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How To Soundproof Your Home Music Recording Studio

by | Learning Hub, Studio Acoustics | 2 comments

Let’s face it – we live in a noisy urban world.  Soundproofing is necessary to both provide a quiet home studio environment as well keep the peace with family and neighbors.  This guide will teach you the basics of how to soundproof your home recording studio.

Soundproofing a room for recording and mixing music is one of the most overlooked areas of setting up a home recording studio.

Most home studio owners would rather spend their money on studio monitors, plugins, microphones and instruments than spend it on soundproofing and studio acoustic treatments.

However, you won’t get the most out of your music studio unless you have an acoustically reliable and noise-free environment for you to create, record and produce music tracks.

Without that, you’ll end up with being frustrated with a studio that doesn’t produce the results you are looking for.

Soundproofing Main Functions

Effective studio soundproofing does two essential things:

  1. Keeps OUTSIDE sounds from entering your studio
  2. Keeps sounds INSIDE your studio from being heard outside the studio

First, it will make your studio quieter by keeping out exterior noises like cars, leaf blowers, airplanes, barking dogs, etc.

Second, it will keep you in good relations with your family who probably don’t want to hear you working when they want to watch TV or relax.

And don’t forget your neighbors, especially if you live in an apartment or condo!

There is a third factor that frequently gets overlooked:

Keeping sounds INSIDE your studio – primarily computer fans and air conditioning noise – from making it onto your recordings.

By taking the time to understand soundproofing, you’ll reap the rewards with a happier working environment for you, your family, and your neighbors.

Don’t Let This Happen To You!

Here’s an example of what can happen when you neglect the soundproofing side of your home studio.

About 25 years ago when I was first starting out as a composer, I got a job scoring music for a corporate video.

The producer wanted solo acoustic guitar tracks for most of the score.  This was the perfect job for me as the guitar is my primary instrument.

I lived in a pretty noisy condo complex in Hollywood at the time. It was on a busy street, and my little living room studio had ZERO soundproofing.

It was hard to record acoustic guitar during the day, so I had to record late at night when it was much quieter.

I completed recording the last guitar tracks the night before the score was due to be delivered, and I felt very pleased with the results.

The Trouble Begins

The next morning, before I was to deliver the score to the mixing house, I decided to take a listen to the final tracks.

I was mortified to clearly hear an ambulance siren on one of the tracks, and I didn’t have enough time to re-record it…

I was screwed!!

My only hope was that the video’s voiceover would mask the siren enough that no one would notice…..

When the mix began, I was really nervous.  This was one of my first paid jobs, and I felt dismayed that I probably just messed up any chance of future work with this client.

Plus this was sooo unprofessional!

When the cue with the siren began, I held my breath…

There was a long section with just my guitar track and no voiceover, and I feared the worst…

BUT, just before the siren was to appear, the voiceover came back in, and the VO was loud enough in the mix that the client didn’t notice the siren!

Disaster averted by sheer luck!

Don’t let this happen to you…

Difference Between Soundproofing And Acoustic Wall Treatments

There is a big difference between soundproofing and acoustic wall treatments:

Soundproofing blocks unwanted sounds out of your studio and out of your recordings.

HOWEVER, acoustic wall treatments like acoustic panels, diffusers, and bass traps make your studio sound better by improving the room’s acoustics.

Better acoustics create better recordings.

You need both soundproofing and acoustic sound treatments to create a useable music studio.

OK, let’s get into the nitty gritty of soundproofing.

How To Soundproof Your Studio: The 5 Soundproofing Methods

An effectively soundproofed room utilizes a combination of the following five methods:

  • Mass
  • Damping
  • Decoupling
  • Absorption
  • Sealing

 

Increase Mass

Increasing mass, which is the weight or size of construction elements such as walls, ceiling, etc. is the primary method of soundproofing a studio.

Drywall acts as an excellent soundproofing material due to its dense mass relative to its size.  The thicker the drywall, the better.

Sound Transmission Class (STC)

Sound Transmission Class or STC is a rating that refers to how well a construction element like a wall reduces sound.  It is measured in decibels or dB.

An STC rating in the 60s is considered excellent soundproofing and is the level that many professional recording studios strive for across their studio.

