What’s the one thing that’s absolutely necessary for a home studio? Acoustic wall treatment! And to get the most out of your acoustic panels, you need to know where to place them.
Confused about where to place acoustic panels in the home studio? The answer is simple. The key is to control as many variables as possible while considering the size and shape of your studio. To put it more precisely, you need to take care of things like spacing, reflection points, corners, placement of monitors, and more.
You need to devise a plan specific for your studio that ensures that the studio creates a perfect environment for recording. Before we discuss where to place acoustic panels in the studio, we need to figure out a few things.
Basic Acoustic Panel Placement Guidelines for Home Studios
Whether you’re placing acoustic panels in your room, home studio, or another recording space, you need to follow certain basic guidelines. Acoustical panels need to be positioned at specific angles and in a carefully calculated layout to mitigate reverberations in the space. The three basic guidelines include:
1. Spreading the Panels
Acoustic panels are not useful if you place them all in one corner! Sound waves travel fast and with air as their medium, they travel in all directions. They should be absorbed within a second or half a second of their occurrence to avoid noise and other disruptions.
They need to be countered from each corner and side of the room rather than one single spot. Thus, you should leave no two parallel walls untreated. Bare walls in a home studio can also develop standing waves.
When deciding where to place acoustic panels in a home studio, balance out all the panels symmetrically in the space. Make sure you take notice of all the possible patterns, penetrations, or obstructions present in the studio. These patterns and snags include doors, windows, AC vents, light and exit signs, or other installations.
Always follow a primary symmetrical pattern during placement. Minimize and adjust (as dictated by the sub-patterns) the change in spacing if the pattern breaks due to an obstruction.
3. Don’t Go Too High
Some people like to keep their panels as far away from sight as possible. Hanging them too high above the eye level sure prevents some imperfections but weakens their acoustic properties. Ideally, panels should be centered on the wall (8ft) leaving 24-inches above and below the panel.
When you go a little too high (anything above 27 inches), leaving no space above the panel, the sound waves take longer to reach them. This can adversely affect the absorption process.
Where to Place Acoustic Panels in a Home Studio?
Every studio is unique. And before you get started with acoustic treatment of your home studio, figure out the critical treatment points (discussed later) specific to your studio. These areas highlight where acoustic panels should go in the studio.
To decide where to place acoustic panels in a home studio you need to take care of the following:
Listening and Monitoring Positions
Your mixing/monitoring position is your listening position. Many acousticians and music makers recommend this position to be set approximately 35-40% into the room. Face the shorter wall instead of the longer side, which maximizes the distance between the rear wall and your ears.
You should be able to hear the sound directly from the monitors where you sit. Your back wall should at least be 10 feet from your ears and treated with wall angles to divert reflections. Because strongest reflections need to be reflected or absorbed before they reach your listening position.
Place monitors the right way up instead of laying them on their sides. Put them at head height, pointed towards the head, and mounted on stands. The manufacturer’s instruction will also guide the setup. The desks should be lower than the monitors and hardware should not come between you and the monitors.
This is the first sound you hear after the direct sound from speakers or the monitor, before reflected sounds. Floor, ceiling, walls, your desk, and even screens contribute to these reflected sounds and can have adverse effects on the overall sound.
Fortunately, you can manage this with absorption. If you have ceiling clouds, make sure they are at least 12 inches deep. You need to place the panels on both sides of the mixing position (on hard surfaces) and the ceiling cloud above. The best way to locate the “sweet spots” is to use the mirror trick!
The Mirror Trick
- Sit at your listening position and have someone hold a mirror against the left wall at the speaker’s height.
- Have the person move towards the back and across the wall surface between you and the speakers.
- Mark the point where you see the left speaker in the mirror. This spot is your first reflection point.
- Continue across the wall until you see the right speaker and mark the spot again. This is another reflection point.
- Repeat on the other wall.
- Now, simply place your acoustic panels on the marked spots.
