Soundproofing Vs. Acoustic Treatment – Differences Explained

A lot of people get confused with the terms soundproofing and acoustic treatment. While many think it is the same, the reality is that these two processes are entirely different.

Soundproofing refers to blocking noises and involves reducing the sound pressure between the source and receiver. Meanwhile, acoustic treatment is all about controlling echoes and reverberation by absorbing sound.

Also read: How to Soundproof a Room (Almost Completely) in 10 Steps

soundproofing and acoustic treatment

This common mistake is why some people cannot achieve the sound insulation they are hoping to achieve. But with the proper knowledge about soundproofing and acoustic treatment, you will be able to find out which process you should use.

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What is Soundproofing?

There are two ways sound can travel:

  • Through the air
  • Through solid structures

Sound can use air as a traveling medium. For instance, when you are talking, your voice box generates sound waves that the air carries into the ears of the person you are speaking.

To prevent airborne sound from traveling from one space to another, you need a sound-blocking substrate.

On the other hand, traveling soundwaves through solid structures is something that not everyone understands as it is a little more complex. To make it simpler, this is commonly referred to as vibrations.

To prevent vibrations from bouncing off solid structures, like a wall, you need to decouple it using soundproofing materials. That includes sound isolators, high-density rubber mats, springs, and resilient channels.

Moreover, external noises can enter your home by passing through your doors, windows, walls, and even your roof. Similarly, the noises that you make can leave your premises and disturb your neighbors.

soundproofing and acoustic treatment design

To prevent this from happening, you need to soundproof your home.

Soundproofing is the process of blocking the noise from entering or leaving a particular premise. It involves using different materials, such as a soundproofing panel, that can block sounds.

When soundproofing an area, you need to install an airtight barrier around it. This barrier will be responsible for reducing noises by preventing sound waves from getting in through any gap.

One example of soundproofing is building two doors or walls with an air space in between.

Since there are two walls or doors, they will have more mass, and more mass means a higher ability to block noises. In addition, the air trapped in the middle creates some kind of bubble that also helps in blocking sound.

What is Acoustic Treatment?

If you have a music studio or home theater, then chances are you know what acoustic treatment is. Such is the process of improving a room’s acoustic properties to make the sound you make sonically pleasing and neutral.

Even if you have a high-quality microphone or a set of excellently designed speakers, they will not produce a great sound if the room you placed them in is not acoustically treated.

Moreover, the size of the room where you produce sound plays a huge role in the way the sound behaves.

It means that the resonance of low-frequency sound will significantly change depending on the area’s height, length, and area. The larger the room, the more echoes and noise reflection it will produce.

These echoes and reverberations are responsible for the lowness of sound quality. So, if you are recording in a not acoustically treated space, they will not sound good regardless of how excellently recorded it is.

To acoustically treat a room, you will need to place sound-absorbing materials in line with the placement of your sound source. This way, unwanted noises will be absorbed and not reflected.

One thing worth noting is that the thicker your acoustic material is, the more effective it will be in absorbing noises. That said, you must consider the size of the area where you will place the acoustic materials before making a purchase.

old sound wall panels

If the room you will treat is vast, then buying thicker and larger acoustic panels is ideal.

Additionally, when treatment is in a particular area, it can help in reducing the reverberation time. Notably, such is the measurement of how long a sound takes before it reduces to 60 decibels below its original level.

When treating a room, the major element that one has to deal with is the standing waves. Also called room modes, standing waves directly proportional to a room’s size and shape concerning a particular sound frequency.

Since soundwaves can reflect off of your walls, they either sum together or cancel one another out.

When they sum together, their frequency will become relatively higher. On the other hand, soundwaves will cut frequency when they cancel out each other.

Moreover, acoustic treatment panels are not the only material that can absorb unwanted noises. How you place your furniture in a room can also play a significant role in resolving such an issue.

If your floor is carpeted, it can also reduce the noise that resonates there.

There are two types of acoustic treatment materials:

  • Porous absorbers
  • Resonant absorbers

Typically, porous absorbers are melamine sponges or open-cell rubber foams. The pores of these materials can excellently absorb noise through the creation of friction within each cell structure.

