Soundproofing vs. Acoustic Treatment

Whether you’re looking to develop a new building or simply refurbish an office, you’ve probably thought about sound at some point. It’s an essential part of the planning process, and a critical step in ensuring the comfort and safety of those in and around the building. You might have even looked at ways of preventing noise from traveling to unwanted areas, and you’ve come across phrases like “sound absorption” or “sound insulation.”

You might think that both refer to the same thing, but you would be wrong. In this post, we thought we’d explain the difference between the two.

What is Sound Insulation?

Also known as soundproofing, sound insulation can perhaps be equated to thermal insulation. It’s meant to keep sound “in”, just as we try to do with heat when it’s cold. However, just as with thermal insulation, some sound still finds its way out, but the aim is minimising sound transfer.

Sometimes, the process is also called “sound isolation,” as it works to isolate the sound within a specific space. However, whichever term you use, the main goal here is blocking noise. Think of it as a music rehearsal studio – if there are three rooms, each with a different band, the last thing you want is for people to hear all three bands at once while in the reception area.

As such, you want to soundproof each of the rehearsal rooms so that the sound made inside stays inside and doesn’t travel to the rest of the building unless you open the door. However, it’s quite difficult to get a 100% effective soundproofing solution. But most solutions do get pretty close.

You can achieve soundproofing in several different ways, depending on how thorough you want the soundproofing to be. Resealing windows and doors, installing blown-in insulating into the walls, moving dense furniture to strategic places, introducing soft furnishings, and hanging baffles are all effective methods of soundproofing.

Some methods are more effective than others, and the costs usually range from thousands to virtually nothing.

So How Is Sound Absorption Different?

Also known as an acoustic treatment, sound absorption is focused on keeping sound within a space, however, it’s all about the quality of that sound. In other words, acoustic treatment is designed to change the dynamics of how sound waves travel within a space, which gives listeners a much cleaner and truer listening experience. You can use a sound meter app on your smartphone to measure noise while travelling.

Some of the main issues that acoustic treatments are designed to address include echo and reverberation control. Mitigating the nulls and peaks in a room’s frequency response, comb filtering, minimizing flutter echo, and preventing modal ringing at lower frequencies. All these work together to reduce sound interference, which could be distracting during listening.

Acoustic treatments are usually done using a mix of diffusion and absorption. This helps reduce acoustic energy in a room, essentially absorbing any sound that would bounce around for some time. This makes it easier to concentrate since there are no background sounds to distract you.

Acoustic treatments are also used in cinemas and music venues as they help to drastically improve the listening experience by getting rid of sound reflections, which makes the music sound cleaner to the ear.

Imagine a bouncy ball in a room; the softer and more absorbent the surrounding material, the more energy is absorbed with each impact, and the less the ball will bounce around the room. The harder or more reflective the surfaces, the longer the ball will bounce around the room.

Which Do I Need?

If you’re deciding between installing acoustic treatments and soundproofing, the best approach is to first consider the use of the space and the surrounding area.