GIK Acoustics 4A Alpha Panel Diffusor/Absorber Review

Manufacturer & Model
GIK Acoustics 4A Alpha Panel Diffusor/Absorber (4”)
MSRP
23″ x 23″ $316.00 per box of 4 ($79.00 each); 23″ x 45.5″ $246.00 per pair ($123.00 each)
Link
http://www.gikacoustics.com
Highlights
Absorption and diffusion in one product, quality materials and construction, great customer service, hybrid performance that’s perfect for first reflection points.
Summary
Now in its second year of production, the GIK Acoustics Alpha Series offers a unique combination of absorption and diffusion in one product. The 4A Alpha Panel offers four-inches of rigid fiberglass for absorption, paired with one of three scatter plate designs for diffusion beginning at 1,000Hz. We tested one-dimensional 4A Alpha Panels at the first reflection points of a home theater space, and experienced an uptick in high-frequency detail and a slightly wider soundstage. Overall build quality and customer service was excellent, making it easy to recommend the Alpha Series.
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We as enthusiasts spend a tremendous amount of time focused on physical equipment, analyzing and picking apart the vast variety of sources, processors, amps, and speakers available on the market today. I’ll be the first to admit, gear and cutting-edge technologies are tantalizing and exciting, and it’s incredibly easy to assume they predominantly drive the kind of sound we experience in our home theaters and listening rooms.

The truth, however, is that components and speakers drive roughly half of the performance equation. The other half is dictated by how that gear interacts with the room they inhabit. Yes, folks, a room’s environment is critically important. Luckily, there are products that can help tune a room’s impact on perceived sound. Today, we’re taking a quick look at one of the many available treatments offered by GIK Acoustics, which, in this particular case, is a fairly new and unique design that bridges the worlds of diffusion and absorption.


It’s All In The Room
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4A Alpha Panels - Black Veneer Scatter Plates

The audio you hear while playing your favorite album is a combination of sound that travels directly to your ears from a speaker, and indirect or reflected sound that bounces off boundaries and objects within a listening space. Those sound reflections are a mixed bag of good and bad. The good is that reflections can add a sense of breadth, life, and loudness to the sound that you hear – attributes that are desirable during playback. The bad is that some reflections can wreak havoc on sound quality by cancelling some frequencies while boosting others, resulting in a presentation that can present as overly bright, boomy, or smeared and distorted.

To control reflections, you can place various kinds of absorption and diffusion products on walls, a ceiling, and in the corners of a room. Absorption works by converting acoustical energy into heat, which essentially allows the absorbing material (typically a thick fiberglass product) to soak-up soundwaves and minimize their overall impact. Diffusion, on the other hand, achieves a similar taming end-goal by evenly scattering soundwaves in multiple directions. This process alters a soundwave’s impact across three different domains (time, direction, and intensity), making it difficult to judge directionality and creating a sense of spaciousness.

Both kinds of treatments have their uses, and while we’re only scratching the surface here, your best bet is to seek acoustics advice from a professional (such as one of the friendly technical advisors at GIK Acoustics). In the meantime, there are plenty of technical resources on the net (such as GIK’s articles on traps and diffusion) that provide fleshed-out dissections of how acoustic treatments work.


GIK Acoustics
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4A Alpha Panels - Black Veneer Scatter Plates

As an admittedly stubborn Do-It-Yourselfer, I’ve dabbled in the world of DIY absorption and diffusion by designing, building, and installing corner bass traps and a large rear wall binary slat diffusor/absorption panel in my home theater room. To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the build process, but it can be an undertaking (depending on design) that requires a considerable amount of sweat equity. I’ve also purchased commercial absorption products (for first reflection points in the room), which eliminated build time but ramped-up total cost.

In general, I’ve been happy with the results of my treatment efforts, but I’ve always wondered if I could squeeze a tad more life and width out of my modestly sized room (14.5’ wide x 18’ long x 8’ tall). That’s why I reached out to GIK’s Nick Christian (an Acoustical Designer and product advisor) to discuss potential options. At my request, Nick and I talked specifically about altering my room’s first reflection point treatments by incorporating the company’s Alpha Series panels.

Before we dive into specifics about the panels, let’s touch on the GIK customer service experience. To best summarize: the company’s staff is as friendly and accommodating as they come, polished with an impressive level of knowledge and professionalism. And the company’s user-friendly website is loaded with extensive educational materials and detailed product pages. From the front end to the back end, GIK leaves little to be desired.

If you’re looking to make a quick no-hassle purchase, you won’t find any resistance from GIK. And if you’re looking for more extensive help, then GIK can analyze specific details about your room (including restrictions you may or may not have) and craft a treatment plan to fit your budget. It’s truly a no-pressure experience, in fact GIK carries DIY supplies if you choose to skip their products and build your own solutions.


