Prepare Your Room for Recording

AG 245 May 2013 Cover

by Doug Young

Often, the biggest difference between a professional recording studio and a home setup is the acoustics of the room you’re recording in. Most home recordists face two main issues: unwanted noise and the “sound” of the room. Noise is the most obvious issue, and often the hardest problem to fix. The first thing you may notice when you start recording is that mics pick up everything—air-conditioning, the refrigerator, a dog barking, even cars driving by. To chase down problems, record some “silence” and then try to identify any noises you hear. Turn off the furnace, air, and other household machinery while recording. External noises can be more challenging, but there may be a room in your house that is quieter than others. Remember to close windows and doors, even in other rooms in the house. You may find it helpful to record late at night after the household has settled down and when there’s less road traffic. A good—but often challenging—goal for home recording is a noise level that is 60 dB or more below the peak level of your guitar. Professional studios will be quieter than that. However, don’t despair if you can’t eliminate all the noise. Depending on your music, low-level constant noise may not be noticeable in the final mix, and having to edit or do retakes for occasional noises—like a motorcycle driving by—are just part of the home recording experience.

Computer-based setups present a challenge, because computer fans and hard drives are a major source of noise. Placing the computer as far from the mics as possible may help, or you might try placing the computer in an isolation box or a different room. Most hand-held digital recorders have an advantage here, because they are totally silent and portable, so you can take them to any location.

The acoustics of your room have a major impact on the sound of your guitar, and microphones tend to be less forgiving than your ears. Small rooms with hard surfaces create short echoes that can make your guitar sound distant or indistinct. Rooms also have resonant frequencies that can overemphasize certain notes. Fortunately, couches, chairs, bookcases, rugs, and drapes help absorb echo and break up the resonances, so the average furnished room will usually work well. If you want to go further, you can buy acoustic sound panels and bass traps. There are commercial products available from Auralex, GIK Acoustics, and others, and it is possible (and often more cost-effective) to build your own sound absorbers.

Keep in mind that recording often takes a surprising amount of time, and once you get your mics placed and a sound dialed in, you may want to leave your equipment set up for an extended period of time. Carving out a dedicated space for recording, even if it’s the corner of a bedroom, allows you to start recording more quickly when inspiration strikes.

Excerpted from Acoustic Guitar May 2013

See more Home Recording Basics articles.

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