Building a Home Recording Studio
When I was building a home recording studio, I took my time and did things carefully. It wasn't that hard, but took careful planning.
I did the planning and considerations, and here are some things that helped me. I hope they can be of use to you.
Some first things. How much can you remodel your space? If it is a home recording studio, you are probably remodeling a room in your home. But it could be a shed or other building (even one you rent, with the permission of the landlord, of course!).
If you can do a lot of renovation, building a home recording studio is fun, because you can control things like double walls, sound proofing, U-boats and RC-8 channel, and double drywall layers. Even if you cannot do much renovation, simple things that don't cost that much can be easy to install and very effective.
The ideas on this page are organized in three sections. First come basic construction ideas relating to building a recording studio. Second are specific things related to acoustical design in the construction. Third, we look at acoustical treatments that can be applied to walls, corners, and ceilings after the main construction phase is complete.
This is the "building" of building a home recording studio. This section is for folks that can do some remodeling and hiring a contractor (or do it yourself).
When building a home recording studio, use basic common sense for constructing walls, floors, and ceilings that will block as much sound as possible. Remember, there are two ways sound can travel - in and out. In is the most critical for us, because we don't want extra sound popping up on our recordings. But considering out will help to keep the family or neighbors happy.
It would be good now to brush up on the subject of acoustics now, because we'll make use of it going forward. Remember the two ideas of sound transmission and sound reflection.
In the construction part, sound transmission rules. The goal is to build a wall that blocks as much sound going through as possible (within the constraints of space, time, and money). Building a double wall, one that leaves a few inches of airtight dead space, serves as the ultimate sound proofing solution. But it's usually not practical. So we improvise.
Walls. Building a home recording studio requires good walls. Mass is the key word. But be smart. Do things like glue the drywall to the wall studs, caulk everywhere you can from the backside to make the wall airtight. Fill it with insulation (see below). Don't make many holes for wires and stuff. Put on a second layer of drywall (and maybe use RC-8 channel, see below). Maybe use some Sheetblock on it (also below). You can go to the trouble of using a 2x6 wall, and 2x4 studs that are alternating between the two sides of the wall (see picture). I did not - it's too much bother. The picture shows the blue wall studs attached to one side and the green ones to the other (diagram is looking down at the top of the wall).
Insulation. Key idea to consider: fill the walls with cellulose insulation (the kind that is blown in, instead of fiberglass that comes on rolls). The result is much more sound blocking (sound transmission). I checked on the STC ratings of them both when I built my studio, and it was much better. The other option is to go with an acoustical insulation, like one provided by Auralex. See below.
Also, put insulation everywhere you can. In the walls, the floor, the celing, everywhere. See picture below, showing cellulose in the walls and fiberglass in the floor. A related tip is to caulk ALL the joints where studs meet the outside wall. This makes the wall airtight, and increases the sound proofing. (This is perhaps the easiest tip for building a home recording studio. Just make it airtight.)
Windows. You will probably want a window if you plan to make use of two rooms. Trust me, it's worth it, unless it is simply a computer closet or something. To make a window, plan to leave an airspace in between to panes.
- For the window panes, just go to a local glass store (ask at a hardware store if you can't find one) and get 1/4" or 3/8" glass panes cut to the size of your window.
- Wait till the wall is framed up and the drywall is on (but before any trim is on).
- Get a 1x8 from a lumberyard and rip the width down to the space of the window (make sure it covers the two sets of drywall).
- Nail that to the wall framing (it might be helpful to put a rubber decoupler there, like sheetblock). This serves as the basic frame (1).
- Next, rip another 1x8 into two small 1x1s (3) and leave the remainder for the middle.
- Nail the middle piece (2) onto the basic frame.
- Now put some window/door weatherizing strips onto the middle piece (2), the frame (1), and the small pieces (3) where the glass pane will touch them.
- Clean the glass well, and place it against the middle piece resting on the frame, and screw or nail the small pieces to the frame, thereby holding the glass in place.
- Repeat for the other side.
Voila, a professional window! You wil probably want to either stain the middle and small pieces, or put a piece of scrap carpet in it.
Floors. Most probably, you are able to build on a ground floor, with nothing but a crawlspace underneath (or on concrete). But not all the time. I built on the second floor, so I worked to make the floor sound proof. I took 2x6s and laid them opposite the existing floor joists, and put rubber decouplers under them (see the U Boats below). Then I tied them together with stringers, or short pieces of 2x4, in random places. See the picture below. This is an effective way to decouple the floor from the structure, helping to eliminate noises traveling in the frame of a building.
