The importance of proper acoustic design for recording your music cannot be understated. Make sure that you budget money to properly do this. If you don’t, you may find that you spent all your money for the best recording equipment yet you still can’t get a professional sound.
Knowing how to acoustically treat a room is very much a science and can be very confusing. I will tell you what parts are most important and how to stretch your budget as far as possible. Professional studio companies and businesses that provide the “official” acoustic treatment products tend to over sell what is actually needed in a home studio. Below is a list of prioritized things you can do to make your home studio sound just like the professional ones.
Keep in mind that soundproofing is a very important, but completely separate, thing. Soundproofing is all about keeping your music in the room, and all other noises outside of the room. Acoustic treatment is making your music sound as professional as possible. I guarantee that all of the professional YouTube music videos are recorded in a carefully acoustically treated home studio.
If you don’t want to read the whole article, here is a quick summary of what you will need.
- As large and quiet a room as you can find. Cleaned and with everything possible removed.
- As many bass panels as you can afford. At least 4 installed in the 4 corners of the rooms ceiling. Additional bass traps on the wall corners if possible.
- Acoustic panels, preferably 48ft², spread out over the walls.
Choose A Room
If you have the luxury of having multiple rooms to choose from, here are some guidelines on what to look for in the best type of room for your home studio.
Bigger rooms are better than smaller rooms
First and foremost, bigger rooms sound better than smaller rooms. Work must be done to both to get the ideal sound out, but overall bigger is better.Depending on what kind of music you will be recording, you may already be aware that you will need quite a bit of space for all of your equipment. Even if you will only be singing in your home studio, you will still have more recording equipment then you may realize, and it will only multiply. Ideally you will have room for a desk and computer, a stool to play instruments with enough space to not be cramped, and a separate area to sing your vocals. All of your acoustic treatment will take up precious space as well.Being cramped and bumping into equipment is annoying. You don’t want to have to spend time moving equipment around every time you want to go from recording your guitar to vocals, and then completely change everything around to get a good looking video take. Not to mention that you don’t want to be banging or knocking over your expensive gear. The less you have to move it around, the safer it is.
Avoid Outside Noise
Be aware of any noise coming from outside of the room that can interfere with your recordings. If you have a lot of traffic on your street, then maybe choose a room in the back of the house where the traffic noise will be quieter. Think about where your furnace or refrigerator are, if the neighbor you share a wall with watches movies with his home theater turned up to 11, or if someone likes to practice their clog dancing on the floor above you.Human ears and brains are pretty good at filtering out all the everyday noise that is constantly bombarding your ears. It isn’t until you fire up your sweet condenser microphone and try to get a quality vocal recording that you realize just how loud the world is.Outside noise can be lessened or eliminated by soundproofing your room, but it is of course easier to start with the quietest room possible. All else being equal, choose the room with the fewest neighbors. Keep in mind that you will be creating quite a bit of sound yourself when recording, and everyone may not be as excited about it as you are.
Type of Flooring
Contrary to what thought before doing my research, hard floors are better than carpeted floors for acoustics. Carpet absorbs high-frequency sound, but not any low-frequency. This is not good and will affect your recordings negatively. Any hard floor is better than carpet. Wood, tile, even concrete.If you find that you do need some carpet, then use area rugs that are just big enough for your purposes.Also, upstairs rooms amplify foot traffic so it is generally better to have your studio on the ground floor.
The best types of rooms with naturally good acoustics are big with high ceilings and asymmetrical walls with irregular surfaces. You want to avoid small rooms with parallel drywall walls and low ceilings. In other words, the typical room in most homes has terrible acoustics.That’s ok though. If everyone had naturally perfect acoustics in their bedroom, I wouldn’t have anything to write about. If you’re lucky and have access to a room with any of the positive traits above, then great! Otherwise, pick the best option and we will get it whipped into shape!
