Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption — Aren’t They the Same Thing?

Soundproofing, sound absorption, noise dampening,… When you’re making your first steps into home soundproofing, all this different terms and phrases can be overwhelming. You try to google some of the products and techniques, but you don’t know what exactly you are looking for. Should you go for acoustic foam panels, soundproof drywall, or maybe some sound dampening blankets?

You may be asking yourself why doesn’t everybody just call them “soundproof” or “soundproofing” as we usually do when we talk to family and friends. The reason is that all this products and techniques work in different ways, they are made out of different materials, and are also applied differently.

The main source of confusion seems to be the distinction between soundproofing and sound absorption.

Soundproofing (acoustic) foam - blue.

As said, soundproofing is a term that is commonly used for all acoustic solutions. Whether you want to stop outside noise or reduce the echo within your room, soundproofing is the treatment you are probably looking for. But the truth is it only represents one of two main tactics for improving the acoustics of a room, with the other being sound absorption.

It is essential to understand the difference between either. It can help you avoid making unnecessary mistakes and wasting money and time on products that won’t work the way you want.

Soundproofing and Sound Absorption – The Main Difference

Soundproofing is what you need when you want to prevent noise from entering or leaving a room. For example, if you’re going to block noise coming from the next-door neighbors, have a quiet space to work, or keep your bedroom activities private, then soundproof materials are the right solution for you.

Sound absorption, on the other hand, refers to the application of products that absorb sound waves and stop them from bouncing around the room. They are capable of preventing bad echo, reverberations, background noise, or poor room acoustics in general. The important difference between soundproofing and sound absorbing products is that the latter doesn’t stop sound from passing through them.

How to Spot a Sound Blocker and Sound Absorber?

Soundproofing products, also known as sound blockers, don’t just magically erase the noise but they have to block it physically. To be able to do this they have to be heavy, solid, and dense enough to stop sound and reflect it (see Mass-Loaded Vinyl).

There is also another way of soundproofing where you use products that are designed to decouple two adjacent hard surfaces and disable direct sound transmission between either. They basically introduce gaps into parts of the structure, preventing the vibration from traveling through. But more about this in some other article.

Products that are intended to absorb sound, so-called sound absorbers, work differently, meaning they also look and feel different than sound blockers. They are supposed to be soft to the touch, light and fluffy. This way they can soften up the surfaces of walls or ceilings, soak up the sound when it hits them, and reduce the echo and resonances within that room.

What to Check…

The best ways to tell if a product is designed for soundproofing is to read the product description and check the specs to see if they include an STC (sound transmission class) number or other indications that the product was tested as a sound blocker. Also, take a good look at the material and see if it’s heavy and dense as it should be.

To spot out sound absorbing products, again look at the product description and see which terms are used. Check the test data to see if the specifications include an NRC (noise reduction coefficient). Also look at the surface of the product and inspect its softness and fluffiness.

Where are They Applied?

Soundproofing materials are meant to act a sound barrier between two hard surfaces. For example, both sides of the wall. They are usually found inside the building construction. This makes soundproofing inconvenient and difficult to accomplish after the structure is built. So its best to think about soundproofing in advance. Otherwise, you’ll have to tear down the walls or think about alternatives.

The application of sound absorbing materials is much more straightforward, as they are installed on exposed surfaces. They are applied to the walls, ceilings,… Which means you can add them or take them off at will.

Can Soundproofing and Sound Absorption Work In Tandem?

They look and feel differently; they work differently,… But regardless of all this differences, soundproofing and sound absorbing applications don’t exclude each other and can be used simultaneously. In fact, combining both will give you the best results no matter what your target is, soundproofing or sound absorption. An application of soundproofing products and materials will keep noise, or at least most of it, out of the room. And the additional sound absorbing treatments will dampen the rest of it.

RELATED ARTICLE: Best Soundproof Curtains

Take Aways

Now you should have a solid foundation to make the right decisions. To sum up:

  • Identify what is causing the problem with bad sound. Is it the noise entering the room, or the sound waves produced within the space and are bouncing around.
  • Based on this decide what do you need. If you want to block sound, use soundproofing products and techniques. If you want to absorb it, then go for sound absorbers.
  • Soundproofing is easier to achieve if it is done while the structure is being built. Sound absorption can be added after.



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