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Soundproofing a Cubicle? 108

Anon! A Mouse Cowered! asks: "I work in a 10 x 10 ft. cubicle that's about as low-end as it can be (my back wall is made of my filing cabinets). I have a cheap set of speakers on my desktop for internet radio, but if I play anything other than light jazz or classical at anything above a squeak, it's annoying to my coworkers. Are there any other Dilberts (or Wallys, even), who can offer ideas on making a workspace more livable so that I can enjoy my Primus albums at an audible volume while working?"
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Soundproofing a Cubicle?

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  • Headphones (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jgaynor ( 205453 ) <jon.gaynor@org> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:53PM (#9305537) Homepage
    I know of an amazing new technology named (tentatively of course) 'headphones'. They may be the answer to your prayers - be an early adopter!
  • But on the serious side, you should consider a good set of comfortable noise-cancelling headphones to avoid annoying everyone.

    This might be tough if your company doesn't have IM or you need to use the phone though.

    Otherwise, I got to agree with your co-workers. People with music in the office drive me nuts. The current offender in my area whose tastes alternate between old-school gangster rap and country. Needsless to say, its rather annoying.
    • Or you could just do what I do: don't put them directly on your ears. This will let you hear stuff out in the room (like phone ringing, boss walking in, etc). You can always take them off in a hurry if you need to answer the phone.

      Or for a more geeky solution: hook up a mic and enable it as an input source. That way anything the mic picks up will be mixed in with the music. Adjust the volumes to suit and you're good to go.
      • Even better, get the headphones that are "acoustically transparent" - meaning that not only you hear what's playing, but also the sounds in the room. The sound from the headphones doesn't get out, though.

        I've been using AKG Acoustics K-240 Monitor [] for many years - superb sound quality, durable, comfortable.

        There's also K-240 Studio and K-240 DF, but I haven't had a chance to try those out.

      • Back when I was in a cubichell I regularly put on headphones without playing any sound so that I could work. I immediately had an excuse to not answer the "Hey, dude, how do I tell someone to do X?" (I was an admin but the support reps were in the same cube farm). To get an answer they had to walk to my Cube (which was strategically placed as far away from the door and farthest away from the other cubes except the guy next to me who was a friend and a web designer who didn't need to bug me with dumb questio
    • Noise-cancelling headphones while listening to Primus? Doesn't that sort of defeat the purpose?
  • Hmmmmm (Score:1, Redundant)

    by hords ( 619030 )
    Headphones? That's what I have on my desk.
  • Earplugs (Score:5, Funny)

    by madaxe42 ( 690151 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:58PM (#9305619) Homepage
    Get yourself a pair of monumental speakers, turn them up to full volume, and liberally distribute earplugs among your co-workers.
  • by DaveJay ( 133437 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @01:59PM (#9305634)
    I don't think you should give in to the tyranny of your coworkers. Buy THEM all noise-cancelling headphones, and listen to your music at any volume you like.
    • When I wear my Bose noise canceling headphones, I find it makes it easier to hear conversations and music from neighbor's cubicles, since they signifigantly lower the ambient noise but only mildly reduce more dynamic sounds like talking or music. Seems like the opposite of what he should do.
      • No, that's exactly what the headphones should do. It's just that you and the headphones have different ideas of what constitutes signal and what constitutes noise.

        Sounds like you're not looking for headphones. Sounds like you're looking for earplugs.
        • Read what I said again. I'm saying that what the headphones are supposed to do is the opposite of what the parent to my comment was intending from them to do. Note that the subject of that sentence in my comment is 'he', refering to the person asking the question, and not 'they,' which is what I would have written were I saying the headphones worked improperly. Luckily for you this isn't an SAT question.

          The headphones work as intended, not as the misguided advice-giver thinks they do.
          • Luckily for you this isn't an SAT question.

