Large commercial studios are not only expensive to build, but they're expensive to use. A lot of the difference between large studios and home studios isn't the basic equipment. In fact, the gap between home and commercial studio equipment is closing in every day; it's the acoustic space.
Some studios are world-famous not for their equipment or engineers, but for their acoustic space. With some exceptions, most studios aren't famous for their console of which version of Pro Tools they run, since most studios use standard equipment.
Any good engineer will tell you, a great space allows the engineer to utilize the space itself in making the recording sound good. Creating a great space is harder in the home studio; chances are, your bedroom or basement wasn't designed with a recording studio environment in mind.
In this article, you'll learn the basics of acoustics and how you can have your studio sound as good as possible.
Choosing Your Space
When selecting and setting up a room for your home studio, your goal should be to use a room that's as neutral as possible. When recording, you want what you record to be the best representation of what is being played. That being said, you also want a room that's accurate when you're mixing and listening. A room that's neutral is very important. You want to minimize recording the room itself, and when you're mixing, you don't want to be mixing to compensate for the room.
Many times, with poor acoustics, you'll get a lot of reflections in your recording that distract from the material at hand. This isn't always a bad thing; sometimes, when recording drums or other "large" sounding instruments, adding a little bit of "air" is a good thing. However, it's not always preferable -- especially with vocals and acoustic instruments.
A room with carpeting is your best bet; if you have hardwood floors, you'll want to add rugs or carpeting to your recording space to help even out the sound. The goal is to minimize reflections of the sound waves while recording, and to keep the room from favoring a certain frequency range.
Treating your wallsIf you're dedicated to recording in a specific room, it's probably time to add some acoustic treatment to your walls to help with your sound quality.
Typically, you'll want to focus on two types of acoustic treatment: absorbers and bass traps.
Absorption treatment minimizes reflections by absorbing them, thus not reflecting back at you, and into your recording microphone.
This is necessary because as the first reflection hits the wall, the second reflection will come back and cause noise in your recording that's not desirable.
Minimizing reflections into your recording is the name of the game, and foam treatments are usually the best course of action; larger studios and performance spaces can install larger fiberglass panels.
For the home user, companies like Auralex offer one-box solutions for absorption. You'll find that affixing acoustically-rated foam in the areas where first reflections typically strike will help clean up your acoustics a great deal.
One thing to remember: not all foam treatments will absorb. Some cheaper foams, like typical "egg crate" foam, can sometimes actually increase your reflective area. Also, you can't paint acoustic foam -- painting creates a surface that can reflect just as badly as a solid wall.
Also, any foam you select should be fireproof and rated as such; other, less expensive foams, can light up like a candle given the right situation.
Bass traps are a more complicated subject; however, in their basic design, bass traps kill both standing waves and low frequency buildup. Standing waves are waves that cause a resonating sound in the room, and it's important to kill them before they become a problem. Bass buildup in corners of a room can also be a huge problem, especially when recording drums or amps.
Bass traps are commonly put into corners of a room, which help eliminate both standing waves and low-end buildup. Remember, listen to your room; you don't need sophisticated analysis software to simply identify and eliminate some common problems!
Keeping Your Neighbors Happy
If you're like me and rent, you have neighbors to worry about. I lived in my apartment with my home studio up and running for nearly a year before I had any neighbors. The first day I tracked drums after they moved in, it was like the world was ending!
Being courteous of your neighbors and their needs and concerns when recording at home is very important, because nothing is worse than being told by your landlord you can't record anymore because your neighbors can't handle it. The first thing to do is listen. Play something through your mixing speakers at the normal volume at which you'd listen, and walk around. If you can hear it outside your recording room when the door is closed, chances are the neighbors can hear it across the hall. If the noise bleed is a big enough problem, consider a pair of high-quality headphones to mix with. Although not as good as a pair of speakers, making do with headphones sure beats not being able to work in your home studio anymore. Otherwise, work out an arrangement with those around you; offer to keep your recording times to mutually convenient hours.