A photo showing the difference between soundproof and sound absorbing

Soundproofing vs Sound Absorbing, What Is The Difference?

Here at Soundproof Designs I talk a lot about soundproofing rooms around your home.

But did you know that soundproofing is just a generalised term and what we are actually doing most of the time is sound absorbing or sound dampening.

You may be thinking what is the difference, isn’t it all the same? Well no, it isn’t. The two are actually completely different approaches and techniques and are used for different purposes.

So with that in mind this guide is going to teach you the differences between soundproofing and sound absorbing. It is important because you will then be able to decide which approach you need to follow to complete your project successfully.

Soundproofing vs Sound Absorbing.

First off I want to tell you the difference between the two terms and then I will give you some examples of different products and techniques that can be used to achieve each outcome.

The term Soundproofing actually means the use of products to block out sound, this means to stop internal soundwaves from escaping and external noises from entering a room. Whereas sound absorbing is used to dampen or dull down the noise bringing it to an acceptable and bearable level. To fully soundproof a room you will need to use your soundproofing materials during construction, in the case of sound absorption you can add them after construction.

Soundproofing

Soundproofing or blocking materials are usually made from very dense and heavy materials. This works by stopping the soundwaves from being able to penatrate the walls.

To Soundproof a room during construction you will need to add materials like double or preferably triple glazed windows.

You will also need to look at the construction of the walls themselves. Adding in layers of soundproof accoustic insulation between the drywall will drastically block out the soundwaves.

Sealing all the gaps and nooks with a good acoustic sealant is also also necessary step.

Also you will need to take into consideration the floors and ceilings. Adding a sound blocking layer to these for the ultimate soundproofed room.

Sound Absorbing

Sound absorbing can take place on an existing room when construction work is not viable.

An example of where you may want to use sound absorbing would be when you are trying to create a recording area in your home for making YouTube videos or podcasting.

You may also want to use sound absorbing materials in an existing room that you would like to change into a home office.

By using sound absorbing materials you will only ever be able to dampen loud noises down to an acceptable level. Sound absorbing materials will not block out the sound completely.

An infographic I created showing the differences between soundproof and sound absorbing.
The above infographic that I created shows the differences between soundproof and sound absorbing.

Examples of soundproofing and sound absorbing materials.

Below are some of the examples of soundproofing materials that are available and also some of the sound absorbing products that you could buy to complete your project.

Material Soundproof?Sound absorbing?
Soundproofing wallpaperNoYes
Acoustic insulation Yes
Triple glazingYes
Acoustic floor panelsYes
Acoustic foam panelsNoYes
Acoustic blanketNoYes
Soundproofing
curtains
NoYes
Acoustic sealantNoYes
Solid core doorYes
Acoustic paintNoYes
The above table shows some of the common materials that are used for soundproofing and sound absorption.

So as you can see above there are a lot of materials that you may have thought were soundproof that are actually sound absorbing.

Why are sound absorbing materials not soundproof?

To explain why sound absorbing material are not soundproof I think it is easier to understand with a little analogy.

When you go to get a drink of water from the tap you would not use a foam or sponge container to to pour the water into, if you did the water would soak straight through and leak out the other side. Instead you would use a glass as this would not allow the water to penetrate through.

The same principle goes for sound as well. Soundwaves can make their way through any porus non solid material. Materials such as acoustic foam and soundproofing curtains although dense are still porous.

This slows the soundwaves down and dampens them but ultimately it still let’s some of it through instead of blocking it.

I find the best way to think about soundproofing is to work out if air can travel through the material, if it can it will not be soundproof.

What purposes are there for sound absorbing materials?

You may now be wondering what the point of sound absorbing materials is if they do not actually soundproof?

Well there is actually a number of different places and applications where they would work perfectly well for your needs.

Even though they do not fully block the noise they can help to heavily reduce it to an acceptable and bearable level.

For example using soundproof curtains like in this guide that I wrote will help to drastically reduce and dampen any noise from the street outside.

Or if you would like to create a small booth area in your home for creating YouTube videos or streaming them you would really benefit from some sound absorbing foam panels. They will reduce any echo on your recordings.

Sound absorbing materials are also useful for stopping noises made by pets in your home. They may be perfect for a reptile enclosure as exotic pets like leopard geckos can be noisey as well as other caged pets.

In summary

I hope that after reading this guide you now understand the difference between soundproof and sound absorbing.

With a better understanding of the terminology you should find it easier to complete your projects to the soundproof standards that you require.

If you liked this guide please feel free to share it, also if you need any additional advice please do not hesitate to comment.

Related questions

What does sound blocking mean? Sound blocking is just another word that is used instead of soundproof. Sound blocking material will stop the Sound from transferring instead of just absorbing it.

Can I fully soundproof an existing room? In theory yes you can soundproof an existing room however it will require extensive building works. This will mean taking down the walls and ceilings and replacing with soundproof materials which can be quite costly. Sometimes it is better to just use sound absorbing materials instead.

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