            I would suggest that YOU are lucky it wasn't an SAT question. You need to re-read what you said and note how anybody would believe you made a type-o. Either you dropped the wrong word ('they' for 'he') or you confused the antecedent. The subject of your prior sentence was NOT your neighbors, but the headphones. As it was in each prior sentence to be exact. The use of a pronoun ('he' in your case) was inappropriate to denote your neighbors. The correct use of

            • What you say only makes sense if you take my comment out of the context of the thread, which is something that happens around here all too often. Given the fact that so many people don't stay on topic, I guess I can see why you thought it might be reasonable to think that I stopped talking about the question that was asked, and started talking about problems I have with my headphones, but it's just plain silly to assume I meant to type a word that I didn't type, when the word I used makes perfect sense in c
              • ... if you take my comment out of the context of the thread

                It's not about context. It's about grammatical form and your snide remarks regarding confusion you yourself caused.

                It is bad grammatical form to use a pronoun without a clear antecedent. The closest thing to an antecedent you had was in reference to the 'headphones'. It would be quite easy to assume your error was one of saying "he" instead of "they" or "it" rather than a more uncommon grammatical error.

                Normally I would ignore this, but your

  • What you really need is to get is a wireless headset that looks like a phone headset. Then you're co-workers would think that you are busy on the phone all the time.
    • Would they really think you're doing something productive while "singing" along to a Primus album? They'd probably think you were going insane bobbing your head beating on everything in site with your pen(cil)s pretending to be the drummer.
  • Quality Headphones. (Score:4, Informative)

    by nuxx ( 10153 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:00PM (#9305656) Homepage
    Get a pair of rather nice, open-back, full ear headphones. The set I use with my iPod are Sennheiser HD 590's [] (purchased at The Great Indoors for ~$30, down from ~$70). They sound absolutely amazing, but because they aren't sealed you can still hear the phone, people talking directly to you, etc.

    Earbuds are nice and cheap, but they block out too much sound. You need to ensure that the headphones are really comfortable and have a nice long cord, though, since you'll probably want to move around your desk a bit and be wearing them for hours on end. Also, if you are running the sound out of your desktop or notebook and it's kinda crappy (bad S/N ratio, interferance, etc) look into a Griffin Technologies iMic []. As they are just a standard USB audio device, they work without drivers on Macs or PCs and sound excellent.

    I personally find it extremely rude when coworkers insist on playing music out loud (headphones solve this) or having conference calls on speakerphone (that's what headsets are for). Hopefully if more people start using a more personal listening device, the workplace will be calmer for everyone.
    • by mr3038 ( 121693 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @03:19PM (#9306742)
      Get a pair of rather nice, open-back, full ear headphones. [...] because they aren't sealed you can still hear the phone, people talking directly to you, etc. [...] You need to ensure that the headphones are really comfortable [...] since you'll [...] be wearing them for hours on end.

      If you want comfortable, you can't go wrong with Sony MDR-F1 []. Sure, some open headphones sound better [] but MDR-F1 is probably the most comfortable pair of cans available anywhere. Forget Sennheiser's if you wear glasses. Be warned though, that MDF-F1's are a quite demanding headphones - for the best quality you'll need a separate headphones amplifier, though one can get acceptable sound quality even from the sound card plug. The drive units are 50 mm diameter which is probably more than your average office desktop speakers have...

      • by nuxx ( 10153 )
        Just FYI, the particular pair of Sennheisers I have fit very comfortably with glasses on. It's possible that some other models of theirs don't, but these are just perfect.

        I probably would have gone with another brand, but I found these on clearance (for some reason) for something like $32. Extra dirt cheap for *great* headphones.

        I'd love a pair like those Sony's, though. Match them with a nice tube amp... Mmm...
    • This is the way to go. I have HD-495s and I love them. They're way better with an amp though. I got one that was built into a Stereo-Link 1200 [] and bypassed the super-crappy, extra-noisy, on-board soundcard in the stardard issue Dell desktop they have where I work at the same time. They sound pretty good plugged into the iPod too, though the bass isn't as impressive.

