Mass Loaded Vinyl Explained: Uses, Advantages & Best Buys

If you’ve dabbled in the topic of soundproofing before, you’ve probably heard of Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV). That sounds like a robust and powerful material, right? Well, that’s because it is! It’s a thick barrier material that will block all those annoying outside noises. What’s more, it will reduce sound transmission without scaling down your living space.

If you’re wondering what exactly MLV is, why to include it in your soundproofing plan, and which manufacturer to go for — keep on reading.

MLV’s Unique Structure and Composition

When you’re soundproofing a surface, the best choice is to go with something weighted. That sounds logical, even to amateurs. The MLV is just that. However, it’s also very flexible. That means that it isn’t hard to install on your floors and ceilings and that you can also wrap it around your air vents. You can even do it yourself, but, we’ll talk more about installation later.

What gives this flexibility, or better said limpness to the Mass Loaded Vinyl is the main ingredient — vinyl. Vinyl is a synthetic, plastic material, that’s very versatile. Soundproofing isn’t the first or the last industry to make good use out of it. Homeowners, builders, and architects love vinyl because it’s water-resistant and very durable. Therefore, you’ll only need to soundproof your space once, and it will stick.

The other main ingredient of MLV is some high-mass element. In most cases, that’s calcium silicate. However, some manufacturers still use barium sulfate, although less frequently. Either way, whichever naturally occurring element is used, the goal is the same — blocking sound.

This high-mass element amplifies the material’s density, a crucial characteristic for impeding sound. It works on a simple principle — put a barrier dense enough in front of the sound waves, and they won’t pass. Therefore, the structure of MLV is nothing like the porous structure of sound absorbing materials. However, if you install it loosely or suspend it from the ceiling, it can also play a role in absorbing sound.

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The Pros and Cons of Mass Loaded Vinyl

Still not convinced about MLV? There are a lot of soundproofing materials out there. However, this vinyl-based material has some unrivaled benefits and a single drawback.

Great Mass-to-Thickness Ratio

At the forefront of MLV’s advantages is its remarkable thinness combined with its effective sound-blocking capabilities. Achieving sound insulation with a material that’s thin can be challenging, but MLV manages to stand out. It boasts a superior mass-to-thickness ratio compared to most other materials.

To provide some perspective: a square foot of 1/8 inch thick MLV weighs approximately one pound. In many homes and offices, drywall is the go-to for soundproofing. When we weigh an equivalent thickness of drywall, it’s nearly twice as heavy as MLV.

High STC Score

One of the standout features of MLV is its impressive STC score. STC, or Sound Transmission Class, is a standardized measure indicating the reduction of sound transmission between a source and a designated measurement point. While it may seem intricate, the concept is quite straightforward.

To determine the STC score in a particular setting, such as your home, sound levels are measured at various points — from the source of the sound to the target measurement location. The difference between these measurements gives the STC score.

The STC score for MLV largely depends on its thickness. For instance, an MLV that’s 1/16-inch thick typically has an STC score close to 20. Meanwhile, 1/8-inch products, which are more prevalent in the market, generally fall within the 26 to 27 range. These are commendable scores, especially considering the material’s thinness.

Watch the accompanying video to witness the noise-reducing capabilities of an MLV block:

Versatility

Another standout characteristic of MLV compared to other soundproofing materials is its unparalleled flexibility and wide range of applications. Whether it’s beneath walls or floors, molded around pipes and air vents, or fixed to fences, MLV fits the bill seamlessly. Many even employ it to soundproof their vehicles.

MLV’s adaptability ensures you can seal off those pesky small gaps in challenging spots. Properly sealing these gaps is paramount for efficient soundproofing; any missed spots can compromise the entire effort.

High Price

Like any product, MLV comes with its set of drawbacks, with cost being the primary concern. Prices can range from $1.5 to $6 per square foot, contingent upon the quantity purchased.

Therefore, if you’re working on a tight budget, you might want to stick to drywall, or other, cheaper materials. However, if you’re working on a space that needs tight soundproofing, go for MLV.

Picking the Perfect MLV: Factors to Consider

If you’ve decided that MLV is the soundproofing material for your needs, there are still several choices to navigate:

  • Thickness: Begin by determining the required thickness. For modest soundproofing on a budget, you might opt for the 1/16-inch variant. However, the 1/8-inch version is a favorite among many users. For more demanding spaces like studios or theaters, the 1/4-inch option could be more suitable.
  • Color: Although black is a common choice for MLV, there are color options available should you prefer a different hue. Remember, the color might not be a significant consideration if the MLV will be hidden from view. Additionally, for specific requirements, translucent or transparent versions of MLV are available.
  • Flexibility Level: If you’re seeking an exceptionally flexible MLV, it’s essential to delve into specific manufacturers’ offerings. While standard MLV is quite flexible, some variants excel in this aspect. However, greater flexibility might come with a heftier price tag.
  • Adhesive Type: While budget-friendly options may tempt, be wary of their limitations. For instance, MLV with a peel-and-stick adhesive backing might not be as durable, as the adhesive can lose its grip over time. For a more long-lasting installation, explore alternative adhesive choices.
  • Additional Features: Some MLV brands offer products with an added foam layer, enhancing the material’s flexibility, durability, and sound absorption capabilities.

With these considerations in mind, we’ve evaluated various MLV brands and identified some top performers. Read on to discover our top recommendations.

