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Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption: Are They the Same?

Whether it is in your home, office, garage, or any other space, unwanted sound can disrupt your life entirely. It is, therefore, no surprise that people are always looking for solutions to the noise problems in their lives. 

Perhaps the next-door neighbor plays his music too loud. Or maybe the cars in the street don’t let you get enough work done at the office. You could even just be looking for a way to keep your bedroom affairs to yourself. 

Whatever the case, when you decide you’ve had enough with the sound problems, you’ll probably end up googling for soundproofing solutions. 

Most people, however, cannot tell the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption. It doesn’t help that soundproofing is used as an umbrella term for sound solutions in any space. 

If you are one such person, you are probably wondering why the experts can’t just use one term. After all, they all work in the same way, no?

Well, you are wrong. Soundproofing and sound absorption are totally different, and your choice between the two will depend on what you want to achieve, the kind of room, and other factors we will highlight below. 

So, stick around to get the difference between these two confusing terms and some fantastic solutions you can use for the noise problems in your life. 

The Difference Between Soundproofing and Sound Absorption

Soundproofing involves blocking unwanted sound from entering or leaving a room or any other space. If you want to keep the noise produced by your garage shop away from the other rooms in the house, soundproofing is your answer. 

Similarly, you would turn to soundproofing solutions if you are looking to get rid of the noise that gets into your room from the street through the window. 

Soundproofing works by reflecting sound either into the room to prevent it from leaving or reflecting it to the outside to prevent it from entering a room. 

You will, therefore, choose soundproofing when you are trying to block sound from traveling from the source, through a medium, and to you or other people. 

Sound absorption, on the other hand, involves soaking up unwanted echoes in a space. The primary difference between soundproofing and sound absorption is that with the latter, the sound will still travel through a given medium. You will still get to hear it from the next room. 

Sound absorption is an ideal choice if you are looking to improve a room’s acoustics. The solutions will help absorb echoes and reverberations to ensure you have better-quality sound. 

To help you understand the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption, let’s have a look at a simple analogy; a quarterback’s uniform. 

The football player will use some protective gear. But two of the most important ones are the helmet and protection pads for shoulders, thighs, knees, and elbows. 

Say, for example, the player runs into another one during the game. If the two hit their heads, their helmets will prevent any serious impacts on their heads. Unless the impact was too high, the chances are high that they won’t end up with concussions. Blocking.

If, on the other hand, a player bumps into another and accidentally hits his thigh, the thigh pads will absorb some of the impacts. The player will still feel pain depending on the intensity of the kick, but it won’t be as much, thanks to the thigh pads. Absorption.

So, in reference to the topic at hand, the helmet acts as a soundproofing solution, while the thigh pads are similar to sound absorption solutions. 

Soundproofing Solutions

Just like the helmet in our analogy, soundproofing solutions need products made of dense and heavy materials. The products should be heavy enough to interrupt sound travel from one point to another. 

Soundproofing products usually target the vibrations that later become soundwaves and block them entirely. 

Usually, soundproofing will be done inside a wall construction for effectiveness. These solutions often separate two sides of a wall and act as a barrier between two hard surfaces. 

If you are looking for some soundproofing products, then you should be on the lookout for an STC rating on the product description. The STC rating shows the measure of sound transmission between two rooms and is measured across 16 frequencies. 

The STC rating shows how much a wall or material will block from getting to the other side. Higher STC ratings indicate that the material is better at blocking sound transmission. 

Because of the positioning, soundproofing is expensive, inconvenient, and challenging to do once construction is complete. If you are looking for some soundproofing solutions, you are better off incorporating them during the construction. 

Here are some soundproofing solutions that you can consider. 

Mass 

When you are looking to block sound from entering or leaving a room, your best bet is to add mass. In doing so, you are making the surfaces denser and thicker, which is excellent for blocking sound travel through them. 

During construction, the best way to add mass and density is to use mass loaded vinyl. MLV is undoubtedly the best product to soundproof your walls and achieve excellent results. 

Additionally, you could add drywall to the walls and ceilings to block the impact of sound transmitted through them. You can choose to add the drywall either during or after construction.

Dampening

Dampening works in an almost similar way of adding mass. The method involves adding dampening products between two rigid panels. The products added should be thick and absorbent to reduce the number of vibrations that travel through the wall space. 

An excellent choice of products for dampening is Greenglue. This material works to help you fill up any gaps in your walls and provides soundproofing at the same time. 

Decoupling

When all’s said and done, air is really the best material for soundproofing. This fact makes decoupling one of the most effective soundproofing methods. 

With decoupling, you will need to separate two walls and create gaps in the structure to interrupt the transmission of sound waves. Instead of the vibrations transmitting into the next room, the walls will vibrate on their own, reducing the amount of noise significantly. 

