How to Block Loud Footstep Noise from an Upstairs Apartment?

how to block loud footstep noise

Years ago, I had my first experience with prolonged insomnia when new neighbors moved into the upstairs apartment and started living at around midnight every single night.

I would go to bed at perhaps 11 pm and soon thereafter the couple upstairs would come home and start walking back and forth—on top of my bedroom.

When I went to bed earlier, stomping would wake me up several times until I couldn’t fall back asleep.

It didn’t really matter when I tried to retire for the night. A few bouts of heavy walking were virtually guaranteed.

In the end, I would lie in my bed wide awake, unable to get any sleep until the early morning.

Yes, I talked to them—several times, but this didn’t solve the problem. It only soured the relationship over time.

I have since moved apartments/houses and cities multiple times for professional and private reasons.

Some neighbors are cooperative and some are light walkers so you hear nothing while their successors may walk on their heels, creating vibrations and resonances in the building.

Many people try their best, but sometimes the structure amplifies everything they do…

Through the years I have found that footfall noise coming from above is among the most difficult noise problems to mitigate.

I can tell you this though: after my first prolonged encounter with insomnia, I became passionate about tackling this problem.

footfalls-upstairs-neighbors-insomnia

In theory, the three best solutions are:

  • Moving to your own detached house.
  • Living on the top floor and being considerate yourself.
  • Moving into a state-of-the-art soundproofed building with decoupled floors.

But, for various reasons, these solutions weren’t always available to me, and they may not be an option for you.

So in this post, I am going a different route: one that aims to counter footfalls using some peculiarities in human hearing and sound.

The footstep noise challenge

What can you do against footstep noise when you can’t move, have little influence over your neighbors, and can’t make any structural soundproofing modifications?

Is there even a solution?

More recently, I have been living in yet another city apartment:

My ceiling (=upstairs neighbor’s floor) is made of concrete.

The upstairs neighbor, a small lady, has tiles on her floor and she mostly walks barefoot. From the sound her walking makes, I suspect she walks on her heels.

She isn’t stomping or jumping or anything, and she mostly goes to bed at a normal time, so I definitely don’t want to bother her.

Still, her walking is on the heavy side. (I rarely heard her predecessor.)

Note: You often can’t tell from the size of a person whether they are a going to be a heavy walker.

“OK,” I thought, “Don’t get upset. This is an opportunity to try again and find an effective solution that might help me and you in the future.”

Let’s listen to some of these footsteps and look at the frequencies

(Use headphones to appreciate how this sounds.)

 

These footstep impact sounds (from someone walking barefoot on a tiled concrete floor) are mostly low-frequency sounds.

In the case of my upstairs neighbor, I measured the dominant frequencies as in the range from around 40 to 150 Hz, with pronounced peaks at about 50, 65 and 130 Hz.

Here is frequency analysis for two of the footstep sounds you have just heard:

Frequencies for two footsteps

How well do foam earplugs work against these walking noises from above?

When it comes to nighttime noise, my first line of defense is wearing good foam earplugs. Through trial and error I have found a selection of earplugs that I find comfortable and effective.

In my experience, wax and silicone putty earplugs don’t stand a chance against this kind of noise.

Deep earplug insertion is crucial if you want to get relief.

To be effective against the low-frequency sounds you have just heard, it is paramount that you insert your earplugs quite deeply. The deeper you can get them in while still being comfortable, the better they are going to reduce footstep noise.

Just do the best you can.

But don’t discount comfort in the search for perfection: the best noise-blocking earplugs are useless if you can’t tolerate them for the whole night and your ears start hurting.

Low-frequency impact sounds are challenging, even for good earplugs.

What I have noticed time and again though is that even with optimally inserted earplugs the impact sounds from someone walking heavily can often still be heard.

Because earplugs make everything quieter, footfalls can stand out.

Yes, they are also quieter but they are still there, appearing suddenly when you are about to drift away.

In fact, against a quiet backdrop (or when wearing earplugs), most intermittent noises can be startling even if they are not very loud.

Adding “dark-brown” noise as a secret sauce?

To help with most types of intermittent noise, you can play a white noise machine to boost earplug performance and solve the problem of “too quiet.”

Note: When referring to white noise in this post, I am talking about a whole family of broadband noises, not just “true” white noise (which has the same intensity at all frequencies and is too high-pitched for many purposes).

Some white noise machines allow you to choose between different broadband noises. These noises are usually named after colors (white noise, pink noise, brown noise, etc.): the darker the color, the lower-pitched the noise.

Here is one variation of what I call dark-brown noise (own creation, best appreciated with headphones):

 

In general, I like the noise colors that sound like a very regular waterfall.

I often use “waterfall-like” noise to increase the overall room noise level so that intermittent noises, such as barking and creaking disappear.

Playing broadband noise to make other sounds disappear is called noise masking (see also auditory masking).

But, an unwanted sound can only be masked effectively by noise that encompasses the frequency range of the sound you want to mask (or is at least very close to that frequency range).

What’s more, the masking noise has to have enough power in the to-be-masked sound’s frequency range.

The frequencies are the challenge with footfalls:

Even if you play white noise twice as loud as the footfalls, if the white noise frequency range doesn’t get close to the dominant frequencies present in the footfalls, you will keep hearing them.

