Last Updated: November 2019
You’ve loaded the gear in and positioned everything just right on your studio desk, so you kick back in a comfy chair, ready to work. You have all the equipment, but what about your home studio acoustic treatments?
We asked studio designer/builder Leslie Chew of California Sound Services about the top 6 solutions for home studio acoustics. Who better to ask than the person who built and designed Output studios’ acoustic treatments?
Parallel walls with improper dimensions is a very common problem since home studios are often built in bedrooms or other small rooms. These rooms are generally too close to a square – or worse – a cube with reflective, parallel walls.
Each dimension of the room (length, width, and height) corresponds to a frequency, where the wavelength of that frequency matches the distance between the walls. Each of these frequencies is potentially problematic, as they bounce back and forth between opposite and parallel walls.
When your recording studio’s dimensions are similar, they’ll affect similar frequencies and compound the problem more. It takes a bit of science but learning how to acoustically treat a home studio is worth the time and effort.
It’s not always possible to knock out a wall or build some acoustic walls. Try to define the problematic frequencies and manage them with bass trapping and sound-absorbing foam. But be sure to add some diffusion panels to reflect sound energy back into the room.
To balance sound, it’s recommended to use a combination of absorption, diffusion, and bass traps for home studios. It also depends on whether the room is going to be a mixing/composing control room or a recording room (one that uses microphones to record instruments) or both. Control rooms for mixing are generally tighter and more controlled whereas recording rooms will benefit from a lively, more energized space.
In general, some home studio bass traps are used to control lower frequencies that may be affected by room dimensions.
“Absorption elements are used to remove first reflections that potentially cause phase problems and a ‘smearing’ of sound,” Chew explains. “Diffusion elements are added to energize the room with an array of reflections, instead of the ‘single slap’ that comes off of standard gypsum walls.”
Typically, standard acoustic foam panels will absorb and take high frequencies out of a room, leaving the low/low-mid frequencies generally unaffected.
Chew admits, “I don’t use much foam product, however, it can be effective in some situations. Unless the foam is very thick, it works primarily on higher frequencies.”
While these sound panels can take out some problematic chatter in the room, they can also leave the room sounding bass-heavy, often accentuating the bass problems that are already inherent in the room. This needs to be balanced with some basic bass management.
Be warned: the biggest issue about these DIY home studio room treatments occurs when too much is used. It shouldn’t be considered a “cure” for all problems – a modest amount can usually accomplish what’s needed.
Acoustic treatment problems tend to happen when they’re not designed for a specific space.
Usually, there are one of two scenarios at play:
The first is that there’s no plan and elements are arbitrarily placed. The second occurs when elements are bought and installed based on a design that worked in a different room.
“These are usually inspired by either a pre-packaged bundle or something seen in a picture or in another studio,” Chew adds. “An effective solution needs to be based on some analysis of the behavior of that particular room.”
“It takes a bit of science to design a good sounding room.”
– Leslie Chew
Assuming that you don’t want to get rid of the sub – or move your recording space to the garage – there are a few room treatments for home studios that can help minimize this problem:
Lift the subwoofer off of the floor and place something soft underneath it. Some fairly effective solutions are rubber feet, foam speaker isolators, rubber pads, or even an absorbent material like yoga mats.
Remember what Einstein said: “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.”
The more airborne energy you can effectively deactivate, the less that remains to vibrate walls and energize your house. Be aware of how and where you’re trapping the energy. Chew cautions, “remember that your home studio bass traps take up space and that bass energy has to go somewhere.”
Make sure that nothing in the room or house is loose and rattling from low-frequency energy. Any vibrating elements can amplify noise and exacerbate the problem. This can be drywall, molding, windows, studs, electrical, and HVAC ducts.
Once you’ve got your ideal home studio acoustic treatment perfected, it’s time to hit “record.” From manipulating frequencies to creating ambiance, discover what professional producers do to perfect their sound design techniques.
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