Finding the right screen and screen material for your home theater can be quite challenging. Screen size, screen gain, room environment, ambient light, projector light output, screen type, cost, and more can make anyone’s head spin. If you pick an acoustically transparent screen, things get more complicated: 1) there aren’t as many options, and 2) there are more variables to consider, which impact both picture and sound. Plus, acoustically transparent screens on average (at least woven ones) have a lower rated gain than your traditional screen material! Challenging, indeed.
It’s commonly recommended to get as many samples as possible and compare. That’s time-consuming, though, and it can be hard to know what to look for. The goal of this project was to do that comparison and report the findings, in detail, at one time and in one place. Removing as much subjectivity as possible, I’ve tested 31 acoustically transparent screen materials for dB loss, estimated screen gain, visible texture from eight, ten, and 13.5 feet, contrast, and sharpness.
How should this be used?
My goal is not to pick a screen for you. There is still some subjectivity involved when picking a screen. All of these screens have some tradeoffs. It is up to you to select the screen that fits your needs and desires. What this report can do is help you narrow down the list. I’d encourage anyone reading this to select a few that check the right boxes and order some samples. Then pick from that grouping.
|Carl’s Place Nano Acoustic FlexiWhite||Perforated|
|Carl’s Place Nano Acoustic FlexiGray||Perforated|
|Carl’s Place SheerWeave Acoustic||Coated Woven|
|DreamScreen UltraWeave V6||Bonded Woven|
|DreamScreen UltraWeave V7||Bonded Woven|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 1080P3||Uncoated Woven|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro UHD||Coated Woven|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 8K||Bonded Woven|
|Elite Screens Cinema White 8K||Bonded Woven|
|Severtson Cinema White MicroPerf||Perforated|
|Severtson BWAT||Coated Woven|
|Severtson SAT-4K||Uncoated Woven|
|Severtson TAT-4K||Uncoated Woven|
|Seymour AV Center Stage UF||Uncoated Woven|
|Seymour AV Center Stage XD||Coated Woven|
|Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor Neo||Uncoated Woven|
|Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor Bright||Coated Woven|
|Silver Ticket WAB||Coated Woven|
|Silver Ticket WVS||Uncoated Woven|
|Spandex – white over black – from Fabric Wholesale Direct||Uncoated Woven|
|Spandex – light silver over black – from Spandex World||Uncoated Woven|
|Stewart Filmscreen Harmony G2||Uncoated Woven|
|Stewart Filmscreen GreyMatte 70 Perforated||Perforated|
|Stewart Filmscreen FireHawk G5 Perforated||Perforated|
|Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 100 Perforated||Perforated|
|Stewart Filmscreen StudioTek 130 G4 Perforated||Perforated|
|XY Screens Black Crystal Perforated||Perforated|
|XY Screens MFS 1 Perforated||Perforated|
|XY Screens Sound Max 5 Perforated||Perforated|
|XY Screens Sound Max 4K||Coated Woven|
|XY Screens Sound Max 8K||Coated Woven|
Four types of acoustically transparent materials were tested:
- standard screen material with micro-perforations to allow sound to pass through;
- uncoated woven screen material with a t-shirt kind of feel
- bonded woven is a material that has the black backing attached to the front material
- coated woven screen material, like the strong outdoor fabric stretched across lounge chairs
Uncoated woven screens typically have less texture but are less sharp. Coated woven screens will typically have a higher gain and will be more sharp compared to the uncoated, but they have a tendency to show more texture. Bonded woven screens are very smooth, have good to great acoustics but struggle with sharpness. All types of woven screens can have good acoustic properties. The micro-perforated screens all suffer in dB attenuation and need a greater seating distance to not show texture. On the other hand, micro-perforated screens can offer very high gain or ambient light rejection characteristics that woven screens just can’t.
Here are the materials that really stood out after my battery of tests:
XY Screens SoundMax 8K
The SoundMax 8K is at the top of the list for both 4″ and 12″ speaker to material distances. It somehow beat one layer of spandex at 12″. If you need your speakers close to your screen and to have the material make the least acoustic impact, the SoundMax 8K is your pick. It also is very smooth, with no visual texture from even 8′. Gain comes in at 0.69. Sharpness is slightly improved over the SoundMax 4K but is still just ‘OK’. Even with a black backing, this material is great acoustically. It can be used without a black backing if the area behind the screen is black.
