How To Improve Room Acoustics: A Detailed Guide

How To Improve Room Acoustics - A Detailed Guide

You can’t have quality sound produced by your instruments if your home studio is creating an acoustics problem.

Your room’s acoustics is one of the most important things to consider when designing or setting up your home studio.

If your acoustics are poor, then they’ll make everything sound noisy or lack power – even the most powerful instruments that you have at your disposal.

So, what is room acoustics?

Room acoustics can be defined as the way in which sound behaves in a closed room. “Good” room acoustics refers to a room that’s set up in a way to encourage sound to be clear and precise. That’s obviously what you want in a recording studio.

Now, while acoustics might sound overwhelming to you or cause you to wonder how on earth you’d be able to create good room acoustics, you’ll be happy to know that improving the sound acoustics of your home studio doesn’t have to be a big hassle or very expensive.

Here are some of the easiest and most effective ways to ensure that your home studio boasts good room acoustics.

But First, What’s The Difference Between Acoustics Treatments And Soundproofing Treatments?

Soundproofed Music Studio

Some people think that room acoustics and soundproofing a room are the same things, but they’re not!

The two are actually quite different from each other, so let’s break down what they both entail.

  • Acoustic treatments are basically products that absorb sounds. So, this could include materials that are soft and padded to decrease things like echoes in a room. It’s important to realize that such acoustic treatments won’t really work to prevent sound from exiting the studio. They’re focused on improving the quality of the sound that’s getting recorded inside the studio.
  • Soundproofing, on the other hand, involves trying to shut off the studio from the outside world, such as by filling up gaps and cracks in the walls so that external sounds cannot make their way inside and end up creating interference on recordings. In addition, it ensures that good sound can be kept inside (and not bug the neighbors).

Organize The Room To Absorb Sounds

One of the worst things that can happen in your studio is that echoes present themselves when you’re trying to record instruments or vocals.

You need to create a buffer so that sounds will be absorbed instead of producing nasty echoes that can end up disturbing your recordings.

You can use furniture to absorb echoes.

Put pieces of furniture around the room in smart ways, such as by putting a sofa against the wall to create a buffer against the sound and thick carpets on the floor.

Heavy curtains against the windows can also help.

Basically, the idea is to block anything that can create an echo, focusing on softening hard surfaces like metal, glass, and concrete with the use of soft or rubbery materials.

Eliminate Sound Reflections

Soundproofed Studio

You want to prevent sound from bouncing around the room and causing interference, but sometimes you need more than heavy fabrics on the walls and floor to achieve this.

A good idea is to invest in some absorption panels that will absorb both high-frequencies and mid-frequency reflections.

Absorption panels are constructed out of materials like foam and they eliminate that ringing sound that can be produced by higher frequencies.

What’s The Deal With Low Frequencies?

For dealing with lower frequencies, bass traps can be even better than acoustic panels so put them in the corners of the room where the bass tends to be the most powerful.

FYI, a sofa can also work well as a bass trap! Just make sure that it’s a nice, bulky one.

Although you might think you don’t need to eliminate low-frequency reflection, this is important to do because lower frequencies can actually create a dull sound to your recordings.

Don’t Put Your Speakers Against The Wall

It might seem convenient to have your speakers against the wall or close to other furniture in your home studio, such as because they’re out of the way and don’t interfere with traffic in and out of the room, but this can actually cause a big problem in the sound quality.

Basically, the sound will reflect off your furniture or walls before it reaches your ear, creating two different effects. This will make it less clear.

So, keep your speakers at a good distance away from walls and furniture. Even a small adjustment can go a long way to reduce sound reflection.

It’s a good idea to experiment with moving speakers around and listening to when the music that’s playing on the sounds the best. 

Another important point when it comes to speakers is to put them higher up, like on desks or shelves, so that they’re in line with your ears.

Note that you don’t want the driver of the speaker in line with your ear but the spot above that, located between the speaker’s main driver and tweeter.

You might do well to buy yourself some height-adjustable speaker stands as they will make organizing your home studio much easier.

Make The Sound “Live”

Skyline Diffuser

When you’re absorbing frequencies that can cause trouble on your recordings or some echoes in the room, you don’t want to buffer sounds too much as that can cause your room to be “dead,” as they say in the industry.

You want the room to be “live” – this means that the sounds are natural without too many absorbent materials swallowing up all of them!

To make the most of the “live” character of your home studio without making it too “live” that it’s noisy or causing sound interference, you should have some reflective surfaces on the back wall of the room.

Now, walls on their own aren’t going to be good in this regard. These can actually create echoes that will interfere with your sound recordings.

To prevent that from happening, you want to have diffusers on the wall. This is a simple solution to creating a good balance between a “dead” and “live” room.

Ever noticed jagged-looking wooden panels on a musician’s studio’s walls?

Those are diffusers! To define them better, diffusers are irregular surfaces.

They help to break and scatter sound waves into different directions, and they’re often made out of wood.

Basically, when sound is produced in your recording studio, it travels from the source in all directions around the room.

Some of it will go to the microphone, but the rest ends up being reflected sound. Now, this type of sound can bounce around on surfaces in the room, with only a small portion of it reaching the microphone.

It mostly creates noise and interference. That’s why diffusers can help because they scatter those reflections and prevent them from getting trapped. 

If you don’t want to purchase diffusers, then you could try to use other things as diffusers.

