Cubicle Acoustics

R.F Writes:

Dear Ted,

I have read your acoustical surfaces blog with a lot of interest, since I recently was moved from an office to a big cubicle area at work. As you can imagine, the worst thing about being in the cube is the noise.

The cubicles, as you may see in the included pictures, are made of paper thing cardboard/wood and glass, the perfect solution for a noisy office. The cubicle area is approximately 105 x 80 inches and the height of the panels are about 66 inches. Unfortunately, the ceiling is very high above my own cubicle.

I am writing to you because I am desperate to find a solution to block as much noise as possible. I imagine I will not be able to block all of the noise, but I am wondering if adding some panels around my cube could help some.

Any suggestion or recommendation would be really appreciated.

Thank you very very much!



Unfortunately, my reply is likely what you fear it will be. Due to the common air space that connects your work space with the rest of the environment, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reduce the amount of sound that makes its way to your ear. I am truly sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re fighting physics.

I have a very good friend that is in the same situation. He is a quite blunt and fairly cynical guy with a good sense of humor but he is one of those guys that tells it like it is. He went from working in the construction industry to working for a national bank. He is in a similar situation where his workspace is in a cubical in a larger room. The sound coming from his co-workers was his first complaint and of course, he called me to see what could be done to minimize the bothersome noise.

If we were able to put a roof and a door on your workspace, we could probably do a pretty good job at keeping the sound out, but without that, it is nearly impossible. Sound travels through air and as long as there is common air space, there is an easy path for the sound to travel through. Here are a couple of numbers that surprise a lot of people: If there is a 1% air gap in ANY kind of a sound barrier, that small gap will leak 30% of the sound from one side to the other. If there is a 5% air gap, 90% of the sound is able to pass through. For instance, if you had an office and there was a 1/4″ gap between the bottom of the door and the floor – 90% of the sound from the hallway would leak through that seemingly TINY gap! So, as I’m sure you can imagine, keeping sound out of the cube is going to be nearly impossible.

I was looking for an office prank where someone’s co-workers actually framed, wired, and sheet rocked a little room around someone’s cubicle while they were on their honeymoon. These guys went as far as painting, roofing (with shingles) and even wiring a light and doorbell around the cubicle. It was quite funny, but I can’t find the picture and thought it would be an amusing touch.

Soundscreen White Noise MachineThe only thing that I have that may be able to help would be a Sound Screen White Noise Machine. This is a small plug-and-play machine that plugs into a standard wall outlet. It makes a sound that is like a small fan or space-heater running – a whir or a humming sound. The idea here is that your mind will concentrate on the steady noise that is nearby rather than the varying noise that comes in from other spaces. Basically, it is a comfortable way to raise the ambient (background) noise so that it is harder to hear other noises. For instance, if you are sitting at your desk with a small radio playing and someone from down the hallway is trying to talk to you, it is a LOT easier to hear and understand them if you turn the radio off. Same theory here, it is just a non-obtrusive noise. The SoundScreen is not “anti-noise”, it is basically background noise that you will not even notice once it is on for a few days.


  1. L.S.

    I am in a similar situation as the original poster. We have cheap L-shaped cubicles in a room shaped like a triangle. My desk is near the top of the triangle and under the A/C vent. Yes, I am freezing all of the time. There are 4 cubicles, 3 of which are occupied full time.

    My supervisor is the worst offender. She is LOUD and constantly talking (on the phone, etc.) When she eats peanuts, I want to climb the walls. I hear every crack of the shell, and then the open-mouthed chomp of her teeth against the peanut.

    Certainly there must be something that can be done! She now sits behind me. Wouldn’t the placement of some Sound Silencer Panels help at all? I developed tinnitus last year, so I know about white noise, brown noise, habituation, etc. But I want silence. I need to concentrate while writing formulas. I wish I had my old office back.

    I wish I could bounce her noise back on her and keep it away from me.

  2. Ted W


    Thank you for the comment, I’ll do my best to help but I may need to get a bit more information from you to do that. Soundproofing cubicle situations are always difficult because of the amount of shared air space that the work spaces have connecting them. Considering the fact that sound travels through air, if these spaces share air, it’s nearly impossible to stop the sound from traveling from Place A to Place B.

    With that said, there may be a few things that can be done. Is there a hard (sheetrock) wall behind your supervisor? The sound could possibly be bouncing off of the wall and up and over the cube-wall divider. It may be the fact that the divider walls aren’t heavy enough as well, but the more information that you can provide, the better the chances I’ll be able to help. If you have the ability to take and send a few digital pictures, that’s always a great tool.

    The addition of the Sound Silencer panels will absolutely help, but so would adding a layer two of sheetrock to the cubicle wall. This would help bounce the sound back at her as well. 🙂 The pictures (if you’re able to send them) will help me show you where they would be most helpful considering the situation.

    You could always annonomously leave a jar or can of already out of the shell peanuts for her which would be quieter to eat than in the shell peanuts… 🙂 Seriously though, another thought would be to get some high quality headphones to help keep un-wanted noise form bothering you but that may or may not be against office protocol. It would be an easy way to start the conversation to her that your current location is not allowing you to do your job as well as you feel you could.

    If I can help, or if any of the products we have to offer will help, I would be happy to explore them with you, but unfortunately a cubicle type environment is a challenge and will not be as quiet as an individual office.


  3. L.S.


    Thank you for your reply. I took pictures today, and I will email them to you within the next several days.

    I realize that the cubicle environment is difficult and that silence is impossible. But I would like to reduce the intrusions as much as possible.

    I found your peanut suggestion very amusing. If only she would consider a peanut puree or baby food 🙂

    Coincidentally, I did put my Bose noise canceling headphones on last week because I was at my wits end. Sorry to say, it did not open up any conversation… I have to fend for myself here!

    Thanks again, and I will email you.

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