Treating and Soundproofing Your Recording Studio – A Beginner’s Guide

The music industry is a tough nut to crack, and more so now than ever; technological advancements have effectively democratised recording technology that was once luxury to even the most advanced recording studios in the world, allowing young musicians and engineers to start their career from the comfort of their bedroom.

In such a saturated industry, anyone in search of creating a name for themselves as a professional recording engineer needs to stand clear of the competition; owning a professionally treated studio is a major step in the right direction, ensuring quality recordings and clear mixes. But where does someone new to acoustics begin?

Soundproofing and Sound Treatment, In a Nutshell

Before we carry on, it is important to make clear some essential distinctions. One of the more common mistakes made by musicians new to engineering and recording is to treat soundproofing and sound isolation as the same thing, when in fact they are two entirely different undertakings.

To soundproof a live room is, essentially, to attempt to reduce the amount of sound escaping the room. This is a difficult thing to achieve at the best of times, let alone with a smaller budget.  Sound isolation is the process of treating a room, in order to control the way sound travels around it. Untreated walls reflect sound, introducing comb filtering and phase issues that could impact recordings and lead to errors in mixing.

What Does Your Studio Need?

Of the two principles, sound isolation is vastly more important than soundproofing; sound isolation is necessary for achieving good captures of recorded sound, and for ensuring a neutral listening environment that provides minimal impediment to the mix process. Soundproofing would only be necessary where the location of your studio threatened to disturb the quiet enjoyment of nearby residents, or where late-night work threatens to breach the law regarding noise curfews.

The Bones of a Soundproofing Project

When it comes to soundproofing, material choices do have some impact – and will be explored shortly –, but it is in fact the absence of material that makes for a soundproofed space. The only effective route to eliminating noise pollution from your recording space is to build a room with a room; that is, a space decoupled from any other structures, and surrounded by an air cavity. 

The walls and air gap work similarly to double-glazed windows do. Energy is wicked from sound impulses as they attempt to travel through different densities of material. Conventional insulated stud walls clad with plasterboard are effective at reducing sound volume, and more so when staggered with air cavities. Suspending the room decouples it from solid connections, preventing the sound from travelling along studs and out.

Sound Isolation Techniques

But this room within a room has only succeeded in reducing the volume of sound escaping and is not yet a suitable room in which to make valuable and accurate captures. Room treatment limits sound reflections, preventing the build-up of standing waves or the incidence of destructive comb filtering.

Diffusion panels, made of differently sized blocks of wood, randomise reflections, while bass trap absorption panels in corners deal with the build-up of low frequencies. These are a start, but true room treatment can only be achieved with a full room analysis.