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Why Your Home Studio Needs Acoustic Treatment

Why Your Home Studio Needs Acoustic Treatment

Technology benefits from the “trickle-down effect” – a phenomenon which lowers the price of consumer goods so that what was once affordable to only the very rich can be had by the common person for a fraction of the price.

This means that, unlike even three or four decades ago, the average music enthusiast can piece together a home studio capable of producing high-quality recordings, with less space taken up and the sort of potential that could only be dreamt of in the early years of music production. In fact, with little more than a moderately-priced computer, a pair of monitor speakers, a DAW (digital audio workstation) and a couple of microphones, you can record and mix in a spare room. But something is missing…

What’s that sound?

    A home studio will never be a professional studio. The former is bound by size constraints, often less-than-ideal surroundings and the acoustic effects of conventional construction techniques. The latter – well, the latter doesn’t suffer from those problems because it’s purpose-built from the ground up. But the biggest issue facing home studio owners is, fortunately, also the easiest to address. It doesn’t require moving or tearing down walls. Rather, it involves treating the chosen room to make it as acoustically honest as possible.

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    Room construction – the dimensions and proportions of a space, the thickness of the walls, the insulation, and placement of windows – varies from one home to the next, and furnishings, wall coverings, carpeting, and flooring material all add unique acoustic characteristics. But why should all this matter when you have your head a few feet away from a pair of accurate monitor speakers?

    Sound waves travel fast. Fast enough so that what you think you’re hearing from your speakers has already been colored by the surrounding space. An untreated room has a frequency response – the way it reflects sound back – that is uneven. In short, that means what your ears are telling your brain isn’t true. It’s like taking a photograph of a tree in a field and adjusting the brightness and contrast, then applying a color filter. The outcome is a landscape you still recognize, but it isn’t a true representation.

    Unless you make music for your sole listening enjoyment in the one space it was recorded or mixed in, the end result of an untreated home studio is that what sounds good there probably won’t “translate” well in the real world where most people listen to music. Your mixes will be colored by the excesses and insufficiency related to the unique acoustic properties of your room.

    Why treat your home studio?

    Total acoustic deadening is neither necessary nor desirable. A well-treated space is not covered from top to bottom in foam paneling – that’s more akin to what you’d find in an anechoic chamber. The goal of room treatment, according to Andy Munro – a specialist in acoustic design – is to achieve a “neutral sound balance”. That means that various frequencies are neither exaggerated nor deficient; it means that your ears perceive the source material as it was meant to be heard.

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    Dimensional and budgetary constraints may limit the home studio owner in what they can do. However, treating a room as optimally as possible will create a listening environment in which you can learn what a good recording sounds like. You’ll be able to make better decisions which will be evident when your music is played in the outside world.

      The problem with bass

      Of primary concern to the home studio owner are low frequencies. Bass travels far, passing through walls and leaving most of the mid-range and treble behind. If a low-frequency sound wave could be visualized, its cycles – the number of times the wave repeats – would be significantly longer than that of a higher frequency. The unique sonic characteristics of bass make it particularly problematic.

      Left untreated, an average room allows bass to bounce from the wall behind the listener, building up in the corners. The result can be a significant dip – as much as 30 decibels. You might think your music sounds balanced and powerful, with a deep, driving rhythm that supports the entire song, but take it out of the studio, and suddenly it sounds muddy and boomy, with bass overpowering the other instruments. What happened?

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      The aforementioned dips – often referred to as “nulls” – altered your perception of the bass in your music. You compensated for what you heard by adding more low-end frequencies. As soon as your music was played in a different environment, the effect of this compensation became evident.

      How to create a bass trap

      The solution to bass nulls is placing a “bass trap” in each corner of your studio. These “traps” are made from material of varying thickness, density, hardness, and softness, sometimes containing air gaps and covered in an acoustically transparent fabric which allows sound waves to pass through without reflecting them back into a room. When low frequencies hit a bass trap, they encounter resistance and slow down. The reflection, dispersion, and accumulation which would be caused by hitting an untreated wall are reduced, resulting in a more even, accurate representation of the sound.

      How many bass traps does a home studio need? Twelve are ideal – one for each of the room’s eight corners, and an additional trap for each of the four vertical junctures between walls.

      The problem with treble

      What about the higher mid-range and treble frequencies? There are two approaches that can be taken. The primary is the placement of acoustic panels, of similar construction to panel-shaped bass traps, at various points on the studio walls. When high frequencies hit an acoustic panel, the sound is absorbed and converted into imperceptible heat, instead of being bounced back at you. Absorptive acoustic panels are an important tool for reducing rapid echoes and the “ringing” effect found in sparsely furnished rooms.

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      Another way to deal with troublesome high frequency reflections is through the use of “diffusors “. Unlike acoustic panels or bass traps, a diffusor breaks up sound using an array of three-dimensional patterned surfaces. They may have the appearance of a random arrangement of shapes, but are actually based on precise equations. Diffusors – which should be used only as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, panels – help improve your “sweet spot”, the space where you sit between the speakers, leading to more accurate auditory perception.

      Buy or DIY?

        Whether you make your traps, panels, and diffusors yourself or purchase them will depend upon if you have more time than money, or vice versa. It’s entirely possible to build everything you need and get a good outcome – there are many tutorials to be found online. The drawbacks are the time involved in research, calculation and design, the acquisition of materials and, of course, the creation and installation of the end product. You’ll also need a few basic tools and a space in which to work. The benefit is the money saved.

        Conversely, you can purchase everything you need, professionally made and finished. You’ll save a great deal of time, needing only to install the room treatment products – and with purchasing them comes expert guidance from someone who is already well-versed in acoustics. The only downside is the cost, which ranges from moderately to significantly higher than doing it yourself.

