Over at The Podcast Host, we’ve discussed some DIY methods of acoustic treatment for controlling echoes and reverb in your home studio. But did you know there are some commercially available options for taming that recording space?
Let’s take a look at some great products to help keep your podcast recordings sounding professional and clean.
Acoustic Treatment Vs Soundproofing
One common misconception in audio is that acoustic treatment and soundproofing are the same things. The two are related and it’s easy enough to see how the two can become cataloged similarly. However, often when treating a studio, we deal with each separately.
What’s the difference? Noise versus reverb.
In soundproofing, we are dealing with noise. We’re moving that computer out of the recording environment or using solid state equipment to eliminate fans. We’re decoupling walls to prevent the transmission of sounds outside from getting into our studio, and therefore our recordings.
Acoustic treatment, by contrast, deals with the audio characteristics of your recording space. Is it echoey? Does it sound boxy? Is there a build-up of bass frequency when mixing? These are factors that acoustic treatment helps to manage.
Do I Even Need Acoustic Treatment?
In a perfect world, every recording space would be the precise shape and dimensions to sound acoustically rich with minimal reverb or echo. In reality, rooms are often live and boxy-sounding. They have nuances and quirks that can make or break achieving our desired outcome for recordings.
Other times, we find ourselves on the go, recording out of hotel rooms, rental cars, and other locations where we don’t have much control over room acoustics.
Stand in your recording space and clap your hands? What do you hear? Are there flutters when you clap next to a wall? Are your walls hard like concrete and super reflective of sound? Is your studio very small? Do your monitors sound boomy when trying to mix in your studio? If so, then you may wish to consider some acoustic treatment.
To one degree or another, acoustic treatment is a means to isolate your microphone, and by extension your recording from as many external noises and distractions as possible. If you spend a lot of time in the studio, like me, this can become an outright futile obsession.
As a studio recordist, ideally, I want the sound of the speaker’s voice as represented by the microphone with no outside noise and no reverb from the room. In reality, what we get is the compromise of self-noise from equipment, HVAC noise, sirens blaring, a room that echoes like a cafeteria, and a weird donkey braying every third take (Yes. This actually happened.). So we strive for ideals, but work with what we’ve got.
So what kinds of acoustic treatments are out there? And what kind do you need for your situation?
Recording on the go? From a hotel room in Portland? At a warehouse in Maine? From your car while visiting Centralia, Pennsylvania? If the type of podcasting you do takes you on the go a lot, (as ours do me), then portable iso booths and reflection filters like the sE Electronics RF-X Reflexion Filter X Portable Vocal Booth are serious “must-haves.”
Both portable booths and reflection filters work by isolating your microphone from reflections caused by surfaces in the room. The acoustic foam inside the booth or reflection filter absorbs the voice as it travels past the microphone, reducing the reflections from the room. A good setup turns virtually any quiet location into a viable recording space. Very useful on the go!
On the other end of the spectrum are room kits. Room kits are a more permanent solution for your home recording and mixing studio setups. Got a small space that you can hear in your recording? A room kit, like the stylish and elegant Primacoustic London 8 Room Kit can help!
Do your mixes sound muddy even when they sound great in another room? Room kits with good bass traps, like the Auralex Alpha-DST Roominators Kit, can help with that.
Room kits come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some come with bass traps to tame the standing waves that make your monitors, drums and bass instruments sound muddy. Others come with a variety of acoustic panels and acoustic foam to tame flutters and reflections.
Panels come in a variety of shapes and densities. For most home studios, I recommend a 2-inch pyramid or wedge style foam. If you’re mixing or producing music of any sort, I highly recommend using bass traps in your configuration to help reduce standing waves and flutter.
When you’re getting into room kits, you’re getting into serious professional acoustic treatment. These kits are best suited for podcasters who are trying to achieve a very dry “studio” sound or recording actors for a fictional podcast. Your size and mileage will vary with your room characteristics (modes) and your specific needs.
Between room treatment and isolation filters, is desk treatment. Desk treatments, like the Auralex DeskMAX Baffle Kit, are great for interview-style podcasts where two microphones are recorded around a desk or table. Baffles can be placed behind one or multiple microphones and provide absorption.
The benefit of desk treatment is that you can leave it set up in a semi-permanent arrangement but still have the flexibility to reconfigure as needed. The biggest con for me is that they take up valuable desktop real estate. And that’s where I keep my gear.
Wall-mounted Vocal Booth
When you need a permanent vocal booth, but either you lack the space or need more versatility in your studio, a wall-mounted vocal booth can be a great asset. The studio I record in at GCR Audio in Buffalo has several of these on the wall, allowing your to close them to use the space as a live drum room, or open them to absorb reflections when recording actors. Several vocal booths, like the Primacoustic FlexiBooth Instant Vocal Booth, can be mounted in the same space to create little semi-isolated booths when recording several actors at once, reducing both reverb and mic bleed.
What’s right for your particular podcast is going to vary widely depending on the style of podcast you make. If you’re using your recording space to record audio dramas from the home studio, you’re likely going to want to tame your space with a room kit. Recording interviews from your hotel room at the podcasting convention? Then you’ll likely benefit from a portable isolation booth or reflection filter.
Whether recording an interview podcast or a full-cast audio drama, managing room reverb in your recording space will always be, to some degree, a factor in the quality of your recordings. Unwanted reverb and echoes increase distraction and can severely reduce intelligibility. Having portable solutions for on-the-go recording and permanent solutions for your home studio can significantly increase a polished and professional presence in your audio presentation.
Need More Help With Your Podcast?
Creating the best possible sound for your podcast is just one aspect of creating and growing a successful show.
Over at The Podcast Host we can keep you on the right track with everything that goes into podcasting. From audio quality, gear, and editing, to content, interview skills, marketing, and monetization. We help you with it all!
A great place to begin is our How to Start a Podcast guide, which walks you, step by step, through the entire process.