      Why soundproof a 10'x10' area when you only need to soundproof the 1' cube around your head?
  • by aneurysm36 ( 459092 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:01PM (#9305676)
    since the headphones solution is so obvious, maybe we should assume he has a job that requires a telephone headset.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:04PM (#9305708)
    That's it, I am now filtering 'Ask Slashdot' posts because they are way too stupid to warrant my attention...

    Who the heck is publishing these stupid submissions?

    Out of 25 'Ask Slashdot' posts there are maybe 1 or 2 that are worthy of being published.

    I mean come on! Sound proofing a Cubicle so someone can listen to Primus? Try head phones! Try working instead of listening to music at work. Try an iPod. Try tailoring your listening to something in the least common denominator of the general public. Primus is not easy listening material!

    Headphones are the cheapest solution next to inventing a 'Cone of Silence' or trying some form of noise cancelation (180 deg out of phase amplifier).

    Heck, keep playing Primus in your cubicle! Crank it up! Get fired so someone with a clue can take your job!
    • by Usquebaugh ( 230216 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:31PM (#9306073)
      It's worse than the crap posts being allowed, it's the good posts being rejected int he last year I have had 2 rejected. the first is an alternative to light guns for panel monitors, the second is fault tolernant clusters. Either of these two are geeky enough for /. of course they do require thought so prehaps that's why they were rejected.
    • I've come across many "Ask Slashdot" post that have some obvious answers such as this one. Maybe / code can have some story moderation.

      Here's some the choice:

      1 Did you try google?
      2 Uninformative
      3 Interesting
      4 Blame Microsoft
      5 Blame SCO
    • It seems that Cliff has been in charge of Ask Slashdot for a while. The questions he selects are rediculously horrible. This is nothing new. I think I'm going to add him to my list of filtered editors. Previously only JonKatz has had that honor. This is getting rediulous.

      Oh, and most times that someone complains about it, they are modded down to -1 Redundant.. I mean, wtf. Someone needs to fix this.

  • by Thinkit4 ( 745166 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:05PM (#9305728)
    Is this not /.? Do we not strive to be bionic? Cochlear implants let you pipe music directly into your brain by stimulating the cochlear nerve. When these things get perfected I'm gonna get one even if I have perfectly "normal" hearing.
  • The AKG 271 studio headphones are $180. They offer good frequency response, are lightweight, and are "ideal for all applications where no sound must leak from the headphones."

    Here are some for sale []

  • Would soundproof your cubicle- but the question is would the building manager approve?

    Otherwise- headphones is what EVERYBODY in my office uses. It's almost a requirement for working here it seems; it's rare to see somebody working without headphones. If you need to wear a telephone headset as well, well, why not just go the McGyver route- duct tape headphones to your headset?
    • Like the tent of doom []?
      • Yeah- kinda like that, but with heavy sailing canvas instead. I saw a solution like this at PDX [] on a tour when I was a kid in the 4th Grade. The central lobby between the gate wings in the days before huge security upgrades used to have these 4'x20' curtains hangling down-weighted at the bottom and placed rather randomly. A kid shouting at one end of the lobby couldn't be heard at the other end, the heavy canvas just completely absorbed the sound. For me, this was my first inkling that sound was truly m
  • honestly, I don't see a way to make an open cubicle soundproof without raising the "walls" and putting a door on it and/or putting roof up. Otherwise there will always be sound bleed.
  • The Answer... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Polo ( 30659 ) * on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:12PM (#9305814) Homepage
    Good headphones will give you exactly what you want and more...

    Get a good set and you'll be amazed by the sound and your neighbors will be happy.

