Neighbor bass noise is bothering me. How to stop it?
May 11, 2018 4:38 PM   Subscribe

How much neighbor bass noise is too much? And how can I get it to stop?

We have lived in our apartment in a prewar building for the past 6 years. It has been an oasis of quiet - I have never heard any of the neighbors, and we live on a quiet street facing away from the street. You can literally hear a pin drop. A few months ago, new neighbors moved in. We share a living room wall with these neighbors. They regularly play bass-heavy music, usually in the evenings (typically 9-10pm, sometimes earlier), but never too late at night. Occasionally, on the weekend, they play it during the day.

The bass is loud enough to be noticeable, and because it's bass, wearing headphones doesn't really help - I can still hear it even when listening to my own music or watching a movie with headphones on. My guess is they have a fairly powerful subwoofer, because I can't hear anything apart from the THUMP THUMP THUMP - I never hear them talking or anything. Sometimes it is very loud, most of the time it is not necessarily that loud, but it's the persistent THUMP THUMP THUMP and unpredictable noise level that bothers me. The bass induces some kind of deep rage in me every time I hear it, and makes it difficult for me to concentrate or enjoy anything. Even when it's NOT playing, I'm tense in the back of my head because I know that it could start at any time.

Is this just my life now? I get that people have a right to enjoy music in their own homes. But at the same time I don't think it's fair that their music should impact my peace and quiet. I don't think it's fair that there's basically no escape from it for me, short of leaving my house, since even headphones don't block it and I have to listen to their bass line over my music. If they disconnected their subwoofer, for example, they could still enjoy music (albeit sans heavy bass), but it would be a significant improvement in my quality of life,

The problem is that these things are so subjective. What is clearly bothersome bass noise for me might be considered 'acceptable' by them or somebody else. And they could always claim that they turn it off late at night, that it's not all the time, that it's not that loud, etc. etc. But I want to enjoy my apartment while I am awake too. I just don't know how much bass noise is considered 'acceptable'. Am I being unreasonable in this day and age for wanting my apartment to always be quiet?

I've been very hesitant to go over and talk to them about it. Do I go over WHILE it's happening and try to "catch them in the act"? Or do I try to talk to them some other time, introduce myself, and politely mention the bass noise? Should I leave a note? Should I anonymously complain to a higher authority? Complicating the situation is that this is a condo building. We rent our condo, I don't know if the neighbors rent or own, but there is no common landlord. There might be a building management, but I don't know how much they would intervene in this type of situation.

Basically I'm just looking for solutions, or outside input as to whether I should just put up with it. Please don't recommend 'moving' as the solution, since I could easily just end up with other noisy neighbors anywhere else I live.
posted by karakumy to Human Relations (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There are likely things they can do to mitigate the noise for you without affecting their enjoyment. We we lived in apartments we put our subwoofer up on a wire shelf which was on a rug, so that more of the vibration went up into the air and less went into the floor. There are professional solutions that are probably even better than our amateur one. So it's worthwhile to try and catch them at home (doesn't have to be when the bass is playing) and have a conversation.
posted by muddgirl at 4:47 PM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Because bass vibrates and penetrates walls so easily, I think your only option is to tell them. They may not know it's carrying so much. My neighbor played music while she got ready for work and it kept waking me up, so I finally knocked on the door and told her. She was shocked because she didn't realize it was that loud, but I never really heard it after that. I assume she just turned the volume down, turned the bass down or maybe moved the surface her stereo was on, or a combination of those. Personally, bass sound drives me crazy, especially when I am trying to sleep. In my case, I went over while I could hear it. It wasn't as if she was blasting the music, which was good for me to know she wasn't simply being inconsiderate, but I could also tell it could afford to be turned down a couple notches.

Without a landlord, I'm not sure who you could complain to, other than the police, but it sounds like it's not happening during quiet hours enough to be considered a public disturbance. I guess you'd have to check your local laws. I once complained to my landlord about the person above me having a loud party in the middle of the night when I had to work the next day. I'd be shocked if I was the only one, you could hear the music blaring from the hallways.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:55 PM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

This happened in my building and my boyfriend went down one day when it was really loud and talked to the woman who opened the door. She said she had no idea the bass was carrying that far and she turned it down. I occasionally hear it now but its SO much better and when I do hear it I feel much less aggravated because she was so nice and obviously made an effort to keep it down.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:04 PM on May 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

I think for a decent change of success and maintaining a decent relationship, I'd go with something along this framework:

1) Hi neighbor!

2) I'm sure you don't know this, but when you listen to music the bass carries over into my apartment.

3) I have tried listening to my own media with headphones/using earplugs/etc., but it is still very noticeable.

4) I want you to be able to enjoy music in your home!

5) I have done some research and it seems like [wire shelf + rug/relocating stereo/other amelioration methods] might help out in this situation.

6) Would you be willing to try that? I would be happy to chip in $XXX to help pay for [amelioration method]

7) I appreciate your help in resolving this situation!

I don't know the laws in your location or the rules in your building, but an hour a day and occasionally on weekends is probably on the spectrum of normal apartment living stuff that you might not have a ton of remedy for, so I'd go with the nice, direct approach first.
posted by lalex at 5:07 PM on May 11, 2018 [30 favorites]

I once had a neighbour, from four doors up the street, knock on my door and ask me to turn my music down. My stereo was in my studio opposite the door which I often kept open. I was surprised. My music wasn't loud. I invited her in to hear and she too was surprised. Then we both walked back up the street to her place. Holy heck, I had no idea the bass could carry that far and she was right, it was intrusive at her place. I turned my bass level down and kept it there, and she never knocked again.

