The first time I turned up the gain on a condenser mic and heard the inside of my studio space through an ultra-sensitive microphone diaphragm absolutely blew me away. It became crystal clear at that moment that the noises I found otherwise imperceptible under normal circumstances were incredibly loud in the context of my recordings. From that moment on, I was on a hunt to reduce extraneous sounds from ending up on my tracks, and part of that pursuit was getting proper acoustic treatment. Today we’re going to find out what acoustic treatment is, how it works, and then apply that knowledge by looking at the best options for acoustic treatment for your home studio.
What is Acoustic Treatment, and Why Do I Need It?
What we call “sound” is actually a pressure wave caused by a vibration within a certain frequency range. If something vibrates between 20 and 20,000 cycles per second (Hz), it creates a pressure wave that is transmitted through the air. If the wave is intense enough to vibrate our eardrums, we hear it. When these same waves hit a solid surface, however, some of that pressure is transferred, which causes that surface to also vibrate and create its own sounds. This is called reflection or reverberation.
Acoustic treatment is the process of adding sound-absorbing or diffusing materials to flat surfaces and in corners of your home studio to help reduce or sweeten reflected sound, leaving only the original sounds from instruments, vocals, or studio monitors. By placing foam, rock wool, fiberglass or other sound-absorbent materials on walls and in corners, reverberations are reduced to the point where they become inaudible. Alternatively, irregularly-shaped objects can be hung on flat surfaces to disrupt and disperse sound waves. The interesting 3D wall art that you may see hanging in a studio is actually a cleverly-hidden sound diffuser.
Adding acoustic treatments to a room prevents rogue sound waves from bouncing around within a space and ultimately coloring the sounds that are picked up by our ears and our microphones. Without proper acoustic treatment, recordings can be tainted by unwanted reflections. Also, proper acoustic treatment allows the uncolored sound from monitors to be heard as-is, making more accurate mixing and mastering possible in a home studio environment.
How is Acoustic Treatment Different from Soundproofing?
One of the most frequent misunderstandings I see when interacting with newer home studio hobbyists is knowing the difference between soundproofing and acoustic treatment. Though often employed in tandem, soundproofing and acoustic treatment do very different things and are accomplished in completely separate ways.
As we stated above, when a sound wave strikes a solid surface it causes that surface to vibrate, which in turn creates another smaller sound wave. It doesn’t just reflect sound back into the room, it also reflects it outward. Soundproofing is the process of adding mass or additional layers between rooms to reduce this propagation of sound out of the room. “Soundproofing” is really a misnomer, as it is virtually impossible to prevent all sound from propagating, even in professional environments. “Sound reduction” is a more accurate but far less common term. Regardless of what you call it, soundproofing is not acoustic treatment, so you shouldn’t expect your acoustic treatments to provide any noticeable sound reduction.
What are the Most Common Acoustic Treatments?
Acoustic treatment is accomplished in a variety of ways. There are commercial options as well as home-made remedies, both of which have varying degrees of success depending on the application. Let’s take a look at the most common options:
Acoustic Foam and Bass Traps
Acoustic foam is what most people think of when they imagine the inside of a studio, and for good reason. Acoustic foam is still the most common method of applying treatment to the walls and ceilings of a small space because it does so well at taming high-frequency flutter. Vocal booths, small recording rooms, control rooms, and mixing and mastering suites tend to be treated with acoustic foam in pro studios due to its affordability and ease of application.
The downside of acoustic foam, especially thinner foam, is that it often doesn’t do a great job of absorbing lower-midrange or bass frequencies, which can be a problem in bigger spaces. To help with this, bass traps can be applied to the corners of a room to help. Bass traps are large, especially dense absorbers that are better suited for lower frequencies, which have larger and stronger waves than midrange or high frequency sounds. When deployed in tandem with thicker acoustic foam or other types of absorbers or diffusers, bass traps are often the best solution for treating a boomy-sounding room.
Rockwool and Fiberglass Absorbers
Among the DIY crowd, home-made rockwool or fiberglass absorbers have become an incredibly popular option in recent years due to their relatively low cost and ability to tame both higher frequencies as well as some in the lower midrange. These absorbers are usually just batts or sheets of rockwool or fiberglass insulation housed in simple wooden frames, which are then covered in cloth and hung on the wall of a studio to greatly reduce the sound reflection in a room.
There are a few caveats to deploying this style of absorber. For one, they require tools and a bit of know-how to build on your own. Failing that, you do have the option to buy them pre-made, but for some that is cost prohibitive as they are many times more expensive when labor is factored in. Also, they are thicker, which is good for absorbing low-end but not great if your space is small. Finally, this kind of absorber is heavy, which means you’ll need to poke holes in the wall to hang them. If you live in a rental property, you may have to factor that in to your decision.
If you’re building your own, here are two how-to videos to help you get started:
Diffusers and Wall Accents
Sound diffusers work differently than absorbers in how they affect sounds in your studio. When a sound wave hits an absorber, it is prevented from reflecting, but when it hits a diffuser the reflection is spread out. This is particularly useful for live rooms where the goal isn’t to kill the reverb but to make it more pleasing to the ear.
