Home Improvement

Setting up a Home Recording Studio

I’ve been preparing to do some audio recording in my home but getting started has not been without its share of challenges. Having a rambunctious 5 year-old certainly limits the times when I can record without interruption but that’s certainly manageable. The biggest problem I’ve been facing is the house itself.

My house sucks for recording. It is an echo chamber; a cavernous open floor plan of approximately 2000 square feet where only its three bedrooms are isolated from the rest of the house. To say that the house was not designed with audio recording in mind is a fact akin to stating that the sky is blue or that water is wet. The front door opens into a foyer which is connected to my daughter’s play room and the living room. In addition to the walkway, the play room has a giant window that connects it directly to the living room. The living room is an open space that connects to the dining area and kitchen and flows upward into the loft on the second floor. The only effective spaces  for recording in the house are the three bedrooms upstairs which are connected to a central hallway. Given that two of the bedrooms are allocated for use as actual bedrooms and the third serves dual purpose as a guest room and my wife’s craft room, that leaves me the worst possible place in the house to record: the loft.

My wife and I have discussed some renovations that would isolate the loft, giving me a man cave of sorts. Isolating the loft would certainly help with many of the problems I’m trying to solve but unfortunately it’s not in the budget right now. I needed to seek an alternate solution that didn’t involve hiding in the master closet.

I started by purchasing some studio foam panels from Auralex. Not only were their panels highly recommended but I’d recently learned that Auralex is based just a few miles from my house so I’d be supporting a local business. I went with the D36-DST Roominator kit which includes 36 12 inch by 12 inch panels. I attached the panels to the walls immediately around my desk and the ceiling directly above my chair.

The Auralex panels seem to do a great job absorbing the sound as long as I was right next to them. I’ve definitely noticed their effect but given the house’s horrible acoustics they weren’t enough to eliminate the echo. I still needed to isolate the loft somehow.

My always creative wife suggested somehow mounting some curtains across the room. We toyed with a few ideas but wanted to keep the project as inexpensive as possible. Given that the loft is approximately 15 feet across and the ceiling is approximately 9 feet high we were going to need quite a bit of fabric. We also needed to determine how to hang the fabric,. We first thought about a tension rod or mounting a curtain rod from the ceiling but then she found this post on Apartment Therapy which seemed like it might do the trick.

Because I wanted the curtains to help reduce the echo we decided to get some velvet from Jo-Ann’s instead of the lighter sheets mentioned in the Apartment Therapy article. Beyond that, we took pretty much the same approach, adjusting a bit for strength mostly to alleviate my fear that the velvet’s weight would pull one (or both) of the eye hooks out of the wall.

Curtain Materials:

The project cost around $250.00 in materials between the Auralex panels and the curtain supplies. Excluded from that total are the cable cutters I had to purchase because I didn’t have anything capable of cutting the wire rope, and the tape we used to try hemming the velvet (epic failure on that one).

Over the course of the project I learned a few things.

  1. Wire rope is really hard to cut.
  2. Cheap velvet doesn’t help as much as we’d hoped.
  3. I should never work with fabric. We tried using some fabric tape to hem the velvet but that was a colossal failure. My wife ended up hand-sewing the velvet after the cloth got stuck in the sewing machine.
  4. I should get some real curtains to cover the window. It currently has wood blinds but I still get a lot of noise from the road.
  5. I should probably get a few more Auralex panels.

Since completing the project I’ve recorded and submitted a production sample video and it seems to have passed all of the initial quality gates so overall I’m quite happy with the result. I do still notice some echo on the recording but it’s markedly better than it was before hanging the panels and curtains. Even sitting here, writing this with the curtains closed I notice an improvement in the acoustics. I do still need to remember to shut off the furnace before recording (and turn it back on when I’m done – oops) but that’s a minor inconvenience compared to being sequestered to a closet.

I realize this configuration is far from ideal so if you have any suggestions for how I could improve it I’d love to hear them!