Building a home studio

Posted By on May 27 2009 12:00 AM
Differentiate between your treatment for sound generated and reflected within the room and sound filtering through from elsewhere - like neighbouring rooms or premises or a busy road. Any flat shiny surfaces like windows or painted brick will have to be dealt with. If you need the light from the window, try to add another glass pane angled with the top towards you so that sound is reflected downwards. Pad the walls, but the important areas are those between desk-top height and about 2m above the floor. A simple wooden frame covered with hessian or old curtain material and hung on the wall with an air gap behind it is cheap and surprisingly effective. If you are intending to "Mix" in the Studio, you will need to cover all of the bounce walls, (These are the walls that will bounce the sound) So all exposed walls will need some sort of damping. A cheap and effective way is to paint the walls with a Dark Mat finish paint then cover with hessian like a wall paper. Partial padding of the ceiling will be found to help as well.

But you don't need an acoustically-dead room for a studio if you are just recording Voice-Overs, so don't spend a great deal of time and money initially. If your studio is just for voice work, make sure you have a dead wall - a wall that has been acoustically treated. Set your microphone in front of this to talk into. Carpet tiles on the wall will do the trick in this case - or a board with carpet tiles stuck on will also do but not as well

The microphone is the heart of any studio, it is important that it is looked after and is the best that you can afford.

There are people who will say just a basic £50 mic will do? OK just put any old engine in a car it will work.

A Condenser microphone will be the best for this job, one with a 1 inch capsule and a 20Hz to 20kHz recording range. This will require a power source; most desks will come with a phantom power source (Desks will be covered later). I always recommend Neumann microphones - they do a basic condenser mic, the TLM 103, this is the same single capsule that is used in the famous dual-capsule U87. These can be found from around £500 on the internet. I know it’s a lot of money but it will be a one-off fee that will earn you hopefully a lot of money, it is a name you can trust - just ask any recording studio or production house which microphones they use!

There are a plentiful supply of "cheap" condenser microphones at megga bargain prices on EBay, from as low as £35.00. I have bought a couple of these mic's to test out. They both sounded OK to start with, but the quality soon starts to deteriorate and after about 6 months usage both were no good for voice work. If you do buy one of these mic's do not expect a long life or Broadcast quality for more than 6 months. (these were run on a comparison with both an AKG C3000 and a Neumann TLM103)

Always look after your microphone. Do not drop it! A dropped microphone can suffer a damaged capsule - even the smallest pinhole rip will ruin the sound. Dust can affect the capsule and make it sound dull. Don’t forget a mic is all about the way air is received on the capsule. When my mics are not being used I put them away in foam storage boxes which saves r them from accidents and dust damage. If your mic is sounding very dull, do an A B comparison, the capsule can be cleaned with distilled water and a pure bristle brush and a very careful steady hand.

The studio desk is the body of the studio; it is where the sound is played with. If you are using the desk for voice work, mostof Producers will want a flat unenhanced signal from you with no EQ added, no compression or gating. They will add anything they want later. The desk will give you the option of enhancing any signal into the desk, either via the Equaliser on the input channels or via a plug in effects unit, reverb, compression, exciter, gating etc… or on some desks via a graphic EQ on the output channels.

Desks can have buses (bgusbars) for sending signals around the desk for sub-mixes - ideal for mixing backing vocals, drums, and backing tracks and for sending a signal to an ISDN codec.

Get a desk with at least one auxiliary send - you will need this if you get ISDN. It should have phantom power and a PFL (pre-fade listen) option. Spirit and Behringer do some very good budget desks with these options.

Why do you need speakers?
Well, if you are recording something for someone, you cannot trust headphones for the end quality. Just for recording something it is fine, but you cannot check the quality of the recording and final mix with cans (headphones), so stand back and listen through speakers as well. I use and recommend Tannoy nearfield studio monitors, as they are flat and not enhanced - no added bass, middle or top unlike domestic "HiFi" speakers. If you buy the Active version of a studio speaker you will not need to buy an amplifier - or you will need a studio amp (again it must be un-enhanced), like the Quad range or Behringer produce a budget studio amp.
Soundcards and PCs
If you are using a PC to record your project, they are fine to use for audio editing and recording despite what some people say, but do make sure you get a Pro Quality Soundcard. Soundblasters and cheap soundcards are known to be very noisy, for that added hiss and bottom end growl. Again, listen with flat speakers. If you buy a professional editing programme like Pro Tools it will come with its own soundcard and will solve this problem. Make sure you buy (or make!) all new leads and cables when setting up a studio - there is nothing like a dirty or intermittent connection for either not working or adding a hum or hiss - and try to have balanced connections wherever possible which will eliminate and noise pick-up. I have a dedicated Apple Mac for my studio, which means I don’t put any other programmes or junk on it. I would suggest a dedicated PC for audio editing, a basic system, Motherboard, Firewire card (for Pro Tools) plenty of RAM and a Video Card, Internet Access (turned off unless needed) it is so easy to fill up a PC with small programmes that slow it down. Audio programmes crash if they slow down, also you may get artifacts on audio if something else is running in the background. Turn off any screensavers, system sounds and background programmes when working with audio programmes.

If you are thinking of building a home studio, take time to plan what you are doing, think about what you want from it, and then buy quality - not quantity. No one will mind helping with advice if you ask genuine and honest questions.

If I work with a voice artist I expect the same quality at his/her end as at mine.



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