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A Guide to Home Studio Acoustics

A Guide to Home Studio Acoustics

A Beginner's Guide to Home Studio Acoustics

As studio gear has become more accessible to musicians of all backgrounds over the decades, so has the realization that most rooms in your house or apartment don't sound all that great.

Whether it’s that one bass frequency that makes the walls shudder in sympathy, or an annoying slapback reverberating from the corners of your ceiling, we know how frustrating it can be to have your creative flow disrupted by bad room acoustics.

With thin walls, boxy shaped rooms, low ceilings, rattling window frames and more, the average home studio or rehearsal space rarely does these issues justice. And in fact, it more often amplifies them (literally).

Fortunately, the same technological revolution that brought multitracking into basements has also created low-cost, high-quality solutions for many of the common acoustical issues facing the average home studio.

Let's take a look at how to smooth out any sonic concerns in your own home studio space.

Soundproofing vs. Treatment

It's a common misconception that soundproofing and acoustic treatment are the same.

It's true that while both methods absorb (or block) sound, they each serve a unique purpose.

What is Soundproofing?

Simply put, soundproofing is done to minimize the amount of sound traveling in or out of a room. 

Closely related is isolation which manages individual sounds from bleeding too heavily into each other. The first issue to tackle when soundproofing a space for a home studio is to block any potential points where sound can leak through.

Mackie Studio acoustics overview 1

Here are a few tips for the trickier areas to keep in mind:
  • First things first, mass is your friend – the thicker and more dense the walls are, the better they’ll be at stopping sound.
  • For doors and window frames, use the thickest, most dense weatherstripping that will fit in the allotted space. If you feel so inclined and have the budget for an installation, some companies offer soundproofed doors and windows, as well as soundproofed wall panels in pre-set or custom sizes.
  • For areas surrounding heating and air conditioning ducts, electrical outlet boxes, lighting fixtures, unfinished drywall joints and tiled ceilings, use a latex sealant designed specifically for acoustical applications.
  • A lot more may be accomplished by adding sound blocking layers to the existing walls.

What is Acoustic Treatment?

Acoustic treatment is done to absorb and control these unwanted reflections so that it creates an accurate listening experience.

And controlling the sonic characteristics of the space is a major challenge in any home studio space.

Mackie Studio acoustics diagram wave overview

This are dictated by a number of factors, including the distance between walls, the height of the ceiling, the angles at which the walls meet and the materials comprising the surfaces, not to mention the composition and placement of tables, pictures and other surfaces, furniture, curtains, etc.

Unfortunately, home studios typically tend to encourage the buildup of standing waves, resonant frequencies and other sonic anomalies that can substantially color what we’re hearing, rarely for the better.

The hard surface of a wall or ceiling, for example, can create reflections that significantly change the sound of a mix.
 

Different Types of Acoustic Treatment

Bass Traps

auralex bass traps

Bass traps are large panels placed in the corners of a room where lower frequencies tend to build up and cause issues when listening back to a mix.

This is because the frequencies will bounce between the two surfaces that are close together, creating a much larger waveform that inevitably reaches your ears. Bass traps help tame this.

One more note on bass traps - while the name might imply they are solely for bass frequencies, they also absorb the mid and high frequency buildup in the corners of a room which truly solidifies them as the foundation to any proper acoustic treatment setup.

Acoustic Panels

AlphaSorb® acoustic panels

Acoustic panels are typically placed on walls in a symettrical (or mirroring) pattern to evenly absorb sound.

This helps to balance the mid and higher frequencies throughout a home studio space and creates a more natural listening experience, which ultimately leads to an easier time mixing.

Diffusers

sound diffuser

Diffusers spread the sound and balance the sound "energy", creating a more natural listening experience.

Position these in certain, strategic locations to help break up and eliminate reflections, and produce a more even sound in your space overall.

DIY Acoustic Treatment Solutions

There are even a few DIY solutions for treating your home studio.

  • Heavy carpeting or thick, theater-style curtains.
  • Large, fully stocked floor-to-ceiling bookshelf.
P.S. with both soundproofing and acoustic treatment it's important to understand that over-treating a room can produce unwanted results.

With too much treatment, too much sound can be absorbed resulting in much of the natural high end of a sound and things may become muffled. Think of it like covering your mouth while you speak.

Additional Problems and Solutions

Having covered the main concepts of acoustic treatment, here’s a couple more important things to think about.

Mackie Studio acoustics overview 2

Noisy Fans

No, not those kind of fans.

Did you know that computers can be one of the biggest contributors of noise to the studio space? If you’re reasonably computer-savvy – or know someone who is – replacing the computer’s stock fan with a whisper-silent one is a quick way to reduce the noise.

Another option is to look into sound-dampening cases with quiet cooling systems, which can knock off several decibels of noise, as well as cabinets that will completely enclose the computer’s CPU.

Semi-Isolation

Mackie Studio acoustics sound gobo overview

In many cases, complete isolation is neither necessary nor desirable. A little leakage (aka bleed) can be a good thing; it adds a natural-sounding element that’s sometimes lost by separating things completely.

A bit of baffling between players and/or amps may be all that’s necessary to provide enough separation for a decent recording.

The best solution for semi-isolation is a gobo. A gobo is a small, portable isolation panel that absorbs and/or diffuses sound. Homemade ones are typically covered with carpet or other absorbent material on one side and a reflective surface, like parquet, on the other. Pre-manufactured versions are available for purchase.

Mackie Studio acoustics singer overview

The science of acoustics can be wide-ranging and confusing.

While we know a lot about how sound behaves and what to expect out of a given space, there are always enough variables to keep it interesting.

A new instrument, additional bodies in the room, even changes in the weather… everything can influence the way things sound. What works for one situation may not be ideal for another and the best we can do is to try and create as neutral and objective a listening environment as possible.

Arm yourself with good monitors, meters and spectral analyzers, identify and correct obvious problem areas, and listen to as many different types of music, mixes and instruments as you can. But at the end of the day the most important tools you have are your ears – if it sounds good, it probably is good!

 

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