How to drown out neighbors' loud music?
April 28, 2013 5:23 PM   Subscribe

Neighbors play norteño music really, really loudly all day on many weekend days through the summer. The particular rhythms and thumping quality of the music make it very, very hard to ignore, so I can't read or do anything that requires concentration when it is playing. Asking them to turn it down is not an option. Even closing my windows does nothing, sadly. Are there any particular mechanical ways to cancel/mute very loud noises like this? I would pay almost any money not to go through this again this summer, especially since they seem to have a new sound system that is such that I can't even really sleep through the music, so it just kills my whole day unless I go out.
posted by Frowner to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you call the cops on them? I would look up the noise ordinance for your area. If you can hear their music even when your windows in your house/apt are closed, I would bet that it is way past the level for the noise ordinance.

I feel your pain, I have experienced that and sometimes the only way is to call the cops.

Also, perhaps a really loud fan might give you some white noise peace.
posted by ruhroh at 5:40 PM on April 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Well I imagine you have thought about this already, but have you tried earplugs yet? I recommend these ones as they are both effective and fairly comfortable. I sleep with them every night and after a week or so I stopped even really feeling them in my ears at all -- and I'm a sensitive sort who's usually very fidgety about that sort of thing.

Of course, they block high-pitched sound better than low-pitched. Most things do really, since lower-pitched sounds carry more energy for the same volume (physics!) but if earplugs don't do enough to counter the thumping/booming components then you might want to look into over-the-ear sound isolators which do a better job with the low frequencies. I don't have specific recommendations there but these and these are inexpensive and well-rated on Amazon, for what that's worth.

You might also get some in-ear headphones (I use these but there are a million other great ones to suit any price point) which combine noise reduction with the ability to listen to your own music, and can really put you in a world of your own.

You're probably going to have less luck attacking the problem in other ways, but you might try. You could start by getting very heavy curtains for your windows (perhaps repurpose some quilts) and by making sure that your doors and windows seal well and don't rattle. You could try a white noise machine. I looked into active noise-cancellation machines, but they don't seem to really exist -- the problem is that the process only works really well against constant droning noises, and it only really cancels noise at a single spot rather than say throughout a house. You could get a bunch of furniture and rugs and things to help make your rooms resonate less.

Beyond that you would probably be looking at re-insulating your house with a heavier, more dampening insulation material or building a solid fence between your house and your neighbors' in order to create a barrier that would hopefully reflect some of the sound. I doubt either of those is feasible.

Good luck. I'm sorry you're going through this. To be honest, when my own neighbors start cranking the sissy bounce on Saturday afternoons I just go to a coffee shop.
posted by Scientist at 5:44 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have experienced this, and in the end I had to move. Headphones, earplugs, and white noise cannot drown out thumping bass well enough, IME. :( I'm so sorry you've got to endure this.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:52 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I put a stereo in my own window facing in and play white noise (or ocean waves or something). It does help.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:59 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Call the cops. We had the same thing and it got them to turn down to a reasonable volume (after a couple of calls).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 6:08 PM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Consider the following electronics project which purports to interfere with your neighbors speakers. Though its use could open you up to significant fines.
posted by humanfont at 6:10 PM on April 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

I had neighbors like that and they almost drove me into a nervous breakdown, so you have my sympathies.

If you can't move, I recommend white noise, particularly ocean sounds. I ran the ocean noise through my stereo at high volume pretty much nonstop. I also had air purifiers running full-time (they also smoked every possible substance, so I needed them to filter the air) and they helped too.

It baffles your ears a little bit, and for me it was enough to not be certain it was those jerks playing their crappy eighties R&B or just patterns my brain was making in the white noise.

It also helps if you can move your bed away from any walls that you share directly with them, and I moved my bookcases against the wall I shared with them after hanging cheap carpet on the wall. That helped deaden the thumping a little bit.