Diffusers have a few drawbacks for a home studio, namely cost and application to a single-room environment. For most home studios, diffusers are simply out of their budget, and even if they were they’re not particularly useful for a common one-room setup. If you only have one room for your home studio, that means you’ll be recording, mixing, and mastering all in the same environment. Though diffusers are good for recording drums or brass, they’re not well-suited for tracking vocals or other instruments. Unless a room is carefully tuned with a variety of other treatments, diffusers aren’t ideal for mixing or mastering either, since they can cause you to hear false sounds that aren’t actually in your track.
Sheets and Blankets
No, we’re not having a pajama party in the studio. There are special acoustic sheets available on the market which are good for sound absorption, and some even offer some soundproofing as well. In a pinch, it’s also possible to hang moving blankets or even regular sleeping blankets on the walls of your studio, however, they won’t have the same absorption properties as an actual acoustic sheet. The downside here is that hanging any of the above can make the room a bit stuffy, so make sure you have proper ventilation and airflow.
How Much and What Kind of Acoustic Treatment Should I Get?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, since rooms are all inherently different in shape, size, and construction. Depending on what a particular room in your studio is used for, it may require as little as 10% treatment to as much as 50% coverage on the walls and ceiling to prevent reverb from affecting recordings and mixes. Let’s look at what is ideal for each:
Vocal and Acoustic Instrument Recording
This is the most common type of home recording environment, and also the most demanding in terms of taming echo because of the kind of mics that are used. Ideally you’d want to shoot for average or heavy treatment, or about 20-35% coverage. That way, sound waves are mostly absorbed, and the ones that do hit the walls are reflected into absorbers and prevented from bouncing around the room and creating unpleasant echoes.
Mixing and Mastering
The other demanding application for treatment is the control room where you’ll do your mixing and mastering. This room will usually also require an average or heavier treatment of 20-35% to make sure that the sound you hear is only what is coming from your monitors and not also what is bouncing off the walls.
A live room is where you record loud instruments like guitar amps, drums, and brass. Because those instruments are so loud and the reverb from your room can actually be a benefit in the case of drum overheads and room mics, a live room will have far less treatment. It may require up to 10% treatment to tame high-frequency echo or boomy-sounding lows, or you might get lucky and have a very nice-sounding room that needs little to no treatment at all. The only way to know is to try it out both ways.
The math to figure out how much treatment you need based on the size of your room is fairly simple, but does require a little algebra:
[ (Width * Height * 2) + (Length * Height * 2) + (Width * Length) ] * Coverage %
If a room is 8 x 10 with 10-foot ceilings, it has two walls and a ceiling that are 80 square feet each, plus two walls that are 100 square feet, for a total of 440 square feet. If you wanted to use that room for vocal recording or mixing you could start off with 440 * 20%, or 88 sq. ft. of treatment, and see if that does the trick, If you find it still has too much natural reverb you can add more.
If you’re not great with math, here’s a rough guide to help you out:
|Room Size||Light Treatment (10% coverage)||Average Treatment (20% coverage)||Heavy Treatment (35% coverage)|
|2x3x9 (small closet)||10 sq. ft.||20 sq. ft.||34 sq. ft.|
|8x10x10 (small room)||44 sq. ft.||88 sq. ft.||154 sq. ft.|
|15x10x10 (large room)||65 sq. ft.||130 sq. ft.||228 sq. ft.|
|20x30x10 (extra large room)||160 sq. ft.||320 sq. ft.||560 sq. ft.|
It’s impossible for me to give you one number to shoot for because rooms come in every different shape and size, and you might just have one room, or you might be lucky enough to have two or more to dedicate to recording. Also, different genres of music tend to have different needs. With that in mind, I’ve created a few example scenarios that may help illustrate a bit better.
Let’s say a hip-hop producer or rapper wants to make music at home. Typically the only live recording they will do is vocals, and everything else will be done with virtual instruments or samples. The best bang for their buck might be to retrofit a small closet as a vocal booth with 20-35% coverage to kill high-frequency flutter, then send their stems out to an engineer for mixing and mastering. Alternatively, if they wanted to do their own mixing and mastering, they could set up a small bedroom with 20-35% coverage, use calibration software to flatten the room’s response, and do their vocal tracking, mixing, and mastering all in one room. Obviously it costs more to treat a whole room than it does a small closet, but in the long term that will inevitably be cheaper than sending all your mixes to an engineer.
As another example, imagine a rock or metal band that is trying to put an album together. They could start by setting up their drummer in a larger room with whatever treatment they need to help sweeten the room’s natural reverb in the overhead and room mics. Then, for the rest of the band they’d have a similar choice to make: set up a small closet for recording vocals and acoustic instruments and send tracks to an engineer, or treat an entire room and use it for tracking, mixing, and mastering.