Open-cell foams with many pores significantly absorb noise across a wide range of mid and high frequencies. However, it is essential to note that they might not absorb lower sound frequencies.

We determine the absorption capabilities of open-cell foam by observing several factors such as:

  • Tortuosity
  • Cell size
  • Porosity
  • The material’s density
  • The material’s thickness

On the other hand, resonant absorbers or resonant panels are relatively effective at low frequencies. This material’s absorption always matches a narrow range of frequency. They work by reducing the resonance of sound waves while they are reflecting it.

Types of Soundproofing Materials

Soundproof materials have different types for every use. They have various features depending on where you are going to install them.

Drywall and MLV

Drywall is the most cost effective soundproofing material. It has mass that provides structural strength which dampens sound vibrations.

The heavier the drywall, better the soundproofing. So, make sure you choose the thickest drywall sheets that are available at stores near you.

An alternative to drywall is MLV. It has similar effects on soundproofing but is a costlier option.

mass loaded vinyl
MLV

You can get MLV from Amazon.

Soundproofing Panels

This material is ideal for dampening and deadening sounds in a place where many people gather. That includes restaurants, offices, concert halls, and other commercial spaces.

Made out of high-density plasterboards that can effectively prevent sound transmission from one room to another, soundproofing panels are also quite expensive.

Moreover, soundproof panels have several subtypes, such as water-resistant panels, fabric-wrapped, and perforated wood.

Such panels are designed for various purposes, including clarifying speech, sound absorption, and the limitation of vibrations in interior spaces. While they mainly find use in commercial spaces, they can also find a home in domestic spaces.

Check out my article on soundproofing panels.

Soundproofing Foam Tiles and Panels

Softening hard surfaces is essential if you want to absorb sound within a room effectively. You can achieve a softening effect by installing foam panels.

Alternatively, you can apply purpose-made tiles into the largest area of a room, such as the ceilings and floors.

Most of the time, foam tiles and panels are installed on the separation of the wall between rooms to prevent the circulation of sound.

In addition, you can cut this soundproofing material depending on the size that you need.

Soundproofing Sheets

Soundproofing sheets are available with several fill facings and materials. Each of them possesses excellent sound absorption capabilities as well as insulation qualities.

It can even ensure protection against dust and moisture buildup. Some soundproofing sheets have tape adhesive at the back so that you can securely attach them to a wall.

Types of Acoustic Treatment Materials

There is an extensive list of acoustic treatment materials that you can choose from depending on the application you need.

Acoustic Isolation Membrane

There are several acoustic membranes that you can find in the market, depending on your needs and requirements.

But the best among this category is called Acoustiblok Isolation Membrane.

While it is the tiniest acoustic membrane, it is still the greatest performing one in the market.

Acoustic Isolation Membranes are relatively lighter. They also have a higher thermal conversion of energy, meaning they can convert sound energy into heat energy, making it sound quieter.

Available in thickness of either 3mm or 6mm, commonly this material is mounted within ceilings, walls, and floors. With this process, they will be able to mitigate the impact and airborne sound.

Acoustic Flooring

Acoustic flooring finds use to decouple a room’s main floor surface from the subfloor.

As a result, it will be able to reduce the transmission of sound. Some of the most common materials used for acoustic flooring are cork, rubber-based crumb, and Acoustiblok.

Acoustic Panels

This material is a type of sound absorption board. You can install acoustic panels on various surfaces such as walls and ceilings.

They are great for equalizing, calibrating, and controlling internal acoustics.

Acoustic panels are effective when they are correctly installed. They will also be able to cover enough surface area and volume. What is even better is that they are aesthetically pleasing.

If you are looking for acoustic treatment material that can do its job while making your space look better, then acoustic panels are an option to consider as they come in several shapes, colors, and styles.

Acoustic Foam

It is more commonly known as studio foam. They are foam panels that have either chamfered, flat, convoluted, pyramidal, or wedged protruding from them. Their primary use is to improve the quality of audio recorded in music rooms and studios.

The acoustic foam adapts the sound absorption and re-calibration principles of internal acoustics.

For this reason, they do not have the same efficacy as other sound-absorbing materials in terms of blocking sound.

