In this episode we're continuing a series on building a home studio for video and podcast production. We're going to talk about selecting a location for your studio and soundproofing it so that you have a low noise environment for recording your content.
In this episode you'll learn:
- Whether soundproofing is even possible
- The difference between noise reduction and noise absorption
- Choosing a location for your studio
- Steps to take outside of your studio for soundproofing
- Steps to take inside of your studio for soundproofing
- Audio post-processing
- Soundproofing materials and resources
- Download the How to Soundproof a Room Checklist
- Determine a location for your home studio, if even just a corner of a room
- Run through the checklist and start building a better environment for audio and video
- Check out my home studio build
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Transcript DownloadDownload a PDF of the Transcript
How to soundproof a room
We’re going to talk about selecting a location for your home studio and soundproofing it so that you have a low noise environment for recording your content. There are number of different steps in this process so I’ll cover them here but be sure to grab the detailed, downloadable checklist above.
I'll answer question like “will acoustic foam soundproof a room?” and “which soundproof material is the best?”
Most people think that sound proofing means you could set off fireworks just outside of your studio and never hear a thing on the inside.
While that would be nice, that level of sound proofing requires specialized techniques and materials that are way beyond anything that those of us building home studios can afford.
What we’re really talking about in this episode is creating a space inside a normal residential home or traditional office that’s as quiet as possible for better audio recording.
The key to getting close to a sound proofed space is understanding the difference between noise reduction and noise absorption.
Noise reduction means literally reducing or eliminating the sources of noise. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to just ask someone not to set off fireworks outside of your studio than it is to sound proof it to the point that you don’t hear them. The less noise there is both inside and outside of your studio, the less sound proofing work and the fewer materials you’ll have to purchase.
Noise absorption is for all the noise that you can’t eliminate at the source. You can design your space to absorb it before it gets to your microphone and recording devices. The key to soundproofing on a budget is to reduce or eliminate as much noise as possible before having to resort to noise absorption.
Noise reduction is critical to the overall process so let's cover that first.
Step 1: Choosing your home studio location
First up is choosing a location for your studio. For most of us available space is limited so the location will likely be dictated by necessity. If you do have several options there are a few factors to consider when deciding where to locate your studio:
- Distance from noise sources
- Existing sound absorbing features
- Size of the space
- Ease of installing equipment (lighting, power, sound absorbing materials etc)
If you’re constructing a studio in a space where you spend a lot of time be aware that your brain filters out most consistent sources of noise from your conscious thinking. A prime example of this is your heating or air conditioning systems, you likely don’t notice them but your microphone will.
Generally you want to pick the location that is furthest away from all sources of noise but sometimes considering the other factors can reveal a better option.
For example one room may be far away from noise sources but contains a lot of windows meaning it would be difficult to modify to absorb sound. In this case an alternate location like a garage with more existing sound absorbing features would be a better choice even though it’s closer to the noise.
Step 2: Identifying the Background Noise
Once you’ve selected your location, the next step is to do what I call a noise audit.
Sit in the room for 10 minute periods of time throughout the day, especially during time when you would be expecting to record, and write down every single noise you hear. After several sessions you’ll likely have a pretty big list.
By far, the most effective and inexpensive step you can take in sound proofing your studio is looking at every single item on that list and creating a checklist to make sure that they are turned off or reduced while you're recording.
In my case, I have a prerecording checklist that I run every time I’m about to record a podcast or a video. It includes things like turning off the heater, air conditioner, setting phones to silent mode. You know, letting my family know I’m recording so that they can try and keep quiet. It’s basically putting your home into quiet mode as best as you can.
At it some point in the future it would be great if you could do some of these via home automation to help you save time. In my case it takes about five or 10 minute to go through my checklist every time I’m about to record something; that time adds up.
Step 3: Establish concentric lines of defense
Think about this soundproofing challenge like putting up lines of defense. You want to start absorbing noise as far away from your microphone as possible.
