What are the best fabrics acoustically is a question we are asked a lot. Choosing the right fabric is crucial to the effectiveness of acoustic panels. Some fabrics certainly perform better acoustically than others for a number of reasons, but in truth, the fabric alone does not have a significant affect on sound absorption.
What is important is that a suitable type of fabric is chosen and it is used correctly with the other materials that make up acoustic panelling products, such as the absorbing core. The most sound absorbing element of any acoustic panel is overwhelmingly the unseen absorption core that the fabric is covering or stretched over, normally consisting of semi-rigid fibre-glass or acoustic foam. The fabric is the attractive face which must allow the sound to transfer to this core material.
There are a number of key factors to consider when choosing the right fabric for sound absorbing acoustic panelling. Fortunately there are a huge number of textiles available in the marketplace, the majority of which could be used as the facing of acoustic panels. Some have been tested in controlled environments and have data that illustrates that they perform well as an ‘acoustic fabric’. Of course it would be impossible to test every single fabric so here we look at the key factors which determine good acoustic panel fabrics.
1. Transparency / Breath-ability
This is possibly the most important factor. Get this wrong and the absorption performance can be dramatically reduced.
Many fabrics are available ‘backed‘ or ‘unbacked‘. Backed fabrics are lined one side with either paper or acrylic, normally to assist with direct wall applications, much like applying a wall-covering which are generally paper or fabric backed. We recommend that any fabric used with acoustic panelling systems is ‘un-backed’ for two quite obvious reasons.
- Backed fabrics prevent the majority of sound to transfer through them, and
- Backed fabrics do not stretch well, which is particularly important for our stretched FabricWall system.
Fabrics should be chosen that have an open weave and are breathable, an easy way of testing this is to simply breathe or blow air through a sample of the fabric. Just be careful not to choose a fabric that has too much of an open weave, as you do not want to be able to see the core material through the fabric. It is possible to have a fabric that is acoustically transparent, but also too visibly transparent.
A fabric can tick all of the boxes acoustically, but not have properties that are conducive to being used for acoustic panelling. Here we look at some of the different types of fabric and reasons to avoid.
Particularly relevant in the case of stretched fabric panel systems, we do not want the issue of sagging or rippling to occur. This can happen in some natural fibre materials such as cotton, linen and wool which can elongate in high humidity. Synthetics such as spun nylon and viscose have very little stretch memory and may not return to their original tensity when exposed to changes in humidity.
Hydrophobic fibres such as polyester and acrylic are very stable and remain tight after stretching with no risk of sagging. It could be argued that synthetic materials are the most suitable for stretched fabric systems. But, as brilliant as the modern polyester fibre fabrics such as Trevira are, we love natural fibres and therefore recommend blended fabrics with over 50% polyester.
Nowadays, the focus of acoustic panelling is becoming more balanced between ‘function’ and ‘aesthetics’. Architects and designers are realising that solving acoustic problems can be done in an aesthetically pleasing way, so much so that acoustic treatments are becoming the design focus of room interiors. We believe using fabrics on walls and ceilings is an important architectural design feature that will continue to grow and develop with the ever growing focus on the benefits of good acoustics, particularly in the modern IT driven workplace.
What Fabrics Do Acoustic Panel Manufacturers Use?
Another very good indication of which fabrics work well acoustically, is to look at which ones are used by the leading manufacturers. Many acoustic product manufacturers have a range of preferred fabrics that have been tested with their systems.
UK based acoustic wall panel manufacturers tend to produce more affordable, pre-fabricated wrapped panels. High Wycombe based manufacturer Soundsorba has a range of panels that uses the ‘Lucia‘ and ‘Cara‘ fabrics by Camira. These open-weave fabrics, commonly used as upholstery for office seating and screens are at the lower price end of the market.