For reference, here’s a reference chart of STC ratings:

STC            Application

25               normal speech can be heard

35               loud speech heard but not understood

40               loud speech is a murmur

45               loud speech not heard, loud instruments/heavy traffic can be heard

50               loud instruments/heavy traffic can be faintly heard

60+             loud sounds not heard.

Chart data courtesy www.soundproofingcompany.com

Studio Wall Construction Techniques To Increase Mass

Standard interior walls in most residential structures consist of a single sheet of ½” drywall.  ½” drywall has an STC rating of around 34 dB.

For recording studios, major soundproofing improvements are created by adding a second layer of drywall.

The two layers of drywall are attached together with a soundproofing compound like Green Glue Noiseproofing Compound.

Double drywall layers can increase the STC to 40-44 dB.

Using 5/8” drywall instead of the standard ½” drywall increases the STC to 50-52.

Even better is adding insulation between the wall studs when using double layers of drywall.  STC can be up to 60 dB.

Further improvements can be made using specialized sound damping gypsum panels like QuietRock instead of regular drywall.  This can provide up to an excellent STC rating of up to 70-80!

As an alternate to QuietRock, using a vinyl sound barrier product like TMS Mass Loaded Vinyl or Sheetblock between the two layers of drywall also increases STC ratings to a high level.

Vinyl barrier alone has been measured with an STC rating of 27.  The combined STC can run into the mid-60s.

Damping

Damping is a term that refers to anything that dissipates energy. For recording studios, this applies to any product or construction technique that dissipates or reduces sound from entering the studio space.

For recording studios, damping is best accomplished by using a specialized damping compound like the Green Glue Noiseproofing Compound mentioned above.  When used between two layers of drywall, it forms a damping system that dissipates sound energy into heat.

Don’t worry – it doesn’t generate enough heat to become an issue

According to Green Glue, “just one layer of Green Glue Noiseproofing Compound in between two sheets of drywall can eliminate up to 90 percent of noise, even at low frequencies.”

Decoupling

Decoupling refers to disconnecting or separating the two sides of a wall or structure so sound cannot pass through in any physical ways.

This is done in recording studios by using sound isolator products:

Absorption

Sound, of course, travels through air. When sound strikes an object, it will absorb, reflect or transmit the sound depending on that object’s acoustic qualities.

With building materials and structures such as walls or ceilings, sound enters the wall cavity and the air trapped there acts as a resonator that transmits and carries sound.

To stop sound energy from resonating in wall air cavities, some type of material is needed to absorb the sound energy.

Soft porous materials like insulation or soundproofing foam act as good acoustic insulators that absorb sound.

Residential Insulation Use

In residential construction, insulation is commonly only added to outside walls.

For studio construction, adding it to all walls in the studio to help absorb sound and increases STC.

Standard fiberglass batt insulation is frequently used, but many studio builders upgrade to Rockwool or Roxul insulation.

Sealing With Acoustic Caulk

Finally, with all the construction methods used, everything needs to be sealed.

Despite using the best studio construction techniques that increase mass, dampen, decouple and insulate your studio, sound will find its way in through any cracks or spaces in your walls, electrical outlets, switch boxes, floor, or ceiling.

Products such as acoustic caulk are thus needed to seal any holes or gaps in walls, ceiling, or floor, providing an airtight studio with maximum soundproofing.

Common Soundproofing Misconceptions

Here are some common soundproofing myths that people frequently ask about:

  • Using Egg Cartons / Mattresses

As you’ve learned, the only real ways to stop sound from entering a room is through adding mass, damping, decoupling and absorption.

Egg cartons have no real mass and thus won’t help with soundproofing.

BUT, they can help with your room’s acoustics by absorbing and diffusing high frequencies (link to acoustics article).

  • Using Soundproofing Foam

I see this question on a lot of Amazon reviews and forums:

“Can I use soundproofing foam to soundproof my room?”

Just as with egg cartons, foam does not have enough mass to do much in regards to soundproofing.  But acoustic foam products work very well for high and mid frequency sound absorption.

  • Using Carpet on the Walls

Just like with egg cartons, carpet on the walls will help with sound absorption.  Carpet just does not have enough mass to provide substantial soundproofing.

HOWEVER, carpet on the floor (with padding) is effective at reducing sounds from passing through the floor to the room below.  So it does have some soundproofing use when applied on floors.

  • Using Bales of Hay

Interestingly, bales of hay do make an effective soundproofing material and have the benefit of absorbing sound also.