For the people suggesting Frowner call the cops, she didn't ask for that type of resolution option in her question. I know that it is one way of handling it, but in this case it's not answering the question to suggest it.
posted by winna at 6:33 PM on April 28, 2013

Move. There is nothing on earth that is gonna block this out for you short of making yourself deaf.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:33 PM on April 28, 2013

Very, very loud Englebert Humperdink? (Faced outwards.)
posted by taff at 6:44 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

A set of earplugs, then noise-cancelling headphones on top. Bose is awesome but I'm currently using a much cheaper pair from Sony. Add a fan for some white noise if necessary.

It's the only way I ever get any sleep.
posted by bunderful at 6:45 PM on April 28, 2013

I would suggest doing for them what I did for a neighbor who had some 5-6 dogs that barked early each morning. Tape record the noise. Go off and spend a night at motel or a friend's and leave the tape on, as loud as it will play, all through the night.
posted by Postroad at 6:46 PM on April 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

Nothing will drown out the vibrations of a thumping bass.

Except maybe a louder thumping bass, which would just make it worse.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:52 PM on April 28, 2013

Dear lord, if I never have to hear another tuba ever again it will be too soon, and yet I know it will start up again tomorrow afternoon.

I use earplugs and in-ear headphones. It's not perfect but it seems to do well enough. I've been listening to way more podcasts and audiobooks this way, so that's a plus.
posted by Sequence at 7:05 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

You say asking them to turn it down is not an option. I don't understand why -- that's always an option, if handled correctly (e.g. Visit them when the music isn't playing). The worst that can happen is that there's no change, right? Or do you fear retaliation? If so, move.

You're getting advice here that's essentially to start a noise war. That's asinine and should be disregarded. Fighting neighbors never works. Nobody ever hears a louder stereo and thinks, "Wow, I should be more considerate of others."

My parents have "fought" their next door neighbors for 30 years over the placement of garbage cans with tactics like those being suggested here. When my parents die, if the neighbor is still alive, the first thing I'm going to do is apologize for their part of the stupidity.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:13 PM on April 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

There are call center white noise cancelling machines and earplugs and headphones, but quite frankly nothing ever gets rid of bass when it's so loud you can feel the vibrations, although a box fan on high placed very close to your head works better than anything else I've tried (although doing it constantly would not be good for your hearing).

If "talking is not an option" means you don't want to for some reason, suck it up and do it anyway when the music isn't blasting. If they don't speak English, find a translator. If that doesn't work, start calling the cops every. single. time. you hear it. It almost certainly violates a local ordinance.
posted by zug at 7:32 PM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I think I will rig up a combination of earplugs and a bigger, better fan (noise cancelling headphones would be great if I wanted to listen to music, but mostly I want to read and I can't concentrate with most kinds of music playing). I was hoping there was some magic technology I just didn't know about.

I can have the fan right by my head - I've done that in the past with partial success and a less loud sound system, so maybe earplugs...or noise cancelling headphones playing white noise?

The truth is, I don't want to ask them to turn it down - they're a hard-working immigrant family who obviously really enjoy the summer weekends outside - dad and mom work on projects, the kids play, sometimes people drop by. The noise drives me up the fucking wall - although actually I enjoy hearing norteno when I'm in the mood for music - but they really seem to have a good time. Their working lives are a lot harder than mine and they have more responsibilities, so I feel like I'd rather they have fun, especially if I can possibly rig up a system to mute the noise while I read. I also get the sense around here that a lot of people come from a social background where the norm is that everyone can play their music outside if they want and folks just accept that there's a musical background during warm weather, while I come from a background where no one plays their music outside because it would bother people and everyone just accepts that we can't have music outside [except quite quietly]. I mean, if they were jerky, terrible neighbors who obviously didn't care about others, I would feel differently vis-a-vis complaining to them or the city.

