Investing the right amount of time and effort into your home studio setup can make the difference between creating music that sounds great to music that sounds absolutely epic and worthy of its own platinum certificate (you might have to sell a few records first), but you get the picture.
When it comes to putting together your own home audio setup, every factor has to be taken into account, from the quality of your software and instrumentation to the acoustics of your room.
Surprisingly, this is where many up-and-coming recording professionals falter.
Luckily for you, this is going to be your guide on the most effective acoustics treatment for your home audio setup. So, without further ado, let’s get started.
- 1 Science of Acoustics
- 2 How Does Sound Travel in a Room?
- 3 What are the Reasons for Poor Acoustics in the Room?
- 4 How to Digitally Adjust Bad Room Acoustics?
- 5 How Diffusion Improves Your Sound?
- 6 Soundproofing Vs. Acoustic Treatment
- 7 Acoustic Treatment Equipment
- 8 How to Set Up Acoustic Treatment Gear?
- 9 Additional Tips
Science of Acoustics
The science of acoustics is an important academic study, even more so if you’re planning on putting together your own home studio setup.
Acoustics, as many of you are aware, is the science that has got to do with the producing, controlling, receiving, and transmitting of sound.
Nothing can make or break the audio performance in a home recording studio like a room with poor acoustics.
You could invest in the best quality instruments, software, and speakers, and have a voice like Mr. Purple Rain, Prince himself, but if the acoustics of the room you’re recording in suck, your recording is going to suffer.
Acoustics is part science and part art, which means you need to make sure the acoustics of your home recording studio is somewhere between not being too live nor too dead. So, what does that even mean?
A “live” room is one that has got a preponderance of hard and reflective surfaces, with hardwood flooring and exposed glass windows, which means plenty of objects to bounce off of, making it sound like you’re doing the recording in your high-school gymnasium.
The result is an audio recording where instruments overlap, and vocals are sharp and hard-edged.
In other words, recording in a “live” room will get you audio quality that’s far from that of a professional recording studio, such as Abbey Road or Sunset sound.
On the flip side, a “dead” room refers to a recording space that doesn’t produce any reverberation answer, as in, the room will add no sound of its own and is essentially “dead.”
While you are usually advised to designate a small area of a home studio setup for recording that requires dead space, you don’t want your entire recording setup to be sitting in a dead space.
A live room will usually sound great, that is until you play too loud, and the audio ends up sounding clappy. Walking into a dead room that absorbs all sound can make your ears feel funny since it is unnaturally quiet.
The best home studio acoustics is where you get the natural ambiance and the brain is able to recognize the sound as being closer to reality.
The difference between a live (diffusion) recording space and a dead (absorption) recording space can be gauged by the sounds of a drum in both settings – each beat of the drum will be rich and seem to echo in a live room, while you will only hear a muffled sound of each drum beat in a dead space.
Creating both live or dead recording space has got to do with the way sound travels in a room.
How Does Sound Travel in a Room?
Acoustics is a complex field. As a matter of fact, people actually do their doctorates in this study.
The good news is, there are ways you can fix your home studio acoustics (without a doctorate). It all has to do with understanding sound waves, air fluctuations, and especially how sound travels in a room.
There are two ways in which sound travels:
- Direct sound to one’s ears or a microphone
- Reflected sound which bounces off walls and other surfaces
For those who are focused on home studio acoustics, it is important to know that reflected sound tends to arrive at the ear or microphone after a slight delay.
This is because it has farther to travel as compared to the direct sound. This is the “reflected” sound that causes acoustic issues while recording in a studio and small rooms.
These acoustic issues occur because of two fundamental reasons – mainly, sound components and sound reflections.
The first sound that’s reflected off the wall or ceiling of your home recording studio is known as the first reflection. But it doesn’t end there.
That first reflection can get further reflected off walls and the ceiling as well, producing 2nd, 3rd, and 4th reflections, with each of the reflections being delayed just a little more than the previous one.
This usually results in a complex wavelength of sound, reaching our ears and the microphone. What is creating by these multiple reflections is known as “destructive interference.”
This commonly results in acoustic phenomena such as comb filtering and flutter echo, two acoustic challenges that professional recording artists are all too familiar with.
The sound which emanates from the instruments or speakers travels in what is known as wave cycles. These wave cycles are made up of three components – Amplitude, Frequency, and Wavelength.
- Amplitude – This is the strength of the wavelength, which is commonly known as the loudness of the sound.
- Frequency – This is the number of wave cycles per second, which is known as the pitch of the sound. The frequency of sound is measured in Hertz (Hz).
