Now, I am sure all of you glorious Mixdown readers were good last year, and I’m sure you’ve all had a visit from the jolly fat man over the holiday period. A sea of wondrous gifts, new studio toys and remarkably painful hangovers that will carry on well into the new year. Yes, it is that time of year again, where here in Australia it’s far too hot to go out in the sun, and so the best bet is to hope and pray that you have air conditioning in your home studio so you can hide from the oppressive heat. Alternatively, I suppose you could just go to the beach with everyone else and fight for some space on the sand and in the water, but I like to take this time to hide in the cool darkness of my studio and rip it all to pieces, rewire everything and reconsider how it is going to work best for me in the next twelve months. I think it is a good time to give ourselves a little treat and reconstruct our room to make it a better listening environment.
I think we have all put some thought into treating our home studios acoustically at some point or another, but often it ends up in a vain effort, resulting in nothing more than egg cartons falling off the wall when the gaffa tape melts in the heat. So, let’s take an objective approach to this and really think about how you can change the way your room reacts with you and the sounds that move around within it. After all, this is the real important thing to consider when treating your room. You need to think about how you are using it, where you are placing yourself and how this location relates to the way certain frequencies resonate within the space. You don’t need to completely overhaul your studio. There is no need to build new walls or try to sound-proof it so the neighbours don’t complain. To best redesign the room, simply sit in it and consider the space. Look around you at all the hard surfaces to be found and take note of how they align with one another. Once you have this figured out, you can begin to make some simple changes that will greatly improve how your room sounds.
So, we want to get rid of hard surfaces within your space, but not entirely. Just consider how sound responds when it hits any one surface in your room and try to get a balance. If you have all dense and soft surfaces, your room will sound dull, lifeless and somewhat muffled. If you are surrounded by hard, flat surfaces, you are going to get a bright, reverb-heavy room with standing waves that will cause phase cancellation. Both instances result in a very unnatural listening environment. So the goal is to find the balance.
The problem with most home studios is that the room wasn’t generally built with the intention of a studio being set up in there. Because of this, we often have square or rectangular rooms with walls that run parallel to each other, as do the floors with the ceilings. This is the perfect environment for standing waves as the sound bounces from one side of the room to the other and creates frequency cancellation at certain points in its journey. With this in mind, you want to try to eliminate the ability for sound to move from one hard surface to another, while still retaining some of the brightness that hard walls can offer.
First thing’s first; deal with the floor. If you have UPSthe sound bouncing off them, especially around your listening position. So get a nice plush rug in place under your studio chair. Some additional floor coverings around the room will allow you to instantly hear a difference. Just clap your hands loudly and you will hear the reverb from the hard surfaces going away as you add more floor coverings. If a couch is available, this works great at the back of the room too not only for grabbing errant high frequencies and stopping them in their paths, but also as a bass trap to pull down the low frequencies that build up in the corners of the room.
Next, look at the walls. Often you can’t do major changes to them, but hanging sound absorbers can break up the way the sound bounces around the space. Brands like Wave Panels and Aurelex offer a range of solutions for shaping sound within your room, but, if you are feeling handy, a simple wooden framed canvas from a craft shop can be backed with rock-wool and hung to allow you to bring some character to the room. This way, you can have the canvas painted or printed to add a little colour to your creative environment whilst also engaging the issue of reflective sounds. The thicker and denser the padding used in these frames can determine the range of frequencies they will capture. You can get very detailed here and go about tuning your room if you want to get mathematical about it, but I think you will find the simple application of a few sound absorbers in positions that reflect unwanted sound to your listening position will make all the difference to begin with. You don’t need to go overboard, you just need to experiment with a few panels and enjoy the results. What should come from this is a better listening environment and so better mixes and better music.