The white noise and the footfalls just appear like different instruments in an orchestra.

Unfortunately, most white noise machines don’t generate enough sound power in the frequency range from 40 to 150 Hz to effectively mask louder footsteps.

Their speaker is simply too small.

And, the generated noise is not optimized for this frequency range either because that would overwhelm the small speaker.

It is one thing to mask a barking dog with peaks at 400 to 500 Hz and another thing to mask 40-150 Hz impact sounds.

“But,” I thought to myself:

“In principle I should be able to mask the footfalls I am hearing in my apartment if I can produce loud enough noise in the range from 40 to 200 Hz.”

Unfortunately, most small speakers can’t do that.

I needed a large speaker.

PA speaker as a white noise speaker

A while ago, I had acquired a portable PA-speaker for a completely different purpose. Usually these portable PA systems are used as Karaoke speakers for aspiring singers and at county fairs for sales presentations.

Anyway, this speaker can produce sound levels that dwarf any white noise machine, and I figured it should be able to produce enough power at (or close enough to) the frequencies I needed.

(If you have good Hi-Fi speakers or a subwoofer system, they should do the trick as well.)

So I hauled the PA-speaker into my bedroom, put it on a chair, and connected it to a white noise machine with a headphone jack (the Lectrofan EVO).

Connecting a white noise machine to the PA speaker

I chose lower-pitched “dark-brown” noise (i.e., one of noises #2 – #4 on the EVO) and played it at around 60 dBA (=A-weighted decibels, measured with a sound level meter close to my pillow).

So, does the PA speaker work against the impact sound of footfalls?

Well, ever since I started using this PA speaker in my bedroom as white noise speaker, I stopped noticing footfalls.

At times, I have it off and hear footsteps. On it goes…

It does indeed mask the walking sounds from the lady upstairs.

And if 60 dB wasn’t enough, I could increase the volume.

Obviously, there is a limit to how loud I should be playing this machine to mask walking noises, but so far it is working well.

Wearing foam earplugs (!), I feel OK going to perhaps 65-68 dBA.

(Even 100 dBA+ would be no problem for this speaker, but it would damage my/your hearing.)

There are a couple of caveats.

  • First, dark-brown noise played at 60 dB is already a bit loud for my taste. I don’t want to listen to sound at this level for the whole night and I want to protect my hearing.

But that’s not difficult to solve: As mentioned, I wear foam earplugs to reduce the noise to a comfortable level.

  • Second, lower-frequency noise can create rumbling in the bedroom. Earplugs help with this too. But there is more…

Emphasizing the lower frequencies critical for masking and rolling off higher frequencies is important for keeping the overall loudness at an acceptable level.

The trick is to fine-tune the bass frequencies so that you get just enough of them to mask the footfalls, but not increase them to a level where rumbling and booming would keep you awake.

Played through the PA speaker, the lowest-pitched noise (#1) on my white noise machine causes too much rumbling, but noises #2 to #4 work.

And, all of them have the higher frequencies rolled off rather steep, which is good for what I wanted to achieve.

Higher frequencies (in my case from 300 Hz) contribute very little to masking footfalls.

This has to do with how our hearing works. Different areas in the inner ear (cochlea) are sensitive to different frequency ranges.

The masking noise needs to stimulate the same band(s) in which the footfall sounds lie.

If, for example, you are using higher-pitched pink noise, its higher frequency parts don’t help with masking footfalls, yet increase the overall loudness.

To get the sound level in the footfall frequency range high enough while keeping the overall loudness at an acceptable level, I recommend you try dark-brown noise (for more on settings below).

The exact noise shape will vary with the frequency response of the speaker you use and what other outside noises you need to mask.

Why did I set it up this way and do you need the same equipment?

I already had the PA speaker and the white noise machine, so I just repurposed them.

OK, now you may be wondering, “Do I have to get that equipment?”

Well, not necessarily, unless you enjoy singing as well.

While these Karaoke PA speakers aren’t very expensive, you may not need one.

Your home audio system may actually provide a better response in the critical frequency range.

Here is what you can do to test whether this works for blocking footfalls in your bedroom

If you have an audio system with decent speakers (perhaps even with a subwoofer) that you can set up in your bedroom, use this.

Orient the speakers so that they face away from you and slightly upwards (i.e., they project sound towards the ceiling).

(I put my speaker on a chair close to the foot-end of my bed and tilt it slightly.)

Run the myNoise white noise app (free) on your phone/iPad and connect the phone to your audio system (e.g., using your headphone jack or Bluetooth. Lightning port adapters for iPhones are also available.)

headphone-jack-phone-audio-system-cable

Alternatively, you can also connect a computer to your audio system and use the myNoise website.

myNoise (generator White Noise & Co) has a built-in equalizer, allowing you to fine-tune the white noise to your needs and your speakers.

This is exactly what we need to create “dark-brown” noise.

This is how I set the equalizer in myNoise to use it with my PA speaker:

equalizer-settings-dark-brown-noise

Tweak these settings as needed for your speakers and comfort.

So how loud do you play this noise?

You could put in your earplugs and increase the volume so that you can hear the noise permeating the room, yet you remain comfortable.

