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How to Build Your Recording Room

Updated: Jan 21

How to Build Your Recording Room


A bright, shiny studio, ready for your latest recording

In our previous Food for Thought, Training Your Ear, we listened to audio recordings of different spaces to get an idea of how different treatment options affect audio quality. If you haven't listened to / read that article, I highly recommend going there now so you are ready to get the most of this article.

 

Since we've already had a chance to listen to how the treatment affects your sound, lets talk about the practical steps you can take to building your recording room.

In this article, I'm going to be sharing product recommendations that you can use to start improving your space to help you on your journey to becoming an audiobook narrator. While I hope you get the most out of the concepts I'm going to share, there will be affiliate links to all the products listed. These help support my page while adding no extra cost, however if you are still uncomfortable with it, please feel no obligation to purchase through these avenues.

With that being said, let's get started, shall we?

Soundproofing vs Sound Treatment

Something that bears repeating when exploring the global-collection-of-human-opinion we call the world wide web; sometimes people share their knowledge and stories early in their journey, while still stranded at a place on the Dunning-Kruger graph that Adam Grant calls "Mount Stupid" in his book Think Again (If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's a super entertaining read focusing on being skeptical about how you think to combat confirmation bias/overconfidence).

Yeees, edit the audio on that large board with many dials and switches...

The soundproofing-sound treatment debate is one such place. People do a bit of research, see a bunch of audio theory they don't completely understand yet, and start sharing their lack of understanding with the world.


As such, we have quite a few voices yodeling from the peak of Mount Stupid. Saying things like, "Use this piece of foam to 'Soundproof' your space." While those little pieces of foam can be useful for shaping the sound in a room, they won't be able to help you soundproof it. I'm being specific about my language here because knowing the correct terms can help your research go much faster. I try not to be a stickler when the distinction won't help, but here it seems to be very important.

Soundproofing Options

Soundproofing is the process of cutting down the cacophony of sound heading towards your microphone, reducing its energy so that less (ideally none) of it gets into the system. Think cars driving by or air conditioners running. These things add a ton of unwanted noise, and unless you are incredibly talented at post-production work, you're gonna have a bad time trying to remove them after you've recorded them.

1. Choose Your Space

You're ready, you're set, start recording in your room!

The first thing you can do to improve your soundproofing is pick a space that is near the center of your living space. The more walls there are between you and the noise, the quieter it will be when it hits the microphone. Keep in mind that big, spinny things like washing machines cause the floor to vibrate, so they're going to be incredibly hard to get away from. Turn them off so you don't have to worry about them.

Also consider the fact that you want an enclosed space. Something like a closet or small bedroom, ideally one where you can close a door. Bathrooms are less ideal, because there's not a lot of places to hang sound treatment, but I'm not your mom, you do you. 

 

For built solutions, I'll cover that in a later article (I really want to cover them here, but I know this is is gonna be a long one, so I can't reasonably do that to you).

2. Seals

Sound seeps into space like foul weather, so it's appropriate that one of the best ways to keep sound out is to add weather stripping to your entryways.

Adhesive door sweep you can stick to the bottom of the door

If you own your space, I would recommend a more permanent option like an Adhesive Door Sweep. That way you don't have to worry about it sliding around and you know that it's going to stay in the right space when you open and close your door.

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two squishy rolls that block sound by being under your door

If you don't own the place you live, something that slides on to your door like this Under-Door Draft Blocker can be a great solution. It functions very similarly to the Adhesive door sweep, but doesn't involve anything permanent, like glue or screws. 

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sticky foam you can mount to the frame of the door

Where door sweeps protect the underside of the door, Weather Stripping is going to help sound going around the edges and top of the door. It's also relatively easy to install. Just stick it to the stop molding around the door with the included adhesive.

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3. Add Mass

In order to block out sound more effectively, just sealing up the holes leading into your space isn't enough. Heavy things like concrete, drywall, and mass-loaded vinyl can help block out the slower moving low frequencies that go straight through walls. 

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Heavy vinyl that makes your door block more sound

Since building concrete walls is probably out of the picture, I suggest hanging Mass Loaded Vinyl (MLV) on your door. Your door is probably the weakest link in your room, as most doors are made of fiberglass, an incredibly light (read ineffective) sound blocker.