Prepare The Room For Your Acoustic Treatment
Start by removing everything from the room that is not absolutely needed. If you can’t 100% dedicate a room for your studio and it will serve a dual purpose, like a bedroom or living room, then do the best you can. Remove everything from the floor, everything from the walls, and especially anything that vibrates or makes noise.Everything that CAN be removed, SHOULD be removed.Now that you have everything removed from the room, it’s a good time to do a thorough cleaning. This may be the last time in a while that you will be able to clean without having to move around hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Make sure to also clean off the walls. We will be attaching sound absorbing panels to it, and they wont adhere and stay if the walls are too oily or dirty.
Installing Your Home Studio Acoustic Treatment
You’ve picked your room, emptied it, and cleaned it from ceiling to floor. You now have a blank slate to apply your acoustic treatment. It a short amount of time you will be producing acoustically clean and professionally sounding music.The goal when creating a studio room is to eliminate all unwanted noise.
This unwanted noise can be external (which we already talked about), internal (like equipment interference noise), or (the most common and problematic) from sound waves reflecting off of the walls, ceiling, and anything else.To have good acoustics you need to be concerned with doing 2 things: absorbing high, mid, and low frequencies, and scattering everything else. This is done with these 3 basic elements, and should be handled in the following priority: Bass Traps, Acoustic Panels, and Diffusers.
Sound waves reflect off of flat hard surfaces and will literally multiply as the run into each other. Because of this you need to eliminate flat reflective surfaces and absorb any sound waves floating around. Corners are the worst offenders for reflecting errant sound waves, and should be the first to go. This is generally done by placing bass traps in corners. Next you use acoustic panels to take care of the flat walls and ceilings. With bass traps and acoustic panels in place you should have greatly cut down on reflective surfaces and will be absorbing most unwanted sound waves.
A third step can then be taken by installing diffusers, which will absorb even more sound waves.
Bass traps are used primarily to absorb low frequencies, which are the leading cause of poor sounding mixes in small home studios. You typically wont notice how much low frequency noise gets bounced around a room while playing and recording. It will only become apparent when listening afterwords during post-processing.
The nice thing is that bass traps also absorb a good amount of mid and high range frequencies. If you can’t afford to do anything else, at least do this. You will notice the difference immediately.
There are 2 different bass traps out there: resonant and porous. Resonant bass traps target specific frequencies and create an opposite frequency to cancel them out. They are very expensive and complicated to setup. Resonant bass traps are generally not used in a home recording studio, and I won’t talk about them in detail here.
Porous Bass Traps
Porous bass traps are made of either foam, fiberglass, or rockwool. They are very effective at taking care of the most commons found in studios such as standing waves, flutter echo, room modes, and speaker boundary interference response.Unlike the resonant bass traps, porous provide broadband absorption. This means that the absorb a sound frequencies over the entire spectrum, not just one specific one. Porous bass traps are much cheaper to build and purchase. They make up about 95% of the commercial bass traps on the market, and are what you want to have in your music studio.
You can get either corner bass traps, which are shaped like triangles to fit snuggly in the corners, or panel bass traps. Panel bass traps are flat rectangles that are angled across the corners, leaving an air gap between the wall and the panel. Panel bass traps allow you to cover more corner are with less material.In reality both corner bass traps and panel bass traps work equally as well, and is mostly an aesthetic choice.
Look at the picture to the right. Take care of the red dots (Trihedral corners) first, and then the blue lines (Dihedral corners). If you have a couch or some other furniture in front of the lower red dots on the floor, then you obviously wont need to place a bass trap there. Only if it is exposed and can reflect sound waves.
You should buy as many porous bass traps as you can afford and place them first in the top 4 trihedral corners, next in the for vertical dihedral corners, and then in the top dihedral corners. You can also use acoustic panels to help with the dihedral corners as I explain below.
I recommend this Acoustic Foam Bass Trap Corner. They are 12″ x 12″ x 12″ and come in packs of 4 for about $30. Get 2 packs of these if possible.