Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatment: What’s the Difference?

Yeah, the world is a big noisy place, we know that, but what can one do about it? As a matter of fact, one gets the right picture of how many sounds are there only when one starts building a studio.

It's a terrifying moment indeed because you realize that you are about to be in a real battle - human vs sound! But, the good news is that, with my useful tips, you can actually be a winner.

Here I shall tell you more about soundproofing and acoustic treatment in general. Are they the same thing? Which is the most successful way of dealing with various sounds from different sources? These are just some of the questions we shall try to answer.

The big question of acoustics is the one that troubles all musicians, and having a top-quality equipment is not always helpful, if the room properties themselves do not allow sound to be well distributed.

soundproofing and acoustic treatment

Get to know the sound: Direct and Indirect

Before we get down to taming the monster, let's get to know it first! Sound can be divided into two types: direct and indirect. Starting from the source, the sound travels in outward directions all around.

Direct travels in a straight line, whereas the reflected or indirect, randomly bounces in the room and between its surfaces.  Indirect sounds are echoes, reverbs, vibrations and similar. Direct sound remains the same, but the reflected change the original sound.

The change is either good or bad, depending on the size of the room, and its properties.

direct vs indirect sound

The most common reason why the majority of the rooms have problems with acoustics is the size of the room. You have surely noticed that there are no such problems in cathedrals, concert halls, and similar vast spaces.

Not all of us can have a huge studio, but we can fool the acoustics with some useful tricks and get the best of any space.

What is soundproofing?

The purpose of soundproofing is to block or minimize the level of sounds, both those traveling in and outside of the room. So, the main idea is to have the sound focused - do not let the desired one get out, and, at the same time, do not let the unwanted ones come in!

This can be done either by blocking or sealing. When I say blocking, that means using heavy and dense building materials to adjust your room. Sealing refers to all those tiny gaps, particularly in windows and doors.

best soundproofing materials

So, if you want me to be even more precise, perhaps I should say "isolation" rather than using the term “soundproof“. You should isolate the desired sound and keep it that way, without having any other interfering with it.

However, the term is commonly accepted, even though we all know that there's no such thing, at least not in its truest meaning. There are a few ways how soundproofing can be done.

What is acoustic treatment?

Quite opposite from the previously mentioned, where the main idea is to block the sound, the purpose of acoustic treatment is to control the sound. This particularly refers to indirect sounds, such as echoes, vibrations and similar.

So, it’s about controlling the sound that’s exclusively inside the room. As for a musician’s perspective, the idea is to record a clear sound without any of the unwanted ones. Furthermore, the idea is to provide the same quality of the sound intended by the artist to the listeners.

Now that you know the main differences between these two, you wonder how that looks in reality. Different methods are used for soundproofing and acoustic treatment. Some of them are a bit more complicated, the others are more than simple. But the main goal is to maintain the high-quality sound!

Soundproofing or Acoustic Treatment - ​Which to Choose?

Before you get down to business, be sure to know what exactly are you looking for? Do you want to reduce the echo? Or you want to block all the sound except for the one you are making?

These are some of the questions you have to answer so that you know what the problem you have to deal with is. Besides this, the dimensions of your room, as well as its shape are key factors.

Moreover, where is the room or the studio that you want to fix? If it’s in a building, that means dealing with numerous outside sounds as well.

soundproofing vs acoustic treatment

The simple evaluation of the acoustic properties of your room is the best way to decide what you need. Sometimes the help of a professional is needed in order to adjust the room as best as possible.

Here I shall introduce you to some of the most common methods used for improving the quality of the sound. As with everything, you can simply buy stuff, but if your budget is limited, I have prepared some affordable solutions as well.

Soundproofing methods

The most ideal scenario would be building a studio from scratch which means that one can influence the room acoustics from the very beginning. However, this is probably the least seen scenario, therefore we have to discuss some more common solutions.

The simplest one to try out is decoupling things. That means if there are two objects or elements in the room which are in contact, some vibrations may occur. Decoupling means to have them detached from each other.

That can be done by simply placing that element on some stand made from the dense material. If you haven’t got anything like that at home, you can buy some anti-vibration rubber pads, which are effective in solving this issue.

The next tactic is called adding mass to the walls. By doing so, you prevent the sound to travel in and out of the room. Certain materials, such as mass loaded vinyl have proven to be more than successful in solving the issue.

adding mass to walls

Besides these two most common methods, there are few more soundproofing materials which do the job quite well. You can use batts made of a soundproof material such as mineral wool, rock wool, fiberglass and similar.

Some acoustical fabrics can also be used for this purpose. There are curtains and blankets available. Moreover, check your doors and windows, perhaps sealing them with an acoustic sealant may help.

Acoustic treatment methods

Before you start with applying any of the acoustic treatment methods, get to know your room. It sounds silly, right, but it’s an essential step prior to any action. You have to evaluate your room by clapping or making a loud “tch” sound.

This simple test will help you determine the sound properties of your room. So, you will either hear a metallic ringing sound or a smooth reverb. If the first one is the case, more absorption is needed, while with the reverb, minimal absorption is required.

acoustic panels soundproof foam

There are three most common ways of dealing with imperfect acoustics in your room.

  • Bass traps are excellent when it comes to dealing with low frequencies. Just to add, they are equally good with mid and high ones, but the reason we put low in the first place is that they are definitely more problematic to fix. Read more about bass traps here.
  • Most commonly used are corner bass traps, which you can either buy or craft. The ones you can buy are made of acoustic foam, another good material when it comes to sound absorption. 
  • Right after bass traps, you have acoustic panels, which actually give the best of themselves when used together with traps. Unlike bass traps, they are not capable of dealing with low-frequency sounds but are quite good with mid and high ones. 

    The best would be to place the traps first, test your room, and then decide whether you need panels to “polish” the sound more.
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    Diffusers are also an option, but if you want me to be honest, they are not needed if two previously mentioned methods do the job. The logic is the same as with panels. 

    First put the traps, then test the room; if needed, use the panels and test it again. If you are still not satisfied with the result, then diffusers are what you need.

Budget-friendly soundproofing and acoustic treatment

Sometimes people are in the situation where they are aware that a problem exists but haven’t got the means to fix it. By that, I mean money. Sometimes even the cheapest product you can buy is too expensive if your budget is limited. Still, the problem with unwanted sounds exists and it has to be fixed.

Believe it or not, your house is actually full of decent materials and items that can be used as sound absorbers.  Pillows, blankets, clothes, couches, all of them can provide a slight improvement. The main reason is that they are made of porous materials which are good at fixing problems with sound. So, trying it to see if it works won’t cost a dime, and you surely won’t make things worse.

Final Verdict: Soundproofing and Acoustic Treatment 

Having the best of the sound is not only something that musicians strive to. We, ordinary people, are also happy when there are no annoying echoes, unwanted vibrations, and other unpleasant sounds.

Sometimes it’s not up to the fact whether we hear all of that or not, but I’m talking more about that feeling of calmness. Noise is disturbing, it’s a common fact, and when it’s gone or at least decreased, we are satisfied.

As you can see, lots can be done about soundproofing and acoustic treatment. Now that you know the difference between them, the first step is to make a good plan, and the rest will come easily.

Have you got more tips and tricks on dealing with the sound all around? I’m always happy to learn new stuff from my devoted readers so do not hesitate, share them!