Does Sound Travel Up or Down? What way does sound travel?

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Does sound travel up or down? That’s one of the popular questions I encounter from apartment dwellers on various online forums.

So, I decided to compile an article based on authoritative sources (mentioned in the course of the article) to help you understand how sound travels and in what directions.

Sound does travel in both directions, up and down- it can travel in any direction to be precise. However, some factors influence the direction of the sound.

How sound travel can vary and will change depending on a variety of factors such as environment and the material that gets in the way of how the sound is traveling.

For instance, assuming you live in an apartment, the intensity of the noise from neighbors upstairs and that downstairs will vary depending on the material used for ceiling and floor construction.

How Sound Travel- Does It Travel Up and Down Only?

Sound travels through mechanical waves. A mechanical wave is defined as a disturbance that moves and transfers energy from one place to another through a given medium. (Source)

The disturbance, in this case, is a vibrating object, while the medium is any series of interconnected and interactive particles.

For this reason, sound can travel through solids, liquids, and gases.

A good example is when using an acoustic drum. When you hit the drum head with a drum stick, the drum head vibrates and flexes inward and outward very fast.

As the drum head moves outward, it pushes against air particles. The air particles vibrate and push the adjacent air particles, and so on.

As the drum head flexes inward, the adjacent air particles are pulled inward, and they, in turn, pull against other air particles.

The action of pushing and pulling patterns is referred to as a sound wave. The drum head is the disturbance, and the air particles are the medium. Check out this guide on quiet drum sets for apartment practice.

Does Sound Travel Up or Down

Impact and Airborne Noise and How they Travel

In your entire soundproofing journey, you will find yourself dealing with either of the two types of noises.

There are different methods on how to deal with the two noises. These methods will require the use of varying soundproofing materials.

Impact Sound/ Structure- Borne Sound

Impact sound is as a result of an actual impact of an object on a building element such as floor, wall, or ceiling.

Here’s a good example:

Assuming you live below someone else in your apartment or you live in a two-story house.  The footsteps you hear from above or objects falling on the floor is as a result of impact/structure-borne noise.

Impact sound occurs because the impact makes both sides of the building element to vibrate creating sound waves. Impact noises are the hardest to isolate.

Airborne Sound

Airborne noise is transmitted through the air. An example is barking dogs, television, radio, or people having conversations.

When airborne sound waves traveling through the air reach a building element such as walls, doors, or windows, they cause vibrations.

The vibrations are transmitted through the structure and radiated on the other side. If your neighbors hosted a party across the streets, you may have felt the music they played reverberating loudly within your house.

This is mainly caused by airborne noise, which are a major source of noise leakage. Use green glue sealant to deal with cracks on these building elements.

Does Sound Travel Up or Down

Some Solutions for Minimizing Airborne And Impact Sound/Noise

Now that you are familiar with the different types of sound and how they travel: let’s have a look at the different methods on how you can minimize the impacts of noise.

  • Seal all the holes and cracks– the small cracks and gaps on your windows, doors, walls, ceiling, and floor can significantly make a bit different when it comes to the amount of noise that leaks in your house.
  • Use floor underlayment, carpet, or soundproofing layers- these are great in preventing impact noise. They also can minimize sounds frequency levels depending on the material used.
  • Be mindful of your neighbors- be a good neighbor and care about other people’s neighbors, especially during the late hours of the day, and expect your neighbors will do the same for you.

Final Thoughts on Does Sound Travel Up or Down

The answer to the question does sound travel up or down is- YES.  Sound travels in all directions from its source.

Various factors affect how sound travels. And for this reason, the two types of sound will require different approaches when soundproofing.

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