Studio Acoustic Treatment

When I first started podcasting, we were recoding up in our kitchen, which is a pretty large, open space.

However, since we use condenser-type microphones (which are very sensitive) we were picking up the neighbors’ dogs barking, lawns being mowed, kids jumping on trampolines, and so on.

Even once I learned to turn the gain way way down, and then normalize the audio later in REAPER, we would still get comments from listeners wondering why their neighbors were mowing their lawns at 2AM while they were listening to our show.

So we moved recording down to the basement, and froze with the furnace turned off so we didn’t have to hear the thunder of it running on all our recordings.

In the summer of 2009, I spent the summer finishing half of our basement into two bedrooms, one of which was to be the new recording studio.

It was quite a project, and I just kept thinking “It will be so nice to record in here once it’s well-lit and quiet and warm!”

So I cried a little when the first time we recorded in the new space it sounded like I was recording inside a submarine, and not in a cool Beatles way.  Worse than the lawnmower!

No matter how low I turned down the gain, it was still super-reverby.

For vocals in a song, that can be a good thing (Weird Al famously recorded “Another One Rides the Bus” in a college bathroom), but for spoken word where clarity is king, it was disaster.

So we recorded out in the unfinished part of the basement while I tried to figure out what to do.

First, I tried building panels using the Auralex foam that you can buy at most music shops. actually sells it by the square, so I bought about 15 of them and tried to use them in various ways to reduce the echo.

They didn’t help.  Made it worse in many ways.  I think that foam may be good for soundproofing, but it was utterly ineffective for me in reducing reflections (echo) in a 10’x12′ room.  I’ve seen people cover every surface in a room with the stuff, and they seem to be happy, but that wasn’t an option, as I didn’t want to record in a closet and couldn’t afford $3k worth of squares and nothing else in the room.

I noticed that many products marketed at reducing reflections for vocals were made of something else, which looked more like burlap membrane rather than foam.  Products like the Reflexion filter, which aren’t cheap, but actually (based on reviews) work.

However, that would mean talking into a black wall (assuming both hosts had one), and for podcasts, it works a lot better if there is eye contact for people in the room.

Not to mention that you’d have to buy more of them if you ever wanted to record more than two people, and you get “best results” if you put one both in front of, and behind the speaker.

I was starting to despair that I’d spend a good amount of time and money to build a warm cozy space to record in, only to never be able to use it. Perhaps that’s why musicians tend to do their best work when living in vans down by the river?

Anyway, I researched and researched, and eventually found RealTraps.

Same sort of membrane material as the Reflexion filter, but in steel-framed panels that you can place about a larger room, and then move about as you need.

But they are expensive. Even with the newly-available “BareTraps“, which are $125 each, enough to completely cover my room would be well over $2k.  But they seemed like the best option, so I went for it, and ordered a pair of the bass-frequency absorbing ones for the corners, and the “High Frequency” ones for the rest of the walls.

They work. I won’t lie, there is still echo in that room. I’ve just ordered four more to cover the other two corners and the backs of the doors, but even with the ones I have in there, which do NOT cover every surface, the reflections are so reduced that it actually feels a little weird to be in the room some times because it’s so quiet.

I have standard acoustic tiles in the ceiling right now, and a hardwood floor, neither of which is really helping the situation. So a large rug is next.

RealTraps makes ceiling tiles that I may eventually use to swap out the standard ones that I have, although I also might try just hanging more Baretraps from the ceiling…

Anyway, things are sounding better every day in the Rock Lab (as I’ve christened it), and I encourage you to try real membrane-based traps rather than just MORE FOAM!

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