How to Build a Home Music Studio: The Control Room

It’s never been easier to create great-sounding tracks, especially if you like electronic or heavily sample-based music.

Every DAW on the market today comes with a massive collection of ready-to-use loops, hits, pads, and riffs, not to mention all those bundled synths and samplers. And then, when you’re happy with your mix, there are plenty of truly amazing plugin effects available that can give you a loud and shiny master, sometimes with just one button press.

If you’re an electric guitarist or bassist looking to put together tracks in the genre of their rockiest choice, you’re probably more interested in capturing the feeling you get from your treasured collection of amps and stompboxes being played for many years. true .

And things are even more complicated for drummers, acoustic instrumentalists and singers. In short, if you’re an instrumentalist looking to really capitalize on your talents and training in producing your own tracks, there’s no escaping the terrifying world of sound engineering. You know…with microphones.

There was a time when you had go to the studio to record – and at great expense too – but now we have the possibility to do everything ourselves. Since you bought this magazine, you will probably have already set up some sort of home setup and learned a few tricks to get the most out of it.

Make noise in my studio

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Today, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to microphones, audio interfaces and speakers; we have powerful computers to run the show; and we can source software at reasonable prices to solve almost any production problem that may arise. Still, when we see our favorite recording artists at work on TV or YouTube, we can’t help but yearn to be in one of these super swanky studios.

So what’s so great about the studios anyway? It’s just a bunch of parts with stuff in it, isn’t it? And if we have the equipment, why can’t we turn our homes into studios? It’s a fact that studios have good mics and preamps, and all sorts of superfluous toys to play with, but it’s actually all the other stuff that makes them wonderful places to record.

Our first attempts at home recording are often disappointing as the sound can suck – it can feel like there’s an endless stream of annoying stuff trying to sabotage the session.

Take noise, for example. It’s a problem – both keeping it out and keeping it in. Dirty signals can make recording electric guitars a nightmare. When you first set up a session, you inevitably end up looking for just one more XLR female to quarter-inch jack adapter.

And why are guitar signals so intrusive, and where does that hum come from? The studios, of course, have cabinets full of useful things to solve these problems, because they’ve been there time and time again.

audio feng shui

Besides all the peripheral requirements, the main obstacles in the home studio are the rooms themselves. Good studios are masterpieces of acoustic design, while our own rooms contain all sorts of acoustic gremlins that can make it hard to get a good recording – and even harder to hear it properly.

In this feature, we will take a detailed look at the problems you will encounter while recording from home and introduce you to in-depth solutions. Starting with the most important space of all – the control room – we’ll show you how to get the optimal listening setup and solve the most common acoustic problems.

We’ll debunk some myths, reveal some trade secrets, and show you step-by-step how to perform basic acoustic treatments that don’t involve fancy software or unnecessary bits of sponge.

The essential control room

It is essential to set up your control room first and then sort out your recording rooms. If your monitoring environment sucks, how can you expect to make good judgment on the sounds you record in other rooms, let alone try to mix and master everything while recording?

Our quest for good monitoring and great-sounding rooms is thwarted by the unholy trinity of anti-bass, horn and reflection. Fortunately, there are sonic equivalents of garlic, holy water, and silver bullets to help ward off these evil forces, which we’ll show you in the following walkthroughs – and those techniques apply too. control rooms and check-in areas.

Bass nodes and modes

Rectangular rooms inevitably suffer from standing waves or “modes”. It’s a bigger, meaner version of what happens when you blow on a bottle and make it ring, or sing in the shower and find a particularly loud note that seems to fill the space.

A normal sized room will have X and Y dimensions long enough to match long wavelength (300 Hz and below) bass and sub-bass, and being among the resonance of these low frequencies results in a imprecise listening environment and ultimately a mix with a background that sounds totally different when played anywhere else.