Reflections that arrive after the direct sound source has occurred are called late reflections. They can be the most damaging distortions to sound in a home studio. Reverberation in a home studio needs to be controlled with acoustic panels placed throughout the room with appropriate spacing.
Acoustic panels should cover around 22-25% of the interior studio space generally. Reverberations can be treated with either diffusion or absorption. Sometimes, diffusion is favored more than the dampening of sound if control is wanted.
So Where Do Acoustic Panels Go In a Home Studio?
To give you a gist of the above discussion, we can breakdown all of the problems with home studio sound into two main categories;
First is mid to high-range frequency reflections from hard surfaces in the studio. And second is the troughs in the room’s low-end response from its size, dimensions, and reflectivity at low frequencies.
Both problems can interfere and distort the accuracy of what you think you’re hearing from the speakers.
Simply put, placement of acoustic panels in a home studio goes something like:
- Finding the reflection points and placing acoustic panels on those spots to absorb maximum reflections.
- Placing corner traps on both vertical corners in front of the listening position. Corner traps in both corners should be equal in number to trap maximum unwanted bass.
- Proper spacing between panels, the appropriate number of panels, height, and sizes of panels are crucial!
Why Do Home Studio Need Acoustic Panels?
While it’s okay for some sound to interact with your studio, it’s crucial to control and monitor how they occur. Acoustic panels work to strike a balance between a “dead” room and a “too lively” one.
Some common acoustic issues need fixing before you mix and produce great sounds. Looking at these issues briefly here will clear why and where acoustic panels need to be placed in an acoustic studio.
When sound waves hit and reflect back and forth between two untreated walls, they create flutter echoes. Your ears perceive these reflections as echoes if these reflections take long enough.
The regularity of these echoes gets further strengthened when sound or reflection is not absorbed. Flutter echo can prove to be quite malefic for the listening environment. Hence, it’s important to understand how the flutter echo manifests itself to treat it properly.
A comb filter is created when a direct sound is combined with its reflection. You recognize this effect by the regularly spaced notches in the frequency response of resulting sounds. The delay time between direct sound and reflected sound will determine the location of notches in the frequency spectrum.
This resulting frequency response graph resembles a comb-like structure, as in-phase frequencies sum together, and out-of-the-phase frequencies cancel.
Bass is a low-frequency sound wave that has relatively longer sound wave cycles. The unique sonic characteristics of bass cause problems when left untreated. They build up in corners after bouncing off from the wall behind the listener and create a significant dip (maybe up to 30 decibels). Such bass will sound boomy and muddy once you take it outside the studio.
The dips, also known as nulls, alter your perception of bass. You need to trap bass in the corners of your studio to manage the dispersion, reflection, and accumulation of sound.
Sound pressure level differs at different points in a room is based on frequencies. This is because of the way sound is reflected off of boundary surfaces (floor, walls, ceiling, desk, etc.). Resultantly, some spots remain potentially more resonant within a specific frequency range than others. Such resonances are called room modes.
You need absorption and reflection at the back wall of your studio to damp low-frequency sound energy. Room modes, standing waves, nodes, and anti-nodes dictate how well bass translates on other playbacks.
How High Should Acoustic Panels Be?
Like all room acoustics, you need to let your ears be your guide. Acoustic panels should be placed or hung at a place that is roughly at the height of your ear. Home studios with standard-sized walls should have acoustic panels positioned at approximately 24” or 60.9cm up from the floor for sitting and should be 40” or 101.6 cm for standing (music studio).
Studio walls that are higher than the standard size often have to have a staggered height of panels so they are evenly spread out for absorption. Ideally, 2’x4’ panels do a good job when walls are around 8 feet tall. You will likely need to scatter 2’x4’ panels across the studio walls with a few smaller ones (to match the irregularities).
Moreover, the thickness of wall acoustic panels should be 2 inches deep to absorb all the high frequencies. And for deeper, low-frequency sounds like bass, you’d need well over 2 inches of thickness.
