Lectures on Physics has been derived from Benjamin Crowell's Light and Matter series of free introductory textbooks on physics. See the editorial for more information....


Typical amateur musicians setting out to soundproof their garages tend to think that they should simply cover the walls with the densest possible substance. In fact, sound is not absorbed very strongly even by passing through several inches of wood. A better strategy for soundproofing is to create a sandwich of alternating layers of materials in which the speed of sound is very different, to encourage reflection.

The classic design is alternating layers of fiberglass and plywood. The speed of sound in plywood is very high, due to its stiffness, while its speed in fiberglass is essentially the same as its speed in air. Both materials are fairly good sound absorbers, but sound waves passing through a few inches of them are still not going to be absorbed sufficiently. The point of combining them is that a sound wave that tries to get out will be strongly reflected at each of the fiberglass-plywood boundaries, and will bounce back and forth many times like a ping pong ball. Due to all the back-and-forth motion, the sound may end up traveling a total distance equal to ten times the actual thickness of the soundproofing before it escapes. This is the equivalent of having ten times the thickness of sound-absorbing material.

Last Update: 2009-06-21