As you’ve heard countless times, your room plays an important role in how good your recordings are going to sound.
Got a bad-sounding room? Your recordings will sound bad.
Got a bad-sounding room? Your mixes will sound bad.
You can certainly do lots of things to combat a bad-sounding room, and no room is perfect, but what if your room was destined to sound bad? What if the mere dimensions of the room were all it takes to make a room unfit for studio work?
The Problem With Rooms
In a perfect world, we would be able to record and mix in a completely open space, where no reflections could swoop in and mess up the sound. If sound travelled through outer space, that would be an IDEAL place to mix a record…but it doesn’t, so we’re stuck figuring this out on earth.
The second-best option would be to mix outside, in a nice open field perhaps. Between the mooing cows, the wind, and the potential rain, you won’t get much done.
So we’re stuck mixing in a room. Whether your room is a tiny little bedroom or a big finished basement (or even a really expensive professional control room), you will have issues. All rooms (just like people) have issues.
Why? Because the sound is bouncing around the room. It’s an enclosed space, and these sound waves need somewhere to go. Since they can’t escape, they bounce around the room in all sorts of weird ways. Side to side. Up and down. Some of them make a loop around the corners of the room. It would be awesome if we could SEE them.
As these sounds are bouncing around the room, they inevitable “run into” each other. Do you remember what happens when similar sound waves combine together? That’s right, bad things. 🙂
If your friend, Mr. 150 Hz is bouncing around the room, and he meets up with another 150 Hz wave, one of several things can happen. If they’re aligned with each other perfectly, you’ll get a big ol’ boost at 150 Hz. If they’re out of phase with each other, you’ll get a big ol’ cut at 150 Hz. And any other combination can cause boosts and cuts at all sorts of frequencies. The result? It’s like you slapped a graphic EQ across your speakers and asked a two-year-old to play with the EQ sliders for a while.
Your room is acting like an EQ. It’s changing the signal before it ever hits your ears. Poor signal…it never stood a chance.
While it’s much more complicated than the way my small brain can explain to you, that’s essential what happens. When sound waves are allowed to run rampant, they interact with each other and cause problems.
The solution to this problem of sound waves run amuck is to absorb them. By absorbing the waves, they have less of a chance to bounce around the room, minimizing how much the room affects the sound.
Unfortunately, a little piece of foam doesn’t help that much when it comes to absorbing low frequencies, like our friend Mr. 150 Hz. That’s why you’ll hear people stress that you need bass traps. You need something bigger to absorb those bigger sound waves.
How low should your absorption go? It depends on the room. The dimensions of your room will tell you which frequencies will be the most troublesome, then focus on getting treatment that will absorb down to those frequencies.
Choosing the Right Room
If you have the luxury of choosing which room in your home will house your studio, you need to give it some serious thought. We bought our house a year and a half ago, and my studio is now in its THIRD location. Yep. We’ve moved it three times. As it turns out, I think this is the best-sounding room. Why? Because it has good dimensions.
I mentioned earlier that the dimensions of your room determine what frequencies will give you the most problems. For example, if one of the dimensions of my room is around 14′, then I will have issues at 80 Hz. (Just divide the speed of sound by the wavelength. 1130 / 14 = 80.)That’s because 14′ corresponds with the wavelength of an 80 Hz wave.
You can see how it can get really complicated.
Here’s where I’m going with this, and a really simple way to practically apply all this when you’re choosing your studio. You want to set yourself up to succeed. So before you start hanging acoustic treatment, you need to make sure your room isn’t fighting against you unnecessarily.
Here are two room dimension:
5′ x 7′ x 9′
6′ x 8′ x 8′
Which room do you think would be better for your studio? I’ll be honest, I used to think the bigger the better, so I’d go with the second one, but as it turns out, the 5′ x 7′ x 9′ room is MUCH better acoustically.
Here’s why. When choosing a room, you want to avoid dimensions that are divisible by the same number or each other.
In this example, the numbers 5,7, and 9 aren’t divisible by the same number OR each other. This is ideal. That means you’ll realistically only have three main trouble frequencies, rather than dozens.
The numbers, 6, 8, and 8 are ALL divisible by 2. And the numbers 8 and 8 are both divisible by 2, 4, AND 8. That’s not good. That means that whatever frequency has a wavelength of 8 feet (140 Hz) will be exponentially more problematic. Not only that, but multiples of that frequency will cause big problems. So 35 Hz, 70 Hz, 280 Hz, 560 Hz…all of these (and lots more) cause all sorts of problems.
The best solution? Simply use the other room. You will, of course, still need acoustic treatment, but the treatment will be much more effective, and the room will sound MUCH better than the other one, all because of the silly physics of the way sound travels and interacts with itself.
Your Next Step
I hope this article has helped you realize how important the room is to your recording success. If you want to learn more, and get really in-depth, practical advice for how to get the most out of your room, then go check out Understanding Your Room. I partnered up with Gavin Haverstick, who knows infinitely more about this stuff than I do, to bring you a phenomenal set of tutorial videos that will help your studio TREMENDOUSLY.
Go check it out now. The price is going up at the end of October. Here’s the link.