Knock on your neighbour's door. Be polite. Invite her in to hear what it sounds like in your place and offer some suggestions about padding, direction etc that might help you work it out together.
posted by Thella at 5:09 PM on May 11, 2018 [27 favorites]

I sense some anxiety here, or at least an extreme desire to not be confrontational. The good news is, it sounds like you are dealing with considerate people already (they don't play it late at night) so be encouraged to have a friendly neighbor conversation, they probably do want to be good apartment residents!

Bass is surprisingly good at traveling unexpectedly far. Our bass anecdote was- my husband put on some music with a new sub as we were doing the weekend chore hustle. We went outside, and the song changed to a more bassy one. I said to him "hey, someone in the street is having a party!" We walked inside and realised that it was us.
posted by freethefeet at 5:30 PM on May 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeah, I've been the guy with the intrusively (but by no means ordinance violating) music. I would listen to Katy Perry at pleasantly loud, but not wall shaking, volumes while getting the kids ready for school at roughly 7:30 am.

Then one day my 20-something punk rocker neighbours showed up to very considerately complain about the fact that we kept waking them up.

So I grumbled a little bit, and started turning the volume a lot lower in the mornings. A couple of days later their quite loud (but, again, certainly legal) music started being a little quieter through our walls on Friday and Saturday nights.

What I'm getting at is that none of this sounds like it's anywhere near the level of reasonably seeking a third party solution. When you live in medium to high density, you simply can't have a regulated expectation of 24-hour zero noise pollution in your living space. That said, actual human interaction can likely solve this problem nine times out of ten if approached in a very friendly manner.
posted by 256 at 5:35 PM on May 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Solid advice above. I think you just have to talk to them. Give them a face-saving out by suggesting that they probably weren't aware the bass was even audible in your unit (which may very well be true anyway) and ask if they would be willing to maybe move the subwoofer away from your common wall or whatever. I bet that simply relocating and/or reorienting the subwoofer would give you considerable relief while impacting your neighbors very mininally. Worth a try, costs nothing.

They'd be within their rights to refuse anyway, I think. Kinda a jerky move, but within their rights.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:45 PM on May 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Bass seems to get louder and more carrying the farther away it is from the source. If they have their speaker close to your shared wall, that can make the sound more intense than it would if it were a foot or more away from the wall. I know that I can have my speaker at “quiet conversation” level and yet the bass will be much louder in the next room.

If you can’t put your bass speaker on the floor, maybe consider an inexpensive occasional table to place it on.

I’ve got my sub located near, but not against, a non-shared wall, and my rule of thumb is that if it’s not comfortably within daylight hours (e.g. 10am to 6pm) then I keep the sound just audible. If I want it louder, I put on headphones and/or turn off the bass. If I’m watching a show, I put on closed captioning. (Which I prefer anyway, because then I don’t miss any dialogue.) It isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s good at minimizing traveling bass.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:50 PM on May 11, 2018

Oh, and yeah worst case scenario you might have to just put up with it. Your neighbors aren't really doing anything wrong. Certainly nothing that justifies invoking a higher authority. I would be annoyed too though, and I sympathize.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:53 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lifting the subwoofer off of the floor and/or moving it will GREATLY decrease your ability to hear or feel it when in use!

Simply approach your neighbors (maybe a nice note?) and ask them if they would be open to spending 30min figuring out where and how to place their subwoofer so they can enjoy it and you don't hear it. If they have a system with a subwoofer they should be cool about this, but even if they just have speakers against your shared wall or sitting on top of a cross support beam that carries sound, there's TONS they can do to insulate the sound and vibrations with minimal effort.

Unless the speakers are mounted directly to the wall. Then they're thoughtless and inexperienced apartment dwellers, that's trickier diplomacy, but a problem that is still solvable.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 5:57 PM on May 11, 2018

Be honest and not passive aggressive. Passive aggressive noise complaints often cause escalation.
posted by irisclara at 6:03 PM on May 11, 2018

An acoustic isolation platform will make the bass sound better to them and reduce the sound for you. I'd talk to them about how much the bass is carrying - (it doesn't sound like the other aspects of the sound are coming thru, right?) and either recommend or gift them an isolation platform.
posted by congen at 6:42 PM on May 11, 2018 [9 favorites]

In another life I knew someone who had problematic neighbours so they made an arrangement with far, far more more problematic people to move into their house. I believe the issue resolved itself within about 10 days when the noisies left. Not a nice solution at all, but sometimes people are selfish and intractable and need a (metaphorical) fire lit under them.
posted by unearthed at 6:49 PM on May 11, 2018

Bass seems to get louder and more carrying the farther away it is from the source.

A 40hz wave is just over 28 feet, one cycle. So yes.
posted by bongo_x at 9:48 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding the acoustic isolation platform. When we moved into our current apartment five years ago the neighbor upstairs immediately complained about the bass from our home theater system. We turned the sound down, ordered an Auralex Subdude for our subwoofer, turned the sound back up after it arrived, and never had another problem.
posted by Mothlight at 11:13 AM on May 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

Simply approach your neighbors (maybe a nice note?)

There is no such thing as a nice note when making a complaint or suggestion to relative strangers. Talk to them in person.
posted by 256 at 12:38 PM on May 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

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