In the beginning however, I recommend you use a sound level meter app, such as the NIOSH app, for your phone (or a dedicated sound level meter) to get a feel for the sound level and how that relates to perceived loudness:

Adjust the volume with with a sound level meter app

Increase the volume to set the sound level to about 60 dBA (=A-weighted) to begin with, measured from where your pillow is.

Put in your earplugs and see how you feel.

Adjust the volume depending on how loud you need the noise to mask the footfalls in your apartment.

If necessary, I would perhaps go up to 65-70 dBA (with earplugs).

If you can get away with less than 60 dB, that would be even better.

Note: 70 dB is about twice as loud as 60 dB (not 20% louder).

This setup should also work without earplugs, but I would not listen to constant noise that loud throughout the night.

Important: Please don’t expose a child to these sound levels!

Will this work for you?

I don’t know your house/ceiling type and whether you have an elephant upstairs, so I can’t give you a definitive answer.

Also, I can’t test all possible configurations and walking styles.

But, based on my experience, I would give it a try.

Do active noise cancelling headphones work against footfall noise?

Noise cancelling headphones against footfalls

I am mostly a side sleeper, so wearing over-the-ear noise cancelling headphones at night is less than ideal.

I can make it work, but I still prefer putting in foam earplugs and playing an external white noise generator. This allows me to twist and turn all I want.

But I wanted to know whether active noise cancelling headphones (ANC headphones) can actually cancel the impact noise from the lady walking in the upstairs apartment.

Many people think of ANC headphones as being good primarily with constant lower-frequency noise such as engine noise from vehicles and cabin noise in airplanes.

But the algorithms in the best noise cancelling headphones are so good that they can significantly reduce intermittent low-frequency noises as well.

In principle, they should work against noise in “my” footfall frequency range (40-150 Hz).

So I tried three of the best noise cancelling headphones, the over-ear Sony WH1000XM3, the over-ear Bose QC35, and the in-ear Bose QC20.

Indeed, both over-ear models worked:

Subjectively, the WH1000XM3 cancelled about 90% and the QC35 about 85% of the walking noises. The Sony headphones performed a little better, but both worked surprisingly well.

Playing dark-brown noise (similar to the equalizer settings above) though the headphones at a moderate volume, I was able to mask the rest of the footfalls reaching my ear.

So if you are a back sleeper, these two ANC headphones could be an alternative.

The in-ear QC20 reduced the footfalls by about 75%; they provided some relief, but both over-ear models were clearly better. Playing louder brown noise through the QC20, they can be an OK option if you don’t like earplugs at all.

Depending on your house and upstairs neighbor, your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

Somewhat surprisingly, noise masking with a big speaker and shaped brown noise (=dark-brown noise) does work against the walking sounds my upstairs neighbor makes.

Furthermore, at the required volume, people in other apartments seem not to find the noise coming from the PA speaker disturbing.

I have found this little project well worth the tinkering and the effort.

It is great not to be at the mercy of my upstairs neighbors. With the flick of a switch I can get relief.

If not, I can always play AC/DC…

36 thoughts on “How to Block Loud Footstep Noise from an Upstairs Apartment?”

  1. We have had this problem several times during holidays and are now VERY careful in choosing our apartments. It’s horrible.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for your feedback, Grace.
    If it is an older building, I think the safest bet is the top floor.
    The upstairs apartment may be quiet for a few months, and then a heavy walker or someone with a completely different lifestyle moves in.

    Reply
  3. Thank you for your super-usable advice, which is very concrete and should reach as many people (who experience this problem) as possible. Only people who have had that kind of bad experience can appreciate the wisdom in this text.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thank you very much for your kind words, Joze.
      I was somewhat surprised, actually, how much can be done about footfalls.
      Please share it with whoever may benefit and let me know if you find ways to improve on the solution.
      I hope you get a good night’s sleep.
      Have a great day.

      Reply
  4. Omg thank you. You are a life saver. I just moved into the perfect apartment but didn’t realize how loud upstairs neighbors can be! (previously I was on the top floor and didn’t realize how good I had it). I didn’t know about auditory masking before. This information completely changes the game… Thank you soooo much.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your kind words Lily.

      Indeed, noise masking has been one of my most effective sleep savers as well.
      I hope everything works out with your upstairs neighbors and that you can be at ease in your new apartment.

      Reply
  5. This is a valuable, informative piece. My landlords started airbnbing the apartment above last year. Having previously had issues I told them it was not ideal and that there would be problems with people coming and going and not truly understanding the noise they create below. As predicted, it’s been an awful year.
    I have looked at a few models that have advertised as having a spectrum of frequencies. Do you have any experience or suggestions for a brown-noise machine that’s good for footfall frequencies? Thanks again for this great article.

    Reply
    • Hello Jeff,

      Yes, I can imagine that being a big headache. How can you establish any kind of rapport with upstairs neighbors when they change every couple of days?

      As to the white noise machine:
      I am afraid a standard white noise machine won’t be enough to mask the low-frequency type of footfalls described in my post.
      I used the Lectrofan EVO, but I didn’t use its internal speaker. (Well, I tried initially but that didn’t work.) I plugged it into a much larger speaker.

      The EVO has a good selection of brown noises that can be accessed via the headphone jack.
      Its internal speaker, as well as the speaker of all white noise machines I have come across so far, doesn’t go low enough (at least not with enough sound pressure).

      This is not a criticism of white noise machines. They can do a lot but they have to be portable and that limits the speaker size.