Defend that microphone, do not let noise get to it!
Outside the studio defenses
The next thing you can do is taking steps outside of your studio to eliminate or reduce noise before it even meets the walls.
Think about all the other rooms and locations that are surrounding your studio. Think about what’s located above, below and next to it. In those rooms there are actions you can take to reduce noise transmission.
- Plentiful upholstered furniture
- Wall hangings
- Thick carpets
The more of your walls that is covered with some sort of fabric like a quilt or a tapestry the more noise is going to be absorbed there before it even gets to your studio walls. When building up concentric lines of defense you want to start absorbing the noise as far away from your microphone as possible.
Inside the studio defenses
Now, the steps you take inside your studio are similar, you want to identify all the sources of noise from your noise audit and then you want to try to eliminate or reduce them.
Most sounds will come directly from your equipment so ideally, you want to locate as much of it as you can outside of the studio. This is why TV and radio studios always have a control room and equipment rooms that are separate from where the on-air talent sits.
For a lot of us this separation isn’t possible so we need a compromise. This can be done by locating equipment as far away from your microphone as you can and especially behind it.
Most microphones that you’re using are designed to only pickup audio that’s coming directly into the front or the side depending on the type. So by putting any noise sources like equipment behind your microphone you reduce the amount of noise that will make it into your recording.
You can also put equipment in racks and cabinets that absorb noise. Most of my audio gear is inside of a rack mount cabinet and it has a wood enclosure and a fabric covering so it absorbs things like noise from fans and power supplies.
Once your studio is a quiet environment you’ll notice that your computer becomes very loud. Other than building a custom silent PC (covered in another episode) this problem isn’t easily solved. However, locating your computer as far away and behind your microphone as possible will help.
Keyboard and mice are also something to consider, choose options that have silent or quiet clicks and that don’t make any noise while you're moving. You want to do whatever you can do reduce these noise sources because they are very close to your microphone and very likely to be picked up.
Squeaky chairs or desks are another annoying source of noise. This is one of the reasons that I built the 300 pound standing desk that we talked about in episode 28. It’s very solid and very silent.
Chairs though are a different story. Even the 900 holler, Herman Miller Era chair that I have squeaks a bit. The easiest way to reduce this is by standing and using the standing desk during recording.
Finally, the last source of noise in your studio is you. Now that you have a very quiet environment, try speaking loudly or clapping loudly in the room and especially from the location you’re going to be recording to check the level of echo and reverberation.
In most residential and office construction, you’ll hear a lot. Inside your studio the more carpet, soft furniture and soft materials on things like desks chairs, etc. the better.
It’s only at this point, way into the process, that we start talking about sound absorbing panels, foam or blankets. These are your last line of defense before unwanted sound or noise reaches your microphone and their purpose is to reduce echo and reverb inside of your studio.
The cheapest soundproofing solution
One of the cheapest and most effective options is hanging moving blankets in your studio. These are fairly high density blue or black blankets that moving companies use to protect furniture. They actually have pretty good sound absorbing qualities. You can get a pack of twelve of these 6 or 7ft blankets from Amazon for only $60.
For the temporary studio that I am in right now, this is what I used. As you might have recalled from a previous episode, I am in a rental house right now because we had to evacuate our main house and my main studio because it was in the path of a forest fire.
So, the room that I am recording in is small and horribly echo-y. So on Amazon, I got 4 studio backdrop supports which are basically like extra tall light stands that you can extend with a crossbar between them.
So basically, I’ve got four poles; one in each corner of my room. With the crossbars, I have a horizontal metal bar that extends around all four walls close to the ceiling and from those, I hung the moving blankets so they surround the entire studio. They’re hung a couple of inches away from the wall and they massively reduce the amount of echo in the room.
For a cost of less than $250 total and without having to drill holes or make other changes to the room I was able to set up a pretty adequate recording space. So, very inexpensive option and it’s basically accessible to anybody because it doesn’t require any structural changes to the space.
