Wood Equalizer – The Acoustic Panels Review
"Not so long ago, acoustic panels from Wood Equalizer fell into my hands. Bartek, who manages the project, sent me a set of 6 panels. Although I'm not a huge fan of acoustic systems made up of foam, I eventually decided to fix them up in my home studio, do some measurements and recordings and finally draw conclusions. The reason for doing so, is the fact that in comparison to, for example, popular and cheap foam pyramids, Wood Equalizer is something more than just foam... Therefore my interest in the product aroused and the results of the 'reaserch' I've done was posted in this article.
What exactly the panels are, how they work and what effectiveness they demonstrate – check out in this post.
Materials used to make the panels
Wood Equalizer is an absorbing and diffusing system, which means that it both, absorbs and diffuses the energy of an acoustic wave. The effect can be achieved thanks to the application of high quality polyurethane (the base of the panel) which is fixed firmly to birch wood panel (the top part). The panel's dimensions are 500mm x 500mm x 45mm and the weight is merely half a kilogram. To simplify fixing the panels to walls a set of velcro is included (you only need to get strong glue).
What needs to be pointed out is the high quality of the make and the overall aesthetics of the structure – the panel looks really atractive. I'm aware of the fact that an argument such as 'look pretty' may be associated more with a description of woman's shoes (and a matching purse) though appearance does matter to me. Maybe I missed my vocation...?
According to the information on the compnay's website, the application of such systems is recommended in places where the acosutics needs to be improved – from sound studios to cinema rooms, theatres, conference halls, music clubs and private hi-fi rooms.
I fixed the panels in my home studio choosing the most sensitive spots – areas of the first reflections.
So two panels went to the left side, two to the right (temporarily) and two up on the ceiling - all more or less halfway between the monitors and my head (placed in the playback area while working)
Anyway, eventually, after doing the tests, I decided to fix two panels to the ceiling and four to the back wall (as you can see in the photos attached) and in the first reflection areas I left my woolen absorbers.
I like the fact that we won't find any fuzzy, suspicious and mysterious descriptions on the website – the ones we often come across in 'manufacturer's descriptions' advertising acoustic foam. I've been always amused by slogans such as ''Our product will control perfectly the acoustics in your studio'', ''Thanks to our foam your studio will sound prefessionally'' and so on. Anybody with basic knowledge of the subject will know that foam DOES NOT have physical properties to absorb the lowest frequencies (well, maybe if it was 1,5 meter thick it could make a little difference),however manufacturers and distributors of such miracles hide the fact misleading young and often naive people. In addition they don't provide any test results to confirm all those groundless promises.
There are no gimmcks when it comes to Wood Equalizer. The website provides us with clearly illustrated range of performance in the form of an interactive graph which shows the exact function of the systems. Wood Equalizer took even one step further – the company put out the report (downloadable version on the website), where we can have a closer look at the accredited acoustic tests conducted at Building Research Institute ITB in Warsaw.
Following the taken tests presented on the website, the panels demonstrate the highest effectiveness( up to 0.9 out of 1.0) in the range of 400Hz up to 1250Hz which translates into impressive control over medium band when it comes to both – absorbtion and diffussion.
Noteworthily, this range ( medium spectrum) is the one to which a human ear is especially sensitive (so a huge positive in favour of WE panels) and above this range (1600Hz up 4000Hz) -respectively 0.5 and 0.4.
Expectations vs. Reality
As we all know very well – results on paper is one thing and practical efectiveness is another thing. Hence reliable advantages (or losses) will be noticable in the playback or recording situation.
We can stop theoretical discussion about the panels now. Anyone interested in reading more about the penels and the company's mission - go to THIS WEBSITE.
Just for the sake of clarity - I didn't conduct ultra-precise lab tests including caculating all coefficient, variable, etc.since this has been done in the Institute.
Instead I used my own recording and playback equipment and did some measurements with the use of Room EQ Wizard, which basically confirmed all the information shown in the interactive graph on the producer's website.
The most important aspect was the real performance of Wood Equalizer in a situation of an actual playback and recording. And this is what I focused on most.
Conditions for conducting the test
What needs to be pointed out is that my room had been previously adapted (12 broadband absorbers filled with mineral wool Isover PT-80 in wooden frames) so I didn't really expect a revolution after applying Wood Equalizer systems. Not wanting to change already existing adaptation in the first reflection areas on both side walls, I fixed two WE to the absorbers (self-made string construction...) on both sides. Additionally, I put two remaining WE panels on the ceiling (which was previously not adapted). What I wanted to check, is what good could the new systems bring in, in my already adapted studio.
Recordings were made with the use of one omni-directional microphone (both speakers switched on – this is where the phase effects come from). The results of the test below:
As we can hear (and in accordance with the published tests results), the clarity in the medium frequency improved and the reverberation time got shorter. The punch in the lower medium is stronger too, which is easy to hear when you listen to the bass drum. The improvement is obvious. It wasn't hard to predict that lower frequencies will make a lot of mess in the room, but as we already know – these systems don't work on bass. All in all we can notice significant improvement in lower and partially higher frequencies – as originally assumed.