Anyway! The music is done for the night and hopefully by next weekend I will have extra special earplugs and a better fan.
posted by Frowner at 7:45 PM on April 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

FYI, there are noise canceling headphones that don't require you to listen to music while using them. Usually you can manually turn on the noise canceling.
posted by zug at 8:08 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you don't want to listen to music you could still get some over-the-ear earmuffs like the ones I linked above and use them in combination with earplugs, should the earplugs turn out not to cut the mustard. They will help especially with some of the lower frequencies, though they won't do much against the real chest-thumping, window-rattling sub-bass if there's a lot of that going on. They're not too expensive and if you get a decent pair they're not particularly uncomfortable either. Regular earmuffs actually do a better job of killing noise than noise-cancelling headphones do, as well.

I too come from a neighborhood where there are a lot of working-class folks who just consider it perfectly acceptable and normal to play loud music outside on a Saturday afternoon if the weather is nice. It's not what I grew up with, but then they were here first so I feel like it's kind of on me to adapt to them rather than the other way around. I completely sympathize with your desire to allow your neighbors to enjoy themselves in what is to them a totally socially-acceptable and not at all inconsiderate manner.
posted by Scientist at 8:11 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second the Peltor earmuffs. I bought them in kid-size and my very sensitive-to-sound kid slept right through a live music festival. That was very, very loud.
posted by 41swans at 8:46 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My vote is for the Bose noise canceling headphones. They are expensive and worth it, they blocked out construction sounds for me. Now everything is peaceful and quiet. Added bonus, great for flights and long road trips.

Also 2nd noise complaint.
posted by ibakecake at 8:57 PM on April 28, 2013

How about giving them a CD of something that won't bother you. Tell them you observed that they like music and by mistake you bought a second copy of a CD you already had. You never know, maybe they'll like it and play it, or maybe they'll take it as a hint. Seems it couldn't hurt to try.
posted by Dansaman at 9:07 PM on April 28, 2013

I think I will rig up a combination of earplugs and a bigger, better fan (noise cancelling headphones would be great if I wanted to listen to music, but mostly I want to read and I can't concentrate with most kinds of music playing).

I think that the noise-cancelling headphones would just cancel out any white noise from a fan or other appliance anyway. You could as you say play a white/pink noise sound file through them if you wanted to.
posted by carter at 9:14 PM on April 28, 2013

The truth is, I don't want to ask them to turn it down - they're a hard-working immigrant family who obviously really enjoy the summer weekends outside - dad and mom work on projects, the kids play, sometimes people drop by.

I totally get this, but I really think you can still talk to them about it. Couldn't you stroll over sometime when the music's playing and they're working outside, introduce/reintroduce yourself, compliment their taste in music and then apologetically say, "I have to tell you, the music is so loud that I sometimes can't concentrate. Would you mind turning it down a little?" Compromise is neighborly; slowly festering resentment isn't.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:16 PM on April 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Have you considered that this family might find it a bit patronizing that because they're Latino and working class you wouldn't deal with this problem the way you would with any other neighbors?

I find that most folks, given the choice between polite disagreement and condescension, will take disagreement every time.
posted by lambdaphage at 9:24 PM on April 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

if you're considering listening to wideband noise to mask the neighbor's music, try pink noise instead of white. it's got more energy in the lower frequencies and will do a better job of masking the more annoying bass without blasting you with hissy highs.
posted by maximum sensing at 9:26 PM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I really respect your answer for why you won't ask them to turn it down. Really. That's very noble. I mean that completely genuinely.

So, in keeping with your nobility, maybe a six-pack and a visit? Some sort of food? Like, an aluminum tray of good food you obviously made? Show them the appreciation that you wrote here about their lives and efforts and show them that you respect their need to kick back and enjoy their weekend. And after a visit or two, maybe ask them to turn it down a bit. At that point, you will have paid them respect, and they will in most cases return it in kind, because you are now the cool neighbor who really just could've called the cops and made a huge bad-tempered issue out of it but instead showed up with a sixer or some eats and hung out for a bit? This is a project, but, you know, you might end up with some friends out of it and you won't have bad feelings EVERY. TIME. YOU. HEAR. THEIR. MUSIC. Because hey wow, I know that feeling, and there is nothing like being haunted by some inconsiderate asshole neighbor's music.