The Alpha Series
GIK Acoustics originally launched its Alpha Series (4A Alpha Panels: 23” x 23”, $316/box of 4; 23” x 45.5”, $246/box of two) panels two years ago, giving the company a foothold in a product category that offers both diffusion and absorption in one package. Based on absorption needs, you can select from two, four, and six inch rigid fiberglass traps faced with either a one or two-dimensional 1/4-inch thick scatter plate. The one-dimensional option utilizes a mathematical sequence of vertical columns to scatter sound on a horizontal plane, while the two-dimensional design incorporates one of two patterns (dots and dashes or dashes) to scatter sound both horizontally and vertically.

The Alpha Series offers box frames constructed of solid wood that matches the width of its internal rigid fiberglass core – which, importantly, is a formaldehyde-free recycled product employing ECOSE technology (making for a healthier room environment). And to blend with room décor, customers have access to a range of color options. Scatter plates are available in five different veneer finishes: Blonde, Black, White, Grey Elm, and Mahogany, while GIK offers nine standard fabrics to cover the frame (with an option to upgrade to a selection of high-end fabrics from Guildford of Maine).

My particular order included several 4A Alpha One-Dimensional panels: three rectangular panels (23” x 45.5”, 15lbs) and two square traps (23” x 23”, 8lbs). Keeping in line with my theater room’s light controlled design, all panels were ordered with black cloth and black veneer scatter plates.

Spec-wise, 4A Alpha Panel’s 1/4” plate starts to diffuse sound at 1,000Hz, and its internal 4” thick fiberglass material provides broadband absorption down to roughly 70Hz.


Unboxing and Physical Impressions
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Hanging hardware included with 4A Alpha panels

Ordering the panels was simple process and they took roughly two days to ship from GIK’s Georgia manufacturing facility to my home in the Mid-Atlantic. Packaging materials were of high quality, with an appropriate amount of internal protective Styrofoam and thin protective plastic bags covering each panel. The unboxing process was captured on video and can be watched by clicking on the image below.




The panels, physically, met all of my expectations; overall build quality was exceptional. The factory black cloth was neatly attached to the panels’ rigid/sturdy feeling frames, and scatter plates were affixed to the front of the traps with four unobtrusive gold colored security screws. In addition, each trap was shipped with self-tapping screws and sawtooth hangers (enough for two hangers per trap), which were simple to install with an electric gyroscopic screwdriver. And despite knowing weight specifications, I was surprised by the panel’s lightweight nature (which made them easy to maneuver and hang).


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GIK does a nice job of keeping the panels looking sharp with tightly fitted cloth coverings


One of my bigger pre-order questions about the “look” of the traps is their ability to blend with a dark light controlled environment (particularly of interest for first reflection points in a dark home theater room). GIK ships the black scatter plates with the inside groove of its columns (or cutouts) left a natural wood color. The company says many customers prefer this look, and I can understand why. The contrast between the wood color and the scatter plate’s black façade creates an eye-catching artsy appeal. I ultimately chose, however, to stain the wood-colored areas black by removing the plates and applying stain with a rag. This was a tedious process, but created a completely black panel.


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A 4A Alpha scatter plate with inner edges stained black

The scatter plate’s black surface does have a low-level sheen that reflects some light – not a lot, but some – in a light controlled projector driven environment. While I’d ultimately prefer an option for a flat no-sheen appearance, I haven’t found it necessary to paint or cover the plates’ surfaces.


Sonic Impact
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The 4A Alpha panels were placed side-by-side (as pictured) at the first reflection points on either side of my theater room’s walls. The two square panels were placed above and below a light switch, as to approximate the size of the larger rectangular panels while accommodating the location of the switch. I chose to use 50-pound wall anchors for installation – probably a tad overkill – which proved to provide secure mounting points.

Measuring the impact of the panel’s scatter effect on high frequencies is nearly impossible. A cursory room measurement did show very subtle smoothing in the 300 Hz to 1,000 Hz range, and some subtle reduction in decay times above 1,000 Hz. Ultimately, GIK and I discussed the best evaluation methods for this review and agreed to stick with perceived room impact.


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Running direct A/B tests with panels installed versus uninstalled is a rather daunting task, simply because removing panels during a subjective comparison session takes time (and it’s easy to forget subtleties during any significant lapse between listening sessions). Because of that, it’s nearly impossible to speak in terms of specifics across demo tracks. Not that I didn’t try, but (as stated) it’s exceedingly difficult to pinpoint exact differences without instant switching.

In general, my two-channel listening sessions revealed a sound that appeared to have a subtle uptick in high-frequency detail and a slightly wider soundstage. I also noticed that hints of high frequency harshness were tamed down a tad. I wouldn’t describe these changes as “night-and-day,” but they were notable. Perhaps a proper descriptor would be “openness.” And my ears certainly detected an uptick in liveliness as compared to my previous arrangement (with absorption at the first reflection points).

