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Soundproofing Defined

Soundproofing Defined

I often hear about “soundproofing” materials that failed to deliver the expected results. One of the major reasons for this is the widespread incorrect use of the term “Soundproof”.  Although the term seems to be self-explanatory, there is a great deal of confusion between the terms sound quality and soundproofing.  Let’s have a look¹:

Soundproof, Adjective:

  • Impervious to sound
  • Designed to prevent sound from entering or leaving
  • Not penetrable by sound

Soundproof, Verb:

  • to insulate so as to obstruct the passage of sound
  • insulate against noise
  • protect from noise by surrounding with insulating material

So, whether used as an adjective or verb, a soundproof(ed) space is one that simply keeps-in (and blocks-out) unwanted sound.

It is not unusual for disappointment to result when someone installs some “soundproof foam”, “soundproof blankets”, or “soundproofing panels” (ask any search engine for examples), only to discover that while sound quality inside the space has changed, sound escaping or entering has not.  It is not soundproof.  What went wrong?

It turns out that many “soundproofing” products provide no sound blocking properties.  Describing these products as ‘soundproof’ is a misnomer.  Foam, fiberglass, and other fibrous materials by themselves are sound absorbers, not barriers.  Absorbers are very useful for improving sound quality in a room that is too “loud” or “live”.  They reduce reverberation, echoes, and overall noise levels by absorbing sound that would otherwise be reflected back into a room and reinforced by hard surfaces.  Unfortunately, they cannot by themselves soundproof (as correctly defined above) your space.

Here are two quick-and-dirty tests for determining if a material actually has soundproofing potential:

The Chat Test:  Find a relatively quiet location outdoors where there are no buildings or reflective surfaces nearby. Hold a sizeable sample of the material between you and a friend.  Have a conversation.  While some sound will still travel around the material, and some will travel directly through, a decent barrier material such as SilentCurtain or SilentWrap should significantly impair conversation.  The larger the sample, the more accurate this test will be.

The Earblock Test:  This one is a little trickier to do.  Seal-off your ears with a sample of the material while listening to a constant noise source such as a fan.  Alternately cover and uncover your ears.  The degree to which the material does (or does not) block sound is an indicator of the results one may have with it for soundproofing space.  Many are particularly surprised when trying this with popular acoustic foam tiles.

Of course, these ‘tests’ alone are not sufficient for making material decisions in your soundproofing project.  Soundproofing done-right typically requires strategic use of barrier materials in conjunction with absorptive materials.  Much of soundproofing is not intuitive, so please feel free to contact us anytime to discuss your project.  Experienced advice can go a long way in avoiding costly mistakes.


¹Definitions per: Merriam-Webster dictionary, Webster student dictionary, and Collins unabridged English Dictionary