How to soundproof a room
by Duncan Geddes
So, you’re looking to soundproof a room? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re reading this then the chances are you need advice on how to block out unwanted sound, whether it’s soundproofing an industrial building or setting up a professional recording studio.
Most people associate soundproofing with recording studios, but the truth is technical foams are actually more widely used than you might think. In reality, technical foams are used in all kinds of domestic and industrial environments to cover and isolate everything from walls, ceilings, duct pipes, HVAC systems, generators and compressor rooms.
For now, we’ll focus mainly on how to soundproof a recording studio and cover some of the main misconceptions people have about soundproofing and the questions we are most often asked when it comes to acoustic foam. So, let’s start by covering the basics …
1. What’s the difference between soundproofing and acoustic treatment?
Basically, one blocks out noise and the other improves the sound quality in the room. For studios, your first priority should be to soundproof the room by blocking out traffic and other background noise that will ruin your chances of recording a platinum-selling album.
This is more difficult that it might seem. You’re going to need professional soundproofing materials such as acoustic foam to cover the walls, ceiling and other areas that will transmit sound. There’s no single acoustic foam that will do it all (just like there’s no ‘perfect’ guitar), so we’ll look at the environment and recommend a
solution that will work for your situation.
If you’re looking for a rule of thumb? Go for a specialist foam that is as thick and dense as possible before getting into the nitty-gritty of choosing composite forms and surface types.
2. How effective are technical soundproofing foams?
They are highly effective, but only for their intended purpose. Just like when choosing a good producer, you’ve got to know what to look for. Differences such as airflow, cell size and density can significantly change the sound absorbing properties of the foam and its effectiveness at blocking out various types of sound frequencies.
The other main consideration is the surface shape. Pyramid, wedge and waffle structures are all popular shapes for their ability to disrupt sound waves and help absorb noise (that’s right, they do more than just look cool). This in turn reduces reverberation and echo in the room by stopping sounds from bouncing off the walls and other hard surfaces.
3. What about DIY soundproofing options? Do they work?
From egg cartons to old mattresses, cardboard sheets and even carpets and plywood – we’ve heard it all
(no pun intended). Cash-strapped musicians have tried so many DIY options over the years, but very few of them make any noticeable difference to sound reduction and in some cases they can even make the problem worse.
Egg cartons can actually amplify some sounds and materials like old mattresses soon become a breeding ground for dust, mould, mildew, or even worse. In any case, unless you’re making a ‘statement’ by recording your next indie album in a bathtub surrounded by stacks of cardboard boxes then you’re probably not considering the DIY option, right?
But just in case you need another reason, resorting to DIY soundproofing can actually be a fire hazard. Whether you’re filling the wall cavities with sawdust or nailing foam rubber to the walls, you’ll probably be in breach of building regulations. That’s why our polyurethane and melamine foams meet FMVSS302 or UL94 HF1 and Class 0 fire-retardant grades.
4. Will soundproofing foam block out traffic noise?
Unless you have the luxury of recording in a country home, it’s fair to assume that your studio will be in a city – and that means traffic noise. The simple answer is that acoustic foam can make a big difference to reducing noise from the street outside. There are two types of noise you need to reduce: airbourne noise and impact noise.
Airbourne noise is sound that is transmitted between rooms via flanking elements such as floor voids, corridors, windows and doors. This can be a challenge with older buildings where adjoining rooms have different uses. The way around this is to seal any gaps where air can enter the room (the usual suspects are windows and doors) and to install soundproofing foam that is cut to fit perfectly.
Impact noise, on the other hand, is sound transmitted between rooms via materials. An obvious example of this is the sound of footsteps on the floor above. To reduce impact noise you need to either stop the sound getting into the ceiling by adding a floating floor or installing an acoustic foam ceiling to reduce the noise. Another effective solution, especially with wooden floorboards, is to lay carpets or rugs to prevent the impact in the first place.
5. Is it possible to soundproof any type of room?
The ideal situation (especially when recording music) is to have a purpose-built room, but the reality is that even professional recording studios are often located within existing buildings that were originally built for other purposes. In fact, the rise in popularity of converting basements, lofts and garages for home studio use means that we now engineer, cut and install acoustic foam all kinds of buildings and environments.
For instance, the most popular rooms for home recording studios are usually lofts and basements, but garages and even stand-alone workshops can be soundproofed. Believe it or not, you can even soundproof your garden shed, as long as you have a big enough budget and don’t mind losing five inches of room space
to install proper walls and an acoustic door!
Hopefully this answers some of the basic questions and explains why there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to soundproofing a room. If you’re preparing to soundproof a music studio (or indeed any type of industrial or domestic room) then the best thing to do is get in touch to discuss your requirements in more detail –chances are we will be able to help you.
We can also advise you on other specialist foams such as acoustic Basotect foam for walls, fire retardant Class 0 foams, audio foams such as microphone windshields, speaker foam covers, foam audio speaker fronts, ear defender mufflers and other bespoke solutions.
Remember, whatever your requirements, we’ll be able to recommend a range of technical foams to soundproof your recording studio and significantly improve both the noise isolation and the sound quality within the room. Then you’ll be ready to rock ‘n’ roll.