Our man Robert Fumo gives you the lowdown on acoustically treating your workspace on a budget.
You’ve been making some great tunes, but for some reason, after mixing and mastering, you’re not yet getting that crisp finished sound your track deserves. After hours of mastering tutorials and countless tweaks you stumble across a realisation. It’s not you that sucks, it’s the acoustic qualities of your workspace!
Many of us work in our houses and don’t have the money to rent a studio, pay a mastering engineer or dedicate a separate room for production. These spaces have all kinds of materials and equipment that bounce your sound waves all over the place and prevent you recording the sound directly from the source. These rogue waves end up in your production and mashing up your sounds.
Great! So now you know the problem, what can you do about it? You need to acoustically treat your workspace. The purpose of acoustic treatment is to absorb the reflections of sound waves so that you only hear or record the sound actually being produced. We want to eliminate sound waves being reflected off the walls, ceiling, floor and other surfaces.
Naturally there are lots of professional treatments that can be applied, some of which are costly. But given that most of us aren’t made of money, we’ve got some great techniques you can use on a budget to improve the quality of sound and frequency response in your studio space. Keep in mind that no one of these suggestions is a silver bullet and you might use multiple, if not all, of these ideas to greatly improve your situation.
#1 Egg Crate Foam
My first suggestion is to use egg crate foam. This material is not suited for sub or low mid-range frequencies but can work wonders with initial reflections, flutter and echo. If you’re doing a lot of vocal or live instrument recording this is your best bet on a budget.
Depending on where you source it, you can get it in rolls and cut it to your desired size, or you can get it pre-cut. If purchased from a retailer specializing in acoustic treatment they often come in squares and are made of a specific type of acoustic absorption material, but they are often more expensive that doing it yourself.
One warning with this stuff – be careful how you attach it to the wall. Do not glue it. Use velcro, double-sided tape or actually put some screws or hooks in the wall to hang it. More often than not you will need to remove the treatment at some point and if it’s glued you’re going to ruin the wall underneath and it’s going to cost you time and money to fix, especially if it’s a rental space.
#2 Acoustic Panels and Bass Traps
These are found online through many different retailers, but with a little elbow grease and a hardware store you can make them yourself! There are many DIY resources online with very detailed breakdowns of the design and construction process, but here is the general idea of how to build one.
The thickness of the panel will determine what frequencies the panels will best absorb. Thinner panels absorb higher frequencies, while thicker panels work for sub-frequencies.
- Cut and build the frames to suit your workspace.
- Reinforce the frame to create a rigid structure.
- Cut insulation to size and insert in the frame. Any insulation can work, but rockwool is preferred.
- Wrap your panel in your chosen fabric. Canvas or denim are ideal.
Now you have some great acoustic panel’s at a fraction of the price of professionally made panels. And with the hundreds of dollars you’ve saved you can get some new hardware (or a BassGorilla membership 😊).
Remember that the thicker the panel, the more frequencies you can absorb. By doubling up the layers of insulation you can make some bass traps using this method. Place them behind you, or in corners, to deal with the bass build-up in these parts of your room. This will greatly improve the flatness of your studio space.
#3 Acoustic Blankets
These are ideal for windows as you can actually hang them up like curtains and they can be opened when not in use. Found in a hardware store or at an acoustic treatment outlet, they are inexpensive and can provide great results in a space that has a lot of windows.
You can also fashion these over a simple frame of PVC pipes to create a vocal or instrument recording booth to capture that killer chorus.
#4 Microphone Reflection Filters
One of the biggest issues with recording vocals is getting flutter and echo in the recording from sound waves reflecting back into the microphone. A reflection filter can mitigate a large amount of that and the price tags on these units are pretty reasonable. In addition, we suggest having at least one acoustic panel behind you, as a reflection filter typically only covers the area behind the mic.
#5 Area Rug or Carpet
If you have hard flooring in your studio, one of the easiest things you can do to help tame the reflections of the space is to carpet the room, or get a nice sized rug under your listening space. This will help to reduce the amplitude of sound waves bouncing off the floor and greatly improve your recordings.
A diffuser does just what it sounds like it does. It diffuses the sound, jumbling up the reflections so they don’t have the same characteristics as the source and don’t bounce around in their original structure. Common places to locate diffusers in a mix room are where the audio from the speakers hits the nearest walls and ceiling. By applying diffusers at these points it lessens the impact of the reflection
Building a diffuser is quite easy, but time consuming, as you need to cut many different pieces of wood and, depending on the finish you are looking for, you have to sand all the pieces. Even though it looks like just random heights of blocks glued to a board it’s not. The size of each block is exact to an algorithm devised by some serious math nerds, so follow the blueprint or a diffusion calculator exactly. Some professional diffusers can cost hundreds of dollars but making one can be less than $100. Here is what a traditional diffuser looks like and a sample blueprint laying out the different sized blocks used.
Placement of these different tools varies from studio to studio, but a general rule is to absorb/diffuse the first reflection points surrounding your listening space. Here is a visual representation on how you would generally place some bass traps, acoustic panels and diffusers. Light Blue are acoustic panels. Red are bass traps and the object on the real wall is a diffuser.
OK everyone, so those are some cost effective ways you can treat your studio space. Whether you’re a recording artist looking to make your recordings sound more professional by reducing echo and flutter, or you’re looking to mix and master, you should try all or a combination of any of these options. They will drastically improve the frequency response of your room, so that your mixes translate to the dance floor!
- Here are some additional links to get you going:
- SE Electronics RF-X Portable Vocal Booth: https://amzn.to/2G5KYp8
- Acoustic Foam: https://amzn.to/2Te47sJ
- Sound Absorption Blankets: http://bit.ly/2G2ikW1
- Acoustic Panels / Bass Traps: https://amzn.to/3oj8ClB