Next step of my testing was a little more drastic as I decided to temporarily remove my absorbers and check how much the acoustics of the room will change while applying only WE panels. I stood near the blank wall (where the woolen absorbers were placed before) and recorded vocal. Next I put in provisionally (on tall chairs) WE panels and recorder the same line/piece.
Here, the disappearance of reverbation is even more noticable, so another plus when it comes to the WE performance.
Towards the end, just for fun, I carried out one more simple and quick test. The producer claims, that the panels eliminate effectively flutter echo, a well known phenomenon of quick and short repetitions of sound in higher register, which can be usually heard when we clap hands in an empty room. I went to a bedroom (not adapted room) I clapped my hands and it sounded like this:
It might have not been the most technically advanced test of the systems but the auditory sensation tells us everything. Flutter echo has been completely eliminated.
A Little Extra...
After carrying out the tests I sat down, had a coffee, thought a little and... felt like doing one more, additional test. Namely, I decided to check how the systems work if we use them as ' a screen' separating us (and the microphone) from the the rest of the room in a recording situation. So I made two extra recordings of the acoustic guitar.
First, sitting more or less in the middle of the room and hiding the WE panels in the box (Pay attention to the ending of the audio file, where the reverberation of the room can be especially heard):
Then I made up some kind of acoustic screen out of four WE panels fixed to the tripods, approximately half a meter away from the mic which picks up the guitar (notice that not only the reverberation time shortened at the end but also the line itself seems clearer) :
It turnes out the WE panels work well in such situation too. Reflections from the lower band might not be really well absorbed, but most of these reflections in the medium band are effectively blocked ( in an open space), and the overall band balance of the track is better preserved, clear with no reflections diturbing the reception (when WE panels are present). Therefore, I belive that building a kind of acoustic screen from the panels will influence more the quality of recording then applying those disgraceful foam screens, which unrelentingly suppresses only the high frequency band and leavs recorded tracks matt and liveless.
So much for recording and tests. All audio files embedded on this website are mp3 format, but for anybody who's interested in downloading higher resolution, uploading on their DAW – a downloadable wave pack below (24bit / 44.1 kHz).
Conclusions and my personal opinion
Honestly speaking, initially I was a bit sceptical about the panels, due to the presence of the foam in their construction. However, the wooden part effectively dealt with the avoidance of suppressing the the high frequency band- typical symphtom when applying cheap piramids. The fact is that foam piramids can only suppress – and they suppress only a part of medium and higher band. That's why their effectiveness is limited to dampening the recorded signal, which is often misinterpreted by many people as a good (since simple and cheap) way to improve acoustics. Unfortunately it is illusive and quickly comes out in comparison with a properly recorded track.
The advantage of the WE panels is that a part of the signal is diffused instead of being absorbed (in other words it isn't lost but returned in a slightly weaker form), thanks to that the higher frequencies aren't excessively suppressed- the band's balance is preserved better and reflections are impeded (scattered into smaller particles).
If we add the fact that foam doesn't work on the low frequency band which usually causes most trouble with controlling acoustics of a room, we score an own goal not once but twice - we suppress only the the higher frequencies, so that the signal darkens and the untouched low frequencies creep out.
Anyway the worst thing is closing yourself in a small space lined with foam – is actually your third own goal, because besides the other things, additionally we strenghten resonance in the lower frequencies (due to little distance between the walls inside).
Back to the WE panels...
If I had to use one word to describe them I'd say 'balance'. I'm not going to feed you a line that a few pieces will solve all issues connected with the room's acoustics, as it's impossible, but in the frequency band predicted for these systems, we receive the balance between the sound which is absorbed and the one which is diffused which translates into controlled and not over-dampened quality of sound. Thanks to the fact that a part of the sound energy is absorbed and another part scattered, much of the frequencies from the medium band seem more balanced and coherent. Undoubtedly it is this system's success and in this area the panels fullfil their task perfectly.
As I've written above , a few of these panels will not solve every problem related to acoustics. Wood Equalizer, despite their impressive effectiveness, won't work on the low frequency band (as it's not their task), so I suggest applying additionally broadband absorbers from mineral wool or some quality bass traps. The two systems will ideally complement each other and if we do the job properlly using the accurate measurements and analyze the results – we can count on a truely decent, well- adapted home studio
I hope the article and tests helped you to understand better they way Wood Equalizer work and when they can be of use. As far as I'm concerned when it comes to acoustic adaptation, Wood Equalizer present a high level of effectiveness -backed up by accredited testing and my own – pseudo scientific ones- which proves that we're not discussing any trash goods but quality products which do the job.
Then I went back to my studio where the panels were still fitted 'temporarily' and it sounded like that: