Home Studio Acoustic Treatment (and why you need it)

Last Updated on May 02, 2021 by Dave Tudor

acoustic treatment

Technology really has come a long way in recent times and being able to create high quality recordings in a home studio has become more and more prevalent.

Recording in your home does present some inherent challenges, however. Professional studios were designed from the ground up with the physics of good room acoustics in mind.

Your personal home recording space? Most likely not!

One particular issue with recording at home can be how much natural reverb that your recording environment has. To be sure, in some situations having those natural reflections may be considered a good thing, but in many cases it’s not.

So what can you do to mitigate the effects?

Fortunately, there are many ways to apply at least some acoustic treatment in just about any room – and some of them may not be as involved (or as expensive) as you may think. In this article we’ll review some quick and easy ways to treat a recording space so you can get the best possible sound ‘down on tape’.

Are a lot of reflections/reverb/echo in a room a bad thing?

For the most part – yes. Excessive room reverberation can have a negative effect on your recordings and reflections can wreak havoc on the accuracy and clarity of what you hear in your monitors on what otherwise would be a well recorded performance.

Specifically, we’re talking about early, or first reflection points, and of all the acoustic treatment options available in a home studio, this is probably the most important to address straight off the bat. If you can only afford to do one thing, addressing early reflections should be top of the list.

Take a look at this video:

Essentially, this means what you hear isn’t a true representation of what’s actually being recorded because it’s being colored by the acoustics in the room. Sound comes out of your monitors, bounces off the side walls, ceilings and other hard surfaces and then hits your ears a fraction of a second after you hear the actual sound coming out of the speakers, effectively creating a delayed second signal. Your ears (and brain will be confused).

The best recording environment is one that is relatively flat and neutral – and that’s because you want your mixes to sound good on any device they’re played on, not just through your studio monitors. This is particularly true when recording tracks that contain a lot of fine detail and potentially delicate passages (such as vocals or an acoustic guitar).

To be fair, there are some cases where room reverb can be a good thing on the base recording, such as when the intent is to get somewhat of a ‘live’ feel. Additionally, excess reverberation may be intended as an extreme effect to set the mood (such as the monstrous drum sound on Led Zeppelin’s ‘When The Levee Breaks).

Ways to reduce excessive room reverb

Since most home studio spaces were not intended for that purpose when they were built, it’s not uncommon for them to have more natural reverb than would be suited for most recording purposes. But not all hope is lost! There are more than a few ways to reduce that reverb, and some can be extremely low cost.

Acoustic treatment panels

One of the quickest ways to reduce reverb in a studio space is to use off-the-shelf acoustic treatment panels. These panels are designed to hang directly on walls, they are readily available from most major music equipment retailers, and can be relatively inexpensive.

They are found in a wide range of sizes and materials, making them a great choice for any custom room application. An additional option over wall treatments are movable baffles that you can place wherever they need to be for your particular application.

Bass Traps

A very important type of acoustic treatment panel is the bass trap. While typical wall panels are great choices for mid-to-high range frequencies, they’re not great at handling the low end stuff. Bass traps are typically best placed in the corners of a room, where low frequencies naturally congregate and tend to have the most impact.

Floor types and coverings

Hard and flat surfaces are the perfect environment for sound waves to reflect – and for that reason, floors enter the equation.

That’s not to say that a hard floor is necessarily a bad thing, though. Generally a good studio floor will have a wood or vinyl structure (or even concrete); that helps to create a balance with walls that have a proper acoustic treatment applied to them to make the room sound more natural.

For practical purposes, a bare floor typically has some sort of thin floor rugs as well. While some carpet is OK, the idea of the entire floor being carpet may not be the best choice. Not only can it lead to a ‘dead’ sounding room, but the idea of durability is a point to consider as well. High foot traffic over time may mean having to replace it.

What if treatment options are not readily available?

If your budget is a concern, then it’s also very possible to build your own panels. Some have even used solutions as simple as a blanket hanging from a few extended music stands. If you’re really strapped for cash, drapes and curtains have natural sound absorption properties.

If you are going down the DIY route then It may be a good idea to sneak a look at some commercial available panels and bass traps just to get an idea of the design, construction and materials used. This will help you decide what to get for your own build.

Aside from that, something as simple as strategic placement of your room furniture can have a great impact on the overall room sound as well.

What if you have no choice but to record in an untreated room?

Sometimes there may not be any option but to record in a room that hasn’t had any sort of proper acoustic treatment applied. While that can present a challenge, it’s not completely insurmountable.

At the same time, it might be a good idea to view things from a relative perspective. While it may be worth your time trying to get the best professional sound possible, keep in mind that you aren’t in a professional environment – you’re in a spare room in your home! You just may not ever be able to get that completely perfect sound, but that’s really OK…

Take alternate approaches to your recording techniques

A good way to combat reverb is to vary your strategies and use different recording techniques.

One option would be to record direct as much as possible. That may be simple enough with, for example, an acoustic guitar that has some sort of pickup/preamp system installed. While that will help with reducing any reverb concerns, there is a downside. In this particular case the overall recorded tone may be different than using a mic simply due to the characteristics of the pickup itself.

Taking advantage of the polar pattern of your mic can be a good method to take. For example, with a cardioid mic there is very little (to no) signal that can be picked up from the rear, so positioning the mic in the right way to avoid a particular reverb source may help.

Utilizing a ‘close mic’ approach can help as well. Simply put, the closer the source is to the mic, the more direct sound will feed into it, and other sound reflections may not be as prevalent.

Apply post production solutions (‘fix it in the mix’)

There are also options that can be used in post processing as well. There are numerous plugins available designed to remove excessive reverb from any track. While this may seem like the ‘perfect’ solution, it typically is considered a best practice to record the base track with the intent of keeping any post processing to a minimum.

Conclusion

Recording in a home studio environment presents a number of challenges, and one of the greatest of those is dealing with far from ideal room acoustics – simply to the room not being naturally optimized for that purpose.

Fortunately there are options to be taken to knock things into shape. As we’ve seen, proper use of acoustic treatment panels and bass traps are typically the best approach. But there are also other paths you can take if your budget is critical, such as homemade solutions or simply using creative furniture placement.

Aside from that, a change in recording procedures (running direct) or using post processing can help to minimize the effects of too much natural reverb as well.

Ultimately, the bottom line is this: armed with enough knowledge of how to perform a good acoustic treatment on your particular room, you can be assured that your recordings will have the best sound possible.

The benefits of even a partially treated room will have a marked effect on your recorded masterpieces.

Dave Tudor

Dave Tudor has been a musician for 40 years. He plays guitar, bass, keyboards (badly) and records his own music in his home studio.

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