Imagine being able to see two big, bright sine waves hovering in your room when you play a low bass note on your synth; one lengthwise, one widthwise. If you move around the room, these frequencies will seem louder at the points where the sine waves peak and quieter where they bottom out.

There will also be points where the two different frequencies meet and interfere, causing exaggerated peaks and dips, and if your listening position is in any of these places, you’re going to end up with very compromised sound. . – either too many or not enough modal frequencies.

On top of that, loud, high-pressure anti-nodes happen near hard walls and are often the reason you might hear more bass on the couch in the back of the control room than between the highs. -speakers. All of this creates a very uneven bass response which, in turn, causes an unbalanced listening environment.

How to build a home studio

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The 38% rule

Most household rooms are rectangular and suffer from these bass issues, but on the other hand, it’s easier to target the issues in a predictable piece, so you’re probably starting from a pretty positive position. Bass response is invariably weakest halfway through a rectangular room, so listening in the center of a square will be disastrous.

Fortunately, we can use the “38% rule” to find a position in the room where we’re least likely to experience bass knots or interference. This rule indicates that a point 38% down the length of the room is most likely to provide an interference-free listening position.

If you measure 38% from both ends of your room, then you will have two options. Some engineers also do the calculation of 38% over the width of the room, which gives four starting positions to place the chair.

Adjust your room

Finding a good listening position can solve your bass problems, but the modal frequencies in your room may just be too loud. This usually happens at around 65Hz and 125Hz.

Unfortunately, no amount of foam, egg cartons, or mattresses will solve this problem – you will be need bass absorbers. A perusal of the websites of manufacturers like Real Traps and RPG will reveal some great and effective products, but they can be prohibitively expensive. A single 50-500Hz low frequency absorber can cost £300 or more – and you might need six to solve your problems!

However, it is not difficult to create your own versions of all this. Low frequency absorbers work by vibrating in sympathy with low frequencies and are mostly constructed of metal and high density foam or rubber. From old BBC documents to public patent information from the Fraunhofer Institute, it’s all there if you look.

Find your listening position

How to build a home studio

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Step 1: The first step is to use a mic and spectrum analyzer to see what an even bass response looks like. Place your best condenser mic a few inches from one of your speakers and use your DAW or a synth to send a 500Hz sine wave test tone to that speaker only. Set up an input channel for the mic in your DAW and mute it.

How to build a home studio

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2nd step: Adjust the test tone and microphone input level so that the level meters are around -12 dB. Insert a spectrum analyzer on the input channel, set it to “peak hold” and slowly sweep the 500 Hz test tone all the way down. Take your time so that the analyzer has time to register each frequency and repeat the scan two or three times.

How to build a home studio

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Step 3: Freeze spectrum analyzer display. You should see that the bass response decreases evenly. Typically, you may find that the slope starts at around 100Hz and drops 10dB at around 60Hz, then gradually drops closer to 40Hz. This will vary wildly depending on your mic and speakers, but we’re looking to see a uniform slope for comparison.

How to build a home studio

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Step 4: Now move the mic to your proposed listening position, reset the tone to 500Hz, and raise the mic input so that it still measures -12dB. Insert a second spectrum analyzer and repeat the scanning procedure. Now freeze this second curve and you’ll probably see some bumps and bumps in the 500Hz to 20Hz trip. If the trace matches step 3, you’re sorted. If it’s lumpy, find a new position.

How to build a home studio

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Step 5: Draw a plan of your room and measure the 38% points. Measure both length and width to give four possible options for our new listening position. (Of course, some of these points won’t be practical.) Once you find a likely spot, move the mic there and place a speaker where it would be if you were monitoring from that position, then repeat the sweep and measure treat.

How to build a home studio

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Step 6: After trying a few options, hopefully you’ve found the spot with the smoothest bass response curve. If there are any lingering bumps, you’ll need some extra bass/wideband absorption, but this will be the best listening position at bass level, and you have to build your control room around it. The next thing is to place your speakers correctly.