      If the footfalls in your apartment sound anything like mine, you want to deploy a much larger speaker, e.g., your home audio system or a subwoofer.

      As described in my post, you can then also use an app like myNoise to produce these deep brown noises.

      All the best.

      Reply
  6. Thank you so much for this article. I´m having the same exact problem and didn´t know what to do. Do you think Sony 1000XM2 would work as well? I can find it a little cheaper than 1000XM3.

    Also, do you know any ear plugs that attenuate low frequencies?

    Reply
    • Hello Ed,

      the Sony 1000X-M2 headphones’s noise cancelling is very good; it is a bit weaker than the M3’s but not much. So I think they could be quite effective. Unfortunately, I currently don’t have the M2, otherwise I would have done a test.

      When they came out, I tried them, and I remember the headband stood out a lot more. The M3 headband conforms better to the head.
      Also, they weren’t quite as comfortable. Compared to the Bose QC35, the difference in wearing comfort was a lot larger than with the M3.
      For that reason, I would go with the M3 if the price difference isn’t too large.

      As to the earplugs, I find Flents Quiet Time quite effective. Please note, you need to insert foam earplugs quite deep for good low frequency performance.
      Perhaps try deep brown noise together with earplugs first if you already have a good audio system.

      All the best and let me know how it goes.

      Reply
    • Hi Pa,
      The Sony WH-1000XM3 work well against a 50 Hz hum. I just tried them against a 50 Hz hum at 70dB and they rendered it virtually unnoticeable.
      All the best.

      Reply
  7. Hello Helmut,

    First I would like to appreciate you for writing this wonderful post. Whoever has ever experienced this footsteps problems will understand the importance of this post.

    I have two elephants living upstairs with their unruly child. It’s a nightmare; always moving furniture; the child throws toys on the floor and runs around; stomping; thumping, etc. Because of the corona thing, I have to work from home as offices are closed. Right now I am using the 3M work tunes, which are Bluetooth headphones. They have passive noise isolation with a NRR of 24. They block out the noise of talking, the hum of refrigerator, and the washing machine noise completely. However, they are no good at cancelling this footsteps noise, which can be a real pain. I am going to try the Sony WH-1000XM3. Hope the ANC solves my problem during work.

    As for sleeping, I use the HEAROS Xtreme Protection ear plugs that have a rating of NRR 33. Once they go in deep, even if the elephants above my head are dancing, I can’t hear a thing. At least I get a good night’s sleep.

    Will keep everyone updated.

    Y

    Reply
    • Hello Y,

      thank you for the detailed feedback.

      I have both the Worktunes Bluetooth earmuffs and the Hearos foam earplugs you are mentioning.

      In my experience, for low frequencies up to about 400 Hz, the Sony ANC headphones are a lot more effective than both the earmuffs and the earplugs.
      It would be Sony > Hearos > Worktunes.

      So if your footsteps sound similar to the sound sample in my post (i.e., ” umpf, umpf,” = the low frequency type), I expect you’ll get a lot more relief with the Sony.

      As to moving furniture, if this means screeching noises caused by pulling chairs over a tiled floor or similar, you would get more mid- and even high-frequency noise. For this, your Worktunes earmuffs should be just as good or even better.

      Apart from their ANC, the Sony headphones are also very decent at passively reducing noise (they are among the best over-ear headphones for this) but not as good as good earmuffs.

      All the best.

      Reply
    • Greetings,
      I, too, have the herd of elephants living above me. I invested all my hard earned earnings to purchase this condo. I thought it was the home of my dreams, until it wasn’t, until I heard my neigbours above me, constantly, stomping and banging on the hardwood floors.
      I forgot what it is like to experience peace! I approached them, thinking that perhaps they weren’t aware they were causing such a racket. They reported me to the Condo Police and threatened me with a hearing, etc. etc. revoking my privileges.
      Who knew? I feel like I am living in hell or at least the gates of hell! When I made a complaint , they made it worse, literally stomping even louder and more often.
      I am just starting to look at noise cancelling earphones. Lesson learned? Only purchase, rent, or lease a top floor! Hardwood floors might look great but if you are not on a top floor, reconsider. So glad for the post!

      Reply
  8. Hi,

    Thanks for the detailed response.

    I tried the following in the store: Sony WH-1000XM3, Bose 700, Bose 35 QCII, and BW PX7. Sony’s ANC beats the others hands down (Not a post for: build, sound quality, comfort, etc.). So I picked the Sony.

    Works like a charm. All the low-frequency sounds are gone! I used an app on my phone to measure the frequencies at which this thumping, stomping, running, and footsteps sound occurred. Several peaks in range of about 75–80Hz to about 200–250Hz.

    Also, as you correctly pointed out, they are also great at attenuating the mids and the highs and are as good as the ear muffs. Can’t hear talking or screeching as well.

    To summarize, Sony’s WH-1000XM3 will give you a ton of relief (Complete relief for me—YMMV). If you sleep on the side like me, HEAROS work well.

    Great stuff Helmut. Thanks once again.

    Y

    Reply
    • Hi Y,

      Thanks for the heads up.

      I am glad you have found relief from these obnoxious footsteps.

