Acoustic Wall Treatments for Apartments?
May 23, 2021 7:07 PM   Subscribe

We just moved into a new apartment with enough space for my wife and I to have individual home offices! Of course, it turns out that the acoustics aren’t great for teleconferencing.

Her space has laminate floors, and one whole wall is taken up by mirrored sliding closet doors. It echoes horribly, and the way the room is set up with doors and windows mean the mirrored doors pretty much have to be behind her when she’s on a video call.

We’re in the process of moving in several bookshelves, which should improve the acoustics, but that leaves the mirrored closet doors. I was thinking maybe some kind of tasteful vinyl static-cling decals could improve the aesthetics, but that wouldn’t do much for the sound, would it? The doors are sliding, so we can’t add more than about 1cm thickness. It’s a rental so we can’t make any permanent modifications.

Would an area rug help? I know acoustic panels are available but they’re pricy and also I don’t know what’s out there for temporary solutions.

Any suggestions?
posted by Alterscape to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Yes, a rug will help. So will curtains (rather than blinds) and other soft furnishings (can you put an upholstered chair or couch in the room?).

I don't think a cling mural for the closet doors would make anything more than a marginal difference acoustically, although it can help with video calls in other ways according to this blog post (see "Wall Backdrop").
posted by caek at 7:19 PM on May 23 [4 favorites]

How about a folding standing screen in front of the mirrored doors.
posted by artdrectr at 7:21 PM on May 23 [5 favorites]

A curtain rod mounted above the closet door and wide enough to slide the curtains fully to the side. It will both absorb sound and provide a more pleasant backdrop.
posted by metahawk at 7:32 PM on May 23 [18 favorites]

Another potential option: You could temporarily remove the mirrored doors (if you have a place to store them) and replace them with sound-absorbing drapes.
posted by SageTrail at 7:58 PM on May 23 [3 favorites]

Decals on the mirror wouldn't do squat. Well, they might do something, but it will probably be pretty close to nothing. Curtains will definitely help, as will a rug. Acoustic tiles are overkill. A folding standing screen probably isn't going to do much. If it's thin material, it won't absorb much sound, and If it's hard and stiff, it could end up reflecting sound and doing close to nothing to help. But if you draped something over it, like a comforter, it would definitely help. Basically, you want soft materials with some mass (a curtain sheer won't do anything for you, but a heavy velvet curtain would help a lot), and if you can break up the room to prevent sound from bouncing around (like the bookshelves with a lot of books) that would definitely help. Getting something in front of those mirrors (like a folding screen with a comforter or drape) is probably going to make the biggest difference.
posted by jonathanhughes at 8:12 PM on May 23 [1 favorite]

Add soft things: carpet, curtains (a wall of curtains that cover the mirrored doors is a great idea), upholstered furniture, etc. decals and hard things won’t be nearly as effective as fabric.
posted by quince at 9:24 PM on May 23

Heavy curtains will help, but it needs to go across virtually the entire wall.

Depending on your microphone setup, it may be possible to noise-filter it with a PC, such as NVIDIA Broadcast (free). assuming you mean MS Teams, Zoom, and similar PC conferencing software, not like a giant speakerphone and custom teleconference camera setup.

I personally use a greenscreen panel as my backdrop and NVIDIA Broadcast along with a podcast quality microphone (a GXL something) to both record my youtube videos and Zoom, never seem to hear any one complaining.
posted by kschang at 9:57 PM on May 23

Have you determined that the acoustics are horrible on calls, or does it just feel that way physically in the room?

I would expect that using a headset with the mic close to your mouth it would reduce or eliminate a lot of the background noise, including possibly any echo effects.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 12:04 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

The RTX Voice noise filtering that kschang mentions needs at least a GTX 10xx series card and even then gets a little twitchy if you aren't using an RTX card like it was originally designed for. If you can get it working, though, it's epic and will solve almost all of your problems.

On to physical stuff. More soft = more better. Glass and hard floors are the worst. Rugs help. Curtains help. Tapestries help, but who lives in a castle these days? Thanks to my previous searches, AliExpress is recommending this sort of stuff to me at the moment, but I also find them a little pricey: "sound reducing insulation for music studio 3d Echo acoustic polyester fiber panels to decorate cinema office meeting room walls". You might find something in the recommendations that's exactly the visual style you think is perfect, so the price doesn't seem too bad. You could probably stick them on with 3M Control stuff if you want to get them off without leaving a mark.

You don't actually have to stop the echos in the room, you just have to stop them getting to the microphone. Depending on your setup, you can use something like; "Microphone Isolation Shield Sound Absorbing Foam Wind Screen Shield Shockproof Mount for Studio Booth".
posted by krisjohn at 1:07 AM on May 24

A combination of a rug and floor to ceiling curtain both on the wall with the mirrors and the window-wall should solve this, specially since you are putting in book shelves as well. It would also look good. I'd go for white curtains or a soft pastel, either no pattern or a discreet pattern like a vertical stripe, and I'd get a professional to put them up. You want your curtains to have a good fold, they should maybe be twice the length of the wall.
A folding screen could do more than you might think, because geometry is at least as important as absorption, when it comes to acoustics. But the screen would have to be quite big (tall and wide) for it to have an effect.
posted by mumimor at 1:41 AM on May 24

Leaving the closet doors fully open will halve the hard reflective area affecting the room and expose a lot of limp hanging cloth that should damp reverberation a fair bit. But you're always going to have an easier time collecting sound closer to its source than trying to remove its reverberations, so seconding earbuds and an ear-boom mike as easily your most cost-effective path to success.
posted by flabdablet at 2:14 AM on May 24 [1 favorite]

If you cannot use software noise reduction like NVIDIA broadcast (i.e. RTX Voice) you can try this VERY expensive foam ball known as the Kaotica Eyeball. It's supposedly studio-quality stuff at $200+ but it supposedly also has very good results.
posted by kschang at 12:05 PM on May 24

Soft anything on any surface will be an improvement. I second the idea of getting a rug on the floor and hanging a curtain (fabric) across the entire wall in front of the closet. It might look terrible, but if you don't want to put in a curtain rod, even taping a sheet or blanket in front of the mirrors (perhaps one on each panel?) will help. You can hang art, too, even if it's a canvas. It doesn't have to be just on the wall behind her. It'll break up the room. But a rug on the floor (you don't have to spend a ton) will do a lot. You could hang a shirt or bathrobe on the back of the entry door, too. Be creative, especially if things aren't on camera. Just get more fabrics and soft items and things in the room. The rug is going to do the most, though.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:13 PM on May 24

In the very short term, as you make longer-term plans, even keep in mind that laying blankets out on the floor (as a "rug") or taping them on walls will help.
posted by stormyteal at 4:34 PM on May 24

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