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Acoustics and your home recording studio

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Finding the early reflection points in your home recording studio can go a long way to improving the acoustics in your rooms.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

If you decide to convert space in your home to function as a recording studio, it’s easy to spend a lot of money before you plug in your first microphone. While quality recording gear is less and less expensive, acquiring everything you need to start recording adds up. And that doesn’t begin to address the costs of properly outfitting your home studio space.

Specialize

One practical approach is to stop short of outfitting your home recording studio to do the big work. If you’re working with a limited budget to build or outfit a home recording studio, you likely do not have the funds to invest in all the necessary microphones, microphone stands, and cables to track a full drum kit or isolate an entire band. That alone can take you well into thousands of dollars and doesn’t begin to address the acoustics required to make the most of your space. A more affordable approach could be to plan to have live drums, for example, tracked at a local professional studio.

home studio

If you leave the big, multi-channel recording to a professional studio, the engineer can transfer the tracks or a stereo mix to your preferred file format so you can record everything else — guitars, keys, bass, vocals, etc. — in your home studio. If you have a limited amount of money (and space), you might be better off specializing: spend it on a vocal recording set-up, get microphones for recording an acoustic guitar — or an electric guitar — and make your home recording studio excel at capturing great tones for those instruments.

Controlling the acoustics

Whatever your expectations, a major component in creating quality finished recordings in a home studio environment is to control the acoustics. The first step toward achieving an acoustic environment that produces great results is to understand some of the basic principles of how sound waves work and how to control the way they inhabit and interact in a room.

When a sound wave meets a surface — a wall, a couch, a desk — some of the wave is absorbed, some of it is reflected, and some of it gets transmitted through the surface. Most dense surfaces do a good job isolating sound but will reflect sound back into the room. Porous surfaces typically absorb sound well but transmit sound.

The best way to stop sound transmission — sound leaking in or out of a room — is to isolate sound from the structure before it has a chance to vibrate. In other words, walls need to be isolated from ceilings and floors, achieved by decoupling — referred to as “floating” a room.

But floating a room is precisely the type of construction effort that isn’t an option for most people. So, what can you do?

Find the early reflection points

Sound bouncing off the walls and floors and surfaces in your room needs to be addressed as the reflections will cause problems. One fix to quell reflected sound waves in your environment is to add sound-absorbing wall treatments. But rather than hang carpet on every wall or nail egg cartons or carpet padding all over the place, a controlled and deliberate approach will yield the best results.

Disc Makers guide to Making A Great MasterChances are the room you’re considering has 90-degree angled corners, so the walls are parallel, as are the floor and the ceiling. The first place to start is with the early reflection points.

In your mixing environment, for instance, once the direct sound from the monitors has passed by you, it’s best to have something behind you to either soak up the sound or “shatter” it. You want to avoid having a direct early reflection hit your ears too soon. If it does, it will influence what you are hearing and it cause problems. Addressing these early reflective points is very important.

Pocket mirror test

One trick is to use a pocket mirror. If you have a pair of speakers on a desk, look around the room and see what reflective points you need to address. Initial reflection points on the walls, as well as on the ceiling and floor, should be your first go-to spots for sound absorption.

Sit in the engineer’s seat and have someone move a pocket mirror along the wall until you can see the speaker reflected in the mirror. That’s where you want to put up some sort of acoustic absorption.

Using professional sound absorption and diffusion products by Auralex or Sonex (for example) can target the appropriate frequencies and help the sound you hear be as true to the source as possible. They also boast safety and fire ratings that surpass non-regulated materials. But you can use other (less expensive) materials to achieve similar results.

Do your best to get the early reflection points on the ceilings, floor, and desk in addition to the walls. Even applying a thin absorptive membrane on the ceiling can help knock down the highs and mids that can cause early reflection smearage. Outside of a studio, you might not consider hanging things from your ceiling, but in a home recording studio, it can make a substantial difference in the quality of the sound you’re working with.


Andre Calilhanna is a decent writer, drummer, and vocalist, as well as a terrible pianist and guitarist. He’s also a book editor and blog manager of the Disc Makers and BookBaby blog. Contact him at andre@discmakers.com.

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