Building a Recording Studio
COW Library : Audio Professionals Tutorials : Doug Hansel : Building a Recording Studio
It began, like many things, as a day dream. Wouldn't it be great to have a place to crank up the tunes, jam any time of day or night, and never worry about disturbing my family or the neighbors? Is it possible to get something like that on a shoestring budget? I was ready to find out.
The first opportunity for my "dream" home studio finally presented itself when we moved into our current house. The basement was completely unfinished: just a solid concrete floor, four walls, cellar door, and two tiny windows. There was plenty of space to build a new room, which wound up being roughly 11x16 by the time we were done. The far corner looked like the perfect spot.
I wasn't quite up to doing all the construction myself. Luckily for me, my dad used to build houses with his dad, so naturally I invited him up for the project!
Doug's home audio studio
Isolating the studio's sound from the rest of the house was the top priority. I decided I would build beefy walls with extra dense materials and an air gap, to "float" the room as much as possible. Two solid core doors in a double frame, and hanging another ceiling under the house's floor joists would play a big part.
To avoid standing waves and the "flutter" that happens when sound bounces back and forth, I'd have no parallel walls. Five degrees off would be enough to reflect sound in a beneficial way. I'd use sound absorbing materials in a staggered pattern to minimize reflection without the room going completely dead and boring.
I'd also locate all the gear outside the studio in racks, plumbing all the cables in through a single big conduit and stuff it with foam.
I wanted to decouple the inside and outside wall studs by staggering them on a 2x6 plate. This way, when one wall and its corresponding studs vibrated, the other wall would be relatively untouched.
To float the room on a budget, I bought Home Depot's heavy duty garage door rubber weather stripping. These rubber strips were tacked onto the bottom and top of the 2x6 plates, as well as anywhere the frame attached to the house. Because each nail and screw provides a sound transmission path, the frame was only attached to the main cross member beam in as few places as possible.
And because the door frame needs to be rock solid, my dad recommended that we install concrete anchors in the floor to secure the frame. Anything less and the doors would work themselves loose during repeated use.
Thank goodness my dad was there! Building non-parallel walls is harder than it sounds, especially with all the precise cuts necessary to keep the lumber fitting together! In the end, the only parallel surfaces were the ceiling and the floor. We worked around potential evil reflections by counter-balancing with plush carpet and acoustic ceiling tiles.
Doug and his father bringing the design into reality
Obviously it's nice to have LOTS of power points in a studio, so we ran a lot of outlets. We were mindful not to have boxes anywhere close to each other on opposite walls, as that would make an easy path for sound.
(When you build your own studio, remember to calculate how much wall material you'll be hanging so you get the box to protrude out the right amount!)
Next, we installed R-13 insulation. This was our air gap. We found some special sound limiting fiber board at Home Depot called "Sound Stop." It's brown and about a half-inch think. My dad calls it "elephant hair." We nailed a sheet of this to each side of the wall, then a big sheet of 5/8 inch sheetrock on each side. That's one beefy wall!!
Still doing everything we could to reduce sound leakage, we tried to keep the joins from being in the same place on the two materials, and not lined up on opposite walls.
For the ceiling, we used more "elephant hair" board on the upper side of the rafter, installed insulation, and used a lighter wallboard outside of that. Leaving room for pipes and such gave us another decoupling air gap of roughly three inches between the studio ceiling and floor of the house.
As I noted earlier, the doors are another potential weak point for soundproofing. We started by hanging two solid core doors together to give us the all important air gap. We also used heavy duty weather-stripping around both doors and a big strip of "sweep" style stripping for the bottom. Then we rebuilt the cellar door to insulate the room from temperature as much as sound. The door is almost 6 inches thick now!
For acoustic treatment, I decided to purchase a room kit from Auralex. This includes bass traps and different shapes and sizes of acoustic foam tiles. My wife and I hung them staggered from one side of the room to the other so that each wall had a live and dead side.
I decided to go with a warm, vivid orange color for the walls. I wanted to feel inspired, and happy colors help! Heck, it's like a constant sunrise down there now!
The later addition of nice carpet from Home Depot made a huge difference in making the room complete for sound and fashion. (Birthday gift from my wife! Thanks!)
THE GEAR & THE RESULTS
As you'll remember, I decided not to have any noisy gear in the room. That meant no computers with noisy fans, and especially no hard drives. Basically nothing but controllers. The silence is one of the best things about the room.
For audio gear, I've installed a Mac-based Digidesign ProTools HD2 system with a D-command controller. Most of my keyboards these days are virtual, which has given me a lot of space back. The speakers are all JBL. The main stereo pair are LSR28Ps and an LSR12P Sub. Surrounds and center are LSR25Ps.
So, how does it sound? Well, the first test was to crank it up to a very inspiring level and then go upstairs and ask the family if they could hear any music. Their response was "what music?" Mission accomplished!
If anything, the room is almost too accurate. I can hear problems and shortcomings in mixes that I never heard before. It's a good thing in the end, because the mixes sound even better outside the room.
As good as the room is, the low frequencies from the furnace still get in. Even though it's muted, it's enough to just turn the furnace off when I'm recording.
Building the room was the best thing I ever did with my dad, a total bonding experience. I also learned a lot, and couldn't have done nearly as good a job without his guidance. Thanks Dad!
Even though we took some extra steps in the planning and execution, none of it was expensive. In the end, it was lumber, insulation, wallboard, wiring, and weather stripping. Very straightforward to do by yourself, or with your dad's help. Total cost was around $1500 for the room, not including acoustic foam and carpet.
There's always more to do. I haven't finished wiring up the surround monitoring, and I'd like a better desk for the D-command and computer. None of that's expensive either. There's also always more gear to buy. That's expensive. But that can wait! Now, if there was only a shop where I could buy myself some more talent....
Doug Hansel is a product designer for Avid Technology. Between his work as a recording engineer and as a Synclavier specialist, he has worked with artists as diverse as Ringo Starr, Willie Nelson, Bobby Womack, Sting and Pete Townshend.
Find more great Creative COW Magazine articles by signing up for the complimentary Creative COW Magazine.