One thing worth noting is that the densities and thickness of this sound-absorbing material differ. For this reason, the correct positioning of this material plays a vital role in their performance and effectiveness.

Moreover, you should also consider the amount and type of surface that you need to cover.

Acoustic Fabrics

Acoustic fabrics are a type of fabric that is very thick. They are commonly used to make theater curtains, studio blankets, as well as blackout curtains.

Their thickness adds to their mass, making them effective when controlling noises in large halls and rooms.

In addition, acoustic fabrics can be used as a lining for walls to increase their acoustic equalization.

Why is Soundproofing Important?

One of the most common places that you need to soundproof is your home. Such is especially true if you are living in areas near streets where noise pollution is prevalent.

The principal purpose of soundproofing is to reduce the transmission of sound between a room to another.

Isolating airborne and structure-borne noises using materials that can block them is the usual method to achieve our goal. While the process sounds simple, soundproofing is more important than one may think.

Below are the reasons why soundproofing your home is essential:

Additional Privacy

If you are working from home or have someone in your family who is homeschooling, soundproofing will allow you to be more productive. It
is because you will hear fewer disturbances.

However, this is not the only reason why soundproofing your home is essential.
For instance, if you have a meeting where you need to discuss confidential information, soundproofing can prevent your neighbors from hearing that information.

Apart from that, if you are playing loud music in your home, your neighbors will not be annoyed and disturbed because your soundproofing material will isolate the noises you make.

More Comfort And Avoidance Of Unwanted Noises

Soundproofing is an excellent method of preventing unwanted sounds from passing through between rooms. The reason is that it isolates airborne noises through absorption using dense materials.

However, it is essential to note that soundproofing will only work if you can fill in all the gaps and cracks in windows, doors, walls, and other parts of your home.

But when done correctly, soundproofing will make your room a lot quieter and peaceful.

Raises The Value Of A Particular Property

There are times when some homeowners need to move to some other place and sell their homes.

However, it can be challenging, especially if you are living in the center of the city, near an airport, or in an area near a busy street.

It is because buyers will think twice if they find out that your home is in a noisy environment.

However, if your property has soundproofing features, you will be able to show your buyers that the premises of your home are quiet and peaceful.

More Focus On Things

When a place is quiet and peaceful, you will have a better focus on what you need to do.

It is especially true if you are doing a home study or working remotely.
True enough, you cannot stop your neighbors and the environment you are in from making noises.

However, what you can do is block these noises from entering your premises using soundproofing materials. This way, you will not have to deal with external noises, thus focusing on more important things.

The Importance of Acoustic Treatment

Most of the places that need acoustic treatment are concert halls, gyms, churches, music studios, and home theaters.

The reason is that they need more transparent and higher quality sound as these places cater to audiences listening to the sound sources.

Why Acoustic Treatment Is Essential

soundproofing and acoustic treatment

Bass Absorption

When a wall is solid and thick without any air chamber in the middle, there is an excellent chance that you will have an issue with the frequencies of bass.

When recording audio, reverberation, or the time until a sound dies away, is essential. That said, you need to have the ability to judge the amount of reverberation on the recording.

However, too much reverberation in the room where you are recording can affect your judgment, causing your audio to have a lower quality.

In addition, reverberation can also cause the frequency response not to be flat. As a result, it will sound like your audio is more bassy than it is.

Moreover, the dimensions of the area you are in ultimately magnify this issue. If your room is without acoustic treatment, it will never have the correct sound environment required to achieve excellent tonal quality.

Soundwave Diffusion

When soundwaves diffuse, they will not bounce around the walls of your room. As a result, you will prevent the early phase issues and reflections in times when critical listening is required.

In addition, diffusion will make an audio recording sound better and more transparent.

Improves Soundscape And Makes Communication Better

Acoustic treatment materials absorb unwanted noises, such as echoes and sounds from the areas that surround you.

It results in a clearer sound from your sound source, making it a lot easier for people to understand and listen to each other. So, open-plan offices, lecture halls, and classrooms are the ideal places to have acoustic treatment materials.

Reduce The Levels Of Stress, Resulting In A Better Well-being

Noisy environments, especially for people who are working, can cause you to lose your focus. Unwanted noises are one of the major complaints people have because these make them lose their focus.

