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Does Wood Absorb Sound? – The Acoustical Properties of Wood

Silent Home Hub Does Wood Absorb Sound

Wondering whether the choice to use wood for your dream house is right? Is wood good to soundproof your recording studio, home studio, or home theater?

Or maybe you’re just curious about how wood interacts with sounds and affects sound quality?

Actually, wood doesn’t really absorb sound. It does reflect it though!

Find out how wood can help you improve your room or home’s sound-proofing, along with answers to your other questions in this guide!

Table of Contents

Does Wood Absorb Sound?

The Short Answer: Wood Reflects Sound, Not Absorbs It

Sound waves can either be reflected, absorbed, or diffused by the materials that they encounter.

This depends on factors, such as the type of material you use, its characteristics, and the positioning of the sounds within a room.

Solid wood is great at reflecting sounds but NOT sound absorption. This is why solid wood instruments that use solid wood are better than those made from different wood panels.

So, is wood good for soundproofing?

Wood is excellent at sound reverberation, so it can REFLECT sound.

However, it isn’t good at sound-absorbing because its material isn’t dense enough for sound blocking, especially if the wood has holes in it.

If you’re looking to use wood panels for sound-proofing, make sure to leave an AIR GAP behind the plywood. An air gap will help dampen any wave that will pass through in the medium to high-frequency range.

Wood is even better at sound absorption for bass noise if treated correctly!

The Long Answer: How Sounds Work

Sound waves interact with various areas differently. Some can reflect sound, absorb sound, or block it altogether.

Below, we look at each and how it’s affected by the material you’re using. We also give you the best choice of products for each particular use for your room.

Sound Blocking For Beginners

Before anything else, you need to understand that sound travels as waves. Different frequencies have various lengths. They continue to travel until something disrupts their movement.

This is how excellent sound-proofing works. Some kind of material will stop the sound waves from continuing, effectively stopping the sound dead in its tracks.

For instance, you’re living somewhere where varying noise levels can be heard (such as when you’re near an airport or train station), you’ll need to look for ways to block sound from even entering your house in the first place.

Enter DIY methods for sound blocking.

Wood material does not do well at sound blocking, so we recommend you consider another use for it.

The only exception is if you have to choose between a hollow or solid wood door. In that case, we highly recommend you go for a solid wood door.

If you want to block noise from passing through your wood walls and being heard in your room, you need to look for DENSE, HEAVY, AND SOLID sound-absorbing materials like:

  • Mass-loaded vinyl
  • Green glue compound
  • Soundproof drywall

These are BEST for sound blocking.

Avoid the use of anything that has holes or air spaces in it, such as panels.

Yes — it’s costly, time-consuming, and it could be difficult if you’re not a DIY enthusiast. However, it’s a sure-fire way of stopping any noise from entering your house.

As a bonus, all of these materials are also great at insulation! That certainly makes sense because it also blocks air spaces and residual temperatures from going through your wall and affecting your rooms.

If you have the choice, we suggest going for this option.

  • For example, if you are still in your house’s planning and construction stages, this is something you should consider integrating into the walls and panels.
  • But if you can’t afford to treat your walls and panels with these methods, the next best thing would be to turn to sound absorption products.

Next Up: Sound Absorption

Sound absorption or dampening creates layers that the noise will pass through to become weaker.

So, while sound absorption won’t completely halt the sound waves, it will effectively reduce them, giving you noise reduction for your room.

You can increase the sound absorption ability of wood by enhancing its porous nature by using soft materials like a SPONGE to absorb noise.

How Do Wood Products Work?

Wood product panels work by cutting up sound waves into smaller pieces. The grooves or holes let air through the wood panels but disturb the sound waves enough that their passage creates better sound resonance.

This is why wood is great for enhancing the resonance of high to medium frequencies, such as what you’ll hear in a guitar or violin. It’s also why wood IS NOT suitable for a recording studio which usually has to be a silent space.

Its strength as a resonator is also precisely why it can’t be good at sound absorption. One cannot be good at sound absorbing or sound blocking while also enhancing sounds that pass through it.

Moreover, it’s difficult to effectively absorb sound if the wood you’re using has holes and other perforations on it.

Wood has better sound absorption against lower noises. So if you need to reduce impact noise, acoustic wood panels are the best for you.

However, this also means that wood panels AREN’T GREAT for a listening room. The acoustics created by the various surface materials, layout, and structure is of the utmost importance because they can create a flatter sound within a room.

What About Sound Diffusion?

Remember how sound-absorbing materials let noise pass through them and weaken the waves as they go along? Sound diffusion is sort of the opposite of absorption.