The SoundMax 8K and 4K both did so well that I reached out to XY Screens and have agreed to split their usual referral fee between myself and anyone that orders a screen mentions me. Just email Gloria at firstname.lastname@example.org and say you were referred by Andy at Pixel Home Theater. It should get you a $20-25 discount.
Silver Ticket WAB
The Silver Ticket WAB also performed extremely well acoustically for both 4″ and 12″. Estimated gain read at 0.70. It is a bit sharper than the SoundMax 8K but shows some graininess at 8′. Ten feet and beyond it appears smooth. Contrast is average for its material type. Overall, this is a very good material from a company with reasonably priced screens.
XY Screens SoundMax 4K
This is my personal top pick of all the materials I tested. There is virtually no texture, it has a pretty high gain for a woven screen, its acoustic impacts are manageable at both 4″ and 12″. It maintained contrast well compared to the solid screen. One of the handful of materials I tested without a black backing and it had the lowest contrast drop in that test. Sharpness was rated as ‘Better’. Literally an editor’s choice as I picked it for my theater. I needed a screen that would show no texture at 11-12′, could work well with speakers at a close distance (4-5″), had a higher gain, and was DIY/budget-friendly. This screen checked all of my requirements.
I had a bit of trouble with this screen at first. I couldn’t find an orientation without visible moire. I eventually emailed XY Screens and they helped correct the orientation, which eliminated the moire. So, be careful with your orientation with this one.
See the notes on the SoundMax 8K for ordering information.
Severtson Cinema White MicroPerf
The Severtson CWMP beat out the other high gain micro-perf screen I had on hand, the Stewart StudioTek 130 MP, on both acoustics and gain. (1.10 vs 1.02, although I do believe I may have gotten a bad ST130 sample as my measurements and the perceived gain did not line up with other 3rd parties measurements and perceptions). This screen showed some shimmer throughout the viewing distances. Sharpness and contrast will be good due to it being a high gain micro-perf screen. As with all the micro-perf screens, the more room you can give between speaker and screen the better. It is not recommended to install this screen within 6″.
Severtson screens appear to be available through their website here.
Highest Gain, Woven
Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor Bright
The Enlightor Bright earned its name by coming in with an estimated gain of 0.85. Beating out its stablemate the CenterStage XD by 0.02. They appear to have identical weave patterns and thus both materials are very similar visually, and acoustically. They are ok in close proximity to the speakers but the amount of comb filtering may cause some EQ troubles. If placed at 12″ then they will do very well with just a dip in the higher frequencies that should be able to be very easy to EQ out. Texture-wise these materials struggled. I was able to see the weave at 8′ and even at 13.5′ they still appeared a bit grainy, a rarity for most woven screens I tested.
Seymour-Screen Excellence screens can only be purchased through an authorized dealer. To request samples and find a dealer go to their website here.
Seymour AV screens can be purchased here.
Best Budget Material
No surprises here. This material is an AVSForum darling and it is easy to see why. Spandex is so incredibly smooth with absolutely no texture from any seating distance. Acoustics are also stellar. Pretty impressive for a material that costs about $80 for both the front and back layers for a 120″ screen! I’ve used this material to make a screen and from experience, I can say that it is very easy and forgiving to install, making it a great DIY’ers choice. It gets knocked for sharpness, like most ultra-smooth woven materials, and its gain is on the low side at 0.64.
One thing to note with spandex is that stretching it can have a fairly significant impact on gain. I saw an almost 15% drop in gain when stretching the white spandex. My end measurement was done with fairly minimal stretching and should reflect a proper install. Do not overstretch spandex. Rose Brand sells a 120″ wide version and that is for sure recommended if going with a larger screen than the traditional 60″ wide can handle.
Note that the spandex used for testing is from Fabric Wholesale Direct. There are multiple spandex manufacturers out there and I can’t comment on how each differs.
Just because a material didn’t get mentioned here doesn’t mean it isn’t good. There are a lot of solid acoustically transparent materials on the market right now. I encourage you to look over the data and find which screens can work for you.
Only six woven materials achieved 0.78 gain and over. All but one would get my recommendation. To that extent, I feel compelled to call out a couple that deserve the spotlight.
