How to make your home studio sound spectacular on the cheap

How to make your home studio sound spectacular on the cheap

When you set up your home studio for the first time you probably wondered how you could make it sound more like a studio and less like a bedroom. That’s where acoustic treatment comes in.

Acoustic treatment is necessary in most bedroom studios sound better so you can accurately hear everything that’s coming out of your speakers.  But it can also be expensive and confusing.

So, you might just lie to yourself and say,

“I Don’t Need Acoustic Treatment”

Yes, you do. I’m sorry to break it to you, but if you want to mix your music to make it translate across all speaker systems, treating your room is a great way to get there.

Why do you need Acoustic Treatment?

Simply put, a room designed as a bedroom is not designed for audio production. It has low ceilings, parallel walls, and reflective surfaces. Not the most ideal room for accurate monitoring and mixing.

Sound waves bounce off the walls and into your ears, so acoustic treatment helps you minimize the reflections, creating a more accurate listening experience, enabling you to hear what’s really coming out of your monitors, and helping you make better mix decisions.

You don’t need a lot of acoustic treatment to make your room sound better. A little can go a long way. If you just reduce the primary reflections around your listening position you will hear a noticeable difference from your monitors. They will suddenly sound cleaner, and the stereo spectrum suddenly becomes clearer.

The Problem With Bedrooms

Technology has enabled even the poorest of us starving artists to crank out professional productions from home. But as a I said, bedrooms are not made to be recording studios, so you need to do your best to make your music production area as sonically perfect as possible. Then you can focus on making music instead of problematic reflections.

Anyone setting up a home recording studio will run into some problems, but realizing what you’re dealing with makes the process so much smoother. If you’ve got a bad sounding room, here are some acoustic treatment tips that will make your home studio sound better right away without spending a lot of money or wasting a bunch of time figuring out the physics of acoustics.

1. Sitting in Thirds When You’re Mixing

Ideally your mixing position should be positioned at 1/3 of the length of the room. Don’t sit in the middle and don’t sit too close to the walls.

The best frequency balance is somewhere around one-third, so if you can put your listening position as close to that as possible you will get the best balance.

2. Beware of the Corners

Corners are your enemies. You can usually see bass traps in the corners of studios because that’s where low-frequency buildup usually happens. Put as many bass traps as possible in the corners of your room. It’s like setting a Ghostbuster trap that sucks up your low-end. You know that’s where the bass will be, so make sure you suck it out of your room.

  •  If you have created your own panel traps be sure to place them at a 45° angle in the corner.
  • A bass trap in the corner eliminates the ninety-degree angle the two walls make, reducing reflections.
  • Bass tends to build up in the corners so if you have a thick bass trap there it will eat up the excess bass that’s clogging up your control room.
  • Don’t worry about overdoing the bass traps; you can’t really over-bass-trap a room anyway. Low-end is big and bulky so create as many bass traps as you can.

Not only will the placement work the best for bass trapping but it will also help scatter and diffuse the sound-waves in the room. It’s always a good idea to try to minimize as many 90° corners as possible. If you can do that while also absorbing the low end of your room, you’re killing two bird with one stone.

3. Windows Suck

Glass gives an annoying bright slap that can really screw with a mix.

If you have a window either in front or behind you, consider closing it off with large acoustic panels. If you can’t do that, at least put some heavy drapes to kill the reflections.

4. The Acoustic Properties of Your Living Space

A big sofa can act as an absorber and a bass-trap if it’s big enough. And bookshelves can help diffuse the sound, thanks to the unevenness of the books and the different densities of the paper.

But you shouldn’t rely on those to make your room sound amazing. They can help to some extent, but not as much as real acoustic treatment.

Setting Up Your Listening Position

There are three things you need to keep in mind when setting up your monitors in your home studio.

1. The Correct Height

You don’t want your monitors below or above your ears. You want those sound waves hitting your ears at exactly the right height. Place the monitors at the same height as your head, aiming the tweeters at the top of your ears. This enables you to hear the full frequency response of the monitors. If they are too high or too low you won’t hear what’s coming out of them correctly.

2. The Correct Distance

Make sure that your head is the third point in an equilateral triangle. The monitors need to be at the same distance from each other as they are from your head. Poor stereo imaging and panning problems will result if your monitors aren’t at the same distance from you as they are from each other.

3. The Correct Sound

I highly recommend using some sort of monitor decoupler, like the Auralex MoPads or the IsoAcoustics stands to decouple the sound of the monitors from your desk. If you just leave the monitors sitting on your desk it will act as an amplifier for what’s coming out of the monitors. This usually results in a lot of boominess and boxiness since your desk might be amplifying those frequencies. The easiest way to get rid of all that is to simply disconnect your monitors from your desk using the aforementioned MoPads.

If Your Room Still Sound Bad, Try Headphones

Following these suggestions above, you should end up with a much better-treated room that will help you make accurate mix decisions that result in a professional sounding song you can be proud of.

However, if you can’t afford enough acoustic treatment or can’t be bothered to make your own, you may be stuck mixing most of your music on headphones. But don’t worry, mixing with headphones is a completely acceptable way to mix your music – even Grammy award-winning engineers like Andrew Scheps mix on headphones.

If that’s something you’re interested in knowing more about, check out my in-depth guide on mixing with headphones right here.

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