How to Acoustically Treat Your Home Recording Studio

At music production schools, colleges and universities in London including Garnish School of Sound, I give lectures on studio acoustics and room treatments. I also cover this subject in my own music production courses. With technology advancements and computer processing power as it is now, the whole process of making hit records can be done in home studios, unless of course, you require a real orchestra! People with home studios often do not realise just how important the acoustic environment is. We tend to get a lot more excited about spending a few hundred quid on a shiny new synth than acoustically treating a room. There is also the issue of aesthetics.

My lecture on acoustics at universities can be six hours long and sometimes it can be difficult keeping some of the more musical and less scientific of students interested, specially when I start on standing waves. If we are in a room small enough (a control room or classroom and not lecture hall), a good way of vibing things up is to measure the distance between two parallel solid walls and try and generate a standing wave. You can determine what is the frequency of the standing wave for your room with this simple formula:

V / 2d=f V = Velocity of sound (343m/sec)
d = Room dimension in meters (length, width, or height)
f = Frequency of the standing wave.

Other standing waves occur at harmonics of the frequency that is 2, 3, and 4 times the fundamental but obviously, the higher the frequency, the less noticeable they become. Why not try it yourself. Grab a tape measure and use the oscillator in your DAW. You need to have solid parallel walls in your space. Standing waves are the reason you never see parallel solid walls in a professionally treated recording studio control room.

Neil Johnston from Focusrite showed me the KRK ERGO. Wow, what a little box this is (if it does what they say it does of course). KRK make fantastic nearfield monitors and I would say are a company to be trusted. The first time I listened to a pair of KRK monitors was when I was assisting Mark Spike Stent mixing Madonna at Olympic. He had a pair of KRK 9000s which sounded fabulous. Back then pretty much all monitors were passive and so were the 9000s. It seemed crazy to me but a lot of freelance mixers karted around their monitors of choice from one studio to the next but just used whatever amp that was in the studio. Active monitors solved that one.

I have always had a problem with bass in my studio. I am lucky to have very high ceilings but unfortunately I think most of my bass gets lost up there in the chandelier. I do get a bit of bottom end but much further back from my seated position in front of the monitors. I have treated my room behind my monitors and I have some bookshelves at the back with act as nice diffusers for the mid frequencies. I could have of course have lost the chandelier and replaced it with a huge bass trap but I do not think my girlfriend would have been feeling that! And quite frankly, I like my chandelier, my high ceilings and the position Acoustic Screens of the studio so I make do for now by sticking my head in certain spots just before any waves get diffused by my bookshelves to check the bottom end. Also, I check in the car which is only on the driveway.

It is inconvenient, but I know the curves so well now in the space, I can make it work. So maybe the KRK ERGO will be a much more convenient solution for me. It works like those Bose hifi systems by chucking out a load of test tones (all frequencies at the same time interestingly), monitoring them with a microphone and feeding back the data to the software (Mac AND PC btw). The box will then tweak your curve and theoretically, you will get a much truer curve where you position the microphone. Gav said he would be able to get one for me to try. I will get back to you with my thoughts i am sure If it is as good as they say, they will sell bucket loads. Given Bose have been doing something similar for the consumer market for years, I wonder why no one thought of doing this ages ago especially now with so many more records being made in home studios. I also wonder if the technology is any better than Bose or if there is any patent. If no, I reckon KRK will not be the only people making these boxes in 2010. I wonder if it can do anything about standing waves. I did not think at the time to ask Neil. Oh, that thought is what got me on standing waves here in the first place!