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I live in an old apartment building and the walls are thin. This is a problem because I love to listen to music -- sometimes at odd hours of the night. Yes, I can be an asshole in this way. But my neighbor bangs against the wall even when I'm being perfectly reasonable (his bedroom seems to share a wall with my living room). And it's not just the low frequencies that get to him. He knocks against the wall even when I turn the subwoofer off on my speakers, which are located on the opposite wall.

This is kinda unacceptable. This is my home! What can I do so that I can live in it the way I want?

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Buy a nice set of headphones. Maybe Bose or Beats. –  Jon Raynor Mar 27 '12 at 18:03
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@JonRaynor, or nice headphones from someone like sennheiser instead of beats or bose. –  Kortuk Mar 27 '12 at 18:45
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Apartments come with Stoves, fridges, etc. I always believed they the lease should include quality headphones as well. Headphones make for good apartment neighbors. –  DA01 Mar 27 '12 at 19:59
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This seems like a ridiculous question, and comes from a stackexchange employee, so it's a bit odd. –  dbracey Mar 27 '12 at 20:10
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"his bedroom seems to share a wall with my living room" = can you swap rooms in your apartment? Move your TV into the furthest room from the shared wall. –  DA01 Mar 28 '12 at 5:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, since you do not own the space and cannot make deep changes to it, your options are limited. The general idea is to "decouple" the sound generation equipment from any rigid structural members, and to then isolate the air space that you are vibrating from any neighboring air spaces, so that the vibrations induced by the moving air into rigid surfaces is reduced to the minimum that is feasible to obtain.

Bass frequencies are going to be next to impossible to isolate; the best you will probably be able to do is to put your subwoofer on a folded towel, so that its contact with the ground is buffered and so the chassis can't induce as much vibration. Also try moving the subwoofer more than two feet away from any wall. this reduces the "coupling" effect that a subwoofer has with vertical surfaces, which sets them vibrating sympathetically (increasing the bass response as heard by you, but also transmitting it through structure).

Treble frequencies are much less penetrating, because their high frequency makes them easier to cancel out by their own reflection, even if that reflection doesn't produce a perfectly inverse wave. Basically, you will want to hang or install something very thick and substantial, but soft, on the wall that separates you from your neighbor. This soft material will literally absorb the sound by being compressible but not elastic; it absorbs the pressure wave without transmitting it through itself, so that the sound cannot contact and be conducted through the wall. Good candidates are polyester batting (i.e. quilts, insulating curtains), egg foam, acoustical panels, etc. Understand that these will also reduce the reverb time of the room, which will make the room sound "deader" and will make your stereo sound quieter as you will only get the sound waves emanating directly from the speakers instead of what's bouncing around the room.

Understand that if your neighbor wants it pin-drop quiet, your only real solution is to use headphones, or move. Sound pressure levels are measured on a logarithmic scale; an increase of 10dBA is a doubling of the perceived loudness, and a 10x increase in the energy contained in the sound waves. So, even if you were able to absorb 90% of the energy of the sound waves that are currently going through the wall to your neighbor (which is admirable, and will be expensive to achieve without tearing down walls), you'd only cut the volume as heard by your neighbor in half. If you were playing your stereo at a comfortably rockin' 85dBA, for the sound to be below your neighbor's threshold of hearing in a space with no perceptible ambient noise, you would have to block 99.999999% of the sound produced by your stereo. This is, I deem, impossible to achieve in an apartment built to standard multi-family residential code; to achieve this, you pretty much have to build an entirely new room within the existing room that is suspended on vibration-absorbing struts. This is NOT a project you undertake in a space you don't own outright and control down to the foundations.

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Wow. This is deeply informative and, unfortunately, a little discouraging. It looks like I'll have to alter my lifestyle a little bit -- I already have -- but you can be sure I'll get a towel under the sub and brainstorm about what I can get up on my wall (14 feet wide, yikes) that dampens the sound but doesn't make my home look like a recording studio or opium den. A tall task. –  SamtheBrand Mar 28 '12 at 3:21
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Or learn to use headphones. –  user558 Mar 28 '12 at 8:49
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Yeah, really, use headphones. Compared to the cost of putting up and then taking down any effective sound-deadening wall coverings, a pair of wireless full-enclosure headphones is nothing. Just pick one stereo to plug everything into, then run your headphones from it. A setup like this would handle everything from the radio to your CDs to your computer sound system for games/YouTubes/etc. and your neighbor will never hear a peep from you again. –  KeithS May 15 '12 at 22:24
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14' x 8' sheet of 1/16" lead foil sandwiched between wool felt. Won't attenuate bass or anything coupled through the framing, but will dampen any air born sound waves mid-frequency or higher. –  Fiasco Labs Dec 16 '12 at 18:06

My first thought was "tapestries"! Nowadays I guess they are called curtains...

https://www.google.com/search?q=sound+absorbing+curtains

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