Just twenty years ago, going to a recording studio was the only way a musician could get their music made on a professional level.
Studio equipment was just way too expensive for the average consumer. Acquiring the microphones, mixers, monitors, compressors, and other essential components was a serious investment for a hobbyist or a freelancer.
The last few decades saw an unprecedented rise in consumer grade equipment quality, as well as a serious drop in prices. This means musicians all over the world have access to equipment their colleagues could only dream of just a couple of years ago.
A pro audio room is no longer an unachievable dream. Professional grade mixes can now be reliably achieved in home studios.
There are just a few steps you need to take to make sure the sound you get from your speakers is precise and reliable. This article will share those secrets with you.
Your room is the most important piece of listening equipment
So, you’ve got your basic equipment. You can get by with just a laptop, a sound card, a microphone, and a decent pair of studio monitors.
The next important step is setting up your room.
Your room should have ample space. This is important not only for storing your equipment but for the sound quality as well.
Bass frequencies need space to develop. If your room is too small, you will never hear low notes accurately.
We’ll measure the size of a room with its volume. You get the volume by multiplying the length, width, and height of the room.
There’s no one answer to the question ‘How big should my home studio be?’. We can reliably say that no room smaller than 1500 cubic feet will be able to provide you with a high-grade listening environment.
The sweet spot for a home studio is 20 feet in length, 15 in width, and 10 feet in height. That amounts to 3000 cubic feet, which is ample room to let the bass frequencies develop, as well as house all of your recording equipment.
You may have noticed that this is not a ‘square’ room, but a ‘rectangular’ one. Square rooms tend to not have great acoustics.
Sound waves bounce off hard surfaces. The reflected waves then hit the incoming waves and cause interference.
This is generally bad for acoustics. The interfered sound waves create distortions and inaccuracies in what you’re perceiving.
You may dread the idea of soundproofing your room. It may seem like a difficult and expensive process. The good news is – you can get a huge improvement in your sound deadening with minimal effort. The expensive part comes if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty, which is usually not necessary.
Place a sofa on the back wall of your room. Bookshelves on the side walls (stacked with books, of course) will also help. If your studio monitors are close to the back wall of the room, a mattress propped up behind them will do wonders for your bass control.
Do not use egg cartons – they are not very effective. The most inexpensive sound-absorbing panels from Amazon will do a much better job.
As far as the ceiling and floor go, a good, thick carpet will solve most of your issues.
Find the sweet spot
The sweet spot refers to both your speaker placement as well as your sitting spot.
A small home studio will benefit most from ‘near field monitoring.’ This means that the distance between the listener’s head and the speakers are no more than three feet apart. This minimizes the adverse effects of sound diffusion.
There are two ways you can position your speakers relative to the back wall. You can set them up flush to the wall. Obviously, this is sometimes hard to achieve. If you can’t do it, your speakers should be 27-35 inches from the back wall.
Many studio monitors nowadays have dip switches on the back that calibrate the audio reproduction to the room size and type. Check the manual and choose the setting that best fits your situation.
Now, let’s get to the distance between the speakers.
If the speakers are too close together, you will not perceive the stereo field correctly. If they are far apart, you will perceive holes in the stereo image.
You want your head to be stationed in between the left and right speakers. You don’t want to be closer to one than the other, as your panning decisions will not be accurate.
Ideally, you want your head and speakers to form an equilateral triangle. This ensures the best imaging.
As far as speaker height goes, the best practice is ‘ear level’ monitoring. That means the speaker’s tweeters are at the same height as your ears when sitting in your chair.
Once you’ve set up your speakers like this, you’ve found your sweet spot. Make sure you maintain your ears in the sweet spot while mixing to get the most accurate results.
The three reflection points
This is probably the most important piece of advice in this article.
We’ve already covered basic soundproofing. But finding the first reflection point is the easiest and quickest way to achieve a great improvement in your listening environment.
There are three critical spots you need to soundproof in order to get rid of the nastiest and most damaging reflections in your room.
Two are on the side walls of your studio and one is on the ceiling, between your head and the speakers. Here’s how to find them.
While seated at your listening position, have an assistant drag a mirror along the left sidewall. The mirror should be at your head height while sitting.
Once you see the left speaker in the mirror on the wall, you’ve found your first reflection point.
The second one is on the right side.
Directly above the line that the first two reflection points make lies the third, the ceiling reflection point.
Adding a diffuser or a sound panel to these spots will dramatically improve your listening situation. Those were the first steps you should take to improve your acoustics. They aren’t expensive nor difficult and will enable you to make professional-grade mixes.
You can spend thousands of dollars on equipment. The latest, state-of-the-art microphones. A top-end audio interface. The premium DAW with all the best plugins. A set of speakers that cost more than your house.
None of these will cure a poorly set up listening room. Your mixes will be off balance and you will never produce a good quality song.
This doesn’t mean that you want a ‘dead’ room. This means you don’t want a room that has been completely soundproofed.
First of all, that’s an unachievable dream. Second, the sound is always heard in some sort of room. Creating your mixes in an echoless chamber will result in stale music.
Don’t be afraid of soundproofing – it doesn’t have to be an expensive or even difficult ordeal. A couple of hundred dollars in investment can make all the difference between an amateur-sounding song to a worldwide hit.