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How to “Tune” a Room

How To Tune a Room
How To Tune a Room

From BMI - Posted in The Weekly on August 14, 2023 by Dave Simons

Some basic solutions for acoustically treating both your listening and tracking space

Do your mixes frequently seem unfocused, or are too bright or overly muddy? Do instruments like piano or guitar lack resonance when you’re recording? It’s easy to blame your speakers or instruments for the faulty sound, when in reality your room itself may be the culprit. If that’s the case, here we offer some basic solutions for “tuning” both your listening and tracking space, from using absorptive materials at strategic spots around your workstation, to knowing which parts of the room should remain livelier for recording purposes.

Choosing a good listening spot. Years ago, I was trying out a set of widely acclaimed recording monitors in an empty utility room in my employer’s office. The floors and walls were bare, and I remember being surprised at how dark and unfocused the sound was. A few days later I found a different location that had pine-paneled walls and a thatched ceiling—and suddenly the monitors were every bit as good as the reviews had claimed! It was the first time I understood what studio pros have known all along—that a proper listening environment is at least as important as the gear you put in it.

What makes a room good for playbacks? For starters, preferably one that isn’t a perfect square (since walls of equal length tend to encourage “flutter echoes” which can easily deter direct sound). Naturally those of us who reside in apartments, dorms and the like can’t always be that choosy about acoustics, and for those folks there are ways to take the room out of the equation (such as monitoring with headphones, for instance). But practically any space that isn’t shaped like box will likely produce better results.

Damping it down. Whereas a professional recording room might use tiled floors and tall ceilings to encourage ambience, a control room is typically just the opposite—a tight, quiet environment designed to allow nothing to get between your ears and the sound source. There are special products you can use to help “tune” your room, such as pro-grade acoustic foam applied to portions of the walls, ceiling, and the area directly behind your workstation. These items don’t always come cheap, however, so if budget is an issue you can always get by using more affordable alternatives like packing blankets, strips of carpeting, tapestries or other soft materials. Throw rugs are great for quelling floor reflections and filling up empty space with upholstered furniture like couches, recliners and beds can also make a huge difference. Add enough treatment to the room until you hear little to no reverberation when clapping your hands. Finally, be sure to situate your studio monitors as close to your ears as possible (no more than three feet, give or take).

Add ambience as needed. Unless you’re recording everything directly, ideally you’ll want a separate part of the room that has a bit of liveliness, particularly if your music features organic instrumentation. If you’re a guitarist, you could simply strap on an acoustic and start playing while slowly walking around your space until you hear some decent projection—for whatever reason, doorways often work well, as do room corners, or perhaps facing a window (due to the resonance off the glass). Once you find the right location, place your microphone there, rather than in the padded-down area in front of your recorder which, though convenient from an operating standpoint, won’t sound nearly as good when tracking anything made of wood.


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