Elite AcousticPro UHD
This material has an identical weave pattern to the XY Screens SoundMax 4K material. Therefore, a lot of the measurements are in line with each other. The Elite AcousticPro 4K doesn’t do as well with acoustics but aside from that the screens perform very similarly; relatively high gain, ‘Better’ sharpness, and no texture visible. It is a bit warmer in color compared to the SoundMax 4K which can affect projector calibration.
DreamScreen UltraWeave v6/v7
The UltraWeave v7 is a highly regarded material and it did well on pretty much all fronts. Gain on the v7 comes in at 0.78 and 0.67 for the v6. Acoustics are very good on the v6. While on the v7 there is more attenuation across the frequency range, it is fairly flat which should be able to be easily accounted for with a little EQ and volume control. Like the other bonded materials, the v6 and v7 materials stood out for their complete lack of texture. Likewise, this affected their sharpness coming in as just ‘OK’. It is important to call out that both include their black backing so there is no guesswork on whether the area behind the screen will affect the performance of the materials.
The only place I know to order this screen in the US is from AVScience.
|Severtson Cinema White 1.3 MP||1.10||53.4|
|Stewart StudioTek 130 G4 MP||1.02||49.9|
|Stewart StudioTek 100||1.01||48.8|
|Carl’s FlexiWhite Nano||0.93||50.2|
|Stewart StudioTek 100 MP||0.91||46.8|
|Seymour Excellence Enlightor Bright||0.85||45.6|
|Seymour Center Stage XD||0.83||45.7|
|XY Screens Sound Max 5 Perforated||0.83||46.5|
|Carl’s ShearWeave Acoustic||0.80||–|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro UHD||0.80||45.0|
|Carl’s FlexiGray Nano||0.79||–|
|XY Screens Sound Max 4K||0.79||46.5|
|DreamScreen UltraWeave V7||0.78||46.3|
|Stewart FireHawk G5 MP||0.78||62.7|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WAB||0.70||45.4|
|XY Screens Sound Max 8K||0.69||45.5|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WVS||0.68||45.1|
|Seymour Excellence NEO||0.67||45.2|
|DreamScreen UltraWeave V6||0.67||46.7|
|Stewart Harmony G2||0.66||45.9|
|Seymour Center Stage UF||0.65||43.4|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 8K||0.64||45.6|
|Spandex FWD White Spandex/Black||0.64||44.9|
|XY Screens MFS 1 Perforated||0.61||56.3|
|Elite Screens CineWhite A8K||0.61||46.1|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 1080P3||0.56||44.7|
|Stewart GreyMatte 70 MP||0.55||49.0|
|XY Screens Black Crystal Perforated||0.54||61.8|
|Spandex World Light Silver/Black||0.43||45.1|
Here are the REW frequency response graphs for each material compared to the control measurement. The blue line is with psychoacoustic smoothing (what we should hear) and the grey line is 1/48 octave smoothing.
4″ Between Material and Speaker
12″ Between Material and Speaker
dB Loss Numerical Data
For this data, I set the smoothing to 1/3 octave and took readings at 1Khz, 5Khz, 10Khz, and 16Khz. I then calculated the average dB loss, max dB loss, and standard deviation. Lower numbers are better. The chart below is sorted by 4″ standard deviation. It is sorted this way because high average loss isn’t necessarily bad. If the standard deviation is low, and there aren’t a lot of peaks and nulls in the psychoacoustic graph then the higher losses can easily be adjusted for by higher volume, or power. An example of this is the Seymour-Screen Excellence Enlightor Neo. At 4″, it has one of the highest average losses but a low standard deviation with a pretty flat psychoacoustic graph.