      Looking at the frequencies you have measured: yes, Sony WH-1000XM3 are good at cancelling noise in that range. It is very helpful that you were able to report specific frequencies and that the noise reduction was enough.

      As for screeching and talking, I’d like to add a comment so that other readers don’t get unrealistic expectations:

      Yes, the Sony are good at passive noise isolation as well, so they do reduce this kind of noise too.
      And as you have reported, in your case this noise reduction was enough.

      However, at coffee shop noise level, you will hear some screeching and talking, albeit quieter. (if you don’t listen to a masking sound through the headphones.)
      For mid-frequency noise (from about 400 Hz) the Sony headphones actually under-perform NRR 30 earmuffs.
      (Unfortunately, even the muffs won’t completely eliminate loud chatter.)

      On the other hand, with your headphones you can get much more relief from these low-freq. footfalls and more comfort.

      Have a great day.

      Reply
  9. Hi,

    Thank you for your article, I’m still experimenting with the brown noise.
    My neighbor’s footfall is much louder than yours. I am not sure how they walk. How would you suggest adjusting the brown noise in the app? And I’m using a Bose Revolve speaker, and the app is quite soft even though it’s already half of the volume coming from my iPhone.
    Unfortunately, even the most comfortable ear plugs put pressure on my ear canal and I have not been getting good sleep for 6 months. Appreciate your suggestion. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Eleen,

      First, do your neighbor’s footfalls sound like the sounds in the recording (“umpf,” “umpf”)?
      (You have to listen with headphones to hear the lower frequencies.)

      If yes, then you have to focus on the bass frequencies as described in this post.
      If they sound much higher pitched, skip to “klang,” “klang” below.

      It is quite possible that the Bose Revolve doesn’t reproduce the bass frequencies with enough volume.
      (If the speaker doesn’t get close enough to the footfall frequencies, you’ll still hear them even if you crank it up all the way.)

      It is a nice speaker, but still quite small. I am thinking more Bose subwoofer size or large Hi-fi speaker.

      If you have headphones, try the app with headphones first. Good headphones can reproduce much lower frequencies than the Revolve.

      If you don’t have any and just want something to try this, the on-ear Panasonic RP-HT21 are usually very inexpensive and have a good bass response.

      Don’t shy away from making it loud (temporarily) to see whether the footfalls are being masked when you crank up the brown noise via your headphones.

      If they are being masked, you have to get a speaker that can reproduce the bass you need or keep using the headphones.

      And you have to deal with the earplug-issue to lower the overall volume.
      (I wouldn’t be able to sleep well with loud dark-brown noise without earplugs or another form of noise reducing device.)

      Alternatively, you could try noise cancelling headphones (the Sony mentioned in this post if you are a back sleeper) or noise cancelling earbuds (unlike earplugs, they only go as deep as the ear canal entrance). I have recently reviewed a pair with very good low frequency noise reduction, the 1More Dual Driver ANC Pro (link to my review).

      If you have normal headphones, use those first to see whether you are on the right track, or make sure you can return the noise cancellers if they don’t perform for you.

      Now if your footfalls sound more like “klang,” “klang,” I would start with flat sliders in myNoise. That gives you pink noise.
      Make it as loud as necessary to mask the footfalls. This may again be quite loud. You can increase the overall volume and move the sliders all the way up.

      Then start moving the sliders down from the right (from the treble frequencies) until the footfalls just start coming back. Then go a bit higher to make them again disappear.
      Now do the same from the left (the bass) in the same manner.

      That gives you an idea of the settings you would need for footstep noise that extends into higher frequencies.

      Again you would now ideally use earplugs to reduce the overall volume.

      If this is not possible, you could again use noise cancelling headphones or earmuffs (not that comfy but some people do well with them) to lower the overall volume.
      I hope this helps a bit.
      All the best.

      Reply
  10. Hi, I have same problem with super heavy footsteps except I am already on the top floor and the noise is coming from the apartment next to me. Neighbor also slams his doors. I have tried playing the dark brown noise, which helps a small amount, but I think my next step is to try louder volume. Could you recommend the PC speaker system that you used with your Evo? I have also purchased the Evo white noise machine, but it is not loud enough on its own 🙁

    Reply
    • Hi Mary,
      It is important that the brown noise / white noise matches the frequency spectrum of what you want to mask (i.e., it needs to sound like the footsteps, albeit continuous) and that it is louder than the footsteps.

      The speaker in this article is actually a portable PA (professional audio) speaker, not a PC speaker.
      It is large (10x11x25 inches) and geared towards outdoor singing and events. It has a built-in lead-acid battery (like a car).

      I used this speaker because I already had it for a different purpose (but it can produce lower frequencies than the Lectrofan and it can do so at a sufficient volume). It is powerful, but not the best sounding for home audio.
      I recommend you use a home stereo system instead, such as a decent subwoofer with two satellite speakers.

      If you are unsure whether this can work for you in principle, you could use headphones first (good ones can produce the frequencies you need). If you don’t have any, the very inexpensive Panasonic RP-HT21 (should be on Amazon) have a good bass response.

      Connect your headphones to your EVO. Play the EVO, starting from white noise #1 and set it loud to mask the footsteps. If you hit max. volume, but still hear the footsteps, cycle through the white noises until you find the one that masks the footsteps best.
      (Alternatively, you can also try the app mentioned in the article.)