When the area you are in is noisy, you will have a difficult time concentrating. But if you install acoustic treatment, you will reduce the level of noise around you, allowing you to focus more on what you are doing.

Sound Projection

A sound created in a room will always project outwards in all directions. Most of this sound will reflect, making them hit and bounce off the solid surfaces around you. In addition, some of the sounds will travel in a straight line, referred to as direct sound.

When not managed through acoustic treatment, this reflected sound will change the tonal quality of the original sound you made. For this reason, you need to install acoustic treatment materials in your recording area to make sure that the sound will not bounce off and project.

Frequently Asked Questions About Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatment

How does acoustic treatment improve the quality of sound?

Acoustic treatment improves sound by reducing the number of background noises that may cancel out the sound source’s main sound. It absorbs sound waves and diffuses them to improve the quality of sound.

How much wall or ceiling do I need to install acoustic treatment materials to reduce unwanted noises?

You do not need to soundproof your entire wall, floor, or ceiling for your room to sound quieter. Instead, you only need to install acoustic treatment materials on the places that the soundwaves directly hit.
For instance, if you plan to treat your home studio acoustically, you need to identify which part of your walls the soundwaves bounces off when you are recording.
Once you have found out, the next thing you need to do is apply the acoustic treatment directly to those areas so that the materials can absorb the soundwaves and echoes, preventing them from circulating your recording studio.

Which part of my home do I need to soundproof?

Essentially, you need to soundproof all the parts of your home that you think can be a passageway for sound. That includes the gaps between the wall and ceiling, your window, and your door.
Soundproofing these areas will allow you to limit the amount of noise pollution that gets in and out of your home. Unwanted noises are a disturbance. For this reason, it is only fitting that you prevent them from entering your premises.

Can a high ceiling reduce noises?

A high ceiling is ideal if you want to make your home feel larger. A lot of home designers often incorporate high ceilings into the homes that they design.
However, even if such ceilings are excellent for aesthetic improvement, they can make noises sound higher. It is because the height of your ceiling will provide soundwaves with a longer path of travel.
If a room is large, it will also cause more echoes and reverberations, which are not good if you want quiet surroundings or trying to record audio.

How much sound does soundproofing reduce?

In estimation, soundproofing can reduce noise by up to one-eighth to one-fourth as loud as 70 decibels. Generally speaking, the soundproofing material that you will purchase will have a decibel rating. The rating tells us the total noise reduction that a standard construction will have after the sound passes through the soundproofing material.

Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatment: The Takeaway

Soundproofing and acoustic treatment materials are both important. While the two of them are significantly different, both of them will improve the quality of sound you make.

However, it is always important to consider your needs before finally choosing between soundproofing or acoustic treatment.

If you need to block external noises from infiltrating your premises or prevent the noises you make from disturbing your neighbors; you need soundproofing.

On the other hand, acoustic treatment is the proper process for you if you need to improve the audio quality you are recording. In addition, acoustic treatment will be the ideal choice if you need to make your voice sound clearer in a large and reverberative room.

But regardless of their functions, there is no denying that soundproofing and acoustic treatment are both important.

Sources

  1. Chris Mayes-Wright, A Beginner’s Guide To Acoustic Treatment, Sound on Sound, https://www.soundonsound.com/sound-advice/beginners-guide-acoustic-treatment/
  2. Rose Kivi, How Does Soundproofing Work, Hunker, https://www.hunker.com/13412617/how-does-sound-proofing-work/
  3. Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption, Soundproofing Cow, https://www.soundproofcow.com/soundproofing-101/soundproofingvssoundabsorption-2/
  4. Soundproofing, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soundproofing/
  5. A Guide to Soundproofing Materials, RS Online, https://ph.rs-online.com/web/generalDisplay.html?id=ideas-and-advice/soundproofing-guide/
  6. Ken Pohlman, The Importance of Studio Acoustics, TV Tech, https://www.tvtechnology.com/miscellaneous/the-importance-of-studio-acoustics/
  7. Glenda Taylor, 10 Tips for Soundproofing Your Home Office, Bob Vila TM https://www.bobvila.com/slideshow/10-tips-for-soundproofing-your-home-office-265365/