In every acoustical situation where sound needs to be controlled, we refer back to our ABCs of acoustics. They represent the order and process to consider in the containment alternatives for noise and speech.

A is for “absorb.” Simply put, if an unwanted sound is appropriately absorbed before it reaches the listener’s ears, then the issue is resolved. This can be a very simple or complicated solution depending upon the sound and the results desired.

B is for “block,” which we can do using passive construction practices. In commercial situations, this can mean extra layers of drywall – not the same thickness – with staggered seams. It could mean walls that are constructed to meet at the slab and the deck, with correct glue and calking procedures applied to the joints. Gaskets around doors and proper compressed thresholds at the base of the door are superb blocking solutions that are often overlooked. Solid or other acoustic doors rather than utility doors are also proven means of sound blocking. Similarly, appropriate ceiling material is crucial.

Drywall ceilings with fiberglass in the plenum or high-grade fiber ceiling tiles with foil backing are both very good options for blocking sound transmission via passive building solutions. Additionally, proper isolation and/or sealing of electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and other penetrations into space can be of great importance. Proper space planning (before construction) to ensure sound-sensitive suites are not located near noise-producing areas is key.

C stands for “condition” or “cover” and is an active sound control solution. “Privacy masking” is more accurately the term to be used over the more common “noise masking,” as the sound introduced into any space via a speaker solution is expressly shaped to cover the “ear-brain” from searching and then identifying words.

It’s all about reducing our ability to gather intelligible word fragments so the brain can focus on work rather than being distracted by understandable conversations. It is part of our ancient hereditary protection system that our omnidirectional ears are always scanning our surroundings for clues that could help us in fight or flight.

Following the ABCs of acoustics will always be the best solution for understanding and resolving acoustical issues in any space, large or small.


This piece was submitted to A Quiet Refuge for an expert roundup on the best soundproofing materials and techniques. To read the other submissions, please view the full article here.