Studio Diary #30: Acoustic Treatment For The Home Recording Studio

Let’s be honest … it’s past time that I did something to acoustically treat this room.

Here’s what I’ve done so far, and why.

Why Do You Need To Acoustically Treat Your Home Studio?

The room needs to be treated so that it’s good enough for recording voice-over work.

In my day job, I used to do a lot of in-person talks at conferences and user group meet-ups. That all came to an end in March 2020, at the start of the global pandemic. As much as I miss doing them, I’ve decided that I’m not comfortable with the risks (to myself or my family) involved in going back to in-person presenting at this time.

So I’m switching to making regular YouTube videos instead. I’ll be doing pieces to camera, and I’ll be recording them in this room.

Why Not Use A Dynamic Microphone?

Dynamic microphones are firm favourites with podcasters and content creators because of their rejection characteristics. They’re fantastic at picking up just the presenter’s voice, and not the ambient space that they are in.

Unfortunately, that means that you’ve got to be on top of the microphone. As the saying goes, you need to eat the microphone. That doesn’t work for me. As a production choice, I don’t want the microphone to be in shot for these videos. If it has to be in shot, I don’t want it blocking off a significant part of my face.

I’m also after higher-quality sound than your typical dynamic mic produces. Perhaps higher-fidelity is a more accurate way of putting it?

My plan is to use a small diaphragm condenser mic, just off camera. To make that work, I need to treat the room.

Tell Us About The Room That You’re Trying To Treat

This room is very small, very square, and has alcoves either side of a chimney breast. Everything I’ve read online tells me that this is the absolute worst room to be trying to acoustically treat. But it’s the only space I have to work in, so I’ve got to make do.

It’s also a multi-purpose room. It’s my home office (primary purpose), home studio (when I’m not working) and my band’s rehearsal space too. I’ve got books, important paperwork, storage for toys, and all sorts in here. (We have very small houses here in the Valleys, and have to make the most of every inch of available space.)

I have to find and fit acoustic treatment around all of these things, and accept that this will end up being a compromise.

What Do You Need The Acoustic Treatment To Achieve?

There are two things I need to achieve.

Most importantly, I need to dampen down acoustic reflections in here. My microphone currently picks up a fair bit of reverb from the room. Most listeners don’t seem to notice on speakers, but it is there, and it’s very apparent when listening on headphones or earbuds.

Once the reflections are addressed, the second problem is going to be external noise coming in through the window. It’s a terraced house (so we’re right by the road), and the road outside does get busy at times.

Step 1: Treating The Reflections

The main reflective surfaces are:

  1. the back of the door,
  2. the wall that my desk faces onto,
  3. the wall where my guitars are hanging
  4. the ceiling, and
  5. the top of my desk

I’m not in a position to do anything to the ceiling at this time. It’s old artex (there isn’t a flat surface to stick acoustic panels to), with the main ceiling light directly over my desk. I’m going to have to hope that treating the other surfaces will do the job.

When I’m recording voice work, the wall where my guitars are hanging is directly behind me. The wall acts as a backdrop for the videos that I shoot. I don’t really want to change it unless I have to.

That leaves the wall that I’m facing, and the back of the door (which is off to my right).

I went with some acoustic foam sheets from Rubber Rocket. They’ve nice and thick, and self-adhesive too – perfect for sticking up onto walls and doors. I did stick some nails through them too, after one of them fell off, but don’t take that as a complaint at all about the product.

They’ve made a hell of a positive difference.

The room isn’t totally dead, which is nice. These kinds of sheets can only attenuate mids and treble frequencies, and I’m okay with that. Those were the reflections that were troubling me the most. The whole room is one giant bass trap anyway.

Step 2: Avoid Reflections Off My Desk

This is easy to overlook.

For the last couple of years, my microphone has sat on a desk arm above my head. As a result, it has been pointing at the top of my desk … and therefore able to pickup a lot of reflections from there.

I’ve ordered a new mic arm, one that should allow me to have the microphone below shoulder height, pointed up and away from my desk. I did some testing using a fixed mic stand, and moving the mic like this seemed to help a lot.

I also preferred the sound quality from mic’ing up towards me, which I wasn’t expecting. The mic seemed to capture more lows for a more balanced sound. I’ll be doing more A/B testing on that soon.

Step 3: Blocking Noise Through The Window – TBD

Now that the reflections have been dampened a lot, it’s much easier to hear noise from the road directly outside.

I haven’t done anything about this yet. I’m still researching my options, and I need to do some test recordings to see whether or not this noise gets picked up by my microphone.

Final Thoughts

I really struggled to find advice for acoustically treating a small spare bedroom. About the only consistent advice that I could find was to avoid the eggshell-like foam tiles that are popular.

In the end, I had to take a chance and order something. That was a bit uncomfortable, because acoustic treatment isn’t cheap, and if it doesn’t suit, some products (like the acoustic panels I bought) can’t be flipped to get your money back.

I’m delighted with the acoustic foam panels that I bought. They’ve improved the room significantly.

Now, I just need to work out what to do about that window …

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