guitar tracks

Four blue-chip engineers—Dave Fridmann, Eric Bauer, Colin Marston, and Jarvis Taveniere—explain what you need to do to prepare your home recordings for prime-time mixing—and sonic glory.

Some time ago, home recording was a field largely occupied by ambitious amateurs who weren't quite ready for a pro studio and wild eccentrics whose limitless creativity knew no bounds. This made the rare home-recorded release a special treat, and albums by artists such as Brian Wilson, Daniel Johnston, and Guided By Voices gave us a glimpse into their raw creative processes. But as the ubiquity of laptop DAWs replaced 4-track machines and portable digital recording consoles as the de facto home setup, the field became democratized.

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Let’s talk about how to put the four components of sound control to work in keeping sound from escaping our studios and music rooms.

Primacoustic’s Recoil Stabilizers combine multiple layers of dense foam with a metal plate to isolate studio monitors from stands or desks.

An amplifier isolator such as the Auralex GRAMMA will cut down on vibrations being transferred into the floor.

In last month’s column, Keeping the Peace, Pt. 2, we discussed the four components of sound control: mass, decoupling, air space, and tight seals. This month, let’s talk about how to put these components to work in keeping sound from escaping our studios and music rooms. Which component(s) you can use ultimately depends on your particular situation. If you are renting an apartment, for example, adding mass to the walls by installing a second layer of drywall would probably be in direct violation of your lease agreement!

Isolate It
The easiest way to prevent sound escape is decoupling, or isolating the sound sources that could potentially transmit sound out of the room. A combo amp or speaker cabinet sitting directly on the floor will transfer vibrations into the floor, and then into the structure of the building. Yes, placing the amp or cabinet on a solid, concrete floor—such as in a basement—will isolate it. But an amp or cab in an upstairs bedroom needs to be isolated from the floor. And heavy, dense foam underneath will do the trick. If you prefer a ready-made solution, check out the isolation devices from companies such as Auralex and Primacoustic.

You can also isolate studio monitors from the stands they sit on. I’ve used dense foam items such as mouse pads for this purpose. But again, there are some ready-made (and possibly better performing) monitor-isolation solutions from Primacoustic, Auralex, and other companies.

The easiest way to prevent sound escape is decoupling, or isolating the sound sources that could potentially transmit sound out of the room.

Seal It Up
It’s important to understand that sound can escape through the tiniest of holes. If air can get through, then sound can get through. The first thing to do is check all the possible places in your room where sound could escape. And the first and often worst offender is the door. Doors connecting to outside spaces generally seal fairly tight (or they should). But interior doors, such as those into a bedroom or den—or even those into an apartment from a hallway—rarely close tightly all the way around. Installing weather stripping around the perimeter of the doorframe is a good way to start, and really isn’t that difficult. It’s also fairly easy to reverse should you need to.

The tough part with doors is typically sealing them underneath. External doors usually have a sill at the base and some sort of weather seal on the bottom of the door. Doors in professional studios often have some sort of heavy, spring-loaded seal that drops down when the door is closed. So what do you do about the door on the bedroom you use for your studio? Seal it up as tight as you can by stuffing a heavy towel, foam rubber, or whatever else you can find down there.

Windows are another source of sound escape. Heavy curtains will help, but stuffing the window opening with dense foam will be better. Another good solution is cutting a piece of plywood to fit the window opening, and then wrapping the edges of the plywood in soft material to protect the window frame. The tighter it fits, the better the seal will be.

Let’s not forget about heating and air-conditioning vents, and air returns. Blocking the vents will prevent air—and therefore sound—from escaping into the ductwork and propagating through the building. Just remember to uncover them when you’re finished making music so the air and heat can flow again!

Space It Out
Air space helps to reduce the transference of vibrations. While moving the walls of your home might be a bit too challenging, you can choose your music room/space so that it is positioned as far as possible from those who might be annoyed by your music making. For example, if your bedroom is directly under someone else’s bedroom, playing music late at night in your room could certainly be a problem. But choosing the farthest corner of the basement, isolating your amp, and sealing the door opening just might make everyone happy.