Subtle differences heard during multi-channel movie demo sessions were much less perceptible, but the Alpha panels certainly didn’t appear to have any notable negative impacts on playback performance.


Conclusion
My experience with GIK’s staff was exceptional and it’s 4A Alpha panel is an excellent product. Build quality is top-notch, both fabric color and panel color offerings are broad enough to meet most any room’s needs, and the panels are incredibly easy to install. The versatility offered by the Alpha Series scatter plate is certainly a major bonus, giving enthusiasts the option to place panels in a place where absorption is needed but diffusion is also desired (not to mention, the scatter plate can be removed if necessary). In my particular case, the addition of diffusion at my room’s first reflection points has added the kick of sonic openness that I was hoping to achieve. Considering price and quality of product, the Alpha Series panels are easy to recommend.


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4A Alpha Series Features
  • 4A Alpha Panel depth: 4″ sturdy wood frame with rigid fiberglass core
  • Square (23″ x 23″) Standard weight: 8 lbs
  • Rectangle (23″ x 45.5″) Standard weight: 15 lbs
  • NRC = 1.05 (versus foam products where NRC = 0.4)
  • Thin face plate has mathematical sequence of slots for spatial diffusion, but also allows low frequency waves to pass through to the fiberglass panel for low end absorption
  • Rigid fiberglass core provides twice the low end absorption over similar foam-based products
  • Easy to wall mount with sawtooth hanger (included). No glue or destructive adhesive when mounting
  • Panels available in our 9 standard, quality GIK Acoustics fabric options
  • Additional Guilford of Maine fabric choices available
  • GIK Acoustics Greensafe employs ECOSE technology absorption material and is manufactured with LEED certified Columbia Forest Products (made in the USA), PureBond formaldehyde-free technology.
 
Last edited:

tripplej

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Great write-up and review. Lots of good info here.
 

Todd Anderson

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Thanks, tripplej!
 

ddude003

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Nice review Todd... It looks like a nice product too... What, no REW graphs of before and after??? 8^)
 

Todd Anderson

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Nice review Todd... It looks like a nice product too... What, no REW graphs of before and after??? 8^)
Thanks, appreciate the kind remarks and thanks very much for reading!

No REW graphs on this one. The ultimate impact on what's measurable was very subtle...and the audible effects of diffusion aren't measurable. The purpose of this review was to discuss perceived sound through my implementation...and so we're sticking with that. If we had executed an entire room treatment plan with onsite expert guidance (likely with many iterations), graphs may have been in order. But, even then, the importance is on the ultimate end game: better sound. This particular review is one of those cases where my ears are guiding my impressions... and yes, I'm impressed with the product. It's something that will stay implemented in my room!

Stay tuned for the next review... Axiom Audio's AxiomAir (which should hit the streets VERY soon). Excited about this one!
 
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phillihp23

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Excellent review. Agree GiK has stellar customer service, couldn’t be more pleasurable to deal with. Any word on if they will be offering scatter panels to add to already owned (gik) absorption panels?
 

Todd Anderson

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Yamaha RX-A3050
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Emotiva XPA-5
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Emotiva XPA Gen 2 4xStereo 2XSingle
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VSX-1016THX
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OPPO UDP-203
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SVS Ultra Towers
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SVS Ultra Center
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SVS Ultra Surround
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SVS Ultra Bookshelf
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SVS Prime Elevation
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SVS Prime Elevation
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dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
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Behringer 1124p; Aura Bass Shaker Pros; SuperSub X
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JVC RS520
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Carada Cine-White 0 gain
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LG Electronics 65-inch B6 OLED, OPPO Sonica
Thanks! Your question about the scatter plates rings a bell... did we discuss this a few months ago? Or did you ask and I never dug up an answer?
 

Todd Anderson

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Yamaha RX-A3050
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Emotiva XPA-5
Additional Amp
Emotiva XPA Gen 2 4xStereo 2XSingle
Other Amp
VSX-1016THX
Universal / Blu-ray / CD Player
OPPO UDP-203
Front Speakers
SVS Ultra Towers
Center Channel Speaker
SVS Ultra Center
Surround Speakers
SVS Ultra Surround
Surround Back Speakers
SVS Ultra Bookshelf
Front Height Speakers
SVS Prime Elevation
Rear Height Speakers
SVS Prime Elevation
Subwoofers
dual SVS SB16s + dual PSA XS30s
Other Speakers or Equipment
Behringer 1124p; Aura Bass Shaker Pros; SuperSub X
Video Display Device
JVC RS520
Screen
Carada Cine-White 0 gain
Other Equipment
LG Electronics 65-inch B6 OLED, OPPO Sonica
Excellent review. Agree GiK has stellar customer service, couldn’t be more pleasurable to deal with. Any word on if they will be offering scatter panels to add to already owned (gik) absorption panels?
GIK does not offer the scatter plates as a separate accessory.
 
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