|Material||4″ Std Dev.||4″ Max||4″ Avg.||12″ Std Dev.||12″ Max||12″ Avg.|
|Spandex FWD 1 Layer||0.1||1.0||0.8||0.3||1.2||0.9|
|XY Screens Sound Max 8K||0.2||1.1||0.9||0.2||1.4||0.8|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WAB||0.3||1.1||0.8||0.4||1.5||0.9|
|Spandex FWD 2 Layers||0.3||1.6||1.3||0.5||2.2||1.6|
|Stewart Harmony G2||0.3||2.5||2.2||0.5||2.8||2.2|
|XY Screens Sound Max 8K + BB||0.3||1.6||1.3||0.6||2.2||1.4|
|Stewart Harmony G2 + BB||0.4||2.6||2.2||0.5||3.0||2.4|
|Seymour Excellence NEO||0.4||4.1||3.8||0.6||4.4||3.7|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 1080P3||0.4||2.2||1.9||0.5||2.6||2.0|
|Seymour Center Stage UF||0.4||2.9||2.5||0.5||3.2||2.6|
|Elite Screens CineWhite A8K||0.4||2.9||2.4||0.6||3.1||2.4|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 8K||0.4||2.5||2.1||0.6||2.8||2.1|
|Seymour Excellence NEO + BB||0.5||4.4||4.0||0.7||4.8||4.0|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro 1080P3 + BB||0.5||2.7||2.2||0.6||3.0||2.3|
|Severtson SAT-4K + BB||0.5||3.9||3.3||1.0||4.8||3.6|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WVS||0.6||2.9||2.3||0.6||3.1||2.3|
|Severtson BWAT + BB||0.6||3.3||2.8||0.9||4.0||2.9|
|Seymour Center Stage XD + BB||0.6||2.6||2.2||0.8||3.3||2.3|
|Severtson TAT-4K + BB||0.6||4.5||3.9||1.0||5.2||4.0|
|XY Screens Sound Max 4K||0.6||2.5||1.8||0.9||3.1||1.9|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WVS + BB||0.6||3.5||2.9||0.7||3.8||2.9|
|XY Screens Sound Max 4K + BB||0.6||2.7||2.1||1.0||3.6||2.3|
|Seymour Center Stage XD||0.7||2.7||1.9||0.9||3.3||2.0|
|Seymour Excellence EN-B||0.8||2.8||1.9||1.0||3.4||2.0|
|Seymour Center Stage UF + BB||0.8||4.1||3.0||0.7||3.7||2.7|
|Silver Ticket Acoustic WAB + BB||0.8||2.8||1.8||0.6||2.5||1.6|
|Seymour Excellence EN-B + BB||0.8||3.2||2.3||1.0||3.7||2.4|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro UHD||0.9||4.2||3.2||0.9||4.8||3.4|
|Carl’s ShearWeave Acoustic||0.9||2.7||1.7||1.3||3.7||1.9|
|Elite Screens AcousticPro UHD + BB||1.1||4.8||3.6||0.8||4.8||3.7|
|Severtson Cinema White 1.3 MP||1.6||4.5||2.6||1.0||3.1||2.1|
|Carl’s Nano Acoustic||1.7||4.6||2.7||2.1||5.6||2.7|
|XY Screens MFS 1 Perforated||2.0||5.6||3.3||2.6||6.8||3.4|
|Stewart GreyMatte 70 MP||2.1||5.7||3.2||2.4||6.5||3.2|
|Stewart StudioTek 100 MP||2.1||5.7||3.2||2.4||6.5||3.2|
|Stewart StudioTek 130 G4 MP||2.1||6.0||3.6||2.7||7.3||3.7|
|Stewart FireHawk G5 MP||2.2||6.0||3.5||2.8||7.4||3.7|
|XY Screens Sound Max 5 Perforated||2.8||7.7||4.5||3.2||8.6||4.5|
|XY Screens Black Crystal Perforated||2.8||7.8||4.6||3.2||8.7||4.5|
Commentary and Buying Guide
While performing and researching this project and because of the great feedback I received on first version I have learned a lot. A lot that I don’t believe is readily available or known by those shopping for an acoustically transparent screen. Here is a summary of what I have learned:
The Distance Between Speakers and Screen Has a Big Impact on Acoustics
In my measurements I saw that not all screens were affected equally by adding more space between the speaker but as a general rule the peaks and dips were significantly reduced. The is especially true for perforated screens. Comb filtering is greatly reduced as the speaker is moved back and the entire frequency range is much more manageable for equalization. Placing a screen directly in front of in-wall speakers should be done with great care and planning. A micro-perf screen will not work for close distances. Most manufacturers recommend at least six inches but I’d recommend shooting for the 12 inches for a micro-perf screen. This study commissioned by Screen Excellence was referenced many times. In it you can see how increasing the distance between the screen and speaker can have a significant impact.
