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!!
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.
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.