A Guide to Building Your Home Project Studio

As I was coming “through the ranks” of my early professional career, I primarily worked out of studios and venues. I did not own these facilities. I had no power over the acoustics or equipment – the facility was provided as is. In unknown ways this was quite liberating – it allowed me to simply think about the then-and-there of my job. After a while I realized I could be more productive and get great results from home. I rented myself a two bedroom apartment and converted one of the rooms into a mixing space.

Over the last month I have moved from my previous apartment into a new one. I had actually lucked out with my first apartment – but of course that only became really apparent as I have been setting up the new one.

There were a number of reasons why my first little apartment was actually a great find. If you are setting up a space, or looking for one, this little account of my happenings may be a helpful guide.

My First Apartment

The first reason my first apartment was nice was the drop ceiling made of armstrong tiles. Those tiles have an NRC rating of 0.65. That’s not supremely high for absorbers, but when your whole ceiling is covered in them, and they are spaced adequately from the ceiling, they become pretty effective. Laying a good rug down on the floor pretty much eliminated my midrange and treble issues from two flat boundaries! Convenient.

Second, the back wall had large windows. Windows suck for tracking spaces, but for mixing spaces they can be convenient. Glass is pretty porous (an amorphous solid, very little rigidity) – higher frequencies will slap right back from it, lower frequencies will pass through it. Well – when your higher frequencies are twelve feet away from you with a rug and ceiling absorption along the way – the slap back is really not all that problematic. What’s more important is that the low tones simply exit. Mind you these are fairly large windows, taking up a good portion of the wall space. This left only the front and side walls to deal with. The space was fairly small, about 12 x 8 or 9. It only took a number of rigid fiberglass absorption panels to deaden the space.

My New Apartment

Now on the other side, I have a new space. No drop ceiling, and the space is 14 x 14 ft. So a little more sizable. Now the back wall points flat back at me. The bass is a lot more uneven throughout the room, and my fiberglass panels aren’t really cutting it. So I’m going to stack pink panther fiberglass batts against the rear wall, about 2″ deep, ceiling to floor, to ease up my bass reflections. I’ve put a large rug down on the floor, and I’ve put velcro on auralex foam for the ceiling over my mix station. I’m using old ceiling tiles like the ones in my old apartment, as well as my rigid fiberglass panels for the walls around the mixing station.

Lastly, I’m building “resonator bass traps” to line the floors and walls. These are 2″ x 2″ boxes with rigid fiberglass inside of them designed to trap and nullify low frequencies. For the odds and ends I have a toss up between using excess plywood to build conical diffusion (the plywood is bent so it curves and then mounts on the wall) or moving blankets (not the best absorber but it works decently).

Buying Equipment

For purchasing equipment, eBay is a pretty reliable way to go. However, it is worth buying from regular eBay sellers (several hundred feedbacks or more). Serious sellers are fast, reliable, and will refund money no fuss if there’s a problem. Personal sellers tend to be more difficult. I currently have an open case against one who shall remain nameless (unless I don’t get a refund, in which case they will certainly be named, a lot). When the item they sold was “tested and fully functional”, they really meant “tested four months ago and appeared fully functional to someone who didn’t know how the item was generally used.” It had some issues. So buy from people who accept refunds and don’t get overly excited about a “good deal.” ‘Cause you usually get what you pay for.

Room Setup

Anyway, for room set up, I placed my speakers flat against a wall both times, with absorption directly around them. Sometimes this isn’t the best way to go, but in many cases it works well at least to reinforce the bass response. Keep in mind that if you have rear ported speakers this will change their frequency response (sometimes in a good way). Also, make sure your speakers are on a sturdy support. Aside from not wanting them to fall over, the stronger the support (and less the speaker stand rocks) the better the overall transient response. Something about every force has an equal and opposite reaction… Isaac Newton.

Also, make sure whatever you are using to move things along – be it a mouse, keyboard, or faders – make sure they are placed in a way where you don’t have to hunch over to use them. Trust me, it only takes about an hour before that gets bothersome.

If you are searching for a place, or looking to modify where you are right now for building up a studio – best of luck! It’s time consuming and costly. But maybe my musings will help ease the process along.

Further Reading

For more information, check out Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios – Part I and Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios – Pt. II.

 

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss engineers from his private facility in Philadelphia, PA. Credits include Snoop Dogg, Gorilla Zoe, Arrested Development, Dizzee Rascal, Gift of Gab, J-Son and many others. Get in touch at Weiss-Sound.com.
  • http://www.anthemmastering.com Rob Schlette

    The most conscientious home studio folks will take a very deliberate, measured approach to acoustic treatment – like you would in a larger purpose-build studio. In small spaces like the ones you’re describing, there’s no way you’ll ever get too much bass trapping. Nuance just doesn’t apply in rooms that small.

    A quick and smart approach in these small home spaces is to get floor-to-ceiling broadband traps in every corner, as well as traps roughly centered in the wall/ceiling corners. Begin by ignoring any specific modal results of your room dimensions. If the dimensions are smaller than 25′ by 15′ or so, just go for the most, broadest-bandwidth ‘bass’ trapping you can.

    If you’re room shopping, remember that a trap is an air space (not just a panel sold as a bass trap), so the room is going to get smaller before it sounds good.

    Some very approachable sources:
    http://www.ethanwiner.com/
    http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Master_Handbook_of_Acoustics.html?id=sgwg1Vwm9VUC

  • http://www.rickcperry.com Rick Perry

    Thanks for the great writeup!

  • http://www.blueduststudio.com chris porro

    +1 ethan winer’s site. good info.
    everest’s book (master handbook of acoustics )is good but huge!

    i’d stick a mic in your listening position and take measurements as you go. nice to see the changes. then maybe post them? but the mic has to stay put… no moving at all.

    14×14 or anything of the same dimension is not good. you’ll have 2 modes very close to each other. you can calculate them and measure them with something like room eq wizard.

    i would also get your speakers off the wall. give them 2′ and see how much better that sounds. if you have the space.

    you prob already know the workarounds for bad rooms. low volumes. use headsets. optimize speaker/listening position.

    i’m working on the next acoustic advance for my own studio at the moment. yeah….and treating modes…more. good luck.