There are many different products out there in the world today that promise to help control noise in a room. Some products work better than others, but the word soundproofing gets thrown around a lot to cover anything that has an impact on the sound.
Take acoustic foam as a perfect example. Just because this foam has some effect on sound does not mean that it can completely soundproof a room. So many are confused about that with acoustic foam. Understanding what it can and can’t’ do will go a long way toward expectations.
Let us take a closer look at what soundproofing actually is, and why acoustic foam does not help with that. After that, we get into its actual uses, and how foam in a room can positively impact sound when recording or performing.
Soundproofing VS. Sound Absorption
This is one of the most confusing things in regards to sound. So many people do not understand the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption, which leads to a lot of confusion on what acoustic foam actually does.
Soundproofing is minimizing sound from not only coming in, but leaving, in a closed area. Sound absorption has to do with reducing reflections and sounds inside a particular area. With quality sound absorption, sound might improve inside a room, but sound absorption does not kill unwanted sounds.
If the definition of sound absorption sounds familiar, it is pretty much exactly what acoustic foam does inside a room. Foam improves the acoustics in a room and makes things sound better. Professionals use this all the time to improve the sound in the recording studio, and the same goes for any type of performance center that uses acoustic foam as well. (Source)
Why Acoustic Foam Doesn’t Work As Soundproofing Material
As discussed above, soundproofing involves stopping noise from entering or leaving a closed area. In order to do that, there needs to be more than just a little bit of foam to block the path. Even if the entire room has foam filling it, there is not enough by itself to make an impact.
Soundproofing involves actually going through the process of treating a room. It takes time as a do-it-yourself project, or to hire professionals who wish to tackle things head-on.
The four elements of soundproofing include decoupling, absorption, adding mass, and damping. This might seem like a complicated process, but most of the time, it comes down to picking the right materials and getting to work.
Heavy material is easier to use for soundproofing, since all sound is created by vibrations. The heavier a product is, the harder it is for noise to cause it to vibrate. (Source)
How to Actually Soundproof a Room
Having acoustic foam in a room isn’t useless, but it’s not going to do much for soundproofing. However, there are ways to soundproof a room and significantly enhance how everything sounds. It is time-consuming for certain rooms, but worth it in the end for a room that actually has minimal sound coming in or leaving.
Every single person who considers soundproofing a room should first do some early preparation so that they are as effective as possible.
The first step is pretty simple, but makes a pretty big difference in the end. How is sound getting in and leaving? The most common culprit is the walls in most rooms, but it could be anywhere in a room without checking things out first.
Go around the room and see what might be the issue, and don’t be afraid to check every little corner. This means looking at air vents, any cracks in the walls or ceiling, door gaps, and more.
Put another way, what if the entire room had water inside instead of just air? Where would the water leak out of? This is also where the sound is leaking in and out of the room. The entire room might need to be addressed, but those areas need specific attention to get things sounding just right.
The goal of decoupling is to reduce the opportunities of vibrations traveling from one side of the wall to another. This means eliminating as many contact points as possible between the studs and the drywall. If they are not connected, the sound can’t make nearly as much of an impact.
This is similar to building a room within a room if a person really wants to take decoupling to the highest level. By having that separation, it makes a huge difference in cutting down on vibrations. (Source)
Once the decoupling is done, there is space between the studs. This is a good thing in the long run, but if it’s a hollow space, it could create resonance. That is why people fill up these empty spaces with insulation that relates directly to controlling sound.
The material needs to be loose enough to dissipate sound energy instead of possibly transferring sound from the inner wall to the outer wall. This usually only happens if the insulating material is too dense.
A very common material used for insulation is fiberglass. Rockwool also work because of its properties. It is very inexpensive, and easy to mold into different shapes to fit any type of area.
Having the ability to fill the cavity as much as possible is extremely beneficial for anyone who might need more insulation than they originally thought. It is very easy to continually add insulation later on down the road as well if there seems like there are more opportunities.
Once the insulation installation is over, add mass to the walls, ceiling and any other surfaces in the room. The goal is to make the surface pretty heavy, as it helps with soundproofing that much more.
Drywall is a very common option for people who are doing things themselves, as it is inexpensive and easy to set up. Sheetrock is another option as it has good acoustic properties for people to rely on.
Finally, damping a wall or ceiling can take soundproofing to another level. This is when a person applies a layer of drywall, put a damping compound on the wall, and then sandwiches that compound with another layer of drywall. This severely cuts down on vibration, as well as adding even more mass.
This technique is mostly done on walls, but also ceilings. It is the perfect finishing touch for soundproofing a room and noticing the final changes. Between the first and second layer of drywall, people are encouraged to test things out and hear themselves what a difference it makes.
What Is Acoustic Foam It Actually Used For?
One of the most common uses for acoustic foam is in large rooms with subpar acoustics. Think about rooms at churches, schools, community centers and more. Without acoustic foam, the acoustics in these fairly bare rooms can be pretty poor. Why is that the case? The flat walls and ceiling cause noises to bounce around the room and blend weirdly.
The acoustic foam helps significantly reduce those noise waves from bouncing around and causing interference, allowing listeners to focus solely on the sound people want to hear.
People have the most success with acoustic foam when trying to handle mid and high frequencies. Lower frequencies usually require either more acoustic foam, or take additional pieces of acoustic foam to have the same result.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Acoustic Foam?
Investing in acoustic foam is very inexpensive for people who want to try out different setups in a home. Be aware though that not all acoustic foam is the same, as some will be much thicker and more effective than others. It might be tempting to buy the cheapest foam out there, but it usually doesn’t perform at a high enough level that it works as planned.
It’s also worth noting that it is going to take more than just a few panels to make any type of impact whatsoever. Buying in bulk is usually the way to go, as they come in sheets that are easy to put together and even cut if needed.
Since most of the foam panels are going to be exposed, it makes sense to invest in something that looks good on the walls. Give the walls a professional look when installing the farm. Doing it right the first time is going to make the area look nice for a while.
What should a person do to fill in the gaps with acoustic foam?
For people attempting to get full coverage, it is essential to attach acoustic foam as close together as possible. Even when that is the case, there is still a little bit of a gap between each panel. Using adhesive or spray to help close those gaps if it is really problematic. Only people who have a professional set up usually bother doing something like this, as everyone else seems to think that it is a bit overkill.
Are there ways to install the acoustic foam on walls without any damage?
Since the foam is so lightweight, it is very easy to install the acoustic foam on the wall without doing any type of permanent damage. Using any type of basic adhesive will get the job done, as some companies even offer a specific type of tape or glue to help people out. If the walls are
completely wiped down and cleaned before installation, everything will go on smoothly from the beginning.
The only time a person might consider looking into something more permanent is if they are putting together a recording room that will be around for a long time. Maybe installing a lot of foam makes it difficult for it to all stick to the wall.
Using a more permanent adhesive will secure the foam and allow people not to have to worry about any of that when it comes to the actual recording time. This is a suggestion that very few people end up using, but it is an option.
A final look at acoustic foam
There is a purpose for acoustic farm, as it continues to sell at a higher rate every single year online and in stores.
What many people fail to realize is that it works as sound absorption, not soundproofing. This material does a pretty terrible job of soundproofing, as it’s way too light to make any type of impact on holding sound in, or keeping sound out.
Once a room in a home or building is properly soundproofed, acoustic foam does come in handy. It also works well for rooms that have a lot of sound waves bouncing around because of hard, flat surfaces.
An inexpensive treatment, every person looking for enhanced sound in a room should heavily consider investing in acoustic foam panels. Just don’t expect it to work miracles, because it does not qualify as a soundproofing material at all.