Acoustic treatment is arguably one of the most important components of your home studio. Sadly, it’s usually the most neglected area.

Most folks would much rather buy a new mic or new studio monitors than bother with acoustic treatment. Or they’ll buy plug-in bundle after plug-in bundle, praying that one of them would be able to “fix” their mixes.

Oftentimes the problem isn’t the gear, it’s the room.

Think about it. Everything you do in your studio revolves around sound waves. These sound waves are bouncing all around the room. Unless your room was built from the ground up to appropriately handle all these reflections, you’ll need acoustic treatment.

A Big Shoebox

Most home studio owners are using a spare bedroom or office. Most likely the space is rectangular, like a big box. This just isn’t all that conducive to recording (and especially mixing) music. (Just stand in the middle of the room and clap your hands. You’ll hear a little “flutter echo”…not very pretty.) The parallel walls cause all sorts of standing waves and room nodes. This causes certain frequencies to “build up” in certain areas of the room. It can also cause certain frequencies to be dramatically cut.

You know how your studio monitors are supposed to have a flat frequency response, so you can accurately hear what you’ve recorded? Well a room that isn’t acoustically treated will most likely not have a flat response. The room itself will change the way you hear the sound, even if you’re using flat, accurate monitors!!

The Solution

There are a lots of things you can do to address the acoustics of your room. If you’re pretty serious about getting the room as flat as possible, you can have Auralex do a free room analysis. They’ll analyze your space and give you a best-case-scenario solution, including absorption products, diffusors, bass traps, etc.

Completely treating a room can get expensive, but even a few changes can cause drastic improvements to the way your room sounds. If nothing else, pick up a $100 box of 1-square-foot foam panels. That’s what I did the first time I treated my home studio.

I was able to place nine panels directly behind my studio monitors, four panels on the ceiling above the mix position, and ten panels on the wall opposite the monitors. Is this solution perfect? Nah. But it did make a noticeable difference in the sound of my speakers. They suddenly sounded tighter and more detailed. (Note: I used 2’x2′ ceiling tiles to glue four panels into one diamond shape, then I hung each “diamond” on the wall with just one nail.)

What happens is the foam absorbs the “first reflections” off the walls. These first reflections are what cause a lot of your acoustic problems. By absorbing them, you hear more of the direct signal from the monitors and less of the reflections in the room.

Another good place to put treatment is directly to your left and right, to prevent reflections coming off the side walls. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do that in my studio.

Mirror Rule

Let’s say you’re going to pick up a box of foam, but you’re unsure of where to place it on your walls. Use the mirror rule. Sit in your mix position, and have someone run a mirror along the walls. Wherever you can see your monitors in the mirror, put up some foam!

It’s a simple process, but it really helps you think through how the sound reflects through your room. Sound waves and light waves behave similarly, so the mirror rule can be pretty effective!

Give it a shot

If you’re wanting to build a professional home studio, you’ll need to invest some time and money in good acoustic treatment. You’ll need to get absorption panels, but you’ll also need bass traps (to handle low frequency issues) and possibly diffusers (to help spread out the sound more).

However, if you’re just starting out, make small changes here and there. Buy some foam. See how that works. Then buy a set of bass traps to put in the corners. Just take it one step at a time.

There’s no rule that says you have to buy acoustic treatment. You can get creative with blankets or mattresses. Anything that absorbs some of those first reflections can be extremely helpful.

If nothing else, remember that your room plays a huge part in how your recordings will turn out. A minimal investment in a little bit of acoustic treatment can make your equipment and mixes sound exponentially better.

Note: Bass traps are extremely important. They help even out the low end frequency response of your room, which will have the greatest impact on your room. That said, high-frequency absorbers (like foam) aren’t “pointless,” like so many people will point out. They’re certainly not a complete solution, but they do help improve the sound of a room. 

Further Information: If you’re wanting to dive deeper into room acoustics and how to treat your room, I developed a video training series with my buddy Gavin Haverstick of Haverstick Designs. Check it out over at UnderstandingYourRoom.com.

  • Oscar from Sweden

    Hi Joe!
    Im wondering how i shuold treat my room properly if i have a window on my right hand side.
    i’ve heard you shuold have your treatment symetric. Does that really matter?

    • It matters, but just do the best you can. Sometimes thick curtains can be really helpful.

  • Daniel

    I wouldn’t tell anyone not to treat their room, but materials like foam and rugs will only absorb high frequencies (if anything). Treating your room with materials like that can create more problems than it solves. I’d recommend using headphones with a room simulator (like TB Isone) until you can at least afford to make or buy broadband absorbers.

    • Good thoughts. But you have to consider the recording side of things, not just mixing. Even high frequency absorbers can help get a “dryer” sound when recording.

  • Renato Bosa

    Joe, is 50% of acoustic foam in the room (like a chessboard) foam too much?

    • Probably a bit much. But it’s pretty subjective. Foam doesn’t do much for midrange and lows, so you’re really just talking about how live the room sounds. I like it to have a little life to it.