Not Using a Black Backing Negatively Impacts Contrast
All woven acoustically transparent screens took a hit compared to a solid screen. Perforated screens can maintain contrast better because they can have some ambient light rejecting properties to them. But a perforated screen will still lose some contrast compared to its solid counterpart. On average I saw a 6.5% drop in contrast between a solid screen and a woven screen with its black backing. Bonded screens did slightly better. I measured another 4-6% percent drop when the black backing was removed with a max drop of 12% for my intra-scene contrast pattern. This isn’t a huge change but if you are trying to muster every bit of performance out of your projector then it may be worth accounting for.
There Are No Woven Unity Gain Screens
No matter the ratings by many manufacturers, there are no woven screens that hit a gain of 1.0. This isn’t an error in my measurement equipment. I have a reflectance standard and a screen that measures nearly identical to it (StudioTek 100). No woven screen can touch it. Visually, it is plainly obvious when comparing them to each other too. I have also learned that many manufacturers are not rating their materials with reflectance standards but instead with comparisons to other screens or maybe with their own methods. I saw with samples that were sent to me and conversations with manufacturers that there are unit to unit variations so even comparing numbers to other known screens and their gains can be flawed. I hope in the future that all manufacturers use industry accepted reflectance standards and have them routinely calibrated.
Treating the Area Behind the Screen Is Crucial
What happens to the the sound that doesn’t make it through the screen? Well, some of it may get absorbed in a woven screen but a lot of it will get reflected back behind the screen. Then what? If you have it treated with sound absorbing materials then mostly nothing will happen. The sound will be absorbed and you’re good to go. But, if you don’t then this sound energy will get trapped, build, and then come through the screen causing peaks in your frequency response. Treat the area behind your screen as best you can. And if possible, add some sound absorption to the baffle of your speakers.
Max dB Loss
For measuring acoustic attenuation I used a calibrated UMIK-1 microphone, REW installed on a 2015 MacBook Pro, and a PreSonus E3.5 powered monitor. I built a rig to hold each material and to block sound from diffracting around the outer edge of the material holder. This rig was 3’x3′ and lined with mineral wool on the speaker side. All woven materials were tested with and without their manufacturer-supplied black backings.
Estimated Gain and Contrast
I used my X-Rite i1Display Pro colorimeter hooked up to HCFR measuring an Epson 5050UB projector to estimate gain. An Optikon reflectance standard was used to establish a 1.0 gain reading. Since my meter has a 5-degree viewing angle, these measurements aren’t perfectly on-axis but they are very close. Because of this, they are listed as estimated gain. These numbers should be compared against each other in this report, not against other benchmarks. All woven materials were tested with their manufacturer-supplied black backings.
In this same setup, I also measured contrast with a self-created pattern. This pattern was a sort of contrast torture test:
This is the two patterns combined in one image; I measured the small white/black box in each pattern. This pattern was created so black and white would be projected on my letter sized sample swatches. This way I could see if light back bleed would alter the contrast ratio. Again, every woven material was measured with its black backing. I also tested a select few without to see how the results were impacted. Dark grey acoustic foam as seen in the picture below was behind the materials during testing.
To test the visible texture, I created a rig that could be hung from my screen’s french cleat and hold about 8-9 screen samples. For evaluating texture I displayed a 100% white image, an image of clouds, a couple of videos that panned across sky and mountains. These bright areas, and specifically while the camera is panning, are where a screen shows its worst texture characteristics.
My subjective analysis was done from eight, ten, and 13.5 feet away. I also would view each sample at an angle to see if any moire would develop. All woven materials were tested with their manufacturer-supplied black backings.
For evaluating each screen’s abilities to accurately show fine details I used the Quick Brown Fox pattern and took pictures of the same area for each screen. I compared each material to a piece of paper as a reference. I used a FujiFilm XT-10 and an iPhone XS in an attempt to capture each screen’s detail reproduction. This did not turn out flawlessly. Using auto-exposure was essential since the brighter screen almost always looks more detailed. Doing so resulted in each camera sometimes getting tripped up and not entirely capturing what is seen in real life. In the end I used the photo captures and my own eyes to establish an OK/Good/Better/Best rating. Here is a representation of what each category looks like:
The Spreadsheet of “Truth”
Here you can find all my measurements and notes on the visible texture of each screen material. Feel free to view it directly here.