      If this looks good, I recommend one of these approaches:

      1. Keep using these headphones (and perhaps wear earplugs underneath).
      2. If you are a back sleeper, noise cancelling headphones like the Sony mentioned in the post will help a lot because they reduce the footsteps and door slamming so you will be able to play your white noise much quieter than with normal headphones.
      3. Use your home stereo system or buy one (subwoofer + two satellites). Again I would wear earplugs to reduce the overall noise level. This approach may be attractive for side sleepers.

      Let me know how it goes.

      All the best.

      Reply
  11. Just want to say you saved our lives here! After four happy years, we got a new upstairs who (between he, his GF, and their against-building-reg cat) take shifts thumping 24/7. It’s fine during the day, since we both already wear noise cancelling headphones for work, but has been killing our sleep. Until, that is, we applied your instructions above to our Sonos One.

    55 db measured-at-pillow was just enough to make the unexpected foot-falls melt into the background of “normal” NYC ambient sounds, complemented by the fan we’ve always run for white noise. I’m waking up today with the first good night rest I’ve had in a long time!

    My only Q is you say “This setup should also work without earplugs, but I would not listen to constant noise that loud throughout the night.” I can’t wear earplugs without getting major irritation unfortunately. If I bump things up to 60 am I taking a risk of some kind? My brief research suggests not but want to make sure I’m not missing anything!

    Reply
    • Hello JCD,

      Thank you for your feedback. I am glad it’s helping.

      As to your question, re playing white noise at up to 60 dB without earplugs.

      For adults, the main issue I currently see is possible sleep disruption. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee that there aren’t any others.

      I sleep better when I keep the white noise at a lower sound level. The earplugs take care of that for me.

      On the other hand, I have also suffered from prolonged insomnia caused by thumping noises, and I found that to be worse, much worse.

      So, personally, if I couldn’t wear earplugs at all, I would try white noise at the level you are suggesting. But that’s me.

      FYI, there has been a short-term 60 dB white noise study that looked into helping people to sleep better amidst loud intermittent ICU noise.

      The result: Despite increasing the average overall sound level, adding white noise significantly reduced the number of arousals. The difference was substantial.

      Here are two more posts you might find helpful:
      https://noisyworld.org/how-loud-white-noise-sleep/ (white noise for adults)
      https://noisyworld.org/white-noise-sleep/ (with references to the ICU noise study)

      One more idea: Have you also tried silicone putty earplugs? They are not the greatest “thump noise reducers,” but could still help to lower the overall sound level.

      All the best.

      Reply
  12. Thank you sooo much for your article. So much great information. I don’t feel quite so alone, especially reading all of the other comments made! I too have new neighbours who are elephants. They are both very heavy. They sleep in separate rooms so I can’t even use my spare room for respite! The main problem is sudden and sporadic ‘bangs’ on the floorboards, like bowling balls falling from a great height. And the windows being opened and slammed shut throughout the night to allow for [admin edit] puffing. I’m a night owl, going to bed at midnight, but the male is already in the room above me at that time, and the crashing about will go on until he conks out at 4am if I’m lucky.
    I have a Lectrofan but just the original, not the Evo. It has been a life-saver. I have it on a fan setting just now, pretty loud. But have to wear pink noise at a medium volume in my headphones throughout the night too. I’d prefer not to wear the headphones as I don’t feel it’s good for my ears, but find it hard to tune into the machine as he’s already stomping about when I go to bed. I’m wondering if my placement of the machine could be better to drown out more noise? The windows are to the left of my bed, but I place the Lectrofan about a foot away from the end of my bed on the right hand side of the room (just because it is convenient as there is a dresser there). Any advice would be much appreciated. You are saving lives with this post Helmut! (Ps the Lectrofan original does not have a headphone jack point).

    Reply
    • Hello Lucy,

      I wish we could all live on the top floor or just swap floors with the neighbors for a few nights to show them.

      If I understand you right, you have your Lectrofan at the foot end of your bed.

      I put the Lectrofan on my nightstand pretty close to where my head comes to rest. I would try that.
      That way it is easier to experiment with different sounds and volume levels and see whether the machine can do the job.

      Since you are able to help yourself with additional pink noise played via headphones, it is also possible that the Lectrofan’s speaker doesn’t produce low-enough frequencies to mask the low-frequency noise your upstairs neighbors create. (That is what I found in my case.)

      The EVO has a headphone jack, but its speaker doesn’t go lower than the Classic’s (I have both), so you would again end up using headphones.

      If you have a larger home audio speaker (or even a subwoofer), try playing your pink noise or an even more low-frequency-emphasizing brown noise (e.g., created by myNoise) as described in this post via that speaker to mask your upstairs neighbor and get rid of your headphones.

      You may even find that combining the Lectrofan on your nightstand for the mid frequencies with a larger speaker further away for the lower end to work best.
      (Then, if you need, you could add earplugs to lower the overall volume.)

      I understand this sounds like a bit of a hassle, but it did the trick for me.

      All the best.

      Reply
      • Hi Helmut!

        Thank you so much for the suggestions! You are right, the Lectrofan is at the foot of my bed. I think I will try to put it on my nightstand tonight, nearer to my bed. I’ll look into a subwoofer too. Thank you. Oh, I think that suggestion would work wonders. I was lucky to have 3.5 years of peace in my flat before the elephants came to town! But in future I’ll look for a top floor flat!

