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Soundproofing is any means of reducing the sound pressure with respect to a specified sound source and receptor. There are several basic approaches to reducing sound: increasing the distance between source and receiver, using noise barriers to reflect or absorb the energy of the sound waves, using damping structures such as sound baffles, or using active antinoise sound generators.
Two distinct soundproofing problems may need to be considered when designing acoustic treatments - to improve the sound within a room (See anechoic chamber), and reduce sound leakage to/from adjacent rooms or outdoors. Acoustic quieting, noise mitigation, and noise control can be used to limit unwanted noise. Soundproofing can suppress unwanted indirect sound waves such as reflections that cause echoes and resonances that cause reverberation. Soundproofing can reduce the transmission of unwanted direct sound waves from the source to an involuntary listener through the use of distance and intervening objects in the sound path.
The energy density of sound waves decreases as they spread out, so that increasing the distance between the receiver and source results in a progressively lesser intensity of sound at the receiver. In a normal three-dimensional setting, with a point source and point receptor, the intensity of sound waves will be attenuated according to the inverse square of the distance from the source.
Damping means to reduce resonance in the room, by absorption or redirection (reflection or diffusion). Absorption will reduce the overall sound level, whereas redirection makes unwanted sound harmless or even beneficial by reducing coherence. Damping can reduce the acoustic resonance in the air, or mechanical resonance in the structure of the room itself or things in the room.
Absorbing sound spontaneously converts part of the sound energy to a very small amount of heat in the intervening object (the absorbing material), rather than sound being transmitted or reflected. There are several ways in which a material can absorb sound. The choice of sound absorbing material will be determined by the frequency distribution of noise to be absorbed and the acoustic absorption profile required.
Porous open cell foams are highly effective noise absorbers across a broad range of medium-high frequencies. Performance is less impressive at low frequencies.
The exact absorption profile of a porous open cell foam will be determined by a number of factors including the following:
- Cell size
- Material thickness
- Material density
Unlike porous absorbers, resonant absorbers are most effective at low-medium frequencies and the absorption of resonant absorbers is always matched to a narrow frequency range.
In an outdoor environment such as highway engineering, embankments or panelling are often used to reflect sound upwards into the sky.
Room within a room
A room within a room (RWAR) is one method of isolating sound and preventing it from transmitting to the outside world where it may be undesirable.
Most vibration / sound transfer from a room to the outside occurs through mechanical means. The vibration passes directly through the brick, woodwork and other solid structural elements. When it meets with an element such as a wall, ceiling, floor or window, which acts as a sounding board, the vibration is amplified and heard in the second space. A mechanical transmission is much faster, more efficient and may be more readily amplified than an airborne transmission of the same initial strength.
The use of acoustic foam and other absorbent means is less effective against this transmitted vibration. The user is advised to break the connection between the room that contains the noise source and the outside world. This is called acoustic de-coupling. Ideal de-coupling involves eliminating vibration transfer in both solid materials and in the air, so air-flow into the room is often controlled. This has safety implications; for example proper ventilation must be assured and gas heaters cannot be used inside de-coupled space.
Noise cancellation generators for active noise control are a relatively modern innovation. A microphone is used to pick up the sound that is then analyzed by a computer; then, sound waves with opposite polarity (180° phase at all frequencies) are output through a speaker, causing destructive interference and cancelling much of the noise.
Residential soundproofing aims to decrease or eliminate the effects of exterior noise. The main focus of residential soundproofing in existing structures is the windows. Curtains can be used to damp sound either through use of heavy materials or through the use of air chambers known as honeycombs. Single-, double- and triple-honeycomb designs achieve relatively greater degrees of sound damping. The primary soundproofing limit of curtains is the lack of a seal at the edge of the curtain, although this may be alleviated with the use of sealing features, such as hook and loop fastener, adhesive, magnets, or other materials. Double-pane windows achieve somewhat greater sound damping than single-pane windows. Significant noise reduction can be achieved by installing a second interior window. In this case the exterior window remains in place while a slider or hung window is installed within the same wall openings.
Commercial businesses sometimes use soundproofing technology. Restaurants, schools, and health care facilities use architectural acoustics to reduce noise for their customers. Office buildings may try to make cubicle spaces less noisy for workers using the phone. In the US, OSHA has requirements regulating the length of exposure of workers to certain levels of noise.
Automotive soundproofing aims to decrease or eliminate the effects of exterior noise, primarily engine, exhaust and tire noise. The automotive environment limits the thickness of materials that can be used, but combinations of dampers, barriers, and absorbers are common. Significant noise reductions of up to 8dB can be achieved by installing a combination of all types of materials.
Noise barriers as exterior soundproofing
Since the early 1970s, it has become common practice in the United States and other industrialized countries to engineer noise barriers along major highways to protect adjacent residents from intruding roadway noise. The technology exists to predict accurately the optimum geometry for the noise barrier design. Noise barriers may be constructed of wood, masonry, earth or a combination thereof. One of the earliest noise barrier designs was in Arlington, Virginia adjacent to Interstate 66, stemming from interests expressed by the Arlington Coalition on Transportation. Possibly the earliest scientifically designed and published noise barrier construction was in Los Altos, California in 1970.
- Acoustic board
- Acoustic foam
- Acoustic quieting
- Acoustic transmission
- Anechoic chamber
- Hearing test
- Noise barrier
- Noise control
- Noise mitigation
- Noise pollution
- Noise regulation
- Noise, vibration, and harshness
- Recording studio
- Room modes
- Sound masking
- Sound transmission class
- Cox, Trevor J.; D'Antonio, Peter. Acoustic absorbers and diffusers.
- "Low frequency absorption". Studio tips.
- "U.S. Standards on Workplace Noise Trail Those of Other Countries". New York Times.
- "Introduction to Car Audio: How to Tame That Road Noise". Secrets of Car Audio.