- Wavelength – The wavelength is the distance between each wave cycle.
Home studio acoustics has a lot to do with the wavelength of sound. An easy example of measuring the wavelength of sound is as follows:
Striking the low E key on a bass guitar produces a wavelength of around 41.2. When measured in feet, the note is around 27.425 feet in length.
This a good reason why a home recording studio should never be left acoustically untreated since having wavelengths this long traveling in a room with nothing to absorb the sound energy could have a negative effect on the audio being recorded.
What are the Reasons for Poor Acoustics in the Room?
Poor room acoustics can be caused by a variety of reasons. The following are three of the most common problems faced by those who are looking to create the perfect home studio acoustics.
Many Hard Surfaces
Hard surfaces such as walls, bare flooring, and wooden or metal tables and chairs cause many challenges for home studio acoustics.
The more hard surfaces are present in your recording space, the harder it will be to capture the correct, true-to-life sound that you’re looking for.
This is mainly because there’s nothing to absorb the sound waves that are being produced, which results in them bouncing off the hard surfaces, which results in a loud, echoey recording.
Multiple Sources of Sound
Producing multiple sounds at the same time can also contribute to poor home studio acoustics.
The sound being produced from multiple instruments, speakers, and vocalists, coupled with the sound of people talking or moving along with other sounds, can have a negative impact on the overall quality of the sound quality.
This is why it is crucial to eliminate all noise-producing factors inside the recording studio and keep it down to just the instruments that are required for the recording.
Another common mistake that’s made by those who are looking for improved home studio acoustics is thinking that higher or bigger is better.
This often results in people opting for a larger recording studio room or one that’s got a higher roof.
Contrary to popular belief, both of these types of recording studios can mean that the sound being produced ends up getting lost in the dead space, either because of a larger, mostly empty room or one that has a very high ceiling.
This can also lead to higher reverberation times since the sound waves have a long way to travel before being reflected by a hard surface.
To get the best home studio acoustics, its best to opt for a small to medium size room with normal ceiling height.
How to Digitally Adjust Bad Room Acoustics?
The sound that you hear in a room is the combination of direct sound which travels in a straight line from the speakers to your ears, and indirect sound that’s reflected or bounces off hard surfaces, such as the walls, ceiling or furniture in the room before making its way to our ears.
If you’re having issues with the sound that’s produced, then there’s a way to correct the audio for a cleaner, crisper and clearer sound with the help of technology.
If you are having trouble with getting that true-to-life sound, then the good news is, you can use acoustics savvy digital equipment to improve the home audio acoustics of your recording studio.
The home audio components that can help you improve your audio quality are powered subwoofers that come with integrated bass equalization.
A home theater receiver that comes with automatic speaker calibration software can also help to improve the sound quality by doing away with some of the sound distortions that’s created due to a noisy or dead home studio setup.
So, these were just some of the ways in which you could digitally correct bar room acoustics of your home studio. However, it should be noted that relying on your digital equipment should always be your last resort.
As a rule of thumb, for better home studio acoustics, it’s always best to go old-school, mainly by understanding the principles of reflection, diffusion, and absorption of sound and the use of fiberglass acoustics treatments to tame the sound of your home studio.
How Diffusion Improves Your Sound?
When it comes to home studio acoustics, the concept of diffusion is often the most misunderstood. Since there are several definitions, we’ll try to keep things simple.
So, diffusion is the scattering of sound waves, which results in a reduction in the sense of localization of the sound. For instance, ever talked loudly in a completely empty room?
You may have noticed your voice bouncing off the walls, and even the slight hint of an echo. This happened because there was nothing for your voice to bounce off or, in other words, diffuse the sound.
This is why adding one or two diffusers to the mix tends to significantly improve the sound quality of a recording studio, resulting in rich and clear sounds from the instruments and vocalists.
Now, it’s important to note here that there’s a difference between sound absorption and a diffuser.
A diffuser is used to diffuse sound, while on the other hand, sound absorbers are used to absorb sound. Both have different functions when it comes to home studio acoustics.
Despite its somewhat simplistic design, the diffuser is an incredibly complicated and precise tool that is designed specifically to scatter sound and prevent the sound waves being produced in a studio from bouncing off walls, the ceiling, or furniture.
Which leads us to the next obvious question, “what’s the best place for a diffuser in a home audio studio?”
There are plenty of places where you can set the diffuser in your home studio, but you will want to make sure that you have the diffuser exactly where you need it to be for it to do its magic.
Depending on its size, the best place to keep the diffuser in your recording studio is smack in the middle of your wall space.