        Thank you again,

        Lucy

        Reply
  13. Hello Helmut,
    I’m not sure if you received my reply that I left during the week. But I just wanted to give you an update. I’ve repositioned my Lectrofan to my bedside table, and have it on the first white noise setting, which is brown noise and the lowest frequency (which you recommended). I put it up high, and put earplugs in, as you’d also recommended. Well, I’ve done this for 3 nights, and slept 9hrs each night. I can’t quite believe it. I’ve not been disturbed by the neighbours at all. You don’t realise how much your article means to me, and your advice. I honestly thought I’d never find a solution to this, and would have to wait until the chunky couple split. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’d forgotten what it’s like to have a good night’s sleep!

    Reply
    • Hello Lucy,
      Thank you for coming back and providing feedback. It is very uplifting to hear the post is making a difference.
      I am glad you have found a solution. Wow, three days in a row nine hours of sleep! I envy you.

      Have a great day.

      Reply
  14. Hi Helmut, firstly you are a true genius and life-saver to so many – thank you for such an educated and useful article!

    I have been using some of your suggestions since we have extremely inconsiderate and almost intentionally loud stomping (jumping?) and running neighbors upstairs. We tried everything first (went with cookies and greetings), subtle requests and even reporting to the community but nothing has worked so far. I would have normally switched to experimenting with your suggestion with creating brown and white noise but I have a slightly unique challenge unfortunately. We are expecting our first baby next month and the current constant untimely hours stomping wakes up and affects my wife’s health and sleep. I am even more worried about what happens when the baby comes and the white/brown noise at high volumes being bad for their hearing possibly?

    I was thinking of instead accurately recording the severity of their noise so I am able to push them or the community to try and make them understand (and spare me for a couple of months until the baby is slightly old and we can move out if possible).

    Appreciate your suggestions on how to record these sounds appropriately for showing evidence of their noise/impact.

    Best,
    RK

    Reply
    • Hello RK,

      Thank you for your encouraging feedback.

      I second that: record the stomping noise. Since you are regularly exposed to stomping, you should have a good chance to capture some good samples.

      I think most people are easier convinced when they hear the noise than when they see abstract sound levels in decibels, even when precisely logged.

      You need to use full-spectrum recording because you also want to capture low frequency noise. Some voice recording software (and hardware) will filter lower frequencies to reduce background noise.

      And, when you replay the sounds, use headphones / ask the people you want to take note to use headphones.
      Small phone speakers can’t reproduce low-frequency stomping properly!

      I have used Voice Record Pro by Dayana Networks for iOS (App store) quite a bit.
      Use record quality: high
      M4A (AAC) 44100 Hz, 16 Bit Stereo (wav files get large quick)

      The built-in microphone of an iPhone or iPad should be good enough for this.

      I have a calibrated external measuring microphone, but have done plenty of good recordings with the built-in mic.
      You want to be ready at a moment’s notice.

      Level check to adjust the input gain while you hear stomping so that the peaks are between -6 and -3 dB.
      Then press Record.

      All the best. I hope you can get some relief.

      Reply
  15. Helmut, I just want to start by thanking you for such a fabulous website. It’s almost ridiculous the amount of time I’ve spent doing research on noise disrupting my sleep, and I can say that your articles have by far been the most helpful.

    For one, I discovered how much difference it made to insert my earplugs deeper and with more care. Thank you.

    I would love to get your take on my current conundrum. The previously vacant upstairs has had people for several months now and I am many months sleep deprived. It is greatly impacting my health. Deeper insertion with earplugs has helped somewhat, but I am trying to figure out my next step. (The footsteps is the main part, but dropping things, sliding doors, kitchen clanging, and dogs scampering are all a part of it). I don’t own any speakers, standard or subwoofer.
    I’m both a side and stomach sleeper. I’m trying to figure out if I should buy ANC earbuds and play brown noise through those, buy over-the-ear ANC to wear over my earplugs (and just learn to sleep with them), or buy a cheaper standard (non noise cancelling) on-ear headset to play brown noise over my earplugs (and learn to sleep)?
    I’m more concerned with the noise part then the sleep comfort right now.
    The last thing to note, and also why I’d love your thoughts, is that I want a wired headset without Bluetooth. I’m EMF sensitive so this is important for me- I get sick otherwise. Finding an older version on eBay might be the way to go for the ANC varieties as that would be wired and cheaper, but I don’t know how well they perform.

    I would appreciate so much any thoughts on this matter. Thank you immensely!

    Reply
    • Hello Eve,

      From your description, it sounds to me like you are exposed to both low frequency as well as higher frequency noise.

      My first step would be to swap out the earplugs to further optimize low frequency noise reduction (i.e., reduce stomping noises). Depending on your ear canal, your earplugs might not give you the optimum, regardless of how deep you insert them.
      If you haven’t yet, try the cylindrical Flents Quiet Please (here is a post with low frequency noise test results for these and other earplugs.)

      Find an impact noise source in your apartment to test how well your plugs work and play with the fit.
      To test this, I often slam the door of my fridge’s freezer compartment (in the daytime), which produces a nice, full “bumm sound.”
      With the Quiet Please well inserted, the sound turns into something meek, more like “bing,” i.e., the lower frequencies have been attenuated well.

