Room Acoustics and Your Home Music Studio...

Image of acoustic foam used in acoustic treatment

Room acoustics shouldn't drive you up your studio walls!

Discover the basics you need to know about your room acoustics below...

Mission: Create a room where sound sources can be recorded or monitored without coloration or distortion introduced by the room itself.  

Factors Involved: The shape and dimensions of your room, the position of the sound source, types of surfaces and the furniture in the room.

Possible Obstacles: Room modes, standing waves, flutter echos, reverb, distortion, coloration, filter combing... aaaarggh no!

Causes for Obstacles: A square room,  a small room, reflective flat surfaces, corners.

You can clearly see by the above that room acoustics is very a technical and in-depth subject.

There are many great sources available should you wish to delve deeply into the subject of room acoustics.

You won't find on this page a long explanation about the technical aspects of how sound behaves in a room.

No,  I simply provide you with a very basic way of looking at room acoustics and tips on how to improve your DIY home studio sound quickly and on a budget.  The 20%.

Acoustic Fundamentals...

You will deal with two types of sound in your studio...

1) Direct Sound - Sound which comes directly from the source of the sound to your ear.

2) Reflected Sound - Sound which travels from the sound source and bounces off a surface before it reaches your ear.

Reflected sound waves can cause echos when mid and high frequencies bounce of walls or other surfaces.

Reflected sound waves can also form standing waves which occur between parallel walls and which causes accentuation of certain frequencies as opposing waves interfere with each other.

You will find that all your room problems are caused by reflected sounds.

You don't have to get too technical to improve your room sound.  You can get a good recording and control room space when you follow some basic guidelines outlined for you below.

The Room Acoustics Quick Fix Guide...

Possible room acoustics problems with mid and high frequencies...

Clap your hands.

I'm not joking! ;-)

Do you hear an echo or distorted fluttery or springy sound after you clap?

You may have a case of flutter echos.

Now, you want some room reverberation,  not too much though,  and definitely not anything which will actually distort the image of your source sound before it hits your ear.

The medicine you want for this mid to high frequency issue is a bit of absorption and diffraction.

Play some music in your room...

You'll find that selective and strategic placement of studio furniture and acoustic foam or panels will overcome flutter echos.

You also want to lay a carpet in your home studio should you not have one already.

The trick is to add absorbents and diffusers little by little until your room sounds decent.  Just enough reflection present so the room is not dead and also not too bright.

Possible room acoustics problems with bass frequencies...

You will have to overcome certain basic problems in the bass frequencies around and below 300Hz especially in smaller rooms.

Two such issues are room modes and standing waves.

Room modes are resonances created when sound is played in a room and the waves of the sound interacts with the structure of the room.

Reflected sound waves between parallel surfaces can also collide to create standing waves which means you will experience peaks and dips in frequency as you move around the room.

Furniture and bass traps can help to absorb bass frequencies and reduce your room mode or standing wave issues.

Room Acoustics Quick Fixes You Can Do Right Now...

- You want to add padding, convoluted foam and furniture to absorb and diffuse high and mid frequencies.

- You can use bookcases to absorb low frequencies and diffract high and mid frequencies.

- Your cupboards can act as bass traps.

- Carpets will help reduce reflections.

- You can also create picture frames and mount pictures without any glass in the frame as this can also help diffuse high and mid frequencies.

- Use acoustic panels and diffusers to break up waves between parallel walls in a square space.

Acoustic panels are available from specialist sound and music retailers though they can be quite pricey, so to save money you can easily make some yourself.  You may find this great little tutorial video helpful should you decide to create your own acoustic panels...

Acoustic panels will help absorb some of the higher frequencies which leaves you with a less reflective room.  They won't affect low-mid or low frequencies.

Diffusers are structures which scatter sound waves which helps prevent standing waves.

You can purchase ready-made diffusers should you not want to make your own. A good example is Auralex Studiofoam T'fusor Sound Diffuser. Diffusers, just like acoustic panels,  will affect only higher frequencies, depending on the dimensions of the diffuser.

Bass traps are needed for issues with your low-end frequencies and you can also construct your own though these are a bit more complex to build.

Acoustic foam kits, such as the ones produced by Auralex are pretty easy to install and can help to tame mid and high frequencies through absorption.  There are cheaper options available, so shop around.  Remember that there's foam and then there's foam though and there are many manufacturers that sell cheaper options.  The savings translates to a foam that absorbs less which is counterproductive. Read up on the quality of the foam before you buy!

Sidebar:

Acoustic treatment alone can often still not be enough, particularly in boxy, small or odd-shaped rooms. One option you want to consider in this case is room correction software like Sonarworks.

This software allows you to measure your room's response and then automatically adjust your outputs to compensate for inherent acoustic deficiencies and issues you may have.

The trick when you deal with your room acoustics is to use your ears and your common sense to add just the right amount of acoustic treatment to your home studio.

Add just a little absorption and diffraction to your room and then test,  then add more bit-by-bit until you have a good sound.

What is a good sound?

Well,  this point is open for debate,  though most producers will agree that you want something similar to most listening spaces where their music will be played.

People often listen to music in their lounge where there may be little absorption apart from curtains, furniture and maybe some rugs or carpets.

So,  you don't want your room too bright otherwise you add too little reverb or high frequencies to your mix and it will sound muddy or flat to your listener on their system.

You also don't want your room too dead as this may cause you to add too much reverb and high frequencies to your mix.

You can see how room acoustics can turn into a complicated subject,  and my advice is keep it simple and don't get lost in quest for the Holy Grail of control rooms!

It pays to tweak the acoustics of your room because in the end you want to be able hear what comes out of your monitors, without interference from audio artifacts caused by your room when it interacts with the sound.

Small studios are notorious for the host of acoustical issues they bring. I hope this little guide has made it easier to get your room under control!

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