Sound isolation - Ceiling or Bookshelves on stands?

Hey everyone,

We’re currently in the process of renovating our flat, which sits on the top floor of a 160-year-old period house in London.

As we’re living in a large early Victorian building, sound isolation is a big concern for us, especially given that we have a particularly sound-sensitive neighbour whose bedroom is directly below our lounge. We’ve already put in acoustic matting and stuffed lots of insulation between the joists on the floor, but we’re still trying to decide on the best approach for our speakers.

From a sound isolation perspective, which do you think would be better: ceiling speakers or bookshelves on stands?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

A conventional timber floor will transmit sounds directly to the space below. Insulation under the floorboards will have no significant effect on this, although you will be doing your neighbour a favour by providing some thermal insulation.
If you go for floorstanders or speakers on stands you could try some isolators from the likes of Townshend or Isoacoustics to stop sound from travelling down from the stands to the floorboards.

There is every chance that wall mounted speakers will transmit less sound as they will not directly vibrate the timber floor. How effective this is will depend on the house construction.

Proper sound insulation is needed, because unless the speakers are poor, most of the energy is in the air. At the very least double plasterboard, preferably acoustic, on the ceiling below, sealing first layer between boards and around edges before second then done similarly. (Adding one layer to the existing ceiling is probably best compromise. High density mineral wool nearly filling the void between joists, tight agaist the joists but with maybe 50mm air gap above. (Density of the mineral wool is significant - 60kg/m3 ideally, 45 as a minimum, not the 10-20 commonly sold for building regs minimum sound ins between bedrooms.) Then dense panels above, below the final floor. There are special products but you can use acoustic plasterboard - again seal all joints. A double layer is best. That is the cheap way: For a better job a floating ceiling and/or floor are needed with resilient suspension and sealing.

I would avoid much acoustic treatement such as asorbers or even soft furnishing as this will make you turn up the volume and make it worse for the neighbour!

What sort of budget do you have available for this?

Yamaha and Kawai (the musical instrument divisions), both do soundproofing. None of it self installable. Full on room within a room and then you can choose how you want to treat, or not treat the room they create. I recently built a living room using a similar company (though not available where you are).

Previously, I had a home cinema room over a neighbour and created a low cost but serious second floor. Foam tiles with a cork top layer down first. Then over the top soundproof carpet tiles. This provides both absorbing and dampening properties. The carpet tiles are about 30-40Kg/m2 but inexpensive. When done, it cost me a weekend and about $350 but was flush wall to wall and cut perfectly around every irregular feature and in a decade never one complaint about the noise. I also used heavy soundproof curtains too to reduce leakage towards windows.

A room from Yamaha (for example) custom fitted inside your living room will set you back between $10k to $40k depending on how big your room is and how completely you wish to soundproof it. This assumes your old structure will support the weight.

FWIW, speakers facing you (stands or floorstanders) will be quieter downstairs than speakers actually firing sound energy from the ceiling towards the floor.

Hi @finchtime, like @ChrisSU, I was also going to suggest wall-mounted speakers, on an external wall if that’s possible. They’re not a panacea; I have wall mounted Neat Iotas in the bedroom I use as an office and if I turn the wick up, they can be heard a couple of rooms away, but I suspect they’re your best bet short of the serious construction work others have suggested.

The other recommendation, assuming you’ve not yet bought your speakers, is to find a pair that sound good at lower volumes. Normally, I’d suggest trying ATC’s wall mounted speakers, but they definitely come alive when the volume goes up a bit, so perhaps not ideal in your case.

BTW your profile only mentions a Muso, so there’s a bit of guesswork here.

Roger

Bookshelf on stands with Isoacoustics Gaia, music played at low to moderately low levels.

If noise transmits so much that only low level listening is possible then headphones would offer more in terms of replay flexibility and, to my mind, greater potential for listening enjoyment. However, if renovating the flat then taking the opportunity to maximise the sound isolation from the floors below makes a lot of sense - not least because it will reduce transmission of other noises such as TV, footsteps, and from a variety of living activities …in both directions.

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@Innocent_Bystander is almost certainly giving you the best advice here.

Although I posted about some effective (and some costly) methods, before I got to that stage I found myself in a similar situation to you. Paper thin walls and a pathetic excuse for a floor. I put the big hifi in storage and got a truly first rate headphone system and a pair of extremely revealing 98db sensitivity speakers that run of the 10w of the amp. They give maximum transparency at moderate and low volumes and the headphones are there to fall back on. I’ve been in that situation for two and a half years and it’s definitely still proper hifi.