If you already have some experience recording or mixing some stuff in your home studio, you probably realized that even though your room or your garage may be a super convenient location to record your projects, they can also signify great challenges when it comes to audio quality or delivering a pro level music production, would you say?
To begin with, if you are facing frustration because of this, don’t! Your frustration can be replaced with joy after learning some acoustic basics, and applying some recording principles to your home studio.
Here we will throw at you some really cool concepts for you to improve your studio’s acoustic and overall audio recording/mixing quality, whether you spend a lot of money, or not, as you will see…
1 – Why Do You Need to Improve Your Room’s Acoustic?
Okay, so first, let us identify some problems that arise when the acoustics of your recording or mixing room are not taken into consideration…
It’s All About Sound Waves
Sound waves are basically vibrations that travel on air, this moving air that vibrates at a certain frequency is what causes our ear to perceive sound and pitch in general. Remember, sound is air vibrating, traveling through the air itself.
Now, when sound waves traveling through air, reach a wall or any object, they respond or are affected by the characteristics or properties of that very object, depending on its material, shape and size the sound wave can be either absorbed or reflected back.
When sound waves start being projected back or bounced back from the walls and objects in your room, your microphone will also pick up those sound waves that were bounced back.
All those reflecting waves are not good for your recording, as they start killing the pureness of your audio takes.
Not only that, the waves that were bounced back, they have also been “altered” in some ways. (it’s not that important for me to explain here, but keep it in mind), As an example; imagine when you look yourself in a funny mirror, you can tell that something is off, right? The same thing happens with audio and these reflected waves (reverberation).
Let’s Look at Some Common Acoustic Issues When Recording in a Home Studio
Your Room is Too Small
if you are recording in a room that is too small, the waves can’t travel very far, so they rapidly bounce back (again and again). As a result, you will get a very muddy recording and the pureness of your audio source will hardly be there as you want it.
The Materials in Your Room
Not all materials are the same when it comes to acoustics, the materials that have pores, are always better to absorb the sound. As the air and therefore the sound waves go through those pores, avoiding it to bounce it back directly.
You Are Not Positioned in the Best Spot
As you already know, sound waves can travel all around your room and fight each other, so try to run some tests and identify the best place where you have the least reflections or phasing issues possible. You will be surprised how different locations within the same room affect the sound. Learn your room!
2 – Frequencies
Because the characteristics of your recording room can really affect the audio quality of the recording, and because this is something that can’t be really fixed in later stages of the music production, let’s point this out…
If we divide the whole audio spectrum of frequencies, we can say we have;
- Sub Bass Frequencies (20hz – 50hz)
- Bass Frequencies (60hz – 250hz)
- Midrange Frequencies (500hz – 2000khz)
- Presence (4000khz – 6000khz)
- Brilliance (6000khz – 2000khz)
If you realized that there are some acoustic issues to resolve in your studio room, the first thing you probably need to do, is identify what kind of reflections your room is emphasizing. Depending on the size, shape and materials, your room will reflect more one of the spectrum ranges mentioned above.
3 – The Mic Can Pick up The Unwanted Reflections
If you are recording in a small room, you can expect that lower frequencies (reflections) will be more present. Believe it or not, a room can sound very bassy or muddy very quickly if something is not done to prevent it. If you are recording acoustic guitars for instance, you will notice them to sound very boomy. Awful!
Now, because most of the stuff we play is in the midrange section, and it can become very boomy too, we will always try to absorb as much as we can the low and mid frequencies with materials that do the job.
What is your mic getting?
When you are recording, your mic will capture your audio source, sure… plus all the frequencies reflecting through your room! so make sure you keep those unwanted signals to a minimum.
Also, try to isolate as much as you can from unwanted noises around your location, these can ruin your best takes and you are not going to like it. (dogs barking, airplanes, birds, wife’s cooking…whatever it may be!)
4 – Principles of Improvement to Your Room’s Acoustic
Once you know where you will set up the studio, try to make it as acoustically correct as you can. This means to cut down reflections as much as possible.
Try to avoid rooms that are square-shaped, but in case you have no other alternative, you can fix some big curtains on the windows, placing a big sofa or even placing lots of books on one of the sides of the room.
Don’t Use Egg Boxes
In reality they will not do a lot of improvement, and they look awful too, don’t they? You may not have enough money to buy acoustic panels at the time, but egg boxes will not do the job.
Get in Position
As it is almost impossible to kill reflections entirely, you can consider positioning yourself and the speakers in a position that will be most beneficial to work.
There is a rule that says that you should form an equilateral triangle between yourself and the two speakers. If you can, just under 2/5ths of the length of the room away from the front wall.
This will benefit reflective phasing and the dreaded bass null. (this is the spot in the middle of the room where reflections can cause a drop off in the bass end of your speakers’ response.) For this reason, you should avoid sitting in the middle of the room.
These concepts, although they are universal for any audio recording task, they are especially applicable when mixing!
People that are on a tight budget often place their speakers over the desk, this practice is not recommended, speakers need to be at the same height of your ears. (for this reason, we will not mention any distance or height from the ground). So, make sure your speakers and your ears are at the same level.
Higher frequencies are very directional, so in order to perceive correctly your speaker’s information to adjust and tweak EQ, place them right. If you can’t buy speaker stands, level them with something (books, boxes, wood, etc.) just make sure they are even!
Test The Acoustics of the Room
This can be done by certain apps that use a microphone to record the response of a frequency sweep.
One company that will allow you to try this is “Room EQ Wizard”. The software is free, all you need is the mic.
Speaker Placement is Important
Angle the speakers towards your head forming an equilateral triangle and avoid placing the speakers right against the wall. It is recommended to have a distance of at least 3 or 4 feet between the wall and the speakers.
5 – Consider Absorbing Panels, Bass Traps and Speaker Stands
If your room is to “live” you can buy foam panels and place them on the wall. The majority of foam panels absorb the higher frequencies more than the lower ones, but they can help a great deal. You can buy as many as you need. There is a great variety of materials, thickness options and shapes. The cheaper ones are one inch thick and they proved to help a lot. They come ready to place on your wall or ceiling. (there is actually a spray/glue specifically for foam that can be very effective to place them on your wall.)
For the lower frequencies, the bass traps are more effective and they are usually placed in the corners of the wall or roof. They can be a little more expensive too.
The benefit of buying speaker stands is that they have rubber-like feet or special acoustic diffusers that help reduce vibrations.
6 – Top Seven Absorbing Materials
1) Soft Furniture
Keep in mind the material of the cover, obviously, leather covers are more reflective than fabric ones.
2) Thick Carpets and Rugs
You could also use carpets or rugs on the walls and ceilings!, this may sound a little bit crazy, but they can really make a difference.
3) Paintings or Tapestries
If you want to reduce reverberations, you need to take as many hard surfaces as you can out of the equation. Anything that can cover the vast open space in your walls will be your friend.
4) Regular Curtains or Blankets
As you can imagine, the thicker the fabric is, the better!
5) Acoustic Window Film
Due to the properties of vinyl, the film will certainly absorb some of the impact sound waves have on the glass.
6) Sound Absorbing Curtains
Now we are getting to the good stuff, sound-proof curtains are without a doubt, one of the most attractive soundproofing solutions in the market.
7) Acoustic Partitions
If you’ve ever been in an open office space, you’ve probably seen a partition of some sort. Some are certainly better at absorbing noise than others.
7 – Summary
There are many ways to Improve the acoustics in your room. If you can’t spend a lot of money, you will have to get creative and experiment a little. If that is your case, grab as many items as you can from the list described on top to avoid as much as possible all sound reflections in your room.