Unless you are building from scratch or are willing to remodel to a substantial degree, adding mass to the walls and ceiling of your music room or studio probably isn’t in the cards. If you are heading in that direction, consulting one of the many books or websites on the subject of studio construction would be a good place to start. Or, if your budget allows, consult an acoustician for suggestions on how to proceed.

Containing sound can be quite a challenge. But paying attention to sealing up your studio or music space, isolating sound sources, keeping sound sources as far as possible from potentially unwilling listeners, and adding mass to your space—if you can—will go a long way toward reducing noise complaints. Combine these components with some of the volume-reduction suggestions we discussed in the April 2013 issue, and you’ll be able to play your guitar without having to worry about offending family and neighbors.

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In the real world, achieving a truly soundproof space is extremely difficult and extremely expensive.

This is probably not a good place to shop for acoustic treatment and soundproofing materials.
Photo by Francine Girvan, Wikipedia Commons

In last month’s column, Keeping the Peace, we began exploring the issue of sound control. We looked at both controlling the sound from amps and other instruments that bleeds out from our space and controlling external noise from wafting into our microphones when we’re recording. You may have just noticed that I didn’t use the word “soundproof,” which implies that sound is completely stopped cold in its tracks and prevented from leaving or entering the room. In the real world, achieving a truly soundproof space is extremely difficult and extremely expensive. But what we can do is knock down the level of sound that is escaping from or coming into the room.

A professional acoustician will have a large bag of tricks to draw from to achieve sound control. There’s a lot of science, education, and experience behind what those guys do. If you can afford to hire one to create a studio for you, I highly recommend it! But whether you hire a pro or do it yourself, there are several components to controlling sound that we can address. What will work for you all depends on your specific space and situation.

Mass — Sound travels by vibrating materials. Whether we’re talking about air, water, metal, drywall, wood, or whatever else, the principle is the same. It probably seems obvious, but the more mass a material has, the harder it is to make it vibrate. It’s also a matter of how inert a material is and where its resonant frequency falls. For example, a thin brass pipe might ring like a bell when struck, because it vibrates easily. On the other hand, a sheet of lead probably won’t ring at all, no matter how hard you strike it. One of the main components of sound control is mass. But it has to be mass that is installed correctly to prevent resonance. In studio design, for example, you might use two layers of drywall on each side of a wall to increase the mass of the wall, instead of just a single sheet.

Air Space — Air between two boundaries (such as between the sheets of drywall on the two sides of a standard wall) helps to control sound transmission. The bigger the air space, the better. The key here is making sure the boundaries on the two sides of the air space aren’t resonating.

Decoupling — This has nothing to do with breaking up with your significant other over noise issues. Decoupling means preventing the vibrations in one surface from causing another surface to vibrate. Many of us use foam pads or other decouplers under our studio monitors to prevent vibrations from being transmitted into the desk or stands on which they are sitting. In pro studios, the floor and even the walls and ceiling might be mounted to springs or rubber pucks to prevent vibrations from propagating.

Tight Seals — Sound can travel through the smallest of openings. The more airtight you can make the space, the more you will control the sound. Be it gaps around and under doors, AC outlets punched through wall surfaces, or holes cut for lighting fixtures and light switches—all of these and more can reduce how tightly a room is sealed. Let’s also not forget about heating and cooling vents and returns. Sound will travel right through these into the duct-work, and from there, throughout the rest of the building.


When it comes to acoustics and sound control, there are a lot of myths floating around out there. So let’s bust a few of them.

Acoustic foam or fiberglass panels will help with sound control.
FALSE. Absorptive materials, such as acoustic foam, will do the job of taming and tuning the acoustic response inside your room, but will do little to prevent sound from escaping into the outside world.

Egg cartons can be used for sound control.
VERY FALSE. Let’s not even go there. Egg cartons are for transporting and storing eggs.

Using carpet on the walls and ceiling is a good option for sound control.
FALSE. In fact, from an acoustic standpoint, carpet on the walls and ceiling is generally a bad idea inside the room because it’s a poor acoustic absorber and will do next to nothing in terms of blocking sound from escaping.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the components of sound control, we can begin to look at how to utilize or address those components in our spaces to cut down on noise escaping or entering. Tune in next month, we’ll get started!

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