This is extremely important since if you end up placing it too far to either side of the wall, you will only be freeing up bare wall space for the sound to bounce off again, which defeats the purpose of using a diffuser in the first place.
To get a clear and crisp sound, you should place a diffuser on all four walls of the recording studio. If you have concrete, tiled or wooden flooring, place a carpet or an area rug over it to keep the sound from bouncing off the flooring.
Diffusion is crucial to getting that natural sound while recording since using too much absorption in your home studio acoustics could easily result in a flat, unnatural sound that will ruin your recording.
Soundproofing Vs. Acoustic Treatment
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, soundproofing and acoustic treatment have two different purposes when it comes to home studio acoustics.
Here, we are going to break down the two so that you can understand what each of these concepts means for your home studio acoustics.
Soundproofing is the prevention of sound from traveling outside the recording studio. Soundproof products are designed to dampen the sound that tends to bleed outside of a recording studio.
But, soundproofing a home studio is not just about preventing the sound inside the studio from reaching out, but also, keeping the studio insulated from the sounds that are generated from outside the studio, such as the sound that comes from street traffic, airplanes, ambulances, construction work and so on.
In this way, soundproofing your home recording studio is an effective way of making sure your recording is safe from catching those unwanted noises from outside.
On the flip side, investing in soundproofing seals, draft busters, or window casements for your home recording studio can also keep you from waking up the neighbors.
Acoustic treatment basically means altering the sound within the studio for better clarity.
Products for acoustic treatments are specifically designed to alter the dynamics of how sound waves are able to travel within the recording studio.
Acoustic treatments mostly absorb sound waves, which, in turn, improve the overall recording quality.
The main purpose of using acoustic treatments is to reduce the reverberation, which occurs naturally within a room.
This also includes low-frequencies that tend to build-up at the corners of the room, standing waves, and other issues that arise in home studio acoustics.
To have a home recording studio that’s soundproof and able to produce clear and true-to-life sounds, you will need to invest in both acoustic treatment and soundproofing.
This is mainly because a home recording studio that has been acoustically treated but not soundproof will lead to issues with the audio recording since it will be capturing all the sounds from outside the room as well.
While a room that has been soundproofed but not acoustically treated will mean that your recordings will all sound loud and clappy.
Acoustic Treatment Equipment
A great sounding recording studio should not be too live or too dead, but rather produce a balanced sound.
Keeping in mind the importance of using acoustic treatment equipment for your home studio acoustics, you need to use acoustic treatments to get the best sound quality possible.
When it comes to home studio acoustics, there are three main components of acoustic treatment. These are – bass traps, acoustic panels, and diffusers.
Using the right combination of all three of these acoustic treatment tools will result in you achieving a crisp and clear recording in your home studio every time.
The acoustic panels that are designed to improve home studio acoustics involve special foam fillers that have been designed to absorb high and mid sound frequencies during recording.
But, these acoustic panels do not have much of an effect on low frequencies.
The use of acoustic panels can be extremely effective when it comes to home recording setups since they are very efficient in reducing the amount of reverb and the early reflections that are produced due to the sound bouncing off hard surfaces within the recording studio such as, wood or steel furniture, walls, and even the ceiling.
There are mainly two different types of acoustic panels that are used for home studio acoustics; wall-mounted panels are used for hanging on the walls of the studio to prevent the sound from bouncing off the walls during recording.
Other types of acoustic panels include moveable baffles and gobos, which are mainly used to partition off or separate the vocalist or a particular instrument from the rest of the recording studio when required.
As the name implies, acoustic diffusers have been specially designed for absorbing the sound in the recording studio.
The diffusers act by diffusing and scattering the sound, which results in a more real-sounding audio experience.
In this way, acoustic diffusers are effective in interrupting any echoes that are caused due to sound reflections that are bouncing off the walls, ceiling, or other hard surfaces to improve the overall sound quality.
The use of acoustic diffusers is effective when it comes to doing away with audio issues such as standing waves, flutter echo, and first reflections, which occur during the recording process.
When they are used correctly, acoustic diffusers can be highly effective in retaining the positive acoustic qualities of a recording studio, consequently resulting in a better audio experience.
Bass traps can either be made of fiberglass or special foam and are designed to absorb low frequencies.
Due to their mass and size, bass traps are also effective in helping absorb, to some extent, the high and mid frequencies that are produced during the recording process.
Bass traps are usually placed in the corners of a recording studio and also in areas where the walls meet the ceiling.
Since the home studio acoustics is going to vary depending on the size of the room and the type of recording environment required, it is best to consult with a professional or go online to find out the best options when using bass traps, acoustic panels, and diffusers.