The Best of MLV: Products That Shine

A while ago, sourcing MLV was a challenging task, but today, we are blessed with an array of choices. Here, we dive into the three most reputable brands in the market.

1. TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl

TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl, Soundproofing Material - 1Lb, MLV Acoustic...
  • High-Efficiency Sound sound barrier quiet...
  • Mass-loaded vinyl 1 lb sound proofing for...
  • Environmentally safe - Non-toxic and...
  • Improve sound quality, creating a serene...

In our opinion, the best option out there is the TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl. Firstly, TMS uses only the highest quality vinyl in the production. That means that there are no recycled or reground materials in your sheets. Furthermore, it has no odor.

Now, this might not seem like a significant advantage, but it really is. The strong odor that’s a given for some other brands is overpowering and very distracting during installation. TMS is odorless.

Furthermore, TMS is 1/8 of an inch thick, weighs one pound per square foot, and has an STC score of 27.

However, keep in mind that TMS mass loaded vinyl is very heavy. While this is just a minor inconvenience, you need to know it, especially when installing floor to ceiling pieces. In those cases, you might need a helping hand for the heavy lifting. Or, you can cut the sheet into more manageable pieces. The material is very easy to cut through.

TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl » See More on Amazon

2. Soundsulate Mass Loaded Vinyl

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Soundsulate Mass Loaded Vinyl emerges as another commendable choice. Matching TMS, it also measures 1/8 of an inch in thickness and weighs in at one pound per square foot, albeit with a marginally lower STC of 26.

Where TMS offers two size variants, Soundsulate steals the show with seven distinct sizes. These range from a compact 4 by 4 feet covering 16 square feet to a whopping 4.5 by 245 feet encompassing 1,102 square feet.

Larger dimensions translate to cost savings. Case in point: a 40-square-foot package is priced at approximately $130, translating to $3.25 per square foot. Opting for the 100 square feet roll sees the price dropping to around $2.4 per square foot, and the largest package offers a steal at only $1.64 per square foot.

To cap it off, Soundsulate also retails a thinner version of their product, measuring just 1/16 of an inch and weighing a mere half pound per square foot. Yet, in spite of its slender profile, it has a solid STC rating of 20.

Soundsulate Mass Loaded Vinyl » See More on Amazon

3. Noise Grabber Mass Loaded Vinyl

Noise Grabber Mass Loaded Vinyl - 1 LB, 4' x 10', 40 Square Foot Roll...
  • PREMIUM MASS LOADED VINYL: Noise Grabber MLV...
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  • HEAVY, DENSE, & FLEXIBLE: Noise Grabber MLV...

Concluding our list, we have the Noise Grabber Mass Loaded Vinyl. In terms of thickness and efficacy, it aligns closely with its counterparts. However, it takes the lead in terms of size variety.

The unique selling point here is its availability in 1-by-1-foot sheets. These are impeccable for niche projects — think of wrapping pipes or plugging minor gaps and holes. For those with an inclination towards an industrial aesthetic, these sheets can even be fashioned as tiles for garage or workshop walls.

Noise Grabber Mass Loaded Vinyl » See More on Amazon

How to Properly Install MLV on Your Walls or Ceiling

Setting up MLV is a straightforward process. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to follow certain steps to ensure optimal results.

Ideally, it’s recommended to mount the MLV against the studs before overlaying it with drywall. But rest assured, there are alternative methods. Tearing down walls isn’t the only solution for achieving peaceful nights.

Under the Drywall

Measuring

First, you have to measure your wall. Remember to deduct 1/8 or 1/4 of an inch. Then, unroll your MLV on the floor, and measure the length you need. Cut it with a knife, or a sharper pair of scissors.

Application

Next, you’ll want to apply your measured piece of MLV over the insulation, onto the studs. Hold it in place and start at the top and go downwards, or you can start at the sides. You’ll probably need another pair of hands to help with the weight. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the edges. They need to be straight along the floor and the ceiling.

Fasteners

You can use whatever type of grip you have. Since the MLV goes under the drywall, you don’t have to be concerned about appearances. Use nails, screws, or a pneumatic stapler, if you have one. Place them 8 inches apart along the edges.

Electrical Boxes

Don’t forget about the electrical boxes. You have to leave them exposed. It’s best to press the measured sheet to its designated place and then cut out the pieces that cover electrical boxes. Be careful not to cut out too much, and to seal the hole as best as you can.

Seams

Keep the seams of the MLV as close together as you can. Make sure to overlap them by 2 inches if they fall between studs. That way they won’t peel off or come apart. If you have any gaps, you can seal them with a strip of PVC tape.

Drywall

Install drywall over the applied MLV.

For those who prefer visual guides, watch this brief video demonstrating how to hang MLV:

Over Existing Walls

If you aren’t keen on ripping your walls down, you can install MLV over existing drywall. It’s a bit more complicated, but still very doable.

Start by using a stud finder to identify the studs behind your drywall. Once marked, screw furring strips into the drywall, ensuring they penetrate into the studs. Next, affix the MLV.

If you’re comfortable with the appearance, you can leave the MLV exposed. However, for a more polished finish, consider adding another layer of drywall on top. This method often yields the most effective soundproofing results.

Closing Remarks

While dealing with noise isn’t easy, it can be made simple with MLV. This flexible soundproofing material guarantees excellent performance and durability. As sound blockers go, this is the best option on the market. It’s easy to use — you can install it yourself, and enjoy the silence.

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