There are several decoupling methods that you can use. However, they all involve some heavy lifting as you will be altering a wall’s structure. This method also presents a disadvantage in that it may not be effective in filtering low frequencies. 

Using MLV, decoupling, and dampening are all excellent soundproofing solutions. However, they are also expensive, difficult, and time-consuming. Besides, they are permanent solutions, and you won’t have a way to go back when you implement them. 

So, are there any less drastic solutions? Of course. If you are a handy DIY person and don’t mind getting to the work, here are some soundproofing solutions for you.  

  • Adding Mass

The number one rule of soundproofing is adding mass. If you want to block out sound effectively, you should look for ways to add thickness and density. 

One of the most effective DIY solutions of adding mass is using sound blocking sheets. These sheets are usually versatile and can be used to add mass to various surfaces, including walls, floors, and ceilings. Sound blocking sheets work similarly to MLV and are flexible enough to bend through corners and curves. This way, you can achieve the best results, regardless of where you install them. 

Another option of adding thickness to walls is using 3D wallpaper. Although this won’t be as effective as other sound-blocking methods, the wallpaper is thick enough to block out some significant noise. 

  • Fill Up Holes and Seal Gaps

Even if you implement the best soundproofing methods, you will still have a noise problem if there are holes and gaps in the room. Therefore, your first move should be to look around the space you want to soundproof and fill up any holes and gaps.

The biggest culprits are usually doors and windows. Any gap, however small, will let sound in or out of the room. You can use weatherstripping to seal these gaps. 

Weatherstripping comes with the advantage of providing more than soundproofing. It is ideal for keeping out insects, pests, and dust from getting into the house. Besides, it is a great insulator and will come in handy during the cold season when you are trying to keep away the draft. 

For effective door soundproofing, you should also be conscious of the space at the bottom when the door is closed. This space can let so much noise pass through it, especially vibrations, such as those from a washing machine. To deal with this issue, you should install a door sweep that ensures the space is completely covered up when the door is closed. 

  • Use Furniture

You are probably wondering if this will work. But the truth is that you can soundproof any space without buying any additional products, simply by rearranging your furniture. 

Do you have a filled bookcase in your house? Why not move it to the wall you are trying to soundproof. Perhaps you should try moving that heavy couch against the wall as well. 

Furniture, especially that which is made of hardwood material, will provide a great sound barrier. When placed against the wall, the furniture increases the distance the sound has to travel, which reduces the impact of the noise that will eventually get to you. 

  • Noise Reducing Curtains

Yes, such curtains do exist, and you will be surprised at how effective they are in reducing the noise that passes through them. For better efficiency, these curtains are usually made of thick material that makes it easier for them to significantly reduce the noise from outside or from leaving a room. 

An advantage of using our noise reducing curtains is that they come in a variety of colors. You can, therefore, choose curtains that match the existing decor in the space you are soundproofing. 

Because they are made of thick material, these curtains may also block out light from getting into a room. They are best suited for rooms that don’t require much lighting, such as the bedroom. 

  • Soundproof Blankets

These blankets work similarly to soundproof curtains and are also made of thick material to help block out the sound. They also come in a variety of shapes and sizes to help you get blankets to suit whatever space you want. 

You can use soundproof blankets to block out the noise passing through a door or a wall. This means that you can hang the blankets on either a door or a wall. Although they are quite effective, soundproof blankets are not usually aesthetically pleasing. You may be better off placing them in a room that isn’t used often, such as the laundry room. 

  • Decorate Your House

Another effective way to soundproof a room without breaking the bank is to decorate. This way, you get to add the aesthetic appeal while dealing with the noise problem that keeps you awake at night. 

One of the ways to achieve this is by using wall hangings. You can get some of your favorite paintings and other fabric wall hangings and spread them out across the room. Be sure to go for those that are made from thick material so you can have the best results. 

Ideally, you can also use soundproof paint. Like the wallpaper, soundproof paint won’t be as effective when used alone. However, the paint is really thick, and you will notice some significant difference when you use it in a room. 

Soundproof paint also acts as a sound absorption solution. The paint helps in absorbing reverberations and echoes, which ultimately improves a room’s acoustics. 

  • White Noise Machine

If you are looking for a quick fix solution, your best bet would be to use a white noise machine. These small accessories are often inexpensive and are excellent options to help you drone out the unwanted sound from outside. 

Most machines will come with several pre-set white noises to help you concentrate. You could, for example, get a machine that lets you choose from ocean sounds, rainfall, breeze, among others. 

White noise machines are especially effective if you are looking for a solution to help you sleep. You can even use them for better concentration when working in the office or install them in the baby’s room to ensure they sleep better without any noise disturbances.    