    I recommend a high-end Sennheiser model, like the Sennheiser HD-580 []

    After using them for a while, you won't go back to "computer speakers"
    • Hell, I was always happy enough with whatever cheap $10 headphones were available at Shopko or wherever for my work headphones. It's not like I'm really *listening* to the music or anything while I work. I've found that even really low-end headphones will beat the pants off of your average computer speaker system most of the time, anyway.
      • True, but closed-back headphones are a necessity if you want to listen to music in even a moderately noisy environment and don't want to disturb those around you. Plus they're great for listening to music at home, much cheaper than speakers of the same quality.
    • I'll second the Senheiser recommendation. A few months ago, I went through about 6 pair of sony headphones, and found them to *all* be just crap. I finally decided to bite the bullet and buy a mid-level ($60) pair of senheisers, and I've been in love with them ever since. I'm able to wear them for hours on end w/ no uncomfort, and the sound quality is excellent.
    • you know of any good headphones in 10 $ price range thanks
  • Dude, wtf? I work in a similar environment only we do advertising work, so having music going on at any volume is not really possible when trying to work on a TV spot. Ironically enough however, my co-workers and I have amazingly gotten around this problem by investing in the technology thus referred to as headphones or the even more cutting edge, ear buds. Seriously, just go invest in a decent pair with a respectable cord-length and you can listen to your music at whatever volume you prefer, and no need to
  • Water = quiet (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:22PM (#9305956)
    Since water does a fairly decent job of muffling sound, the answer is obvious: build yourself a cubiquarium. A few sheets of plexiglass, a snorkel and a standard garden hose should get you started.
    • Re:Water = quiet (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TVC15 ( 518429 )
      >Since water does a fairly decent job of muffling sound, the answer is obvious: build yourself a cubiquarium. A few sheets of plexiglass, a snorkel and a standard garden hose should get you started.

      i LOVE that this was moderated "Informative". thats even funnier than the original post!
  • Use your brain... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rit ( 64731 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:37PM (#9306141) Homepage
    and buy a pair of fucking headphones, dumbass
  • by dotgod ( 567913 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @02:37PM (#9306148)
    I was told that I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven, I told bill that if Sandra is going to listen to her headphones while she's filing then I should be able to listen to the radio while I'm collating so I don't see why I should have to turn down the radio because I enjoy listening at a reasonable volume from nine to eleven.
  • What good is the on-duty editor if an article can't get shut down during the subscriber only time period?

    I'm sure more than just I emailed "OMG!!!! HEADPHONES!!!!"....

    Ask Slashmoron.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    There is an alternative option!

    This won't let you turn your music up much louder, but trust me, it will help. Try also playing some white noise, or apply a low pass filter to the white noise at around 1000-1500Hz, and aiming that sound outward at your fellow employees. This sounds like an air conditioner, and therefore your co-workers will hear less of your music, and you can turn it up louder.

  • by Eneff ( 96967 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:05PM (#9307410)
    I knew better than to read Ask /. hoping for an answer.

    Headphones, at least for me, cause discomfort and pain after 45 minutes or so with music at a reasonable volume. (Reasonable volume being where I can still hear a coworker's typing.)

    Noise-cancelling headphones are even worse. I've never found a pair that I could stand having on more than five minutes. I'd imagine I'm not the only one.

    Now gimme that damn red stapler back.
    • Shop around for a better set of headphones. Two factors that can affect comfort are fit and sound quality. Sound quality is often overlooked. Higher end headphones should fit better, and have a better sound. A headphone amplifier may be required.

      Understand that some people cannot stand any level of music even if you are able to deaden the sound. It is not because they hate you or your music. It is because they find music of any kind very distracting.
    • You need some decent headphones, then. I've got a pair of Sennheiser HD280 (closed back) that I've been wearing since I got in to work today (~6 hours), and they're still comfortable.

      If the band irritates you and you can get by without hearing too much of your coworkers (phone flashes, there's a door, etc), good earbuds are a solution. Not the little foam things that come with every portable music device, but some in-ear-canal ones. Nice ones will have plugs made out of the same foam that earplugs are m
  • by sbryant ( 93075 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @04:52PM (#9308078) loudly as possibly. Every day. For several months.

    It's what Wally would do.

    After that, people will be relieved when you stop to listen to your music.

