How to soundproof when living above a bar
October 29, 2010 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I moved in above a bar. The soundproofing is great, except for the vibrations from the lower bass frequencies. They're using wall-mounted speakers placed pretty close to the ceiling. Is it possible to soundproof against those? And what are some of the things the bar could do to help me?

There are three mid-sized speakers mounted on a brick wall that runs through both the bar and our apartment. They're placed pretty high up on the wall--maybe eight inches down from the ceiling. We can't hear conversation or movement and rarely hear high frequencies from the music (sometimes when it's turned up loud we can hear vocals, but it's mostly just bass drum, bass lines, tom-toms, etc.) The bartenders are really nice about turning down the music when asked, but I'd like to reach a solution where I don't have to be constantly asking them to turn it down.

First, I'm wondering how much of a difference it would make if I could get the bar to a) move the speakers and b) install an equalizer or mixer that allowed them to turn down the bass. Those seem like easy (too easy?) compromise solutions, but I'm worried that moving the speakers further down won't do much since they'd still be attached to the wall.

My second question is, essentially, is it possible to soundproof against the kind of low frequencies that are vibrating our floor and wall? My research seems to indicate that these frequencies are really difficult to protect against, but I want to hear the hive mind's thoughts.

Summary: Apartment vibrates because of bass from wall-mounted speakers below. Will moving speakers lower down, or off wall, help? Will turning down bass help? Is it possible to soundproof this kind of problem?

(I love the apartment I'm in, and I've got a year-long lease, so I'd much rather look for ways to make it work (even if there are still small vibrations) than try to get out of the lease.)
posted by maxreax to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Check your city's local laws and ordinances about volume limits. There is a chance that they are exceeding the legally-allowed volume maximums. They can install a volume limiting device to ensure compliance. (NB. This is in legal codes everywhere, and I've only seen one actual venue that's ever installed such a device)

Ask the bar how the speakers are mounted. If they're screwed or bolted directly to the wall, they will transmit vibrations directly through the building's frame. If they're hung from the ceiling via a chain (a fairly common arrangement), you'll also get some transmission to the building's frame. Hanging the speakers with nylon slings will further reduce vibrations (but they'll also want to have a safety chain in place, as nylon slings are not fireproof, and you don't want speakers falling on people's heads if the place catches on fire).

If the low frequencies are coming from subwoofers or "bass bins" on the floor, it might help to put a padded mat between them and the floor.

All of these things will help a bit, although the sad matter of the fact is that low-frequency sound waves have such a long wavelength that they'll pretty much penetrate anything.

Back at my old job, we used to listen for ~1-10Hz noises, and were tasked with figuring out where they came from. It was fairly common to hear "burps" coming from volcanoes 500-1000 miles away, and a handful of manmade sources from a few dozen miles away. Frequencies that low will pass effortlessly through anything, including the earth itself. Human hearing starts at ~20Hz.
posted by schmod at 8:00 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For what it's worth, there aren't any subwoofers--the bass is coming from the wall-mounted speakers. And they seem to have them on little carpeted risers attached to the wall.
posted by maxreax at 8:05 AM on October 29, 2010

The main problem here is that the bass frequencies you are hearing are essentially omnidirectional, which means that really no matter where the speakers are in the bar, you will be hearing the bass vibrations.

Turning down the bass is really the only practical solution, but I'm not sure that this would be seen as desirable from the bar owner/patrons perspective. Listening to "tinny" music is a bit of a drag, and the loss of bass could lead to the music being turned up more to compensate for a perceived loss of volume.

I think schmod's mounting options would be a nice place to start.
posted by davey_darling at 8:08 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just a suggestion: read your contract. It's possible that it says something about you just having to suck up the noise from the bar below, in which case padding options may be doable, but you won't have any luck calling code enforcement.
posted by valkyryn at 8:32 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: The lease says we have a right to "quiet enjoyment and habitability" and doesn't mention the bar, which is why I was hoping we'd be able to get the landlord to shell out for some soundproofing. But since soundproofing likely won't solve the big problem of the vibrations, it seems like it'd make more sense to work with the bar on a compromise solution (reduced bass and possibly nylon slings) that minimizes the bass. Thank you for the responses so far, by the way!
posted by maxreax at 8:35 AM on October 29, 2010

Not a lawyer, but . . .

"Quiet enjoyment" refers to something broader than that, and not really in line with the typical understanding of what is "quiet." It's more a matter of title and less a matter of sound volume. Quiet enjoyment gives you the right to inhabit your apartment without interruptions or nuisances. The bass noise is most likely a nuisance.

However, there's the idea of "coming to the nuisance." That is, if you should be aware of the prior-existing nuisance beforehand, then you are basically prevented from taking any legal action re: the nuisance.

Hypothetical: if this issue cannot be resolved and you seek a legal remedy, the landlord could assert that you came to the nuisance, basically arguing, "maxreax accepted the lease, knowing about the bar downstairs -- maxreax should have expected noise."
posted by cac at 8:50 AM on October 29, 2010

- Does the rent price accommodate for the noise disturbance?

