How to Soundproof a Ceiling in Large Venues

Soundproofing a ceiling is a much more involved process than people might first think; one can’t simply install acoustic foam panels, acoustic ceiling tiles, or other types of sound absorbing panels, baffles or clouds and call it a day if you want or need to block the sound from either entering or leaving the space. Instead, you need to consider this effort more like a remodeling project—and it is almost always going to require some construction which involves new drywall, specialized drywall material, vinyl barriers, vibration-dampening compounds, or clips that decouple the ceiling from the joists or structure.

Since this process can be more laborious and costly than what people expect it to entail, this article will break down a few things that you need to know.

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Soundproofing or Sound Absorption?

You might think redoing your entire ceiling to soundproof sounds a bit much. Can’t you simply source some of those foam pads and hang them on the ceiling or walls? If sound absorption is your goal, then the answer is yes. But if you’re looking to reduce the amount of sound leaving your space OR reduce the unwanted noise from a room above, then it’s a resounding no. (And don’t get us started on eggcarton soundproofing…)

Although most people consider soundproofing and absorption synonymous, it is important to have an understanding of the difference between the two. Sound proofing generally refers to blocking or reducing the amount of sound entering or leaving a space. Absorption is the ability of a product to reduce the echo and reverberation within a room. The approach and products to achieve these two different problems are quite different. So, keep in mind that if you choose the wrong product, you may end up with results opposite of what you intended.

Some soundproofing materials are dense and heavy because there is a direct relationship between the density and weight of something and its ability to block sound. Quite simply, the heavier something is, the more sound it will block. Other soundproofing materials are vibration dampeners which reduce the resonance of a wall. These are known as viscoelastic damping compounds, and when used in a wall assembly, knocking on the wall will result in a very dead “thud,” almost as if the wall is filled with lead or sand. 

Finally, other products are used to decouple one side of the wall from the other so that the energy that hits one side of the wall does not have a hard-surface-to-hard-surface path to get from point A to point B. These types of products act like a wire that has been cut – it is much harder for the electricity to get through to the other end of the wire.

In contrast, sound absorption materials do little or nothing to block sound. Instead, they are designed and intended to improve the acoustics of the space by reducing echoes and reverberation. Sound-absorbing materials don’t stop sound waves from continuing in their initial direction; they only reduce the reflections of those waves off of the hard surfaces behind them.

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Considerations for Soundproofing Ceilings

Before you get started on your soundproof ceiling project, there are a few additional factors to consider:

  • Structure type? What type of building materials were used for the structure, and what building materials make up the floor/ceiling assembly? Was the building constructed using concrete, wood joists, engineered joists or something different? What type of finish floor is above, and was an underlayment used? Sound travels through different types of structures differently, so it is important to know as much as possible about the structure before you start your project. –
    • Shared air space – Sound travels through air, so if you have any air space that connects your upper and lower levels, that is typically the path of least resistance for the sound to travel from room to room. If the upper and lower levels share any HVAC ductwork as this is often overlooked and can leak a significant amount of sound from room to room.
    • Ceiling penetrations – Many lower-level rooms are lit with can lights which require multiple holes in the ceiling for the lighting to be installed. From an acoustical standpoint, these holes act like holes in the wall of a fish tank making a drywall ceiling in the lower level nearly acoustically invisible as a significant amount of sound will come through the light cans and holes. There are ways to reduce this problem, including building insulated boxes around each of the cans in the plenum.
  • What type of noise are you trying to insulate? – There are two primary types of noise you need to consider: airborne noise and impact noise.
    • Airborne noise refers to sounds traveling across any open space. Airborne noises are things like conversations, music, TV, radio, etc.
    • Impact noise refers to something that is carrying some energy coming into contact with the floor or structure. When this happens, some of the kinetic energy is transferred into the structure, causing the structure to move––much like a speaker functions. When the structure moves, waves of energy are pushed into the air, which your ears pick up as a sound. Sources of impact noise are people stomping, walking, running or jumping, chairs moving or rolling or even doors or cabinets closing. Generally, impact noise is more violent than airborne noise and can be more difficult to reduce

Materials for Soundproofing Ceilings

Generally, the thicker or denser a material is, the greater soundproofing it achieves. The sound wave is reduced after passing through the increased mass and matter from which the heavy material is made. However, some have been specifically engineered to provide greater sound transmission class (STC) ratings. The higher the rating (the larger the STC number), the weaker the sound wave will be on the other side. 