      If this works for the stomping, and you find that now mid-or-high frequency noise is coming through too loud, add a white noise machine to mask these frequencies. I recommend the Lectrofan Classic (review post; it has no Bluetooth or any kind of radio) for this purpose.
      That way you could alternate between stomach and side sleeping without any issues.

      Almost all active noise cancelling earbuds have weak points in their ability to reduce noise.

      Some very good ones reduce a certain narrow low frequency range by 30 decibels (e.g., the wired Bose QC20), which is great for use cases like commuting, but offer much less noise reduction in the lower mids, perhaps only 15 decibels. Moreover, there are very few ANC earbud alternatives without Bluetooth on the market. (The QC20 are the only wired ones I would consider.)

      They could be OK against some stomping noise, but your noise portfolio sounds quite broad to me.
      You could perhaps make them work but would likely have to play your brown noise loud to compensate for the weaknesses. Since you don’t mind earplugs, I would try other foam earplugs first.

      Wearing over-ear noise cancelling headphones on top of foam earplugs is a different story:

      That could give you a lot more overall noise reduction as well as add to the earplugs in the low frequency range.

      Since you need wired-only, the Bose QC25 come to mind. I find them very comfy. They are the most effective strictly-wired ANC headphones I am aware of (no Bluetooth). They use a replaceable AAA battery, which I consider an advantage.

      I have often used such a setup on long distance flights. Like with any used item, make sure that you get a pair that is in good working order and that you can return them if they are faulty.

      They could be worn on top of your earplugs and you could add white noise on top of that.
      The main issue I see with this solution is sleeping on the side. If you must sleep on the side, try the headphones with a horseshoe-shaped travel pillow.

      Normal over-ear and on-ear headphones without ANC are also worth a try. They can work on top of earplugs and would be more economical.
      On the other hand, good ANC headphones work a lot better in the low frequency range, in case your earplugs don’t reduce enough. They also passively isolate pretty well and add to the overall noise reduction.

      Let me know how it goes.

      Reply
  16. Hello Helmut,

    I don’t know whether u got my earlier comment.
    I am having sleep problem in the morning due to footstep noise from upstairs.
    It’s not that loud but being a light sleeper I get disturbed. I moved here a month ago. At first, there was no problem but since a week, I started noticing it. Now that I know the noise is there, I even wake up in anticipation. I have used a fan, but I can still feel it.
    Will the Lectrofan be effective? I don’t think I can use earplugs. My ears hurt with them. Please help.

    Reply
    • Hello S Ray,

      I don’t know what kind of footstep noise you are hearing, but if it sounds like the stomping noise in the sample in this post (listen with headphones), the Lectrofan will likely not work all by itself.
      You would have to use good foam earplugs to get rid of the lower frequency parts.

      If it is more like “tapping noise,” you have a better chance with the Lectrofan.

      If you don’t have a larger speaker try this:

      Use good headphones/earbuds and play white noise through the app mentioned in this post. You can also go to the website.
      Please check this post carefully for details.

      You need headphones which allow you to hear the noise produced by the dark brown, and, in particular the red slider in the app at a good volume.

      First go with the default setting (which should be pink noise) and increase the volume until the pink noise masks the footsteps.

      If this succeeds, adjust the sliders down to zero starting from the left.

      After each slider, check whether the footsteps are coming back.
      If the footsteps come back after the first and second sliders (brown, red) are down to zero, the Lectrofan most likely won’t work.
      If they only come back after the orange slider is also down to zero, you have perhaps a 40 percent chance with the Lectrofan.
      If they only come back after the left-most green slider is set to zero, you have a good chance, provided the footsteps are not too loud.

      In any case, you can now also use the headphones to mask the footsteps or get some in which you can sleep. You should also have a better idea whether the Lectrofan can solve your problem.

      If you succeed with the headphones but find the white noise too loud, consider using active noise cancelling headphones. They can make a big difference and would allow you to play the noise at a lower volume.

      All the best.

      Reply
  17. Thank you so much for providing this guidance. I used to go to bed at 1am, because one of my neighbors would loudly walk around until then. But another neighbor’s footsteps would wake me up at 6am. Consistently getting only 5 hours of sleep, and being startled awake by heavy footsteps, was starting to wear on me and impact my mood, my work, my life.

    I tried to speak to some of my neighbors, but while they were apologetic, they weren’t willing to make any changes.

    I tried putting a thick sound dampening mat under my bed, rubber strips under my wooden mattress slats, and using the Dohm white noise machine, but I was still waking up to footsteps.

    I found your article and immediately downloaded the myNoise app and grabbed my UE Wonderboom 2 bluetooth speaker. The “deep brown” white noise, paired with the bass-heavy speaker, totally worked for me! It masked the heavy heel-strike footsteps enough to keep me asleep. I feel so invigorated right now after a quality night of sleep.

    I am incredibly grateful for your research. Thank you for sharing your findings with us! Thank you thank you thank you!

    Reply
    • Hello Willa,

      thank you for your feedback. I am glad it is working for you.

      The Dohm’s sound is loudest in the mid frequencies, which some people find very soothing.
      My experience concurs with yours: that sound isn’t well suited for masking stomping noises (and other lower frequency sounds).
      All the best.

      Reply

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