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Learn how to get the most out of your room.
Avoiding common studio setup mistakes.
Learn how to correctly position your monitors.
Studio acoustic panels, baffles, diffusers, reflectors and blinds all have their place, but they come at a pretty hefty cost. As not everyone has budgets as big as Abbey Road, what can you be doing as a home recording engineer to optimize your studio for little to no cost? Actually, quite a bit!
Many are of the belief that the aim of acoustic treatment is to completely deaden a room, kill all reverberation — essentially creating an anechoic chamber. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The aim of acoustic treatment is to restore a room’s natural sound balance through careful and deliberate, physical adjustments to the space.
So, “how to improve your room acoustics for cheap”, you ask? Here are 4 DIY acoustic room treatment tricks you can do right now, without spending a dime.
Note: While these are ‘budget-friendly acoustic tips’, they really are room acoustic techniques that all producers should be doing regardless of how much spending power you have.
4 Things You Can Do Today To Improve Your Studio’s Acoustics
1. Ensure windows are adjacent to your listening position
Windows are useful for letting fresh air in, but a nightmare when it comes to treating a room. Glass is a very reflective surface and will inevitably cause sounds to bounce around, and unfortunately for most, removing windows isn’t really an option.
What you can do, however, is ensure that windows are on adjacent sides to your listening position. What that means is, if your speakers are facing directly at you, have windows facing you from the sides. Avoid having windows right behind the monitors, or in front of them. This applies to other reflective sources like mirrors as well.
Double down on minimizing window reflections by draping thick curtains over them. The thicker, the better.
2. Get out of the corners
Corners are a critical area where bass frequencies can build up and cause resonant nodes in your room. Mitigate these issues by placing furniture, floor lamps, statues, beanbags — whatever you have, really. To avoid phasing, resonance build-up and unwanted flutter, do not place your monitor speakers in corners of the room, either.
Sometimes you have no choice but to place a drumkit in the corner. In these circumstances, try placing a mattress directly behind the kit, up against the wall to minimise the early reflections. It’ll look ugly as hell, but it’s cheap, and it will improve your room acoustics.
A trick for getting better vocal takes while dampening wall or corner reflections is to
Grab a few boom mic or speaker stands, and drape a thick duvet/quilt/few blankets just a metre behind the vocalist to create a little absorption wall. This will help to prevent reflections from seeping into the microphone. It may look a little strange, but it’s worth the effort.
Symmetry is important for good monitoring accuracy and improving your room acoustics. Uneven or oddly shaped rooms can result in your two monitors sounding different from one another. If you’ve ever found that a vocal sounds louder in one speaker compared to the other, and you couldn’t figure out why — it’s probably due to a poor relationship of monitor positioning to the symmetry to your room.
If you simply have to make do with an unsymmetrical room, try place your monitoring setup in an area of the room where it has better symmetry, and place furniture in such a way that it balances it out a little.
4. Exercise proper listening position
Proper speaker positioning is often overlooked by both new and seasoned home studio owners, yet it is one technique you can exercise that will drastically change the sound of your room for zero cost.
With that said, here’s a quick guide on how to properly position your monitors in a home studio environment.
The equilateral triangle
Plan out an equilateral triangle that is equidistant (the same in length) between your seat and two speakers. Ideally, you’ll want to position your monitors about a metre away from the back wall. Having your monitors too close to the back wall will introduce resonant peaks and nulls, so try to back up a little. You do not want to position yourself so far back that you’re lodged right in the centre of the room, either.
If possible, your monitor speakers should be facing the long way down the room.
Height and angle
Speakers should be positioned at a 30-degree angle facing you, with your chair symmetrical to both points. Ideally, you should be about 3-5 feet away from the monitor speakers. Being up too close to them will give you a warped frequency response, so be aware of that.
In terms of height, the speakers should be in-line with your ears. If you are having trouble matching your speakers to ear-level, you can try placing the speakers on their sides.
Applying these 4 techniques aren’t going to remove the need for actual acoustic treatment, but they will get you much closer to an optimized room sound. What are your favourite techniques that you can apply to improve your room sound for free? Let me know in the comments.