How to Set Up Acoustic Treatment Gear?
So, you’ve finally decided that your home recording studio could really use some acoustic treatment. Good for you.
Here, we are going to break down the step-by-step process of integrating acoustic treatments into your studio for better home studio acoustics.
Evaluate Your Space
First things first, you will need to evaluate the space in which you’re going to make your home recording studio.
While it’s tempting to just purchase all of the acoustic treatment you can find online, you will first want to find out which acoustic treatment works best for you.
To get a good idea of what acoustic treatment to invest in, you will first need to measure the area.
Take into account the width and height of the walls and the overall size of the room before you consider the amount of absorption you need. This will also give you a good idea of how many panels and diffusers you will need to cover the entire room.
Get Familiar with the Room’s Sound Characteristics
Getting familiar with the unique sound characteristics of the room is going to allow you to apply the acoustic treatment correctly.
Since every room is going to be unique when it comes to its sound characteristics, you need to find out how much sound bounces off the walls of the room.
You can do that by starting at one side of the room and clapping while you walk the entire length of the room to get an idea of how much absorption and diffusion is going to be required to get that perfect sound.
A good rule of thumb is to go for more acoustic panels if the sound you receive is harsher. On the other hand, you might need more diffusers if the reverb is less harsh, which is common for larger rooms.
Identifying Early Reflection Points
When it comes to improving home audio acoustics, you will need to integrated acoustic treatment for optimized perceptive mixing.
The first thing you will need to tackle is the first reflection point, which hinders the microphone’s ability to record properly during recording.
You will need to place the acoustic foam or the fiberglass panels on the walls at either side of the mixing station. You will also need to place some of the acoustic foam panels on the ceiling right above the mixing station.
When using acoustic foam or fiberglass panels, it’s best to go with panels that are 4 inches or thicker to get the desired effect.
Adding Bass Traps
You will want to position the bass traps strategically throughout the room for a lower frequency absorption.
You can go online to find bass traps placement guides that will help you control the lower frequencies during recording. You are going to need bass traps regardless of whether you are using a small or large room as your home recording studio.
Covering the Walls
Few people know this, but the sound waves that are emitted in a room can easily travel between walls as well, especially the walls that are standing parallel to each other.
This traveling of the sound back and forth can result in an over-amplification of the reflections which are already wreaking havoc to your audio recording.
One of the most effective ways to solve this problem is by covering most of the walls with acoustic panels.
You can easily do that by placing the acoustic panels on the walls after regular intervals. If you have money to spare, then it would be a smart idea to cover the walls of your studio entirely.
For enhanced sound quality, it is important to cover the corners or the dihedral spaces of the home recording studio.
You can do that by simply placing the acoustic panels made up of foam or fiberglass against the corners of the walls where two walls meet.
Since the panels are easily bendable, it will be easy to place the panels on the corners of your home recording studio.
Cover the Ceiling
While your home studio should be ready for action at this point, to get that extra bit of oomph, you could also use acoustic panels to cover the ceiling of your home studio as well.
For that, you can use bass absorbers to cover either part of the ceiling directly above your recording station, or the whole ceiling if you have the budget for it.
Covering the ceiling is also beneficial if you are looking to eradicate any excess reflections during the recording session, which will result in a more accurate sound recording.
In case that wasn’t enough, here are some more tips that you can use to improve home studio acoustics.
SPL (Sound Pressure Level) Meter
While you will need to keep tweaking the placement of the instruments and the acoustic treatment in your home recording studio to find that perfect sound, you can also use the help of technology that can make the process a bit easier.
One such tool that you can take advantage of is called an SPL meter or sound pressure level meter.
The SPL meter allows you to measure 85dB, which is an important sound pressure level, especially when it comes to a home recording studio.
That’s because 85dB is where our ears flatten its own natural response. It is recommended that you listen to 85dB to get a good idea of your mix-down where our hearing response is most linear.
This is another great way to ensure that your home studio acoustics is always pitch-perfect.
Don’t Forget About Diffusion
While some might argue that diffusion is more of a problem in larger studios, if you have the budget (since diffusion is expensive), you should include it into the overall design of your home studio as well.
Diffusers are a great way to get that real-like sound with your recordings, which will make your efforts well worth it.
So, there you have it. When it comes to home studio acoustics, these were just some of the things that you can do to ensure that you are able to record clear and accurate sound while recording in your home studio.
While these are just a few tips that you can start off with, there’s a raft of information available online that you can use to enhance your home studio acoustics and achieve an incredible level of sound quality.