It’s 2017 and we have better methods to combat acoustic fabric failure. There are new standards for testing and certifying acoustic fabrics. Whenever you hear the words “acoustic fabric” in a studio, it should now be assumed that they are talking about acoustical fabric with a tested fire rating of at least one hour in length.

A common practice in the past was to take a great sounding fabric and not test it. The fabric was then used for many years in various stages of recording. Another common practice was to test the fabric, but not actually put it through its paces during a recording session. So you could have a great sounding speaker and it still wouldn’t withstand the rigors of a full blown recording session.

The process of putting a fabric through its paces can vary, but at the very least the fabric should be tested for flammability and strength. Some manufacturers are going so far as to put their fabrics through acoustic testing as well, such as testing how much acoustic absorption is lost over time with prolonged exposure to sound.

However, even these tests have their limitations when it comes to protecting your studio from wildfires. The problem with these two tests is that they only apply if the fabric is dry. So if you leave the fabric out in the sun to dry, it will have been subjected to the UV rays and nothing more. Ever wonder why all of those Acoustic Fabric Labels say “dry”. It’s because they are telling you that their fabrics are subject to high levels of UV rays and can only be used when kept dry for a period of time.

The other test is testing how much acoustic absorption is lost after extended exposure to sound (like a recording session).

What is an acoustic fabric?

Acoustic fabrics are made up of one, two, or even three layers. The top layer will be the most absorbent, followed by the middle layer which can be an acoustic barrier which is more sound transparent and serves to prevent one layer from touching another and so on.

Once you have your fabric cut to size, a good studio practice would be to line all of your walls and ceiling with a fireproof fabric. In addition, you will want to put acoustic grommets at every stud in the wall and ceiling as well. By doing this, you can easily fill them with drywall compound or other sealant and have it leak proof. This will help stop any sound leakage and should be your first line of defense against a fire.

However, even if there are grommets in place, if you have a fabric that fails, then your studio is going to be toast. It’s that simple. If you have to fight a fire, it will be the first thing that’s going up in flames.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “I could build a fireproof studio like this” and “it’s going to cost too much”. If that is your attitude, then consider the alternative: using acoustic foam. It is available in many products like ETC’s Foam-R-Foam or DYNAFOAM acoustic panels and mounting systems. I know what you are thinking again: “I don’t trust it”.

This is understandable, but let me ask you this: If your acoustic foam fails and your studio goes up in flames, then what? The answer is that the fire department will come in with fire hoses and douse it. They might even cut down the walls and ceiling to get to the source of the fire. This can go on for hours depending on how deep the foam has penetrated your wood studs.

Traditional acoustic fabric is made of cotton, polyester or wool. These materials are a bit flammable, but not nearly as flammable as many people think. You want to make sure that you go with an acoustically resilient type of fabric and not just any old fabric that is labeled “fire resistant”.

How does it work?

The sound coming out of a speaker will hit the fabric and be absorbed and converted to heat. The hotter the speaker gets, the more sound that is absorbed. If there is no heat, there is no sound absorption. When you turn off your speaker or amp, the material cools down and the sound absorption returns to normal. This is why acoustic foam tends to accumulate more dust over time than acoustic fabric: it’s not as busy doing its job. Therefore, with acoustic foam you have to sweep it regularly.

How do I know what acoustic fabric is right for my studio?

Here is where things get tricky and can be a bit confusing. You need to make sure that what you are getting is actually certified for sound absorption. This means that it has been tested by a reputable third-party. A good way to make sure is to go online and find a website that specializes in acoustic fabrics like Studio Fabrics . These guys have everything you need for sound absorption, fire protection, and even custom solutions.

Another option is to go directly through the manufacturer of your favorite speaker or other studio equipment. Often times they will offer acoustic fabric options that are specific for their product line.

Does cloth reduce sound?

Cloth is the main component in the manufacture of acoustic foam. However, it has been a challenge for many brands of acoustic foam to prove that it reduces sound without being flammable. However, as far as I am concerned, cloth does not reduce sound as much as people think. I say this because people often pay more attention to all of the scientific data that goes into making acoustical fabric and ends up dismissing what they hear in the studio.

As a result, I take the approach of using cloth when I am not working in a recording session. It’s pretty easy to see what kinds of things are happening throughout the day with your studio lights.

What does “studio fire resistant” mean?

An acoustic foam made to be “studio fire resistant” will typically have one or more of three properties:

Polycarbonate coating: This is a specialized type of plastic that is often found on the outside of buildings to protect them from fires. It works a lot like the plastic that firefighters use to protect themselves from the heat of a fire. It will usually be listed as “PC” within the technical specifications.

Melamine coating: This is another specialized type of plastic that is often used for kitchen countertops, tables, and other surfaces made from wood. These are great at keeping moisture out so it doesn’t warp, dry out, or even burn.

Water resistant fabric: This type of acoustic material is very good at preventing normal amounts of water from passing through it. However, because it doesn’t breathe, it will dampen the sound in a recording studio.

Acoustic fabric for speakers?

Acoustic foam is made to absorb sound on a wide variety of frequencies. However, you can make your own acoustic speakers out of any type of acoustical fabric. This is especially helpful if you like the idea of using acoustic fabric in the studio, but don’t want to use it on your speakers because it’s too expensive or doesn’t look cool enough in your living room.

The way that I made my acoustic speakers was by taking two large sheets of foam and stuffing them into a couple of speaker cabinets from the back. One thing to remember is that the foam gets very hot when it is working and if there is a failure, you will have a problem.

I like to use acoustic foam for my acoustic speakers because I like the way it looks in my living room and also because I don’t want to risk having a fire in my studio. The acoustic fabric that you can buy off of Amazon or eBay will typically cost more than the foam from your local building store.

The main concern is that the material will be flammable or fireproof, but the reality is that it’s not nearly as flammable as one might think. You can buy all types of acoustic foam at any big box store.

I hope this article helped you learn more about the acoustic foam that you might have seen in your favorite recording studios and how it can work for you. Once you start using it, I guarantee that you will have a new respect for acoustic foam once it works its magic in your studio.

If there is anything that I can do to help make your studio sound better, please let me know by leaving a comment below or contacting me directly.