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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 September 20, 2018

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

        Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

        If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

        1. Breathe

        The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

        • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
        • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
        • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

        Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

        2. Loosen up

        After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

        Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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        3. Chew slowly

        Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

        Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

        Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

        4. Let go

        Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

        The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

        It’s not. Promise.

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        Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

        Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

        21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

        5. Enjoy the journey

        Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

        Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

        6. Look at the big picture

        The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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        Will this matter to me…

        • Next week?
        • Next month?
        • Next year?
        • In 10 years?

        Hint: No, it won’t.

        I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

        Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

        7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

        You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

        Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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        8. Practice patience every day

        Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

        • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
        • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
        • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

        Final thoughts

        Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

        Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

        Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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