Types of materials you can use to soundproof your venue’s existing ceiling, and walls include:

  • Adding Mass – Sometimes, simply adding additional layers of drywall to the ceiling and effectively increasing the mass between the upper and lower levels will reduce the amount of airborne sound traveling through the structure.  
  • Decoupling hardware (e.g., clips, channels, hangers) – Decoupling the ceiling from the structure above is a great way to reduce the impact as well as airborne noise. This can be accomplished with different types of clips and hangers that will isolate the new finish ceiling from the joists or structure.
  • Soundproof sheetrock or drywall – Typically incorporates layers of gypsum with vibration reduction membranes or adhesive between thin layers of drywall.
  • Viscoelastic dampening compounds – These are products that are installed between two layers of standard drywall and will reduce the resonance and reverberation of the wall. These products work like putting your finger on a bell. When your fingers are holding the bell, and it is rung, the metal bell doesn’t vibrate nearly as it would if it were not being touched and makes much less noise.

Types of Soundproofing Products

Soundproofing products are within or part of the ceiling construction rather than as a finish – they are more of the “bones” of a building than the muscles or skin if you will. However, some of these materials can be used both during construction or as a retrofit project, so reducing sound transmission in an existing structure is definitely possible.

When it comes to selecting a sound-reducing treatment, take a look at the soundproofing products below, all used to insulate noise in new or retrofit applications:

With all of these options, you’re sure to be able to find the right product for your venue.

Choosing Soundproofing Products

When selecting which materials you’ll use to soundproof your existing ceiling, you’ll first want to make sure the product will work for your intended use and with your existing structure. The construction materials used, combined with the soundproofing product, will give you your approximate STC rating. Be careful of products that offer “blanket” STC ratings, and keep in mind that STC numbers are not additive. You can’t take an STC 30 ceiling and an STC 10 soundproofing product and expect an STC 40 assembly.  

When you see STC ratings for particular products or construction assemblies, remember that these materials are tested and rated in laboratory environments where all of the variables are controlled, and the environment is perfect. Laboratories are not the real world but are used as a consistent measure of performance. You shouldn’t expect lab-type results for your project, as a standard deviation is always expected.   

The Ceiling Soundproofing Process

With new construction, the installation of soundproof materials is much like that of normal building products. The only significant difference is that the products are explicitly designed and rated for noise reduction. So, for example, instead of normal latex or rubber-based caulk, you’d use a soundproof sealant to prevent noise from bleeding out of the venue through air gaps.

With retrofit applications, the process can be more costly and time-consuming. Many projects may look like substantial remodels. And if you’re working around fixed objects and structures, you may need to factor in additional planning for how to arrange your ceiling soundproofing products for optimal performance. However, you don’t necessarily have to tear down the space and perform a top-to-bottom overhaul with a retrofit.

If the ceiling is your only concern, you may be able to swap the existing surfaces for soundproof ceiling tiles or use a dampening compound between your existing ceiling and a new layer of drywall. You can also use the resilient sound isolation clips to mount a new layer of drywall below the existing drywall ceiling.

Soundproof Your Space with Acoustical Surfaces

As one of the leading experts on how to soundproof a ceiling, soundproofing in general, acoustics, and unwanted noise and vibration control, Acoustical Surfaces is ready to outfit your venue with the acoustic insulation products you need. 

How much does it cost to install acoustic ceiling treatments? Which products do you need? Our team is here to answer all your questions about ceiling acoustic treatment products and more. They will help guide you through any selection or materials, taking into account your unique venue and requirements.

Contact us today to outfit your venue’s ceiling with premier soundproofing products.



  1. Acoustical Surfaces. Retrofitting Walls and Floors from Noisy Neighbors. 
  2. Live Music Office. Tips to help with sound in and out of small music venues. 
  3. Science Direct. Sound Transmission Class. 

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