Sound Absorption Solutions

In our quarterback analogy, the thigh pads (and other protective pads) are made of a spongy material that acts to absorb the impact of the kick. Similarly, sound absorption products are usually made of light and airy material to help them absorb unwanted sound. 

One important thing to note is that sound absorption products don’t stop sound from passing through them. You will, therefore, hear the sound from the next room. 

So, how do you know sound absorption products from soundproofing ones? As a rule of thumb, anything that starts with acoustic is for sound absorption. This includes acoustic panels, acoustic foam, acoustic tiles, among others. 

But this is not always the case. Acoustic foam mats, for example, can be used both for sound absorption and soundproofing. 

Your best bet would, therefore, to look at the product description. Just as the soundproofing objects have an STC rating, you will identify sound absorption products using an NRC rating. 

The Noise Reduction Coefficient is a measure of how much sound a product can absorb and usually ranges from 0 to 1. An acoustic product with an NRC rating of 0 doesn’t absorb any sound. You should, therefore, be on the lookout for products with higher NRC ratings. 

Say, for example, an acoustic mat has an NRC rating of 0.9. This means that the mat absorbs 90% of the sound and reflects 10%. 

Types of Sound Absorption Materials

There are a variety of sound absorption materials, but they all fall under three primary categories. 

  • Resonance Absorbers
  • These products are often the best when it comes to absorbing low frequencies. They usually have an acoustical oscillation system that contains plates. These plates are usually either made of perforated materials or have an opening in them. To help absorb and reduce echoes, resonance absorbers usually trap and lock sound within the holes and openings in the plates. 

  • Panel Absorbers
  • Panel absorbers are made of non-porous materials that aren’t rigid either. These absorbers are the best if you are looking to deal with bass frequencies. The best thing about panel absorbers is that they are everyday objects such as a chair, a door, a table, etc. 

  • Porous Absorbers
  • Just as the name suggests, these products are made of porous materials. The material can either be fibrous or open-celled foam. Fibrous materials allow sound waves to penetrate them and later bends and converts them into heat energy. These products, therefore, absorb most of the sound in a room, converts it into heat, and only reflects back a small percentage. 

    Open-celled foam materials, on the other hand, use the passages in the material to absorb sound by air movements. The material then reduces the sound and generates some heat. 

    Sound absorption is your best bet if you want to improve the acoustics in a room. Here are a few things you can do that will help. 

    • Acoustic Foam Panels

    These panels will come in handy in whatever room you want to use them. They are especially an excellent deal for sound recording rooms, whether in your house or a studio. 

    The best thing about acoustic foam panels is that they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. You can, therefore, get panels that suit your aesthetic taste. You can also choose panels of different shapes and sizes and create an aesthetically pleasing pattern. 

    • Acoustic Sealant

    The acoustic sealant works quite similarly to Green Glue. The only difference is that this product works better to absorb sound, rather than to soundproof. You can use an acoustic sealant to seal any gaps and holes in a room, door, or windows. This way, you achieve both soundproofing (by sealing off gaps) and sound absorption, thanks to the sealant. 

    • Acoustic Curtains

    Acoustic curtains are made of thick and heavy material that absorbs any unwanted echoes in a room. Acoustic curtains can be very efficient in reducing the echoes in any room. These acoustic curtains are the same noise reducing curtains we recommended earlier. They reduce noise, echoes, and reverberations and also double up as blackout curtains and allow you to keep the room dark whenever you want. They are, therefore, great for rooms that require some extra privacy, such as the bedroom. 

    • Change the Flooring

    Changing the flooring in a room can play a significant role in sound absorption. You can use acoustic floor mats to help absorb the echoes in a room. Alternatively, you can choose to add some carpets or rugs in the room. Be sure to go for thick and fluffy rugs, which are much better at absorbing echoes and other unwanted sounds in a room. You can also install some rubber mats, which are just as effective in absorbing sound. 

    • Hang some paintings

    Paintings work to help with both soundproofing and sound absorption. When choosing the best paintings for a room, thick and heavy materials such as canvas are much better at absorbing echoes and other sound reverberations. Hang several paintings all around the room for better efficiency. 

    Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption: Which one is Better?

    If you are looking to solve the sound issues in any space, you are probably wondering if you should go for soundproofing or sound absorption. Both methods, when implemented correctly, can be quite effective in getting rid of unwanted noise in a space. 

    So, which one is the best?

    Choosing between soundproofing and sound absorption will depend on the kind of room and the desired results. But, if you are looking for the best results, why not try a combination of the two? 

    You could, for example, use acoustic foam panels to add to the thickness of a wall and achieve sound absorption as well. 

    Either way, both methods could help you get rid of the noise problem in your life. All you need are the best products for your project, and you are good to go!