An example would be to put a bookshelf against the wall and make sure that the books on it are not evenly placed together.

Putting them at angles can help to create that jagged appearance we mentioned earlier that will help to scatter the sound.

Where Should Your Desk Go?

Desk In Music Studio

Maybe you haven’t really thought about where to place your desk in your home studio, perhaps because you didn’t think it mattered that much.

But it really does! If your desk with all your computer gear is in the corner of your studio this will create a build-up of bass.

Now, we mentioned earlier that bass energy has the tendency to move into the corners of a room.

This can cause you to lose bass on your sound recordings because the base will all be lumped in the room’s corners!

On the other hand, putting your desk in a position so that it’s closer to one wall than the other in your studio can also be problematic.

What could happen is that the sound waves will interact with it in an unbalanced way. This will make it difficult to control the acoustics in your home studio.

Sometimes what happens in a room is that what’s known as room modes start to build up. These can be defined as the accumulation of frequencies in the room.

You want to avoid them because they reduce the quality of the sound you’re trying to achieve in your home studio.

How to get rid of them? Avoid the middle of the room because this is where room modes tend to accumulate, so don’t put your gear and desk there.  

Follow The 38-Percent Rule

This rule stipulates that you should position your listening position 38 percent away from the wall in your studio that you’re facing.

This will help to balance the sound. Although you might not have the space to do this, it’s a good guideline that can help you find the perfect spot.

You don’t have to make the distance exactly 38 percent. Basically, see where 50 percent, or the middle, of the room, is, and then move it down a bit so that it’s more or less around 38 percent.

How To Test Your Room Acoustics

If you want to ensure that you have good acoustics in your home studio, it’s important to know how to test it.

What acoustic problems are currently in your room?

It’s not always easy to know exactly what should be fixed, and you don’t want to cause a dead sound because you’re trying too many acoustic treatments.

To test your room acoustics, you can do the following things:

Take A Walk Around The Room

When there is no noise outside that could interfere with the room’s acoustics, take a walk around the room. Pay close attention to the sound your footsteps make.

Do your steps create an echo? Do they sound loud? Can you hear the sound bouncing off the floors or ceilings? These can point to a room that has poor acoustics.

Now, take another walk around the room and this time clap your hands at different spots in it. How does your clapping sound?

If you hear a ringing sound, this is a sign of bad room acoustics. This means you’ll have to make use of acoustic treatments, such as those mentioned earlier in this article.

If you hear a nice reverb, this means that there is good room acoustics. However, no room is going to be 100 percent perfect.

Most rooms will be somewhere between that harsh ringing and that nice reverberation (nothing too high pitched) and that means they can all be improved on when it comes to their acoustics, even just in small ways.

Play A Song On The Speaker

Another thing you can do to test the room acoustics is to play a certain kind of song on your speaker. You should choose a song that covers the full audio spectrum.

Now, this might be difficult to find so you can play a video on YouTube that covers the full audio spectrum.

While it plays, walk around the room and listen to music. Pay attention to how the frequencies and volume sound different in different areas of the room.

To do this properly, you might have to walk around the room in different patterns so that you can hear the same parts of the music in different spots in the room to compare the differences.

If the music sounds great in some areas of the room but seems noisier or creates echoes in others, then that will give you a good indication of where your room has an acoustic problem.

Pay Attention To Flutter Echoes

Earlier we talked about clapping your hands in different areas in your studio to see how the clap sounds. But you should also search for flutter echoes.

These echoes can be described as quick, repeated sound reflections that occur as a result of soundwaves that bounce between parallel reflective surfaces, as defined by Recording Hacks.

These echoes are high-pitched. You can spot them if you stand in the middle of the room and clap your hands loudly.

If you hear a lot of echoes after doing this, you have flutter echoes in your room.

To eliminate them, you should cover the walls and floors, such as with tapestries and carpets, eliminate flutter echoes.

Download An App To Test Your Acoustics

These days there’s an app for everything, and you can even find apps to download to your smartphone that will test your room acoustics.

One of these apps is called Impulso. This is a free, iPhone-compatible app that works by emitting a range of sound into the room.

It then measures the reverberation time of sound waves as they move around the room, bouncing off furniture and walls before going back to your iPhone.

The app will show you the results via a graph so you can see where the problem areas are. A “live” room will have long reverberation times, while a “dead” one will have shorter ones.

Related Questions

Can you put your speakers on their sides?

It’s probably best not to do this. Turning speakers onto their sides mean that the sounds coming from the bass driver and tweeter won’t reach you at the same time.

That’s why they’re placed vertically. When placed horizontally, you’ll get the sounds at different times, which will cause instability.

Does the shape of the room make a difference?

Room shape does have an effect on room acoustics.

Symmetrical rooms tend to have bad acoustics because the sound bounces off walls and repeats, which can lead to a buildup of frequencies.

An asymmetrical room gives the sound more freedom to move around without accumulating.

Conclusion

Having good room acoustics makes a big difference in the quality of recordings you create in your home studio.

In this article, we’ve outlined some important ways to improve the acoustics in your home studio, looking at factors such as where to position your desk and speakers, as well as how to prevent bare walls from causing interference in your sound recordings.

We’ve also looked at important ways in which you can test the acoustics of your home studio in easy ways, or by downloading an app to help you.

By knowing what your studio’s acoustics are, you’ll be in a much better position to be able to improve the room’s sound quality and create much more professional music.

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