This occurs when sound hits a smooth, curved, or irregular surface like wood or sound diffuser panels. The wood panels act as a diffuser that reflects it right back by diffusing it in various directions.

These reflected waves can overlap with the original, creating an echo that isn’t ideal for noise reduction but is excellent for the acoustics of a room.

For example, imagine listening to the singing coming from the loft of a church, where wood beams crisscross the ceiling, and various wood panels are scattered everywhere.

Notice how such a voice or instrument sounds louder, fuller, and has a lot more echo to it?

That’s because of the sound diffusion moving across the wood.

For a room where acoustics are essential for performances, like a performance room or concert halls, wood is an excellent surface to use because it’s such an excellent sound wave resonator.

This effect makes you feel like you’re surrounded by the music inside a room because diffusion from the wood panels spreads the sounds in all directions.

And Finally: Sound Reflection

Reflection and diffusion may seem similar, but they have ONE KEY DIFFERENCE.

  • When it comes to reflecting sound, the surface you use has to be flat, like what you’d see from plywood sheets, wood planks, or wood panels.
  • This allows sound to bounce back in the same path it came from, thus distorting the original sound.

Unlike diffusion, which scatters the sound in different directions in a room, sound reflection is intentional and disrupts the original sound by reflecting the same wave right back. And this is because sound waves travel both up and down.

Put simply…

When used in this way, wood can make sounds louder instead of acting as sound-blocking materials inside your room.

You’re probably thinking: “What should I do if my place has a lot of wood on it?”

RELAX. There’s still a solution for you.

  • If you want to dampen sound, you can soundproof the wood by using other materials that are better at absorbing sound, such as carpets or a deadening mat for your floors, and curtains and blankets for your walls.
  • You can also try something that won’t cost you any money, like changing the layout of your room so that the wood surface of solid pieces of furniture can act as disruptors to the waves that are bouncing around.

The Nerdy Answer: Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) of Wood

If you want to get technical, the noise reduction coefficient (NRC) is the average measure of the acoustic properties of materials, such as foam or wood.

This is a good way of figuring out how much noise the material’s surface will reflect and absorb in a given space.

The scale goes from 1 to 0, with 1.00 (perfectly absorptive) being the best at the absorption and 0.00 (perfectly reflective) being the worst.

Think of it as a percentage.

An NRC of 0.75 means that 75% of the sound is absorbed.

To Help You Figure It Out…

Need an example? Here are a few:

  • When it comes to smooth surfaces, you can expect an NRC of 0.05 to 0.15, depending on how well wood can absorb or reflect sound.
  • Acoustic plywood panels that are 10mm thick have an NRC of 0.23.
  • Acoustic wooden panels can absorb more sound and has an NRC of somewhere between 0.65 to 0.90. Cool, right?

Just note that you’ll need a sound engineer who knows what he or she is doing to correctly place these acoustic panels and ensure you get the most out of the acoustic panels you spent money on!

Some Things to Look Out For…

But take notes of these downsides:

  • NRC isn’t a perfect rating system. While it’s great for simple comparisons between various sound-absorbing materials, it does have some flaws.
  • NRC only measures the absorption of frequencies within the range of human speech, ignoring any frequencies below 250 Hz and above 2KHz.
  • Moreover, it only averages absorption at four frequency levels (250, 500, 2000, and 2000 Hz), so even if some materials have the same NRC, they can sound differently.

If you’re looking to treat a room where acoustic properties and absorption are critical for low and high frequencies, you need to look beyond just the NRC rating of a particular surface.

Remember that placement and layout are just as critical as the choice of the material!

Conclusion

Wooden surface with blurry background

We hope we’ve answered most, if not all, of your questions and helped you make an easier choice for the best material for reducing noise.

Remember that the ability of a particular product, such as wood or acoustic panels, depends on many factors.

Make the choice that best suits your needs, and do your research before buying anything!


Changelog:

July 12, 2021 – updated external links, removed affiliate links

June 21, 2021 – added changelog, fixed article format and content, updated internal linking, optimized content

About the Author

andrea_adams

Andrea has always been bombarded by the hustle and bustle outside her home. Living in the city doesn’t get any quieter. The never ending noise from construction, traffic, and dogs barking on the streets day in and day out drove Andrea to a breaking point.

For 3 years, Andrea committed herself to studying DIY hacks, performing soundproofing experiments, and installing noise-free solutions. Now, she lives a quiet life free of the stress from noisy environments.

She hopes to share this knowledge so that others don’t have to endure the noise reigning in their ears and live a peaceful, stress-free life.