  • From Office Space:
    "I was told I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume...I believe you stole my stapler..." -Milton
  • by stienman ( 51024 ) < minus physicist> on Tuesday June 01, 2004 @05:13PM (#9308381) Homepage Journal
    Since the obvious ( headphones!!! ), for whatever reason, is not applicable, there are a few ways sound travels from one cubicle to another and a few good ways to make it not travel so well.

    Your cubicle is a big speaker cabinet that's pointed at the ceiling. Anyone within a few cubicles will get the reflections from the ceiling.
    * Place sound deadening ceiling tiles above your cubicle (and out 8-10 feet). Cover them with loosely attached cloth (so it drapes several inches below ceiling height). This will reduce the largest portion of sound reflection.

    Cubicle surfaces are attached to neighbor cubicles. Sounds from within the cubicle can be transmitted directly to the cubicle and reproduced at other points as the sound travels through the system.
    * Place the speakers on sound deadening material and then on top of a rubber pad. Surface your entire cubicle with sound deadening material. Place loosely attached cloth around the cubicle (the heavier weight the cloth, the better)

    Sound, by its very nature, travels through the air very well. All the previous measures only prevent reflections and transmissions through and from solid surfaces. Now you need to prevent the sound from traveling through the air to your neighbors.
    * Extend your cubicle walls to the ceiling, or at least place several layers of cloth, preferebaly with sound deadening materil inbetween, from the top of your cubicle to the ceiling. Install a door of some kind. Put cones around your speakers to direct the sound energy towards you - you shouldn't be sending sound pollution to places you aren't at, so place the cones to prevent the sound from going all over the cubicle.

    Of course, some sound is still getting through, and, let's face it, Primus isn't intended to be played at low volumes. I recommend installing a concrete block on top of a rubber pad/shock system inside your cubicle. On top of that pad you'll need double walls with sound insulation between them, and, of course, a similar door and ceiling.

    But you'll probably have a better time (easier, cheaper, faster) buying wireless headphones or convincing your employer to allow you to telecommute.

    For my part, I just find this hilarious when the worst part of your job is you can't listen to Primus at your preferred volume.

    You must really be suffering, but remember that you need to choose your battles wisely. You may win this one, but the next one might be more important, and you might not have any more room to move.

  • I have a cheap set of speakers on my desktop ... it's annoying to my coworkers

    Maybe you should draw those Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati) [] lines around your cube and tell your coworkers not to hear anything outside the lines.
  • I used to work for an industrial door manufacturer and we on occasion built soundproof doors...
    You say your work space is 10' x 10'
    Start with a wooden frame 2"X6" and 10' square. Cover one side in 10 guage steel plate, sandwich sound proof insulation into it and lay on a layer of lead sheet. Over the lead sheet place 5/8" drywall and seal the units final side with 10 guage steel plate. Repete 4 more times, 5 if you want a floor. Make sure you put a door into one of the walls. Assemble the units into
  • by Plantronics can easily be 'hacked' into to feed another sound source.

    I used to work at a place and dealt with the same thing, headphones sucked when you needed to answer the phone or when someone talked to you.

    So I took the plantronics headset and base for my phone home with me (prepare to buy a new one if you screw it up) and drilled out a hole big enough for a standard stereo minijack and soldered it inline with the mono headphone output on the phone headset.
    Then I got a standard male to male stere

  • Seriously -- those retro 80s looking fold up blue and black monstrosities.

    They rock.

    Pretty much everyone here has em -- and loves em. Went through a big peer pressure "try them, you'll love them" about a year ago -- now we look like the control room at NASA.

    Oh, and gotta love the $6 shipping+handling to make good on the lifetime warranty - you'll be thankful of that after a mis-timed chair roll.
  • Headphones, but here's the thing:

    -nice headphones, so they're comfortable -get 'em with a boom mic so you can talk on the phone with 'em -get a two-way splitter so you can quickly switch between multiple inputs -if your phone doesn't have a 1/8" input, you can get a converter that goes from 1/8" to telephone cord (RJ-whatever) -have a monkey mirror (from Thinkgeek) on your monitor, so you can see when folks are behind you

    This'll also make you more productive, as "idiot questions" and "gossip" will go
    • Almost forgot - you can get wireless ones, or if you find a wired pair you like, a wireless "extension cord" that clips to your belt, with a base station on your desk.