I say this as someone who is not good at being social, but has done this in the past, and is the person that was driven up more walls than I ever thought possible by repeated long playing of very loud music of wide and varying ethnicities.

If what I wrote is not an option, a box fan and some earplugs. I am in a noisy neighborhood, and between my beloved $15 window fan, a $5 pack of roughly 5000 earplugs and some occasional music, I make it work. I own Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and can count on 1.5 hands the number of times I've put them on, and a decent percentage of those were because of a Mr Softee truck who for some reason decided that under my window was the ideal place to separate the various parents of the neighborhood from their money for a while.
posted by nevercalm at 9:28 PM on April 28, 2013 [10 favorites]

I am a person who can't concentrate with certain noises happening as well. I use these. If I'm doing something where music would be distracting, I pipe in some white noise rather than music.

It works really well. Someone can be watching an action movie in the same room and it won't bother me.

In the past I have also made something like this, but it's getting harder to find the components so I finally just sprung for the ones in the link above.
posted by ZeroDivides at 9:49 PM on April 28, 2013

You could try making window plugs to help deaden the sound a bit, if you don't mind blocking the daylight now and then just to help get a little extra quiet.
posted by scody at 10:05 PM on April 28, 2013

Noise cancelling headphones, even with white noise played through them, won't get rid of the sound of loud bass. Nor any sound that's loud enough.

I think you're very nice, but there's probably no reason these neighbours' quality of life depends on the ability to play loud music. My guess is they assume it doesn't bother you, and if they're as nice as you say, they'll probably respond to a request to turn it down.

I had a friend who was worried about the way her neighbours screamed at the kids, she thought it was pathological and had gotten so bad she was tempted to intervene. But she said "they got their house through a housing association, and I was afraid of being socially snobbish." Well, I think either she was afraid of *them* or she really did think on some level that working class kids could handle verbal abuse in ways her kids couldn't.

To be clear, I found her attitude offensive and I am in no way whatsoever suggesting that your attitude is equivalently offensive. What I am saying is that you aren't built to handle noise stress any more than any other human, and my guess is that plenty of people from the same culture as your neighbours feel the same way, whether or not their culture would support them in a complaint.
posted by tel3path at 10:30 PM on April 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

I also get the sense around here that a lot of people come from a social background where the norm is that everyone can play their music outside if they want and folks just accept that there's a musical background during warm weather, while I come from a background where no one plays their music outside because it would bother people and everyone just accepts that we can't have music outside [except quite quietly]. I mean, if they were jerky, terrible neighbors who obviously didn't care about others, I would feel differently vis-a-vis complaining to them or the city.

Oh, please don't let this thinking stop you from saying something!

Here's the thing. If you want to help the family, you /will/ be helping them by quietly tipping them off to what the cultural norms are here, because their next neighbors WILL call the cops. And look, I'm from a Hispanic family, we get loud, but it's not intentional, and if we thought we were bothering neighbors we would be saddened. I'm sure they would be happy to turn it down a bit. It's also quite possible for them to play it at a volume that is still loud enough to be happy music, but not thumping enough to affect you in your house.

If you have a friendly relationship with them, then ask them - if not, yes, bring them over some food sometime and chat. I am sure they would be happy to build bridges.
posted by corb at 3:05 AM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Brown Noise

Possibly with the oscillation thingy going to make it sounds like the ocean.
posted by skrozidile at 6:21 AM on April 29, 2013

I come from a background where no one plays their music outside because it would bother people and everyone just accepts that we can't have music outside [except quite quietly].

Well, you could move. I am not joking. On some level, these kinds of cultural differences are a zero-sum-game, and your neighborhood can be the sort of place where people play loud music outside at all hours without regard for the needs of their neighbors, or you can be at peace. Or they could move because they realize that their personal preferences aren't compatible with the cultural norms of peace and quiet in the neighborhood.