Ceilings. If you have upstairs rooms, this will be the hardest. Frankly, I don't know of a way in building a home recording studio to eliminate sound from above, apart from building a separate, detached ceiling. But who has room for that? The only way I've found to take care of the sound is to make sure that no one goes up when I'm recording. But here is what I did. We put big floor joists in, 2x10s or 2x12s (I forget which), and filled the entire cavity with insulation. It helps, but is not foolproof. The ceiling also got two layers of drywall and one layer of Sheetblock.
By "acoustical design" in relation to building a home recording studio, I mean those things you do in construction that are specifically designed for acoustical applications in building a recording studio. These are not things like foam panels and acoustical treatments (that comes in the next section), but things like insulation, floor support, and drywall hanging aids. Here are the common options available to someone looking at building a home recording studio.
These little things are fun and pretty good. The work to decouple the floor joists from the subfloor. The principle is simple - load these boots around the floor joists and set them on the existing floor. The rubber dampens any vibrations, and takes care of wandering shocks that want to get into the recording. Here is a picture showing them in use.
Drywall hanging channel (RC-8 Channel).
If you are building a home recording studio and are putting on walls, definitely give this little tool a shot. As mentioned earlier, an airspace between two walls is very effective in adding to the STC or sound proofing factor of a wall. RC-8 channel is an easy way to achieve this without building a second wall.
Here's the deal. Screw these to your existing wall, running perpendicular to the wall studs. Then screw new drywall to the tracks. They ensure a 1/2" airspace and are the easiest way to put an airspace in a wall. Here's a picture of them in use (I installed them against a wall with cellulose insulation, and a mesh to hold it in place).
We talked about insulation before, so nothing new here. The special acoustical part is the Auralex Mineral Fiber insulation, which I chose not to use in my studio. 2" thick, and 4" thick. I'm sure it works great, but for me the cost did not justify upgrading from cellulose insulation.
Ah yes, everyone building a home recording studio should know about Sheetblock. This is a rubber sheet that comes on a roll. The goal is to introduce more mass to the wall in a thin, small package. This product gets glued to the wall, usually in a layer inside the wall. Sheetblock adds considerably to the STC level of the wall but is very thin. This makes it ideal for a small but effective treatment. It's heavy. See some sheetblock on the window construction picture - it's the black rubber stuff between the boards.
Building a home recording studio is not over yet! After the construction part is finished, a studio usually needs some kind of management on the walls and ceiling to control reflection inside the room. The solutions above are trying to control sound coming into the room (sound transmission), these are for sound already in the room (sound reflection). These acoustical solutions apply to those problems.
Foam. This is what most people think of first for acoustical treatments. It's an easy way to help tame a room. Does it sound too bright and echoey? Use foam to calm things down. A lot of companies make foam, and I don't know them all. But I know the best one, can you guess... Auralex! Auralex foam is what I used in building a home recording studio, and I recommend you do to. (Make sure you read the easy solution to treating a studio below.)
But it comes in several varieties: different panel sizes, like 2'x2', or 2'x4', or 1'x1', and different thicknesses, like 2" or 4". Of course, colors are up for grabs. I got a kit that worked out well. Here is a small Auralex foam kit.
Bass traps. These boys come in many varieties and can be hard to figure out. Sometimes people actually build them into the structure, and they can be quite complex. Think spaces here, sound absorbtion there, block the low frequency waves here, and so on. There is a simpler way to do it.
Did you ever notice that the low frequencies tend to gather in the corners of a room? Try singing to yourself, and slowly move into a corner. The bass sounds will get stronger. I don't know why; they just do. Anyway, if you put a bass trap built from foam (Auralex calls them Lenrds) into the corner, it stops those low frequency sounds from running around. It doesn't seem like it should work, but I can say from personal experience that it does work.
Diffusers. Where foam tries to stop sound from reflecting, a diffuser keeps it going but in a special way. The reflections are diffused, or split up. Think of a laser light on a mirror - that's like a sound wave that bounces straight away. But what happens if the light is reflected in a wide spread instead of a single beam? That reduces the power and concentration of the light. Think about a prism.
It works the same way for sound. A diffuser spreads the sound out, smoothing out the echo or reverb of the room. I have these behind my listening position, to diffuse the sound from the studio monitors so it doesn't echo right back to me. I also put them on the ceiling in random spots. They work great to liven the room after all the foam went in. See some Auralex diffusers.
This is an overview of the acoustical treatments in building a home recording studio. Also see the acoustic foam page for more discussion on Auralex products.
So, after that exhausting ride on building a home recording studio, what are your thoughts? I'd love to hear if this has been helpful, or if I am missing something here. We went from talking about how to build a recording studio in the construction phase, to talking about specific acoustical products for construction, then to some on acoustic treatment. What a workout! But relax, building a home recording studio should be fun.
So get out there, and start doing it. What do you need? If you cannot do any remodeling, look at what treatments you can put on. That is the best way to make a room sound much, much better.
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Here is a site with good information about how to build a home recording studio, talking about selecting equipment.
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