So, you’re getting pretty serious about recording! You are starting to acquire some gear, and you may even have a home studio in the works! Before you get too far into building your studio, there’s one thing that you need to consider: acoustic treatment. Whether you’ve got a pair of $500 speakers, or $5,000 ones, you’re not going to be able to nail your mix unless your room is staying out of the way!
While there are literal college courses about the physics of acoustics, we’ll try to summarize the basics, and then go over some practical ways to improve your home studio’s acoustics without breaking the bank!
Acoustic Treatment: Basic Concepts
Sound waves travel from a source, such as an instrument or speaker, and then enter our ears. This is good! It’s what allows us to hear things. However, unless you have some Dumbo sized ears, some of those sound waves will travel past our ears and bounce off of other surfaces in the room. Those sound waves become reflections, which are something that we want to cut out, because they’re not coming from our source, but rather from reflection points around the room. To get the truest and most accurate picture of our source, we need to eliminate reflection points.
The worst types of reflections are from parallel surfaces, such as two walls that are directly across from each other. Those parallel walls will allow sound waves to bounce back and forth for much longer (picture clapping in metal hallway). Corners act similarly, but for different reasons. Bass frequencies tend to build up in corners, creating unwanted sounds coming from the corners (to simulate this, cup your hands behind your ears. You’ll probably hear some extra noise bouncing off of your hands that you didn’t notice before). The corners of your walls, plus the corners where your floors meet your walls, will generally have some bass buildup that we want to eliminate!
We’ll solve both of these problems with some basic setup principles, a little acoustic treatment, and some normal household objects!
Home Studio Acoustic Treatment: Room Setup
The first step to creating a great sounding home studio is setting up your desk and speakers in the right place. Remember that your speakers are the main sound source, so you’ll want to prioritize their placement over everything else!
If you’ve got a big window in the room, you probably want to set up your speakers on the wall next to that window, instead of in front of or behind that window. If the room is rectangular, try out the long and wide walls to see which one has the best sound. You’re looking for the spot in the room where your speakers sound great, so don’t hesitate to move them around and try different configurations. Experiment with distance from the wall. Some speakers are designed to go right against the wall, while others are meant to be away from the wall. Consult your speakers’ manual, but don’t hesitate to experiment as well!
Check out our article on speaker stands to see if desktop or floor-standing stands are right for your room!
Once you’ve got your desk/speaker placement sorted, the next thing you’ll want to do is add a couch. You’ll need somewhere for your guests/clients/band members to sit, for sure, but the couch also offers a huge acoustical advantage. It’s a big, heavy, thick sound absorber that will stop reflections and buildup on the wall opposite your speakers.
One other piece of furniture that you can use to cut out reflections is a bookshelf full of books. The varying shapes and sizes of the books will help diffuse sound waves, not allowing them to bounce around through the studio.
Enjoy this award winning graphic I’ve created to show a basic home studio layout that includes some “normal stuff”!
Last, but not least, you’ll want to cover up any windows, as those are a huge reflection point, and sound waves can cause your windows to shake, introducing even more noise. Check out this article on soundproofing curtains for a detailed look into some options, but grabbing the thickest set of curtains you can find at the store will do. It may not hurt to double up on the curtains as well!
Bass Traps and Acoustic Panels
Now that your room is set up, it’s time to add some additional traps and panels to stop as many reflections as possible! We will be focusing on three main areas: the room’s corners, the area above the desk, and the area above the couch.
For the corners of the room, I’d suggest grabbing some foam bass traps from Amazon. You’ll want to grab the thickest ones that you can fit in your room, and grab enough to go from floor to ceiling. If your door is near a corner, you may need to grab some thinner ones for that corner. Just grab a measuring tape and figure out what will fit. This is the only off-the-shelf treatment that I recommend, because everything else is able to be done DIY style.
Now, for the wall above your couch, I’d suggest getting some diffusers. There are lots of options online, but you can also build your own out of wood!
You can make your own diffuser out of supplies from Home Depot! It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you can stain or paint it to match your vibe!
Behind your desk, around your diffusers, and on the side walls next to and across from the bookshelf, you can add acoustic panels like these!
If you don’t feel like making your own panels, there are tons of options online. These ATS Acoustic Panels are a little pricy compared to making your own, but they’ll provide better results than simple foam panels. However, if you’re not going to build your own and also want to keep your budget low, cheaper foam panels will still be much better than nothing.
I personally have cheaper foam panels on the wall behind my desk, and my room sounds great. While it’s not totally optimal, the combination of all of the panels, couch, shelves etc has created a really great acoustic setting.
You can use cheap tapestries to cover your foam panels! It’s a great way to add some serious vibes to your studio without making it feel like a sterile, soundproofed room.
Keep it simple.
As long as you keep the basics in mind, it’s not hard to create an great sounding room in your house! Just remember that you can always move things around, experiment with different panel placements, and let your studio evolve as you learn your room.
Listen critically for problem points, listen to familiar songs to make sure that they sound right in your space, and adjust things until they’re to your liking, and you’ll be on your way to an amazing sounding room in no time!
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