How Many Acoustic Panels Are Needed for Home Studio?
A small, regular-sized room can use up to 10 acoustic panels on its walls if you’re managing a typical 5.1 channel sound system there. But this won’t necessarily apply to home studios.
The number of acoustic panels a home studio needs depends on many factors. These include the number of speakers, reflection points, kind of instruments used, the size and shape of the home studio, and the size of panels.
Designing a home studio is a specialized science. You can use a simple formula to figure out the appropriate number of panels for your studio.
- Height x Depth x Width x 0.03 = Sq/Ft
- Cubic Volume of the room x 3% = Sq Ft of product
You can use averages in the formula as well and calculate the absolute minimum coverage for an average user. The specifications will vary with different studios. Generally, larger spaces like studios need around 12-14 panels. This number goes up with each speaker or sound source you add to the studio.
What Are the Critical Acoustic Treatment Points?
There are three stages of perceiving sound in a studio. First, one that comes straight from the speakers, i.e., direct sound. Second, early reflections from hard boundaries of your desk, walls, floor, ceiling, or screen. Third, you hear the reverberant field of the sound which is the aftermath of heavy interaction between the studio and the original sound.
Each of these stages creates problematic areas in your studio that need critical acoustic treatment. Direct sound, first/early and late reflections have already been discussed with their solutions earlier. If we go a little deeper into acoustics, the following three areas appear to be as critical as others.
Bass builds up in corners of any rectangular or square space. You need to place sufficient bass traps in these corners to help convert the low-energy into heat. Bass traps come in the form of wedges, panels, or foam and they fit right into the corners.
You can either place them where a wall meets another or where a wall meets the ceiling or the floor. Both placements are fine provided the sound is controlled. At the minimum, every corner should have one bass trap, with additional ones (if needed) on the ceiling and sides of the sound source.
2. Back Wall
Flutter echo and standing waves are two potential issues with the back and front parallel walls. Putting an acoustic panel at the back wall will reduce the effects of both.
Now some would prefer installing these panels right behind their monitors, which is fine, but the back wall needs way less treatment than the front one. This is because as the sound waves make their way to the back wall, all the untreated low-end frequencies have already created standing waves.
Hence, acoustic panels need to be placed on the front as well as the back wall to cover all the points of reflection efficiently.
3. Rear Sidewalls
Rear sidewalls are parallel and can produce flutter echoes as well. This is where you need to place diffusers or reflectors to scatter the sound and prevent bouncing. If you feel like the studio is getting “livelier” with diffusers here, you can also install absorbers here.
Acoustic Panels in Home Studio – FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions designed to provide better clarity on the placement of acoustic panels in a home studio
Can you build a DIY acoustic panel for a large home studio?
You can, but you would need some professional help and consultation at various stages. You can use the material (fabric, wood, Glassfiber, etc.) and design them as per your choice.
Do acoustic panels keep sound in a studio?
Not really. Acoustic panels are made to target the absorption of sound and related issues. They are not designed to soundproof a space like a home studio. Though with the right amount of insulation, you can enjoy a more soundproof experience.
What are the benefits of acoustic panels in a home studio?
You hear less from the room and more from the speakers, it’s a simple as that! They enhance the stereo field right to left and front to back with each mix clearly positioned. Acoustic panels control and reduce modes (peaks at specific frequencies) and nulls (missing frequencies at specific points in a room).
Do thicker panels absorb more sound?
To some extent, yes! Thicker panels work better for bass. A 50mm thick acoustic panel can absorb up to four times the quantity of bass frequencies in comparison with 25mm ones. However, both thicknesses absorb the same quantity of high and mid frequencies.
Now that you know where to place acoustic panels in a home studio, you can easily set up your new home studio. To summarize a little, take care that you properly set up the monitors, add bass traps, and foam wherever needed.
Plan the panels AFTER you have decided on the furniture, instruments, number of speakers, and other items in the studio. This way you can foresee and prepare for all the acoustic problems that might make their way into the studio later on.