Building a Home Studio

Building a home studio can be a rewarding experience.  Creating a customized space for you and your craft is something worth spending some time to get it right.  The extent of the work you do in the room will depend on what it will be used for: recording, mixing, composing, etc.  In my case, I needed a room suitable for recording myself and listening/mixing music and sound effects.  The room I had available in my home is tiny, but I still wanted to treat it acoustically and make the best of it.  So I did quite a bit of research, going back to my audio school notes (yes I still have them), reading articles and research papers on acoustics, watching DYI videos, and going through the recycle dumpster at my then full time job to pick out wood slabs that I could use in my summer project. I’m very proud of the result, and I love showing it to people that come visit for the first time.  That corner room in my home was the inspiration for the name of my company: Gray Corner. So I want to share my experience and the resources I found as I designed my version of a man-cave.

Room Shape & Dimensions

Before doing any work, I measured my room. I was dealing with a less-than-favorable space: a tiny square room.  An ideal listening room will be symmetrical and won’t have any parallel surfaces.  The science behind this is that when a room is symmetrical, sound will spread equally on both sides of the room (provided that your speaker placement is centered and symmetrical too) which will translate into a more accurate stereo image.  On the other hand, the problem with parallel walls is that they create standing waves.  In simple terms, a standing sound wave will not travel across the room.  It will cycle through its maximum and minimum peaks without moving in physical space.  The palpable result is that you can walk around the room and hear certain frequencies increase or decrease in loudness depending on where you are standing, so knowing the room dimensions will allow you to anticipate which frequencies will be problematic.  Once I had my room dimensions, I used Sketchup to build a 3D model of the room and start playing around with desk and speaker placement.  Building this model was extremely helpful as it helped me visualize the room and make decisions before building anything. 

Speaker Placement

There are a few rules to follow when deciding where to place your speakers.  If your room is rectangular, you want to set up your listening position centered on one of the short walls.  The “sweet spot” should form an equilateral triangle with the speakers, and their tweeters should be at ear level.  Be sure to leave at least 12” from the speakers to the wall behind them.  

Placement of your subwoofer can be a bit tricky so be sure not to place it in a corner or right against a wall.  If you do, each adjacent surface will add about 3 dB to the perceived volume of the sub’s output.  The most common recommendation to figure out where to place the sub is to temporarily place the subwoofer at your listening position and play back familiar content (such as music that you have heard many times before) then walk around the room and find a spot where the low frequencies sound natural and balanced and place the subwoofer there.  However, sometimes those spots are not a viable solution and you may need to place your woofer in a place that is convenient: where it’s out of the way, or where it doesn’t become an eyesore.  In the end, you’ll have to make sure that all signals are in-phase and volume is balanced at your listening position.  I put mine under my desk and off to the left side a bit.

Acoustic Treatment

One of the first things I did was to  attack the early reflections.  These are the sound waves that bounce off nearby surfaces and reach your ear just a few milliseconds after the direct sound coming from the speakers. The areas that you want to treat are the surfaces behind the speakers, the side walls, and even the ceiling if possible.  I used these Auralex foam panels. The pack of 24 panels was enough to cover the areas previously mentioned.  Now keep in mind, these panels will be effective on the mid-to- high frequency range; they won’t be effective on low frequencies.  I particularly like these panels because I can get creative with the arrangement and create interesting visual patterns. Once the panels were up, the stereo image was clearly sharper.  

Bass Control

Low frequencies are usually the most difficult problem to solve in small home studios. In very few words, your room dimensions will dictate the frequencies (fundamental and harmonics) that will resonate more than other frequencies, as well as the location of nodes and antinodes.  Low frequencies tend to “gather” in the room corners, so these areas need to be treated with bass traps that will absorb some of that energy.  Rockwool is a good and affordable material to use when building your bass traps. I recall I had to buy the package from eBay, because Lowe’s had a minimum quantity requirement, and I really didn’t need that many.  One bag was enough to build 5 bass traps of various sizes.  

For the corner bass traps, I basically followed this video.  I cut the rockwool in triangle shapes and built supports on the wall like the ones shown around the 15:00 mark. Then I built a “lid” which was a wood frame to cover the whole corner and wrapped it with standard cotton fabric that I purchased at Joann Fabrics.  I also built a thin cloud that hangs on the ceiling corner of the front wall. 

At this point I had lots of rockwool pieces left over so I built two smaller clouds to put on the side walls, also hanging from the ceiling.  The results are significant.  The room sounds so much better and the bass is much more defined.  My first test was to play back “In Chains”, by Depeche Mode.  Not only do I love this song, but DM use lots of synths and their recordings are just pristine.  Wow. I could actually distinguish the kick and the bass, and they both sounded so clear.  Bass traps really do make a difference.  However, I can still hear the standing waves if I move away from the listening position. For example, if I had a person standing just behind my chair, he/she hears a lot more bass than I do sitting at the listening position. 

Diffusion

We’ve all seen those beautiful diffusers in pictures of professional studios, and even TV sets.  They give the studio a “legit” look.  If I was going through the trouble of building bass traps, painting walls, and drilling huge holes on the drywall, I might as well build a diffuser too.  There are many types of diffusers and it’s important to research them and determine which one is right for your environment.  I decided to build a “skyline” type of diffuser because it seemed easy and cheap to build.  I used this calculator to figure out the length of the diffuser “towers” and to determine which frequencies it would target.  So I went to my local Home Depot and bought a bunch of these boards to cut the little towers that would make up the diffuser.  To be quite honest, I can’t recall if it was this exact board, but they had the same dimensions (1.5” x 1.5” x 8’).  Using the calculator mentioned above, I plugged in the board dimensions and got my measurements and target frequencies and started cutting and building the diffuser. 

There are a few important factors that should be considered when using diffusers: placement, size, and playback levels.  Ideally the diffuser would be placed on the back wall, behind the listening position, so any frequencies reaching said wall would bounce back in all directions and diffuse into the room.  For this to be an audible result, your diffuser would need to be rather large (enough to cover a good portion of the back wall) and your playback levels would need to be rather high.  In my case, I knew I had all these factors against me: I could not place the diffuser in the back wall because there is a closet door in the way; building a huge diffuser would be expensive, heavy, and take me forever to build; and since I mostly work at night, I would not be able to crank up the volume to hear those diffused frequencies.  But I built the damn thing anyways.  And I placed it in the front wall, between the speakers.  To be brutally honest, I did not hear a significant difference.  But, the studio looks cool a.f.  So if you are planning to buy or build one of these diffusers, keep these factors in mind.

To wrap up…

The time and money I spent building this studio was well worth it.  I spend a lot of time recording, editing, listening, and just doing “office work” in that room and it feels great.  When you’re done doing the heavy work, take some extra time to decorate it, change things around to improve your workflow, keep it neat, and find ways to allow your creativity to flourish.  Here are links to some of the sites I found useful while doing my research.  I hope this article helps you and inspires you to go all out to build your perfect space.  Send me a message if you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions.  Thanks for reading!

Diffuser Design: http://arqen.com/

Acoustics and calculators: http://www.mh-audio.nl/

Calibration Software: http://www.roomeqwizard.com/

Forums on all things audio: https://www.gearslutz.com/board/

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