They're soft, they're squishy, the absorb sound, they're moving blankets!



That being said, MLV is incredibly expensive per square foot, so if you want to try a cheaper alternative, something like U-haul moving blankets could serve the purpose (It's dampening, not proofing, but it will do something). 


Keep in mind that, for our purposes, if you can't afford MLV right now, it's probably better for you to wait until the Sound Treatment step and focus your energy there. Sound dampening like moving blankets only really blocks out sound in the Mid to High range, and does little to nothing for deep, booming bass frequencies. So focus most on which room you choose so that you can have plenty of walls between those pesky noises and your mic.

Sound Treatment Options

Where soundproofing is stopping errant sound from coming into your space, sound treatment is shaping that sound within the space. There are a lot of things that are incredibly hard to manage after you've recorded them. Things like reverb, standing waves, and bass frequencies. Bass, or lower frequency sound, is especially problematic in small spaces, which is more than likely the kind of space you are going to be recording in. With that in mind, let's start there.

1. Bass Traps

When planning out your sound treatment, you're going to need bass traps in your trihedral (where three walls meet) and dihedral (where two walls meet) corners. 

 

big foam blocks that go in the corners of your room


For the trihedral corners, I use these foam cubes to absorb the bass. They're not particularly unique, as this is a common strategy, but they're really nicely shaped for building into the bass traps we use for the dihedral corners.


Spiky half-prisms that block sound trapped where two walls meet


For the dihedral corners, I use these foam bass traps to break up and absorb the bass frequencies. They are mounted next to the foam cubes in order to give you good control over the bass frequencies in your room.


T-shaped sharp pins that are good for mounting your foam blocks


For mounting foam to your walls (this is specifically for North American drywalled homes), I recommend using these t-pins. They're cheap and super easy to use, plus they're really easy to spackle over afterwards when you need to move out/clean up.



In terms of physically placing the bass traps on the wall, you want to build out from the corner, using the cubes in the center, and following the seam where the wall meets the ceiling until you get to the next trihedral corner. This will give you the best positioning for taking care of the bass frequencies in your room.

2. Absorption

If you're handy with a few basic tools, I recommend you build your own absorption panels. As this is once again getting incredibly long (damn you, long-winded ADHD brain!), I'm going to have to cover that in a future article. In terms of products you can purchase to do the same thing (albeit not quite as well), here is what I recommend.

  

absorptive panels that you can mount on the walls, filled with fluffy sound material


For the more expensive option, these full-length absorption panels are going to give you good absorption across a wider range of frequencies, which will give you more control over the mid and high frequency sound in your space. They can also be hung as acoustic clouds, should you need.


Foam dispersion panels that go on your walls and bounce the sound


If you're not ready to spring for those just yet (I don't blame you, I built mine to avoid the cost), these smaller acoustic panels might be your best bet. These are going to function somewhere between diffusion and absorption, but they're certainly better than nothing.



Once again, everyone's favourite sound-friendly blanket, it's moving blankets!

The final, most economical option is moving blankets. It's not the prettiest, but my first booth was moving blankets wrapped  around a PVC frame, and I recorded my first professional book out of that thing. The sound absorption is solid, just make sure you're listening carefully to the tone of the room so you don't overdo it.

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A core essential to remember when doing all of this is sound is king. You want to listen to how these different treatments affect the sound of your voice as you put them up.

That's A Wrap

You don't need a face this serious to record. Just sit in your recording room and get started.

Take the ideas I laid out here and do with them what you will. The core essentials are going to be room choice, soundproofing, bass absorption, and mid-to-high range absorption. Play with these until the sound feels right. Also, don't be afraid to change or update your sound treatment as your ears develop. It's natural for you to develop a better understanding of the sound as you work in this field more, and there's nothing wrong with learning from your beginner mistakes.

When it's all up and running, you want to make sure that your voice sounds clear and that all excess reverb is gone. The listener's focus should be your voice, not the sound of the room you're working in.

Now get out there and start recording in your new room!

Thanks for getting to the end of the article. As an aside, I do my best to read every comment posted, so if you have an idea about any new topics of discussion or have any questions about the article, definitely post them below and I'll do my best to get to them as quickly as I can!

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