A better and nicer looking solution for soundproofing
Moving up from there is what I have done in my permanent studio at home which is hanging much nicer looking sound absorbing panels. I spend 10 to 12 hours a day in that office and I like to have my office and my studio looking very nice and clean.
So the next option is what are called acoustic insulating panels which means panels that absorb sound. There are two options here: pre-made and DIY.
Inside my studio I use nice pre-made panels that are one to four inches thick and covered in a nice fabric like suede where you get a lot of different color options. These are usually about $50 per panel and the panels are usually 2 ft by 4 ft.
Now covering the entire room with these can get pretty expensive but you actually don’t need to cover the walls completely to get the benefit. Just a row of these panels all the way around your studio at the height of your microphone will significantly reduce the echo and reverb in the room. So what I recommend and what I’ve done is basically just created a sound absorbing strip all the way around the walls of the studio at the level of my microphone.
The middle ground solution
The next option is basically the same thing but it’s more DIY where you buy the acoustic material in bulk and then you wrap and frame the panels yourself.
You can get a 12 pack of the same two foot by four foot acoustic panel material for about $90 then you can wrap it in fabric and basically get the same number of panels as the first option but at a much lower cost. They just won’t look as good.
Finally, soundproofing foam (ugly, but does it work?)
Now the last option here and in my opinion, at least based on the reading that I’ve done, the least effective option is the black or colored acoustic foam square panels that you see. I see a ton of people on YouTube gluing this foam everywhere in their studios walls and ceilings and so forth.
From what I’ve read this foam isn’t really all that effective because the vast majority of the suppliers are using really cheap foam with minimal sound absorbing properties. It’s better than nothing but personally I don’t like the look of it and it’s not all that effective so if you have the budget it’s worth exploring the other options.
Audio post-processing for noise reduction
So at this point have we done all we can do to get great recorded audio? No! There is one more very important step.
At this point we have eliminated or reduced noise both outside and inside our studio. We’ve also put sound absorbing furniture and materials inside so that we reduce any echo or reverb from the actual audio that we are creating. Our microphone is well defended but some noise may still be getting to it.
So what do we do now?
We are going to leverage our last line of defense which is audio post processing.
This gets advanced pretty quickly but luckily today’s gear and tools make the basics pretty easy. We’ll cover this in depth in a future episode but for now, realize that if you use a mixer or an audio processor while recording, you can leverage features like low and high past filters and noise gates which can prevent recording a lot of the sources of noise that might be coming through our other lines of defense.
High & low pass filters
This technology will filter out all sound that is either above or below a certain frequency. A prime example here is low frequency noise like the rumble from a heater or an air conditioner. With these filters you can prevent that from even being recorded.
Another tool is called a noise gate and it’s a function on either your hardware audio mixer/ processor or software like Audacity/Adobe Audition.
The idea with this is that while your microphone maybe very sensitive and able to pick up even the sound of a pin dropping, there’s really no need to record those things, you just really want your voice. So what a noise gate does is not let any sound through the device until it reaches a certain volume.
Now even this could get pretty complicated because there are a number of different settings on a noise gate. Usually these programs and mixers have some defaults that are pretty easy to set up and then that’s something that you want to test over time.
There’s too much to cover here but I will cover that in some detail in a future episode. For now just realize that even if some noise does get to your microphone, you still have options to eliminate it.
When all else fails…
Finally, if there was a significant noise event like fireworks during your recording, you may be able to reduce that during post processing. Audacity and Audition all have some advanced options here that can help you salvage a recording if there was some loud source of noise right in the middle of it.
As you can see here there is a lot to this topic but the nice thing is you can make huge improvements to your studio and audio quality without a large investment. We covered a lot of ground and I didn’t even get into all the detail items that I have at each step. So, I’ve put those into a downloadable checklist that you can download below: