What Acoustic Treatment Should I Use in My Home Studio?

Acoustic treatment is imperative when it comes to a home studio. Ensuring you have the proper equipment, whether you choose to use insulation and a sofa, or bass traps and acoustic panels, these will help to reduce noise, reflections, and frequencies, leaving you with a sound that is more akin to that of the professionals. Plus, when you have a flat environment to work in, your mixes and masters will be far more true.

What Acoustic Treatment Should I Use in My Home Studio?

When you’re trying to create a home studio of your own, you may think that top of the range studio microphones, monitors, and excellent technical know-how will be enough. And while equipment and experience are absolutely necessary for home studio work, they won’t help you nearly as much as a great sounding room. For a great sounding room, you’ll need specialized acoustic treatments to take your home studio mixes from sub-par to a professional level.

Professional Studio Acoustic Treatment

Figure 1: Professional Studio Acoustic Treatment

So what acoustic treatment should I use in my home studio? The best acoustic treatment for a home studio will include bass traps placed in every corner, foam panels on parallel walls, and diffusers that either hang from the ceiling or are attached to walls.

If you are not familiar with acoustics, the thought of trying to treat a home studio will seem challenging. That is why we are going to break down what a home studio is, why acoustic treatment is essential, and how you can put together a top quality home studio using either commercial sound absorbers (the best way) or low-cost options (if you are just starting out and have a tight budget).

What is a Home Studio?

Sometimes referred to as a project studio, a home studio, by its own definition, is a studio that is situated inside your home. It differs from a professional studio, in the way that the users can utilize a spare room in their house without bearing the extra costs of an off-site location.

Home studios also allow the owner to save money on professional studio hourly rates. A decent, local professional studio will charge anything from $100 to $600 per hour for recording and mixing. So, the beauty of a home studio is that once the initial outlay for equipment, and of course acoustic treatment, is met, hourly rates are off the table.

A professional studio, will undoubtedly, produce the best results, but you will need to pay a lot more and be well prepared if you don’t want project costs to escalate. The home studio, on the other hand, allows you to spend as much time as you can or want, tinkering, experimenting, learning, and re-doing anything and everything you feel like.

The majority of home studios are set up for:

  • Recording (your own music as a singer-songwriter, your band, or other aspiring bands in the area).
  • Mixing.
  • Mastering.

But, are also set up by people to try their hand at:

  • Starting up a podcast.
  • Recording for documentaries, inspirational stories, or audio books.
  • Recitation, recording, and releasing poetry.

A multitude of benefits goes hand-in-hand with a home studio as well. As we have already seen, you save money, as you will not need to purchase a building or spend money at someone else’s recording studio. You also have the potential to earn a little side income, as other artists use your space to record their music, and have it mixed and mastered by you (when you are good enough!).

A home studio also provides comfort for someone who is just starting out and wants to have a relaxing spot where they can practice their skills until they are confident enough to share their work with the world.

The Price of Entry to a Home Studio

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio interface ships with a copy of Pro Tools First ($150). Add a pair of entry-level Yamaha HS5 monitors ($400), XLR cables ($10) and a pair of acoustic monitor isolation pads ($34). Use your existing laptop or desktop, and you can get ‘started’ for less than $600.

Figure out which room you are going to use at home and set a $400 budget for acoustic treatment, and your home studio is well on the way for no more than $1000. You can start practicing your mixing skills and learning a lot of what you will need while budgeting for and considering microphone choices and anything else you plan on bringing in.

What are Acoustics?

Knowing what acoustics are and how they affect a home studio is an essential piece of the puzzle when setting up a recording and mixing space. Acoustics can be a complicated subject, so let’s try to keep our explanation simple:

  1. Whenever studio monitors produce sound, an amount (known as direct sound) travels straight to our ears.
  2. The same sound almost immediately begins traveling outwards in every direction, hitting surfaces, and eventually bouncing back to our ears (known as reflected sound).
  3. The first sounds reflected back to our ears are known as early reflections.

As the sounds are reflected around the room, each successive bounce removes energy from the sound. And depending on the distance traveled, and surface that the sound bounces from, energy is lost in different parts of the frequency spectrum. However, energy is not lost uniformly, and therefore, the sound finally arriving at the listener is colored.

The combination of direct sound, early reflections, and reflected sound is what we hear when we play audio in our home studio. The amount of these three types of sound is how we should think about acoustics. We use acoustic treatment to control the amounts.

Why do some rooms, especially smaller ones at home, have such troublesome acoustics? In a smaller space, the more bouncing off walls and surfaces will occur, in the same timeframe. A larger and taller area - for example, a church or cathedral - is an extremely open space that allows sounds to travel further away before reflecting back to the listener.

To be fair, some rooms sound better than others. Even some smaller rooms have the potential to sound ‘okay’ because, apart from the walls, they do not have a whole lot of sound reflectors in them and are constructed differently. But why settle for just ‘okay’? Even with just a little acoustic treatment, you can completely change the way your home studio deals with reflected sounds.

Why Do I Need Acoustic Treatment in My Home Studio?

Those who are currently starting up their home studio and have listened to their work probably noticed that it lacks professional and commercial quality. This is especially true when music is played back through other sound systems, such as your home hi-fi or your car stereo.

Acoustic treatment is needed in a home studio so that the audio being heard is not colored too much, by uneven additions and subtractions of frequencies. Each room is unique in the way that it resonates and reflects sounds. This phenomenon is known as “Room Mode.” Room Modes change depending on how square or rectangular the room is. Room Modes are also responsible for what are known as “Standing Waves.”