- FYI there is no lease rider that can supercede local code on this matter, feel free to call code enforcement anytime.

- You sound lovely and easy going right now. Consider in a few months what this noise disturbance might do to your health?

(I developed a very serious case of insomnia that went on for 2 years because of a similar situation. The noise "trained" me to wake up frequently. I started drinking too much to fall asleep. Lots of health issues cropped up as a result of prolonged sleep interruptions. In the end... NOT WORTH IT.)

- Sure! Talk to both your landlord AND the bar!

- The low bass breaches the warrant of habitability clause in your lease. Again, feel free to call code enforcement to get an official decibel reading so you have the option of negotiating your way out of this apartment if there is no resolution.
posted by jbenben at 9:08 AM on October 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

maxreax: The bartenders are really nice about turning down the music when asked, but I'd like to reach a solution where I don't have to be constantly asking them to turn it down... Will turning down bass help?

Yes it will. We live in a university neighbourhood, sandwiched between student houses with party walls adjoining ours, and we are subjected to some fairly persistent partying around here. 99% of the time, it is not the volume that is the issue. This has lead to the following conversation on several occasions:

Neighbour: Oh. Hi. Do you want us to turn the music down?
Me: No. I need you to turn the bass down.

It makes all the difference. So don't call the bar and ask them to turn it down, just ask them to lower the bass and I bet you'll all be fine with the outcome.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:15 AM on October 29, 2010

I have seen a lot of sound products that should even work for bass but they are only feasible if you own the place. For a floor it requires adding things underneath what ever floor you have.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: It's good to know that about the "quiet enjoyment" clause--though maybe we can argue that the habitability clause is being violated, if necessary. I'm trying to get this figured out as quickly and calmly as possible between us, the landlord and the bar so that we don't lose a year of our lives not getting sleep, stuck in a protracted legal battle over noise, hating the people who work below us every day, etc. (Plus I don't really have the money to hire a lawyer to deal with all of this, while my landlord is a lawyer.)

But, yes, I'll start getting stressed out soon! (My girlfriend, who is a light sleeper, already is.) The bass can be frustrating, and I'd already just have asked them to turn it down, but their system doesn't allow for that--just a main volume control. So I'm going to talk to the bar manager about them installing one.
posted by maxreax at 9:38 AM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: One question about "omnidirectionality"--does that mean that the vibrations won't be lessened at all by moving the speakers? My instinct about the sound is that since it's so close to our floor and attached to our wall, it's more intense than it would be if they were, say, on the floor, or at least low down. But I don't really know anything about acoustics, so...
posted by maxreax at 9:41 AM on October 29, 2010

Omnidirectionality only means that it won't matter what direction the speakers are pointed. Moving them further away will definitely reduce the amount of sound you hear. How could it not?
posted by dhalgren at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2010

+1 to the above comment.

From my understanding the lower the frequency (think subs) the less the orientation of them matters. Conversely, the higher the frequency (think tweeters) the more the orientation matters. Mids are, duh, in the middle.
posted by RolandOfEld at 1:13 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions and info! The bar manager is going to get her sound guy to install an equalizer this week so we can turn down the bass. Hopefully that'll be enough, but if not, I'll push for moving the speakers.
posted by maxreax at 10:20 AM on October 30, 2010

If the bar manager is going the extra effort to install an equalizer, you can always work with the person to see if certain frequencies are really coming through more than others. If you worked together at the same time and had the music playing while you were both talking on your phones you could pinpoint which bass sounds really pump through (it may be all of the bass, but there may also be a few sweet spots).

Sometimes the floorboards will resonate and those frequencies are the ones you want to lower. They may still be able to have a perceptible bass sound but you have way more peace and quiet (perhaps everything below 80hz or so).
posted by fantasticninety at 12:48 PM on October 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's great to know. She seems interested in helping--just hoping I'm not going to get an endless runaround.
posted by maxreax at 2:15 PM on October 30, 2010

Response by poster: Update!

The bar installed a cheap-ish DJ-style mixer (not an equalizer) and killed the bass entirely from that. It makes a big difference with respect to the vibrations, which is great, but doesn't seem to do much for the volume.

They also took the speakers off the wall—where they were bolted directly—and put them on stands bracketed into the wall. This doesn't seem to have done much at all, either for the noise or the vibrations.

Next plan: Getting them to move the speakers farther away from the ceiling, and to take away the speaker that's currently under our bedroom. Hopefully doing those two things will make more of a dent in the noise. (If anyone's still around and can speculate on other ideas—or thinks that moving the speakers like that won't make much of a difference and isn't worth it—feel free to holler.)

Thanks again for all your answers.
posted by maxreax at 7:57 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should mention—for people who are living over music noise—that by far the thing that's improved quality of sleep is Simply Noise, a free Flash white noise generator, played on a low volume on a set of nice Logitech speakers and subwoofer placed right up against the headboard.
posted by maxreax at 1:12 PM on November 17, 2010

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