        In either case, your music – whether it’s strictly recorded, electronically sequenced, mixed or any combination thereof – will improve. So too will your mood. You’ll be confident that what you hear in your studio will sound great everywhere else!

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        Last Updated on November 17, 2019

        20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

        20 Creative Ways To Say Thank You

        Saying, “Thank you,” can be difficult to do. Some things just demand a little something extra because of the magnitude of the favor or the depth of appreciation involved. But what can you do to say thank you in a meaningful way? Sometimes you have to get a little more creative than just firing off an email. Here are 20 creative ways to say thank you that your friends and family will remember and cherish!

        1. Make a gift bag.

        A unique, homemade gift bag with a custom label or a note is a simple but heartfelt way to show your appreciation for the wonderful things your friends or family have done for you.

        2. Give a toast.

        Many people fear public speaking more than death, giving this particular thank-you a little extra meaning. Composing a sincere, eloquent toast and delivering it is a nice way to show appreciation that truly comes from the heart.

        3. Write a poem.

        “Roses are red, violets are blue…” Uh, you could write that...but why not put a little extra zing in it? Find out what their favorite kind of poetry is: haiku, free verse, iambic pentameter, and so on. (Google them if you don’t know what they are.) Then write one that expresses why they deserve your thanks…and why you’re glad to give it!

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        4. Create your own labels.

        There are a number of websites that offer custom gift labels. Find one that fits your personality and that of your friends and create a personalized thank-you label!

        5. Give a gift card.

        Sometimes choosing what to give a friend can be tough. A gift card is a good way to get around this problem. As always, be sure to include a personalized note or card thanking the recipient for their friendship and help.

        6. Send a letter.

        Snail-mail is a largely lost art form. Don’t worry about how long the letter is, though. What really matters here is that you took the time to put pen to paper and express your feelings sincerely and honestly!

        7. Use social media to send a special message.

        If someone’s done something you think the whole world should know about, why not put out a social media blast? Use your blog, your Facebook, your Google+ account, and your Twitter to spread the word about why this person’s someone your friends will want to know too!

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        8. Make your own digital greeting card.

        While an email isn’t always the best way to go when saying thank you, a digital greeting card that you put time and effort into creating can really brighten someone’s day! Make the card reflect the recipient’s personality and compose a short message of thanks for their generosity.

        9. Make a YouTube video.

        Sometimes, actually hearing someone say, “Thank you,” can make all the difference. Why not take it a step further and create a special video of thanks for your friends, family, and those special people who helped make your day so important…or who helped you through that rough time?

        10. Deliver cookies or candies.

        Making something yourself is a fun and delightful way to say thank you to someone. Create a sampling of baked goods or homemade candies and decorate them with a simple message, or make them so they form letters! (Think Valentine’s candies, only situationally appropriate.) Attach a thank-you note or label and surprise those special people with the gift of your time and creativity.

        11. Make surprise gifts for guests.

        There’s no need to wait until “later” to send a thank-you message. Why not do it at the time? Create little gift packets or bags for your guests with surprises inside. This is a great way to say thanks to the people who attended your event, and make sure they won’t want to miss the next one!

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        12. Put together a flower basket.

        Whether you prefer fresh or artificial flowers, assembling a flower basket with a thank-you note is an excellent way to brighten someone’s day and show you appreciate them.

        13. Take a picture.

        Sometimes capturing the moment is the best way to put a smile on someone’s face. Have someone take a picture of you receiving that special gift or opening that surprise package and send the giver a copy with a quick but sincere note to say thanks!

        14. Repay their generosity by paying it forward.

        The best gifts come from the heart, and the best way to repay a gift is to pay it forward. If your friend has a special cause they care about or something they believe in passionately, why not make a donation in their name or volunteer some of your time to the cause? This will mean more than any number of cookies, candies, or thank-you notes because you’re taking your friend’s love and spreading it around to others.

        15. Do something special for them.

        Take them out to dinner. (See “make a toast.”) Give them that movie they’ve been wanting forever. Cook them dinner and give them a present when they arrive. Any of these are good options for showing someone you really appreciate them and how grateful you are to have them in your life.

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        16. Reciprocate their help.

        Everyone needs help sometime. Whether it’s holding their hand through a particularly traumatic incident or helping them replace the alternator in their car, being there when they need it shows you remember what they did for you and how much it meant. It also shows that you’re willing to be just as good a friend to them as they were to you!

        17. Be there for them.

        Not every thank-you gesture has to be a grand public spectacle. Sometimes just giving them a place to come hang out when they’re lonely or showing up to offer them a sympathetic shoulder means the world to a person.

        18. Listen to them.

        Listening is almost as lost an art as the handwritten letter. When your friend or family member needs to talk, listen to them. Ask questions when appropriate, but just letting them know you’re there and paying attention to them to the exclusion of all else for a little while is a great way to say thank you for the times they listened to you.

        19. Say it in another language…or two…

        A simple thank you is great…but why not spice it up a little? Instead of just saying, “Thank you,” write or make a video of you telling them thank you in different languages. Some examples might be, “Gracias! Merci! Danke schoen! Spasibo! Mahalo!” and any other ways or languages you can think of. (The ones listed above are Spanish, French, German, Russian, and Hawaiian, in case you were wondering.) If you want to really get tricky about it, say a short phrase in each language that conveys why you’re thanking them!

        20. Show them some love.

        A simple touch, a hug, or helping out when they need it without being asked may be the most powerful gratitude message you can send. Offer to take the dogs for a walk, sit for the kids for a few hours, or run to the grocery store so they don’t have to. The little things are often the most important and meaningful. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still send a note, but sometimes your simple presence and willingness to help is all that really matters.

        Featured photo credit: Hanny Naibaho via unsplash.com

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