Depending on the room shape, room mode, and standing waves, reflected sounds can affect the overall sound pressure level of audio as much as 6 dB (positively or negatively) as it bounces around.

So how can you make sure that your mixes can compete in this ever-expanding marketplace? It really is all about acoustic treatment. Giving your home studio the proper acoustic treatment will help you to be able to reproduce recorded audio faithfully, mixes, and masters that you are working on.

What Acoustic Treatment Should I Use in My Home Studio?

When looking at a home studio, there are fundamentally three main elements of acoustic treatment:

  1. Bass Traps
  2. Acoustic Panels
  3. Diffusers

Bass Traps

These are the single most crucial sound absorber when it comes to acoustic treatment. Although designed to overcome problematic build-up of low-end frequencies, these are also effective for mid and high range too.

Bass frequencies are going to be one of your biggest problems when it comes to faithfully reproducing sound, so having bass traps are imperative. In some cases (like in smaller home studios) bass traps alone are enough to overcome the majority of problematic reflections. If your budget is tight start with one or two sets of bass traps, and add more when you can.

Bass Traps and Accoustic Panel Placement

Figure 2: Bass Traps and Accoustic Panel Placement

Acoustic Panels

Acoustic panels are great at absorbing high frequencies that are reflected from walls, floors, and ceilings, but they can’t control those pesky low frequencies at all. While you may be able to get a bigger bang for your buck in terms of coverage with acoustic panels, they should not go ahead of bass trap placement.

Diffusers

These can be beneficial in rooms where you have too much reflection, corners, or parallel walls. They can also be placed on the ceiling above where you’re recording to provide extra protection against unwanted frequencies and reverb. A diffuser basically reroutes the sound waves so that they bounce away in different directions and not straight back at you.

While some people do not like how flat a diffuser can make the room sound, they are typically used in most studio environments as they are one of the simplest, effective acoustic treatment options you can use.

How to Set Up the Acoustic Treatment

Now, there are two main methods that you can use to set up an acoustically balanced home studio. The best option is to use commercial absorbing products like bass traps, diffusers, and acoustic panels.

If you are low on cash or you have just started out and don’t want to spend tons of money before you know which direction you want to go, there are a few cost-effective and simple solutions you can do while you save up.

Accoustic Treatments in a Home Studio

Figure 3: Accoustic Treatments in a Home Studio

Quick, Cost-Effective Acoustic Treatment

Every room has items that cause reflections, and this can affect your recordings and the mixing environment. So, you need to start off by taking a good look at your home studio and do the following:

  • Get rid of as many hard surfaces as you can, such as tables and chairs. Also remove things that are hanging from the walls and can vibrate, such as picture frames. Essentially, you want to remove as many hard surfaces as possible from the room.
  • Place a few soft chairs and a sofa in the room - the more substantial and softer, the better. Ensure that you place the sofa against the wall opposite your monitors so that it can absorb as much sound and reflections as possible.
  • Cover any windows in the room, no matter how small they are. Use soft, heavy fabric, foam, and heavy curtains. This is for two reasons: glass is very reflective and can vibrate. But it also allows many outside noises to leak onto your recordings.
  • To provide more absorption and diffuse frequencies without commercial products, you can try foam insulation. Cut it into pieces that can be placed against the walls, ceiling, and in the corners of the room. Remember to scatter the insulation so that there is a higher chance of dampening.
  • Your corners are your biggest priority for coverage, so make sure your insulation is from the floor to the ceiling in every corner.

Acoustic Treatment Using Commercial Products

If you can purchase commercial sound absorbers, we highly encourage it! Commercial sound absorbers will have a much better impact on the overall sound quality of your home studio, and you can easily place them by doing the following:

  • Start by measuring your home studio, so you know exactly how much product you need. You may also want to make a plan or ‘map’ of some sort, showing exactly where you want the insulation to be placed.
  • Remember that your most important purchase will be the bass traps, so start there. Bass traps have their own way of being attached, so pay attention to the manual for the instructions when installing. Place them in every corner of the room.
  • Next, you will want to purchase acoustic foam panels. If your budget allows, purchase foam panels that have a varying thickness to achieve the most frequency absorption. Place them evenly throughout the room at ear level.
  • Diffusers are also handy to create angles on the walls and the ceiling. These will also help further your acoustic treatment in your home studio, leaving you with professional sound.

If you are still having trouble with the equipment you need to purchase and how it should be set up, you can also consider buying a pre-made home studio acoustic treatment kit, such as the Primacoustic London 10 or 12 Room Kit. These come with everything you need to turn your room into an efficient home recording studio in a few simple steps.

Tips and Tricks for Better Acoustics:

  • The room should have sloping ceilings and angled walls that are non-reflective.
  • Cover any windows with heavy curtains, a foam panel, or thick fabric.
  • Deadening your room will help with sound absorption. Use things like a sofa, pillows, rugs or carpets on the floor, and books on a shelf to stop reflection.
  • It really doesn’t matter too much if just one of the walls is reflective, as long as it isn’t the wall opposite your monitors. This will cause a lot of bounce-back.
  • Position your monitors away from walls and corners. This will help reduce unwanted frequency build-up. See the article “How Far Should I Place My Home Studio Monitors from the Wall?” for more information.
  • Ensure that your monitors are placed in such a way that they create an equilateral triangle, with you being in the sweet spot. See the Monitor Setup and Calculator Guide here.
  • Aside from achieving a flat frequency response for the room’s acoustics, be sure to also check the reverb time as this can affect your mixing and monitoring.