Mass Loaded Vinyl vs. Acoustic Foam: Sound Insulation Pros & Cons

Mass loaded vinyl and acoustic foam are the most often used materials for soundproofing projects. They’re quite affordable and can be used in simple DIY soundproofing projects. However, both materials have positive and negative attributes and they should be used in specific circumstances to obtain the best result.

MLV is the better than acoustic foam for blocking impact/vibration noise. Acoustic foam is not dense and heavy enough to cancel vibration noise. If used as a sound barrier, acoustic foam will only protect against lower airborne noise.

Here are 10 important things to keep in mind:

1. Effectiveness against airborne and impact noise

Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) has been used as a sound barrier since the 1960s. It was first used by NASA and later got sold on the wider market for more “earthly” soundproofing projects. Because it’s such a dense and strong material, MLV works great for blocking both airborne and impact noise.

Airborne sounds are those transmitted through air, while impact are the ones that are caused by vibrations to a surface. For example, airborne sound is the sound of talking or a loud TV set. The impact noise can be caused by a drill or a vibrating appliance (for example a washer).

This is the main point of separation between MLV and acoustic foam.

Another important point is that MLV is typically installed inside the wall (on the studs). This provides it with an opportunity to structurally improve the sound insulation of the wall. In comparison, acoustic foam is placed on the wall surface (externally), so it only acts as a superficial barrier, similarly to noise-reducing curtains hung on the window instead of installing soundproof glass.

When it comes to soundproofing vehicles, mass loaded vinyl is the clear winner. Road noise and engine noise is effectively high impact noise, and acoustic foam stands no chance against it. This is why all of those sound deadening mats such as Dynamat and Noico contain similar ingredients to MLV. They are however more convenient then pure MLV because they’re self-adhesive and easier to install.

2. Convenience

The main upside of acoustic foam is that it’s easy to install. It doesn’t require tearing up the wall to reach the studs like MLV or mineral wool batts. require.

Acoustic foam panels are cheap and easy to hang on walls, door and any other surface. Depending on their thickness and overall quality they can be somewhat effective against regular airborne noises. For example, if the neighbors are a bit too loud or you want to play the guitar without causing too much noise.

Acoustic foam is especially good for improving the acoustics (sound quality) in the room so it’s often used in recording studios. However, if you want to use acoustic foam panels for soundproofing projects, I suggest going with thicker ones, and possibly those that contain fiberglass. Fiberglass panels are very similar to foam panels but they’re more effective at blocking noise.

On the other hand, MLV is a large black mat that requires at least two people to handle when placing on a wall. Of course, you can cut it into small pieces. But if you’re using it to cover a large wall, it wouldn’t be the best idea since it would lose some of its impact noise-blocking quality.

3. Appearance

MLV is basically a large, heavy and completely black mat. It’s not exactly something you’d put on the wall as a decoration. This is the main reason why it’s not commonly placed on the wall surface but rather on the studs. Along with the fact that it works much better against impact noise when installed on the studs due to the structural improvement it provides.

However, there’s no rule against installing MLV directly on a wall or a door’s surface. You can cover it with some furniture or paint it in a different color and get creative with it, turning a caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly.

In comparison, acoustic panels usually have a nice design because they are meant for visible surfaces. They can be fit into basically any environment, since there are so many colors and patterns to choose from.

4. Price

The price of mass loaded vinyl is basically the same wherever you look. While there are many companies that sell it, the price of the product is stable and generally varies only depending on the size and thickness. Acoustic panels are much different because there are so many variations in size, thickness, appearance and extra materials involved.

Both products are relatively affordable. But then again, this is highly relative, depending completely on the size of the sound barrier you want to create and how much material you’ll need to do so.

While the price of MLV is pretty much the same across various companies, there are many options to choose from for acoustic foam which can lower or increase the price of your project. But I suggest that you don’t count pennies when soundproofing anything.

Where to buy high quality MLV and acoustic foam?

I usually buy both products from Amazon because they have a very large selection and fast delivery system. There are also many previous customer reviews and detailed product descriptions making it easy to find a good product. And of course, there’s always the option of returning it if it doesn’t turn out to be as expected (which happened three times out of many orders I’ve made).

The most highly rated MLV is from Trademark Soundproofing (link to Amazon). When it comes acoustic panels there’s a much greater variety and I personally haven’t tried all of them (no one has for that matter).

Like I mentioned before, acoustic foam is great for improving acoustics by reducing sound reverberation. But it’s not all that effective for soundproofing purposes even though it’s advertised in that way.

A much better option are fiberglass panels although they are more expensive. But at least you will get great results. The TroyStudio acoustic panels are very good for both purposes so I recommend checking them out. So are the very dense Bubos Acoustic Panels. which also have over 30 colors and patterns to choose from.

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