I just set up my recording stuff in one of my bedrooms at my new place. So setting up and treating my home recording studio has been on my mind. This post will show you all the steps to get your home studio up and running.
How Sound Bounces Around a Room
Before you start hanging diffusers and bass traps around your home studio, you have to understand how sound bounces around a room.
When you make noise with your voice or instrument, those sound waves move out in all directions. The ones that go straight from the source to the microphone are called “direct sound.”
The sound waves that don’t go directly into the mic bounce around the room, creating reflections that come back to your ears and/or the mic. Those sound waves are called “reflected sound.”
Now, when you’re recording, you want to isolate the direct sound as much as possible. It’s the most accurate sound of the source and will sound the best. So the more reflected sound that hits the mic, the worse the recording will be and the less control you’ll have over the final sound.
That’s where acoustic treatment comes into play. It’s all about reducing the reflected sound and highlighting the direct sound.
Choosing a Room
If you have options for rooms to use, this section is for you. And unless you’re up for some serious construction, it’s rare to find the “perfect” room. Just go with the best option available.
So here are some considerations when choosing a room for your home studio…
Avoid the super small rooms if you can. Acoustically, they’re not ideal. Not that you can’t use a small room – I’ve recorded albums and singles in a walk-in closet.
If you have a less-than-ideal room, it’s best to deaden the sound as much as possible. Because you can always add emulated room sound with reverb and delay, but it’s very difficult to remove the natural reverb of a room.
It’s rare to find a perfectly square room, but if you come across one, try to avoid using it as your home studio. Square rooms tend to have a buildup of sound waves.
Instead, go with a rectangular room.
Rooms with lots of hard, flat surfaces are not your best option. Like concrete basements, for example – they’re a recording nightmare. Steer clear of rooms with massive windows, mirrors, and concrete. Fortunately, you can add things to the walls to help absorb and diffuse the sound waves.
On the other hand, wood floors are helpful. If you’ve got a wooden floor, put a rug or two down and it’ll help the sound a lot.
Lower ceilings aren’t exactly ideal, although many houses don’t have super high ceilings. In rooms with low ceilings, reflected frequencies bounce back to the microphone at a faster speed, creating an unsightly mess of overlapping frequencies. That’s where acoustic treatment becomes helpful.
When you’re choosing a room, listen to the inside and outside noise of the room. Inside noise would include the sound of the pipes and any floor squeaks. Outside noise could be neighbors or car sounds. Do your best to choose the quietest room.
How To Set Up Your Monitors
Next, it’s time to set up your monitors. The best place to start is by reading the user manual. It will give you directions on how to set up the speakers based on the make and model.
But here are some general tips for setting up your monitors:
- Position the monitors at the minimum recommended distance from the wall behind them (read the user manual for this)
- Make sure the distance between the monitors and the wall behind them is not the same as the distance between the monitors and the side walls
- In bigger rooms, put the monitors along the longer wall
- In smaller rooms, put the monitors along the shorter wall
- Create an equilateral triangle between the monitors and your head
- Point the monitors at your ears
Treating Your Room
In any room, there are three trouble spots that you need to address: the dihedral corners, trihedral corners, and the walls.
- Trihedral corners: where the walls meet the ceiling or floor, forming three corners.
- Dihedral corners: where the walls meet each other, comprising two surfaces.
The top priority is the top trihedral corners and then the dihedral corners and lastly the walls.
Why this order? Well, the more surfaces soundwaves can bounce off of, the greater the potential for unwanted sound buildup.
Trihedral corners need bass traps
Lower frequencies tend to build up in the trihedral corners, specifically the top corners because there are three surfaces converging. So bass traps are made to absorb low-end frequencies.
Dihedral corners need absorption panels
For the dihedral corners where the walls meet, you’ll want to place absorption panels, also known as acoustic panels.
The priority spots for absorption panels are:
- Directly behind the monitors
- On the side walls at ear height
- The wall behind your chair, opposite the monitors
Also, consider handing a thick curtain or blanket over any windows because glass is a very poor reflection surface.
Walls need absorption panels and diffusers
Absorption panels absorb sound. Diffusers scatter soundwaves, which is much better than a flat wall because it varies the time it takes for the sound to reach the microphone and/or your ears.
Professional-grade diffusers can be pretty expensive, but pretty much anything can act as a diffuser. I have guitars, hand drums, and art hanging on my studio walls, and those things double as diffusers.
Ceilings need clouds
We can’t forget about the ceiling because sound waves will bounce off of it too. Ceiling clouds are a type of absorption treatment that you hang above your head, roughly between the monitors and your ears.
If you can’t afford a professional-grade ceiling cloud, you can use a thick blanket instead (this is what I do).
A Few Tools To Help You Treat Your Home Recording Studio
Here are a couple of tools that will help you get the best sound from whatever room you have.
First, the GIK Acoustics Visualizer will show you where to place acoustic treatment based on your room size and dimensions. And it will show you a 3D model of what it would look like.
Second, SoundID Reference from Sonarworks is an app and plugin that will calibrate your headphones and speakers to your room, giving you a more accurate sound.
Lastly, use reference tracks. After you’ve set up your studio, listen to music you’re familiar with that you know sounds great. This will help you know if your room has too much bass buildup, an ugly reverberation, or some other problem.
Getting a good recording and a good mix involves knowing your room. And reference tracks will help you learn your room.