Posted on May 25 2018
Acoustic treatment is often neglected by bedroom producers and engineers and it’s easy to understand why. It can be confusing to grasp conceptually and it can be a daunting task to effectively treat your room. However, this is usually what separates those who are serious about their productions from those who are hobbyists. Acoustic treatment will also sonically separate a producer from the rest of the pack in two ways that I will discuss later. Before I do that, I want to give a very brief explanation of two kinds of treatment you will commonly see in studios everywhere.
Absorption is what we use to swallow up reflections, in order to make a room sound more “dry”. To achieve absorption, studios often use acoustic panels and/or acoustic foam. Bedroom studios often hang blankets as a makeshift solution to kill harsh reflections. Bass traps (or “corner traps”) can be used to absorb low frequency build ups in a room. When done right, absorption can help your room sound tighter and more defined, especially in the high mid to treble frequencies where detail and clarity are vital. Diffusion is what we use to evenly spread out the reflections in a room. Think of it as smoothing out the decay on a reverb plugin. To achieve diffusion, studios will use diffusers. Diffusers take on many different shapes, sizes, and materials, but effective diffusion is all about listening to how a reflection decays in a room. A smooth decay has enough tail to capture the space and depth of a room, but isn’t too loud to overshadow a sound source in the room. A non-pleasant decay is like that in a bedroom; harsh, loud, and short. Absorption in tandem with diffusion can create a room that is acoustically pleasing to record in. It should be noted that each room is different, and you must pay attention to the room’s strengths and weaknesses in order to know whether it needs absorption, or diffusion, or both. Treating your room will do wonders for your music! Here are two major benefits of doing so.
First and foremost, your recorded audio tracks will sound tighter. A while ago, I had recorded a vocalist for a project I was producing for a band. I used a nice condenser, and a pretty average-to-good preamp. I was happy with the performances and I didn’t think much of it until the mixing stage, when I went to a studio with a treated mixing room. My vocal tracks were exposed! I recorded the vocals in an empty room with wood floors, and no treatment, and listened to the playback in an untreated room as well! The engineer mixing the record was also my friend, so he let me have it. The reflections in the room were so harsh and loud, it caused phasing issues. This made the vocals track sound undesirably thin. Thankfully, it sent me on a quest to learn as much I could about acoustic treatment and apply my knowledge. Fastforwarding to today, I have the whole room decked out in acoustic panels, and a corner treated with foam dedicated for recorded vocals. Now, my vocals are recorded much more dry, and are full in the low mids and clear in the high frequencies. Setting up a room mic when recording instruments can yield a pretty tight “70’s” sound. A good room will make post-production processing that much easier. Avoid the phasing issues, and the cheap and thin vocal/drum/instrument tracks that plague amateur production all over the world, by throwing up some panels and taming those harsh reflections.
Secondly, treating your room will improve how you listen to what is coming out of your monitors. Listening to the playback of my echo laden vocal tracks in a treated room would have led me to make some sort of change in mic positioning in the room, but since I was listening to playback in a room that was just as echoey, my ears were jaded. At that point, my best bet was to make educated guesses. Not only was my sense of space within the song thrown off, but I did not have an accurate representation of the frequencies coming out of the monitor. Think about how your monitors sit in your room. They are probably facing your ears, but when sound comes out of your monitor, it does not stop at your ears. In an untreated room, the sound coming out your monitor will reflect off of the walls (and any other hard surfaces), so you are not only hearing your monitors directly, but the sound of the audio hitting each surface. To combat this, I added absorption in between both monitors on the wall behind my screen, and absorption on the walls. When I mix, I bring in an extra panel and sit it directly in the line of view of one of the monitors (I almost always mix in mono). This has helped my mixes translate better in other systems. I am way more confident in making out-the-box compression and EQ decisions when recording because I know I am hearing a more accurate representation of the sound.
It was a lot of work putting panels and foam up, but the difference has been remarkable. I am much more comfortable recording at home than anywhere else now. If you’re looking for a place to get good acoustic treatment, try The Foam Factory for any of your acoustic foam needs. My panels were custom built by a friend, but any music store website should have acoustic panels. A word of advice I would give is to take your time when designing the acoustics of your room. It will take some days to figure out what works best. Good luck!
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