Or, you could take them aside, in the same way that you might take your socially maladjusted friend aside and clue them in to the fact that some of their things they're doing "aren't cool" and are alienating them from the rest of the neighborhood. This is similar to setting boundaries with a difficult person in your friend circle. I realize that this is more difficult than the way it usually goes, which is where you end up telling the loud neighbors, "You know, some people need to sleep," and then you get known as the uptight one, and so on. But corb makes the great point that if you don't intervene in a helpful, neighborly way, someone else, who is less neighborly, will intervene.
posted by deanc at 7:58 AM on April 29, 2013

Please go over and talk to them, regardless of their background. They can compromise by turning the sound down, or even reorienting their speakers so they're not directed at your windows.

My kids have a garage band and a half-dozen or so teenagers gather on warm days. We have neighbors on one side with small kids and my guys don't practice during naptime. If other neighbors have things going on that their practice would interfere with (company, illness, etc.) then they will happily accommodate. The noise ordinance is from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. If someone has a problem with noise during that timeframe, it's their problem, but calling the police makes it our problem. I am not looking forward to another summer of police making regular stops, getting my kids on their radar, just to say "someone called, you're not doing anything wrong, but turn it down anyway." You can't turn it down when it's acoustic drums, it's just drums. So who is calling? Some getoffmylawn neighbor who has a problem but can't be bothered to communicate about it.

Grar. Talk to your neighbors. Give them the opportunity to be neighborly.
posted by headnsouth at 8:46 AM on April 29, 2013

The problem with simply walking over to talk to your neighbor is that some neighbors will think "oh, I see what the problem is, thanks for being reasonable" and some neighbors will think "oh, what an uptight [censored], let's turn it up louder." Some people are reasonable, and some people escalate and actually enjoy the conflict.

So the only reasonable answer is to get to know your neighbors without complaining about the noise, ideally when you first move in (before you have a chance to find out who's going to get on your nerves, starting from a clean slate and all that) but really any time will do. Learn what they're like. Make friends. Or at least wave and smile and say hello and all that, regularly.

The immediate side effect of this -- and you're already experiencing this a bit -- is empathy develops. You might find yourself more tolerant of certain things if they're being done by people you know. Of course, you might become less sympathetic as well, and that's okay; better to know who your neighbors are then to not.

Anyway, you'll quickly figure out who's friendly and who's hostile; for those who are friendly, you can eventually ask them to stop doing what's bothering you, or engage in a conversation about compromise -- and for those who are hostile, who won't engage with you as a neighbor in a neighborly way -- for them, you can call the cops. Plus, you'll have relationships with other neighbors, who might have a better relationship with those folks (or might be just as fed up as you, and there is some power in numbers.)
posted by davejay at 9:33 AM on April 29, 2013

I have a lot of anxiety surrounding noise and it drives me up the god damn wall to have loud neighbors. Usually it's best to always take the high road and be the better person, try to avoid any passive aggressive, broom-banging-on-the-ceiling, pounding-the-wall kind of retaliation. Chances are it will just give them more reason to turn up the volume.

Since you say they seem like nice people, maybe make a batch of brownies or cookies and head over one day and strike up a casual chat. Mention you actually like that type of music but sometimes it's a bit too loud and it keeps you from being able to read/concentrate inside your own apartment. If they really are considerate/nice people, they'll probably be more than happy to work with you on it.

As far as technology goes, I'm a big fan of this white noise maker, or you could go for a standard box fan if you also like to be cooler at night. Earplugs or noise canceling headphones coupled with the white noise maker/fan have worked wonders for me in the past.
posted by woolly at 12:15 PM on April 29, 2013

So, in keeping with your nobility, maybe a six-pack and a visit?

If someone showed up at my house and gave me a six-pack and asked me to turn my music down ... I would have a new best friend.

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:27 PM on April 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Water features create great white noise. Build a fountain and pond in your yard?
posted by slidell at 11:25 PM on April 29, 2013

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