How to soundproof your podcast studio on a budget!

It’s easy to think that a good microphone will get you quality audio, and forget about things like environmental factors. So in today’s post I’d like to go through some of the problems I’ve had with my own sound due to my recording environment – and what I did about them.

1. High ceilings and floorboards

In my last rental house – my recording studio was in the second bedroom. As well as being my spare room, study, sons nursery, this room had enormously high ceilings, the kind that were so high that they created a mega echo (it was so bad I could have a conversation with myself!)

a bad sounding podcast can produce a response like this....

This echo effect was caused by the sound waves bouncing around off the high ceilings and floorboards. The end result sounded like I was in a cave.

Here’s what I did about it:

I bought a great big old rug and slapped it on the floor.It was the soft fibres of the rug that absorbed the sound and stopped it from bouncing off the floor and reverberating around the rest of the room.

TIP: The harder the surfaces and furnishings in the room – the more reverb or echo you’ll get. eg. wooden floors, tables, glass desks etc. 

pot plants can help reduce noise and soundproof a room (no joke!!)

I’ve also heard (and don’t laugh) that pot plants (the plants in the pot, not the pot plants that are illegal :)) can help absorb and deaden the sound.

Because it was only a rental property, there wasn’t much I could do about the high ceiling, but a technique that Jason Van Orden told me he used (and one I’ve done myself many years ago), was recording underneath a thick blanket.

Like the rug, the blanket acts as an absorber of the sound and prevents it from bouncing around. Although I did have to come up for air every 5 mins or so :)

If you have a bit more of a budget you may want to consider investing in something like acoustic tiles. I recently bought six tiles off ebay for around $45. I then just stuck them on the wall to help deaden the sound and they worked very well indeed.

You can get these from Ebay or a large musical store for quite a good price.

2. Windows

If you live next door to a 6 lane highway or just a neighbour who decides to crank out their chainsaw on the weekend for a garden blitz, then you’re probably wondering how to kill that noise coming in from outside.

Firstly, it’s important to understand how this noise gets to you.

Generally speaking windows are the biggest culprit. Glass is an incredibly good conduit for sound which makes recording in any room with big windows a real pain. Outside of boarding them up, here’s what you can do.

1. Consider getting your window double glazed. Double glazing means adding another pane of glass to an existing window and trapping still air in between those panes. It’s a technique that will help insulate your home from the cold / heat and excess noise. Watch this video to see what I’m talking about

However coming from Australia, I know that double glazing can be a very expensive option (more so than European countries) so here’s what you do….

2. Get some thick curtains and hang them over the window. And by thick, I mean “do yourself a back injury” thick. These will absorb the noise that’s getting through the window well and should reduce it dramatically before it reaches your microphone.

Or your other option is…

3. Get a room divider. You can get room dividers from second hand dealers or weekend markets.

room dividers help reduce external noise

In fact there used to be a second hand furniture shop just down the round from me in Melbourne. He had a bunch of old office dividers that he was trying to flog for about $50.

These things are perfect – just position in front of the window  and you’ll be amazed at how much it reduces external noise. For extra sound proofing you could throw a blanket or duvet over the top.

I’d love to know what you’ve done to help reduce that pesky noise in your recording environment — leave a comment below!

 

 

 

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy Kelly August 16, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I record inside my daughter’s walk-in closet — no windows and I’m surrounded by clothes on hangers, which seems to work well for me! Thanks for the tips!

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Dan August 16, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Nice work Kathy – careful of the mothballs though :)

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James August 17, 2012 at 5:43 am

Bookshelfs are great… If you can cover your walls with books, then your on to a winner.

On occasion (Mostly when my neighbour has decided to drill, hammer and bash the crap out of her flat) I’ve taken my USB Mic and Laptop down to the garage and sat in the car. Modern cars have amazing acoustics and my VW not only keeps the sound from outside – out, but has amasing acoustics within. What also helps are the irregular shapes to the space inside and the fact that the glass that cars have at the front and back are often angled, again bouncing sounds in a way that helps positively.

Back to a room… I also use mouse mats that I place under things that may vibrate and amplify any unwanted sound more… They also work well for sitting your monitors on if you don’t have them fixed into wall brackets.

Wallpaper is better than paint, and textured wallpaper even better again. If you have room get a bed sofa and tons of cushions. Put some pictures up… Make sure they are fixed well and don’t move.

I don’t use this myself, as I tend to think it will make the room look a bit like many of the student frat houses I’ve lived in the past… But, rugs on the wall work great too.

Dan talked about room dividers, like them and often found in the same places, you can also find desk backs that have been used in open plan offices when a desk isn’t up against a wall. Like the room dividers, they often have a fabric cover with a thin layer of dense foam underneath. They have the same effect, so if you have your set up on a regular desk, you can just fix them to the back and sides.

Microphones pick up on sounds that you may not hear with your own ears. Often, if you can hear a humming and cant tell where it’s coming from, check things like the power packs used for your electrical equipment. I’ve sometimes used PC Laptops and had to run them on ‘battery only’ when recording, as the power pack or adaptor gives a hum detectable by the mic, but not so much by me. Also, lamps and lights (lights often hum just before a bulb is about to blow, but often it’s inaudible to the ear). A fridge in another room can often be picked up and if you have a lift in the building that can also be an issue.

One last one that will also help you win your Wife or Girlfriend back, whose probably already pissed at you for turning her spare room, into a boys-toys room… Well, buy ‘her’ shitloads of cute soft toys, but then keep them in your studio room (because they remind you of her – init ;-) ! Keep them on shelfs and they will act like the books and the rugs soaking up both kinds of bad vibes!

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Dan August 17, 2012 at 8:30 am

Wow James – that’s a blog post in itself! Brilliant suggestions – I love the car idea.

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