      I noticed you complained that they're uncomfortable. Be prepared to spend some money ($150 at most) on some really nice ones (maybe try 'em at the Bose store first?) or use earbuds, which are really comfortable. Earbuds also come out quick, too - just yank the cords where they come together, no need to do 'em one at a time.
  • I've have had cube neighbors who listened to music, and it didn't bother me. The volume was low enough that I didn't notice. I shared a cube with someone once, and hardly noticed that the radio was on.

    Real music sounds great at low volumes. Bach for instance. Or real jazz. (though the soft jazz some radio stations play doesn't sound good at any level) If you are listening to the music, you are cheating on your company. If it is noise you don't need much anyway.

  • Headphones should be the obvious answer, but since it has been repeated so much, I'll post another. My old physics teacher used to ramble about how you could cancel sound, by sending out the same sound waves, only half a wavelength delayed. Now, get yourself some huge speakers for your cubicle, and another set of speakers to point out to the rest of the office. Now, use your physics to ensure that the sound waves from the outer speakers are delayed by half a wavelength. Soundproof any other mediums the
  • Head. Phones.
    • They don't work when you've turned them up to '11' in order to drown out the ambient hub-bub. And then someone will have the nerve to complain about the noise coming from your headphones.

      Give up.

      • Worse, in a few years they'll start to complain about you missing words in conversations, and then they'll complain about your hearing aides sqealing.
      • They don't work when you've turned them up to '11' in order to drown out the ambient hub-bub. And then someone will have the nerve to complain about the noise coming from your headphones.

        I don't know if you were kidding or not, but this actually happened to me.

        I work in an area that has movable desks instead of cubes. Desks are setup in pod form, with no walls between pods.

        One day the pod behind me decided to have a six person meeting about 5 feet from my desk. I kept turning up my headphones until

        • Nope wasn't joking. This was the same workplace that put too many computers in a small conference room and called it a "classroom" but it was so hot they had to keep the doors open while they all talked loudly.

          Then there was the loud person who decided he had to use his speakerphone even though he was in a cubicle.
  • There is another possible alternative other than headphones. There are speakers that work kind of like a phased array radar. Instead of one big speaker emitting big sound, there are a whole bunch of little emitters, emitting little sound.

    A phased array radar can steer a beam across the sky without moving any mechanical parts by altering the phase of the signals sent out from the little emitters it is made up of. If the emitters are all in synch then they reinforce one another and emit a strong beam norma

    • okay. everyone who says "dont listen to music" or "not at work" or "people suck" ... well people DO suck but we must be nice at work or we get canned. right? right! soundproofing and headphones are a wee tad overboard right? Right? combine 2 technologies together.... Phased sound, and parabolic sound isolation dishes. some internet/gaming cafe's use a parabolic dish above the user to direct and isolate the sound around their workstation while gaming etc. stick a few small speakers on the top, outside fac
  • You have three choices:

    1. Kill your coworkers for being annoyed with your taste in music.
    2. Kill yourself for working in a cubicle.
    3. Give up, get headphones and live out your meaningless existence in the cubicle.

    Hope this helps,
  • Simulate a hardwall office with a door. Fill the cube walls with concrete powder then soak them with water (best done after hours when no one is around). Build a ceiling for the cube out of 4x8 sheets of 3/4" plywood (or the euro/metric equivalent). Cover this with 2-3 inches of concrete & wet it. You may need to reinforce with a support column to hold up the ceiling. Fit a sheet of plexiglass entryway with some gasket material and maybe a bungee cord or something similar to keep it tightly shut. You'll
  • All this talk of 'sound-proof panels' and 'wearing headphones' is extraneous. We should attack the root of the problem, being that sound travels through air. Remove the air and you remove the problem.
  • Try Directed Sound [] Tue May 04

People who go to conferences are the ones who shouldn't.