      • Renato Bosa

        Thank you very much! The cool about it is that I can save any money too. =)

  • Krazeboi10

    Would it be a good idea to jus pad up the recording booth or should I pad up the whole room

    • Putting foam on 100% of the room is generally a bad idea.

      Also, a vocal booth isn’t always the best way to record. If it’s not done right, it can sound really bad. I’d just record in a normal room with a moderate amount acoustic treatment.

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  • CamBam

    I liked the mirror idea but I found it a little flawed. The exact spot to put foam is not very clear. You could put a mirror across your monitor, then point a laser pointer at it from your mixing position. Then the spot will be more exact than a quarter. Also you could put another mirror at the point and see where that reflects to. It’s hard to explain so ask for clarity!

    • Yeah, I guess it’s not super-exact, but we’re not talking about a tiny piece of foam. A 2-foot x 2-foot piece of foam is going to do the trick, even if it’s an inch or two “off” of the exact spot.

  • Greg

    When you say you “hung it with just one nail,” does that mean that you stuck a nail through your auralex, or did you glue it to some MDF, and then hang that? Don’t the rules of acoustic coupling work against you if it’s not secured to the wall? I’m renting right now, and I’m kind of keen on getting my deposit back. 🙂

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  • StudioOne

    I have Sonodyne SM50Ak active studio monitors that those have bass reflex holes on the front.
    Do I need bass trap panels to be placed behind these studio monitors?

  • Primacoustic is a manufacturer of acoustic materials of all types. ( Monitor pads,stabilizers,panels,diffusions ) etc.
    http://www.primacoustic.com/

  • Alternatives to auralex would be http://universal-acoustics.com/ which is an
    UK company.

  • David Olson

    Should I use some sort of Frequency anazlyzer in my studio to help flatten out the room/speaker situation? I could run an EQ on the master out of my DAW to fix any problem frequencies….? Never really heard anyone talk about that, but it seems like that would be something I should do – considering how important it is in live sound reinforcement. Great site Joe- I’ve enjoyed reading the articles here. Thanks!

    • Thanks David!

      EQ can help SOME of the problems, but there are two areas of sound that you have to address when dealing with acoustics – frequency domain AND time domain.

      I actually wrote an article on this that should help, here’s the link:

      Acoustic Treatment vs Digital Room Correction

  • Sam

    Hand-tufted wool rugs are pretty good as absorptive surfaces, yet reflect a portion of the sound waves back out into the room in a random way (due to the random patterns induced by hand-tufting) acting as a diffuser, also. They also have the side benefit of aesthetic appeal and come in a wide variety of designs.

    You can usually find some very nice cheap imported rugs from some kinda shady rug suppliers online. Just google search. When rug-hunting, be sure to specify “hand tufted” and “natural fibers” as these result in the most intricate variations that will tame frequencies in any sort of space.

    I’ve hung about 80 square feet of such rugs on the walls in my basement – and they’ve had a magical effect for both acoustics and decor. The two 5’x8′ rugs shipped to my door for less than $200.

    • Good call, Sam. I hadn't thought about rugs, but that makes a lot of sense. Even in my studio now, I've got foam and bass traps in the necessary places, but these walls are still pretty bare. A rug would be perfect.

      • Sam

        Joe, I also discovered a type of paint-able acoustic coating. Apparently, the paint contains tiny (micro-, not nano-scale) hollow ceramic spheres that have a vacuum condition in the interior voids, thereby eliminating heat transfer. Combining these spheres with other solids, sound energy is absorbed as heat energy within the matrix of these materials, and apparently in a pretty thin material. It is apparent that this is yet another material for dampening high frequencies… Trials shall commence! At <$160/5gal This stuff could be the best thing that ever happened to budget recording! I am going to test the material and document the results with a blog. It might be possible to negotiate free samples as a kind of advertising agreement with the supplier, if you're interested in such a thing.. for more information, check out this site: http://www.hytechsales.com/prod150.html

        Please bear in mind that I am not paid in any way to endorse this product. It is my intent to discover all of the alternatives and explore cost-benefit ratios of all means and methods!

        • So..let me see if I'm understanding you. The product itself is some sort of
          paint? Or it's material that you can paint over? Either way it sounds
          really interesting. Checking out the link now…

          Thanks Sam!

          • Cush

            Did you end up finding anything out about this/trying it at all? It sounds like a pretty practical thing to use if it does indeed work.

  • Great post about acoustic treatment

  • About2Flip

    Thanks Again great Article. Post some picts of your Acoustic Treatment so I can still some ideas. I just purchased some Bass Traps off ebay really cheap.

  • Jon

    I really really really dislike foam for acoustic treatment.

    Rigid Fiberglass panels (like mine here: http://www.audiogeekzine.com/?p=390 ) are more effective and way cheaper.

    It takes about 15 minutes to build 1 2′ x 4′ panel.
    I spent about $200 for the rigid fiberglass, fabric, wood, and staple gun. I this made 96 ft2, which comes out to $2/foot compare that to Auralex foam which is at least $4/foot and is less effective.

    • That’s good info, Jon. Just read the article. Very cool!