I want to walk you through the thought process for choosing a room for your home studio. Hopefully these tips will help you choose the ideal space for recording and mixing music. There are a few main factors that I believe you should consider when choosing a room for your home studio.
Soundproofing & Noise
First, if you’ll be recording music in your studio, it is especially important to choose a room that has a low noise level, or noise floor.
When you place a microphone on your voice or on an instrument, it will pick up the sound of the instrument as well as the noise within the room. That noise can add up as you build a multitrack session.
The noise can come from outside the room, such as the noise from a busy street or the sound of someone watching TV or talking in the apartment next door. There can also be noise within the room itself, such as an air conditioner, furnace, or other appliance.
Soundproofing is prohibitively expensive in most cases, and basically impossible if you’re just renting a space like I am. That’s because it requires structural renovations to really isolate the room on all sides. So, you will most likely just need to choose a room that is relatively quiet as it is and make the most of it.
I considered choosing the basement for my studio because of the isolation it would have provided from the outside world. The walls of a basement are often concrete and underground, which goes a long way in reducing the transmission of noise from the outside to the inside.
On the other hand, there are noisy laundry and heating appliances just to the other side of the interior basement wall, so the noise isolation from the outdoors would have been outweighed by the noise coming from these appliances. I could, of course, turn off these appliances when I need quiet, but I’m constantly listening or recording in my studio. So this isn’t really a practical solution.
This room doesn’t have as much isolation from the outdoors, but luckily I’m living on a fairly quiet street so it shouldn’t be a big problem. This room is also isolated from the noisy appliances in the kitchen and basement.
Also consider the acoustic characteristics of the room. This isn’t about the sound isolation from outside noise. It’s about the quality of the sound within the room.
One of the main problems you’ll face in a home studio is room modes – particularly axial room modes. An axial room mode is a resonation at a specific frequency that occurs between two surfaces. That frequency is determined by the distance between the parallel surfaces in your space.
In the basement of my house, the ceilings are very low. In the smaller bedroom, the walls are very close together. This means that the axial modes are centered at higher frequencies than the axial modes of the larger room that I’ve chosen for my studio. These modes are very difficult and expensive to fix with acoustic treatment.
I can deal with big cancellations and summations in the low frequencies, but when those resonances start to enter the low-mid and mid-range, it becomes more problematic. In the case of a square room, the resonances between the front, back, and side walls will all be centered on the same frequency, which can even further exacerbate the problem! So, a larger rectangular room is usually the ideal option.
I used to think it would be best to find a room that is oddly shaped to avoid room modes, but I’ve learned that this isn’t necessarily a good thing. It’s usually better to choose a rectangular room – at least that way the room is more predictable. You can roughly calculate the modes based on the known dimensions of the room, which helps you identify the root cause of the peaks and dips that you’ll see when you measure your room with measurement software.
The materials within the room can also play a large role in the acoustic quality. Rooms with hard, reflective surfaces will tend to have longer decay times than rooms with softer and more absorbent materials. In a typical home, you’ll probably find either cement, drywall, or brick walls. So, the best approach is usually to strategically place acoustic panels to cut down on the reflections within the room.
One factor that often goes overlooked is the power within the room. Most of your audio gear will have 3-prong power cables, and it’s important that the power outlets you connect those devices to have proper grounding.
Many of the homes here in my city were built in a time before these power connections were commonplace. So, even if the room has a 3-prong outlet, it’s no guarantee that the outlet is actually grounded to the electrical panel. That was the case in my room…
When I used a tester on the 3-prong outlet in my room, it indicated that the outlet had an open ground. Luckily my landlord agreed to install a new electrical circuit that was properly grounded to the electrical panel in the basement. But this was quite expensive! The electrician had to actually run a cable from the electrical panel, outside the house through conduit, and drill through the brick and cinder block walls of my room!
I’d recommend choosing a place to live where there is safe power that will allow your equipment to operate as intended so that you don’t need to worry about the potential electrical hazards to both you or your equipment.
That actually brings me to my next point… There are a few other considerations when it comes to equipment safety.
First, electronics do not enjoy heat. So, make sure that your room is cool enough to allow your computer and audio gear to regulate their temperature.
Second, electronics do not enjoy moisture. So, make sure that your room is well ventilated so that the electronics within your room aren’t damaged or corroded. In my last house, we experienced a flood in the basement. It was a terrible experience, but it taught me an important lesson. Luckily I didn’t have many valuable electronics in my basement when this happened, but can you imagine how horrified you’d be if all of your audio gear was submerged in water?! I’ll think twice before placing anything in my basement from now on.
Third, make sure that your gear is protected from theft. While a garage may seem like a great place to set up a studio, it’s not a very secure place.
Ideally, you will have the option to choose a room that is cool, dry, and relatively safe from theft and vandalism.
Ergonomics & Space
Another factor that led me to choose my home studio room is the spaciousness. It’s not the biggest room in the house, because the very best rooms are used for sleeping and enjoying my off time. This is still a house after all! But this room is definitely more suitable for recording music than the small basement or smaller bedroom.
I’ve got a lot of instruments, amps, and gear to fit in this space. Plus, my studio is always expanding. So I needed to choose a room that had enough space to move around freely even after placing racks of equipment on the floor and acoustic treatment on the walls.
I dream of one day having a dedicated building for my studio, but in the meantime I want to be proud of the studio that I’ll build in this modest little bedroom. I hope you can find the same pride in your space.
I’m going to get back to work unpacking – I’ll talk to you in the next post.