Room Acoustics

Soundproofing and Acoustically Treating – What’s the Difference

People often use soundproofing and acoustically treating a room interchangeably. If you do this online, surely someone will comment directly behind you correcting you (and be as condescending as possible because it’s the Internet). So, what are the real differences between acoustically treating a room and soundproofing it? Let’s discuss!

Main Difference Between Soundproofing and Acoustically Treating

Of course, the main difference between the two is your intended result. Soundproofing is designed to isolate the room from the outside world. No sound from inside the room gets out and nothing from outside the room gets in. The goal of soundproofing isn’t to affect the quality of the sound in the room but to isolate the room from the rest of the structure.

Acoustically treating a room is meant to improve the quality of the sound in the room. Acoustic treatments are not designed to keep sound in a room or keep outside sounds out. Their purpose is to make the quality of the sound in the room better by (primarily) reducing reflections and ringing. If you are thinking that reducing sound in the room sounds a lot like soundproofing, it isn’t. The initial sound is just as loud. Acoustic treatments reduce the amount of sound that is present in the room after the initial creation.

The best analogy I can think of is cooking. Soundproofing is akin to warming your meat while acoustically treating is like seasoning that meat. Yes, they can work together to give you a great experience, but they don’t have to. You may not care how hot your meat is (sushi for instance) as long as it is seasoned properly. Or, you may not care how your meat tastes as long as it is the proper temperature (chicken for example).

Different Solutions for Different Results

Acoustically treating a room and soundproofing it look very different. Soundproofing is usually fairly invisible. This is because soundproofing takes place in the structure of the room. The ways the walls, floor, and ceiling are constructed. It is fraught with problems as it is hard to achieve and easy to defeat. To do it right you usually need two things: a lot of money and professionals that know what they are doing.

Acoustically treating a room, on the other hand, is very visible. It usually takes the form of panels on the walls though there are other things you can do. There are tons of DIY panel tutorials out there (we have one) and lots of places where you can buy them for fairly cheap. Acoustically treating a room can be done by enthusiasts with a little research.

Take Away

It’s easy to see how people conflate acoustically treating a room with soundproofing. Both have to do with sound and people often talk about acoustic panels as absorbing sound. If they are absorbing sound, they think, then there should be less to pass through the walls and into other spaces. Unfortunately, those acoustic panels are like putting a sponge under a waterfall. Sure, they catch a little sound (which makes the room sound better) but they aren’t really stopping the sound from passing into other rooms.

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