Since there isn’t one simple answer to this question, I would encourage you to join our Home Studio Enthusiasts Facebook group, post any questions you have with details of your specific use case, and we’ll help you sort it out within your budget.
Best Acoustic Treatment Options
Now that you know what treatment is and have a rough idea of what you’ll need, let’s take a look at some specific acoustic treatment options:
Foam Factory in Michigan is the most affordable source of acoustic foam I have found. My studio is treated with their 2-inch acoustic wedge foam, which does a great job of absorption and taming reflection. For less than $200 I was able to fully treat a 7 x 10 x 8 room at about 25% coverage and add bass traps to the corners behind my monitors to control low-end energy. Coupled with SonarWorks Reference 4, I have everything I need to record vocals and acoustic guitar, plus mix and master my tracks.
If you have the money to spend, Audimute makes some absolutely gorgeous acoustic treatments. From standard fabric-covered fiberglass panels to unique wall art and tiles, they have beautiful high-end treatment options for a lasting look. They also carry several great soundproofing products as well.
Not surprisingly, Amazon has a lot of budget options to help you get started:
If you’re going with foam, I highly recommend that you skip past any 1″ foam options and go straight for 2-inch or larger to get quality sound absorption. Here’s a solid 2-inch pyramid choice from FStop Labs:
- [REDUCE NOISE]: Our 3D acoustically designed 2 inch foam helps break up sound waves providing the ideal level of moderate sound control on walls or ceilings.
- [REDUCE REVERB]: At 50/lbs per cubic yard, these acoustic panels effectively absorb unwanted flutter echoes. Made up of non-toxic environmentally friendly polyurethane foam at 50/lbs per cubic yard
- [EXPANDS QUICKLY]: Our foam panels come compressed in a vacuum package and quickly recover to normal size, either by placing in a well ventilated place for about 24-48 hours or soaking the foam in water for one minute then wringing the water out and using a hair dryer or letting it air/sun dry.
- [PLACE ANYWHERE]: Great for spot treating sound on walls in your studio or office - For use in recording studios, control rooms, Offices home studios, home entertainment theaters, Home Offices. Easy to shape and cut to size, altering won’t affect performance.
- [AFTER SERVICE WARRANTY]: Our US based customer service means that you can trust that if you’re not satisfied for any reason, you can get a hassle-free refund or replacement.
For reducing boominess and taming low-frequency echoes, you’ll want to consider adding bass traps, especially in medium-sized or larger rooms where you’re going to mix and master. JBER makes a quality set of bass traps:
- HIGH QUALITY: Acoustic foam bass traps designed to absorb low/mid frequency sound to flatten room response and give you a warmer crystal clear sound.
- VERSATILE AND FITS ANY ROOM: Bass trap foam panels are perfect for music studios, video bloggers, podcasts, home cinemas and living spaces.
- GREAT VALUE: Get the high end style and acoustics of professional studios at a fraction of the cost and effort. Good room acoustics help you to concentrate better, enjoy music and relax!
- PROFESSIONAL DESIGN: Designed for corner mounting between walls and ceilings, can also be wall-mounted horizontally. Aimed to target the low/mid frequencies. Transform the interior design of your studio with world class acoustic absorption properties and sharp square edges. Home studios don't need to sound and look muddy!
- PERFECT for eliminating reverb and echoes of bass sounds.
Rockwool, Fiberglass, and Acoustical Fabric
If you’re going to make your own panels, Amazon has the rockwool sheets, fiberglass panels, and acoustical fabric you’ll need to build them:
- Mineral Wool Insulation in 8lbs per unit density.
- Great as Acoustic insulation or as a soundproofing material
- Cost effective and Very High NRC Rating, better than Owens Corning 703
- Water repelling - hydrophobic- Class A fire rating
- Rigid Boards, perfect for making acoustic panels and bass traps
- 703 is lightweight, resilient, easy to handle and fabricate on the job site
- ASJ Max is an all-service-jacket with a polymer film exterior surface that is smooth, durable, cleanable, wrinkle-resistant, resists water staining and doesn't support mold or mildew growth
- Reduces heat transfer, lowering operating costs
- The ASJ Max facing can resist short durations of liquid water exposure that can occur during construction
- Resists damage and maintains structural integrity and efficiency
- An ATS Acoustics Exclusive made by Guilford of Maine
- 14.4 oz. weight per linear yard, 17 x 15 construction (thread count per inch)
- Flammability: ASTM E84 Class I or A.
- Designed specifically for acoustical applications, this is an affordable alternative to Guilford FR701 fabric.
- Sold by the yard. One yard is 60" wide by 36" long
Best Acoustic Treatments for Home Studio 2020 – The Bottom Line
That’s it for our list of the best options for acoustic treatment for your home recording studio! I hope you have a better idea now of what acoustic treatment is, what your options are, and what will fit in your budget. If you still have questions, pop over to our Home Studio Enthusiasts Facebook group and we’ll help sort you out.
Prices and images automatically updated on 2020-10-23. Affiliate links and images from Amazon Product Advertising API.