But unless your studio is out on a farm, and you love its look and smell, do you really want bales of hay in your studio??

Ideal Recording Studio Construction

As you’ve probably figured out, you need to tear your room down to the studs to incorporate all of these soundproofing methods in your walls and ceiling. If you are in the position to do that, you should consider a room within a room construction.

The Ultimate Soundproofing: Room Within A Room Construction

Most professional studios, if they have the budget, create a room within a room. 

The inner room is decoupled from the outer building structure by using sound isolator products like resilient channels.

This construction technique eliminates most sound that enters a room by sound vibrations transferred through wallboard.

Also, the inner room’s soundproofing is increased by having an additional wall/insulation layers in between the two structures.

AND, using the double drywall/vinyl barrier method on the inner room solves the mass, damping, decoupling and absorption issues found in conventional construction.

Room within a room construction is highly effective, though quite costly.

To learn more, check out this article on building a room within a room.

Home Recording Studio Recommendations

While room within a room construction is out of the budget for most studio owners, there are some things you can do if you own your own home and are able to alter your home’s construction.

The most effective things you can do are:

  • Add insulation to all studio interior walls
  • Add a second layer of drywall to walls and ceiling, and use a damping compound like Green Glue to sandwich the two layers
  • Use a vinyl barrier or QuietRock between drywall layers if you have the budget for it
  • Seal all drywall cracks or holes with acoustic caulking
  • Replace single or double pane windows with triple pane windows

My Own Home Studio

My current studio is in my home.  It occupies what was a bedroom and a one-car garage that shared walls.

I knocked down the shared walls and closed out the garage space.  The result was a good sized single room studio.

I debated building a separate vocal booth, but I decided it would have taken up too much space. I opted for a larger single room.

Because of cost and size issues was not able to do any type of floating floor or room within a room.

Here is what I did for the studio construction:

Windows

Going left to right, the 2 windows (only one shown) are triple pane windows.  Though the studio is located on a quiet residential street, I didn’t want gardener blowers or car sounds to intrude, so I opted for triple pane windows instead of double pane.  Though more expensive, they eliminated all sound coming through the windows.

Wall Construction

As we went down to the studs on the existing walls and did new construction on the new walls that were part of the garage, we opted for two layers of 5/8” wallboard with insulation and a layer of vinyl acoustic barrier between them, using Green Glue damping compound.

These walls are solid!

We used lots of acoustic caulk to fill in all the gaps and cracks where sound could come in.

Electrical

All electrical switches were mounted on the wall, eliminating a common sound entry point when standard in-wall boxes are used for electrical switches.

A/C

The house has central A/C which was quiet enough that no additional work needed to be done.

The Music Kitchen Studio - externally mounted light switch

 

Entry Door

I splurged on a very expensive 2.75” thick solid wood door.  We had to install a highly reinforced door jamb to accommodate the weight.  The edges were sealed with acoustic foam strips.

Overall the studio is super quiet; I never hear any outside sounds.  It allows me to work at any time day or night and not disturb family or neighbors.

The Music Kitchen Studio - studio door

Solutions For Keeping Studio Sounds Off Your Recordings

Before I wrap up, I want to go over some ways to keep noises like computer fans or air conditioning from ending up on your recordings.

Computer Noise

Most high-powered computers used for music production create noise from spinning hard disks.  Here are four solutions to this:

  • Switch to solid state drives (SSD). SSD drives have no moving parts, so they do not create any noise.  PLUS, they have the advantage of substantially increasing your computer’s speed.  Users who switch always say that they can run many more virtual instruments and plugins with SSD drives than regular 5400 RPM drives.
  • Place your computer as far away as possible from your recording location.
  • Put all noisy gear in an Isobox. This is a specialized rack that not only provides a soundproof enclosure for your computer but includes a cooling fan and an alarm if your equipment gets too hot.  The only issue is that it is pretty expensive.
  • Buy or build an acoustic screen around your computer using acoustic panels.

A/C Noise

If you have a window unit, they are usually so noisy that you just can’t do much but turn it off when you record or mix.  For central A/C units you can:

  • Face your mic away from the A/C duct, and use your mic’s polar pattern characteristics to place the mic for the best noise rejection.
  • Tighten or even remove the air duct vent cover if it rattles or makes too much noise.

For More Information

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