Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption - What’s The Difference?

Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption - What’s The Difference?

Soundproofing and sound absorption are often mistaken for the same phenomenon while, in fact, they are completely different. The former aims at preventing any noise from leaving the space or entering it, while the latter reduces sound but still lets it through. If you wish to learn in detail what is the difference between soundproofing and sound absorption, keep reading this article.

What Is the Difference between Soundproofing and Sound Absorption?

Sound absorption works on completely different principles vs. soundproofing. It’s meant to reduce the noise coming in and out of the room, while soundproofing aims to eliminate it completely. This distinction is visible not only in the final effect but also in the soundproofing materials used and the way and place in which soundproofing vs. sound-absorbing solutions are installed.

Soundproofing usually starts when constructing a building and is achieved with materials like rockwool or fiberglass inserted in between walls. If the standard insulation is not enough, you may further soundproof a room through means like acoustic panels, blankets, or curtains.

Sound absorption, on the other hand, usually takes place after a wall is built. It’s used if a furnished room has poor acoustics or the noise needs to be reduced only slightly. For sound absorption, you will most likely need acoustic foam or panels.

Soundproofing vs. Sound Absorption: Use Cases

As you might have expected, different rooms require different acoustics. Therefore, there are some spaces that are more likely to be soundproofed and some in which you should rather opt for sound absorption instead. Let’s take a look at both cases.


First, take a glance at the types of rooms that most likely require soundproofing.

  • Home offices – When you work, you need complete silence. This is why soundproofing is most often chosen over sound absorption for home offices. Through the use of strong blankets, mats, curtains, and door sweeps, you can prevent any sound from coming into your office and create the best possible conditions for productivity and focus. (Learn more and read: How to Make a Home Office Soundproof?)
  • Phone booths – Another common application of soundproofing is the well-established office phone booth – a symbol of any modern office. As such a pod is meant to provide a completely quiet environment for phone or video calls, it needs to be made of materials that block off soundwaves completely – sound absorption would simply be not enough.
  • Nursing pods – These are quickly gaining popularity in public spaces and for good – they provide mothers with a peaceful and private place to take care of their children. However, to do so, they cannot let any sounds in or out. Therefore, all nursing pods are soundproofed.
  • Walls – Practically any wall is somehow soundproofed, as the heat insulation materials and soundproofing ones are often the same.
  • Music schools – These most likely combine soundproofing with sound absorption. This is because, on the one hand, the acoustics need to be good – after all, a music school brings together people with an ear for music; on the other hand, has to be soundproof as the cacophony of different instruments being played from each room would simply be unbearable.
  • Hospitals/clinics – Soundproofing is also used for the privacy of the patients. It’s applied to the rooms where their physician examines them to prevent the people waiting in the corridor from overhearing any sensitive information.

Sound Absorption

Now, let’s see the use cases for sound absorption.

  • Classrooms – Completely soundproofing would affect speech clarity, making it extremely difficult for students to understand their teacher. Sound-absorbing materials, on the other hand, help reduce echoes and improve speech comprehensibility, so they are the most effective choice for classrooms.
  • Offices – Making a fully soundproof office also isn’t an option unless you wish to combine sound absorption and soundproofing, like in the case of music schools. However, as this is expensive, most companies choose sound-absorbing solutions.
  • Home theaters – A home theater is all about sound quality rather than completely cutting off any noise. Therefore, if you care about home theater acoustics, you should opt for sound absorption and not soundproofing.
  • Recording studios – Whether at home or professional, a recording studio cannot just be soundproof – it has to have a perfect mix of sound diffusing and sound absorbing panels, with some bass traps added on as well.

The Takeaway

Let’s recap our discussion on soundproofing vs. sound absorption. The former is done to completely block any sound, while the latter does let the sound through, but reduces it. Therefore, soundproofing is more often used in places like music schools, nursing and office pods, or hospitals, while sound absorption is the choice for recording studios, home theaters, offices, or classrooms. Neither of them is better than the other – they simply serve different purposes.

You may also read: Acoustic Panels vs. Foam: Which is Better for Soundproofing?

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