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Soundproofing vs Sound Treatment: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the differences between soundproofing vs sound treatment can make all the difference when setting up your studio.

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By Scott Winstead

soundproofing vs sound treatment

As an instructional designer who’s spent a ton of time trying to optimize my home recording studio, sound control is something I spent a lot of time getting just right. It’s taken a ton of research and hands-on testing on my end, and in particular, I had to do a lot of studying on the differences between sound treatment and soundproofing.

A lot of people like to use the terms interchangeably, but I can tell you that sound treatment is different from soundproofing.

I wanted to put together this guide to help you understand the differences between sound treatment vs soundproofing so that hopefully you can save some time on your research and get the clear, accurate answers you’re looking for.

How Soundproofing and Sound Treatment Differ

The goal of soundproofing is to block sound transmission from one place to another one. You want to keep the sound from leaving a certain space.

Sound treatment, on the other hand, is focused on improving the acoustic quality within a room. It’s about controlling sound reflections and absorption to enhance the clarity and quality of sound inside the space, making it better for recording or listening.

Let’s talk about soundproofing a little bit.

“Sound isolation is about isolating the sound between inside and outside. You may want a quiet place, without the sound of outside cars. Or you may want to have a room with loud music but without interfering with your neighbors,” explained Nuno Fonseca, CEO of audio software company Sound Particles.

I giggle at the silliness when I read complaints that people try to block sound of a neighbor’s dog barking by slapping some acoustic foam panels in front of their windows. That won’t work at all.

Soundproofing and blocking sound is a reconstruction project because soundproof foam does not exist. You can’t just slap a Band-Aid on it and expect to have a soundproofed space.

Soundproofing is an in-depth endeavor. It’s much more expensive and requires substantial changes in the room design including renovation and major construction. You need very thick, heavily insulated, concrete walls to achieve 100% soundproofing. There is no comparison with hanging a few foam acoustic panels on the walls.

“[Sound] isolation is like a chain that breaks but its weakest link. I can place a fantastic isolation material everywhere, but if I have a door or a window that doesn’t isolate much, all the remaining isolation will not do much,” Fonseca told us.

You need to learn more about blocking sound compared to absorbing sound. Soundproofing is blocking sound and that means completely stopping vibrations, not changing the quality of the sound by absorbing a part of it.

Now, let’s talk a little bit more about sound treatment.

When you do sound treatment of a room, you’re trying to stop sound from bouncing around the room in ways that reduce the quality (not the volume) of the sound.

Think of these as fine-tuning the room to keep reflected sound from bouncing off hard surfaces and coming to your ears more than once in distorted ways that make it sound bad.

Sound treatment is the fine-tuning of your home studio to make the room sound cleaner and clearer, and it’s not something you can ignore.

“Acoustic treatment is focused on making sure that the sound that is produced inside the room is listened to in the best perfect way (also inside the room),” Fonseca said. “For instance, if the room is too reflective, it will have too much reverb. If the room is a material that is too reflective on some frequency ranges, the equalization of the arriving sound will be off. If the room has some flutter echos, the sound will be terrible.”

In an interview with Reverb.com, famed producer John Cuniberti explained that a huge mistake people make when setting up their studio is “they don’t spend enough time, energy, and money on the acoustics, and they spend too much money on the bright, shiny things…One of the problems is once you start building a studio, it’s tough to undo it, and you are usually stuck with the results. I would suggest going slow. Hang some acoustic panels in the obvious places and then do some recording and mixing.”

As the voice actor Michael Schwalbe said, “The most important element is an acoustically-treated space to record in. Ideally, this is something like a walk-in closet with lots of clothes or pillows to absorb sound, but you can use acoustic foam or comforters too.”

Building on this advice, creating an effective recording environment doesn’t necessarily require a large investment in high-end acoustic panels or other sound treatment products.

Many voice actors and eLearning professionals have found innovative ways to optimize their recording spaces with everyday items.

For instance, strategically placing bookshelves filled with books, using heavy curtains, or even cheap bass traps or DIY ones made from household materials can significantly improve sound quality.

The placement of your microphone in relation to these sound-absorbing materials can also make a substantial difference. I always recommend experimenting with different setups to find the sweet spot where your voice sounds the most natural and clear, with minimal echo or background noise.

Final Thoughts

Understanding the differences between soundproofing and sound treatment is crucial for anyone looking to create high-quality audio recordings, especially in the realm of eLearning and voiceover work.

In my experience, a well-treated room can significantly elevate the quality of your recordings, making your content more engaging and enjoyable for the listener.

Remember, the goal is not just to record sound but to capture it in a way that enhances the listener’s experience. By paying attention to the acoustics of your recording environment and employing both soundproofing and sound treatment techniques as needed, you can ensure your recordings are clear, crisp, and free of unwanted noise or reverberation.

At the end of the day, the effort you put into optimizing your recording space pays off by producing content that stands out for its clarity and quality. Taking the time to understand and apply these principles can make a significant difference in the impact and professionalism of your audio projects.

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