement

Mastering the acoustics of a space is a complex undertaking.

Much more goes into the design equation for an optimal sound environment than indiscriminately placing sound absorbers and acoustic diffuser panels throughout a room. In fact, doing so may cause more sonic dissonance than harmony.

Instead, you must carefully consider factors like sonic behavior, as well as the room’s dimensions and properties. To that end, before placing sound absorption or sound diffusion solutions, you should initially identify the room’s “first reflection point.”

But what are first reflection points and why do they matter?

Let’s review this fundamental concept so that you can optimize the acoustics of any space.

What Are First Reflection Points?

Sound is produced when an object vibrates. This creates a pressure wave that our ears perceive as noise. But sound waves aren’t omnidirectional; rather, they spread out in all directions from their source. As such, when they encounter a boundary such as a wall or ceiling, some of the sound energy is absorbed by the material, and the rest is reflected back into the room.

That said, exactly how much energy is absorbed or reflected depends on the material the sound encounters.

Now, imagine you’re in a room, playing music on your speakers. The sound doesn’t just travel straight from the speakers to your ears. It also bounces off the walls, the ceiling, and even the floor before you hear it. And this bouncing sound can interfere with the direct sound from the speakers and distort what you hear.

The “first reflection points” (FRPs) are the first places the sound hits after leaving your speakers, before reaching your ears. It’s where the sound waves bounce off initially.

Often, the side walls of your room are the usual suspects for these first bounces, but sometimes, the ceiling or even the floor can be the first reflection point. However, for the sake of simplicity, your primary focus should be on the walls.

Why Do First Reflection Points Matter?

Within the context of an acoustic environment, first reflection points are a critical consideration for several reasons, including:

  • Sound clarity – Sound reflected from these points can interfere with the direct sound waves coming from the speakers, which can cause phase issues and degrade the overall sound quality and clarity.
  • Stereo imaging – Untreated FRPs can distort the stereo imaging and soundstage. This is because the reflected sounds can confuse our brain’s ability to localize sound sources, affecting the perceived location of instruments and vocals.
  • Room acoustics – FRPs contribute significantly to the overall ‘acoustic signature’ of a room. By managing these points, you can exert influence and control over how sound behaves in your room.
  • Reducing echoes and reverb – When sound waves bounce off hard surfaces, they can create echoes and reverb. Strategically adding acoustic panels to FRPs can reduce this unwanted sound or acoustic feedback.
  • Sound energy management – Sound energy that’s not absorbed or diffused at the FRP can continue to bounce around the room, creating further reflections that muddy the sonic environment.

How to Calculate First Reflection Points

The mathematical equation for determining FRPs for a room’s side walls is relatively straightforward:

Y x X2 ÷ (X1+X2)

  • Y – The distance from your ears in the mix position to the line connecting the studio monitors on the sidewalls.
  • X1 – The distance of the monitors from the respective sidewalls.
  • X2 – The distance from the center of your head to the nearest sidewall.

Want a simpler approach that doesn’t involve math?

If so, you can use the mirror method (as shown in this video) to determine the position of first reflection points for your acoustic panel placement. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sit in your mix position, where you would typically listen or work with your audio.
  2. Have another person hold a hand mirror against the side wall while standing at various locations along the wall.
  3. Move the mirror unil you can see your recording studio monitors through it from your listening position.
  4. Mark the area on the wall where the mirror is positioned when you can see the monitors.

The marked areas represent the optimal position to place your acoustic solutions. While you could technically place sound absorption panels in these spots, a better strategy involves placing medium curve diffusers at the FRPs to widen and focus the stereo sound stage.

Additionally, consider placing small curve diffusers on the front and back walls and using fabric-wrapped sound absorber panels in the corners. These carefully chosen acoustical panels, eight in total, will immediately enhance the sound in the room. In fact, they might be all that’s needed to optimize the acoustic environment.

However, keep in mind that every room is unique, and further adjustments on the acoustic treatment may be required for optimal results and sound blocking.

Enhance Your Acoustic Environment with Acoustical Surfaces

To truly control your acoustic environment, simply knowing precisely what solutions to use and where to place them can lead to remarkable sound enhancements in any room. And, by identifying the room size and first reflection points, you have a solid foundation for this transformative process.

If you need assistance, the sound professionals at Acoustical Surfaces are here to help. We offer expert guidance so that you can better comprehend your unique acoustic needs, select the ideal acoustic treatment solutions like sound absorning panels, and strategically deploy them for the greatest impact.

The end result?
A room where sound quality can reach its full potential.



  1. Ledger Note. How Do We Calculate the First Reflection Panel Wall Position?


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