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Best Threads: Recording The Neighbors?

A forum member searches for a low range, low volume, noise pollution recording solution to prove his case against noisy neighbors.

By PSW Staff March 15, 2019

Editor’s Note: Here’s an interesting thread from the PSW Live Audio Board (LAB) forums. It’s lightly edited for grammar and formatting. Enjoy.

Posted by Doc
I’ve barged into your forum with a question that’s probably very different from most getting asked….  I need to know how to better record my upstairs neighbors…

Now the disclaimer here is I don’t want to record things that I can’t already hear (in other words, I don’t want to “spy” on them).  I only have to have a clear audio recording of the noise and racket they make.

The upstairs neighbors have recently attempted to complain about the occasional bit of noise from my level.  These includes things like the thud of a closing door, and the occasional outburst from my puppy (he’s still learning).

….Now this situation is one that I find completely abhorrent as my neighbors seem completely oblivious to amount of noise they generate, from a screaming child (whos favorite game seems to be “hammer the floor), them screaming “shut up” at the child, their dog running around, their walking…….  the insulation is so poor that I can hear the vibration of their cellphone when its left on a coffee table.

I figure this situation can be effectively remedied with a bit of cold hard evidence in the form of an audio recording…. the only problem seems to be picking up the low, booming sounds they produce with a conventional microphone and recording software.

I need tips on generating a clear and concise recording of the noise they pound through my ceiling.  How can I do this? Do I need a better mike? Do I need some kind of cup or bowl around the mike to channel the sound into the mike?

Reply by Dean
Ah, the joy of apartment living. Before I moved here I had the exact same issue with my upstairs neighbors. They would make a racket at all hours, but complain if I flushed my toilet in the middle of the night. Let me start by saying that if your neighbors are such jerks that they won’t discuss this with you to come to a mutual understanding, a recording will probably not be much help, and may actually make things worse.

That being said, you may be able to get some satisfaction by having the apartment manager hear the recording. Again, this might just escalate things to where you will find your car vandalized, as I did. In my case I was able to get several neighbors to corroborate the all-hours noise, and a few other things the jerks upstairs were doing, and ultimately they were evicted from the place. It was an ugly, drawn out ordeal that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Even then, I ultimately went into unneeded debt to move out of that hole.

Now as far as recording goes, you should be able to get a usable for your purposes recording with what you have, and microphone placement will be the key. If you have access to a condenser mic it may pick up the low frequencies better than an SM58, but almost anything should do the trick. A little post recording equalization might be needed, but where you place the mic will be the biggest factor. The hardest part will be the time it takes to begin the recording once the noise begins. That’s where I had a problem. It took weeks to compile enough audio to show the extent of the noise coming through the ceiling. It was a real PITA.

In the mean time I would talk to your other neighbors to see if they are having similar issues with this family. That was ultimately what did the trick for me.

Reply by Tim
Almost any old sound recorder will do the trick in terms of letting the building supervisor hear the nature of the issue.

If you want to get a little more scientific about it, in addition to the recordings you make, you could rent or buy an SPL meter. Once you have hard data about the level, you can compare your results to local laws to see if there is a legal angle that can be used as leverage to make your noisy neighbors play nice.

Reply by Dean
A sound meter might be a good idea if they are making a really loud racket like playing a stereo at ear slitting levels. Chances are that the sound ordinances in your area won’t pertain to someone stomping around on your ceiling, but it would be a good idea to look into it.

If your neighbors are at least decent folks, you might be able to bring them down to hear what it sounds like when there little darlings are beating on the floor. As I said before, if they’re jerks you might be better off bringing the landlord in to hear the noise. In the mean time, record them and let the landlord deal with it. If the management won’t get involved, your’e pretty much screwed.

I’d EQ the dickens out of it to exaggerate the bass but that’s just me.

Reply by Fletcher
If you can’t work it out by inviting the guy who lives above you down for a beer [while the kid is hammering the floor]… either buy a shotgun for when they try to do a home invasion because you made “too much noise” or move to a building with better isolation.

FWIW — when I lived in a building with a screaming kid who used to drive me nuts I put on some Reggae with the bass turned up a bit… not loud, but loud enough to drown out the kid. When the upstairs neighbor knocked on my door to politely ask me to turn down the music [which was only like 75 dB] I invited him in for a beer… then turned the music WAY down… then asked which he preferred… the wafting strains of Jimmy Cliff or the incessant banging of him darling toddler.

He got the picture… which was when his kid annoyed me I played music… and when I played music that was his signal to escape his apartment and join me for some beers. It worked beautifully for the 18 months I had the place.

No recording or building management required.

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