I have always been fascinated by vocal booths.
When I visit big studios, the vocal booth room is always one of the most fascinating rooms with its complex room shapes, soundproofed design, and expensive acoustic foam treatments.
Because vocal booths are such a central feature of major record studios, you may feel that you cannot produce good quality vocals without them.
For years I felt that I needed a professionally designed vocal booth space, just to compete with professional recording studios, but with more experience, came more knowledge and I now realise that this is not the case.
You do not need a vocal booth to record professional sounding recordings. You do need a quiet recording space and a recording setup that reduces echo, reverb and other unwanted room environmental sound.
What is the purpose of a vocal booth?
The purpose of a vocal booth is to record vocals in a very pure and unbiased way, so we hear mostly the sound of the voice and not the sound of the room.
Ideally, we want a “dead sound”. A “dead sound” is a recording that sounds very close and present, without any echo, reverb or space.
A good way to experience this if you are still unsure of what a “dead sounding” recording is like, is to place both your hands over your ears and speak.
Your voice will sound muffled, but you will have removed the sound of the room by doing this. Notice how “close” your voice sounds.
Now, we don’t want a muffled recording, but we do want a recording that sounds close and features just the audio dynamics of the voice and not the room or surrounding space.
Why do we want a “dead sound” or dry recording?
When we record something, for example, the vocals of a song, we will need to mix that vocal with other musical instruments to create a finished track.
Music producers will add effects such as equalization, reverb, echo, or other sound enhancing effects on the vocal to allow it to mix well with the musical instruments.
This creates the illusion that all the instruments, including the vocals, were recorded at the same time in the same space and sound cohesive.
If you have unwanted noise or room sounds such as reverb already on the vocal recording, when you try to add additional effects and process the vocal for mixing, you will also be amplifying these unwanted noise and room sounds.
You will be applying your effects to the vocal and the unwanted recording elements.
Having a “dead sound” or dry recording makes processing the vocal and mixing it for production much easier.
A dead-sounding vocal or dry vocal (without any effects such as echo or reverb for example) is like a blank canvas.
You add whatever processing effects you want to enhance the sound. However, if there are already sonic elements present, such as noise, you cannot easily remove them.
Recording without a vocal booth
It is possible to capture good-sounding vocal recordings without a vocal booth.
A vocal booth does two things really well, therefore if you can do the same, you can forget about buying a vocal booth:
#1 – Soundproofing
Professional vocal booths are great sound isolators. They are typically very well soundproofed to stop external noise from getting onto the recording.
Noise is one of the worst enemies for any type of recording. Once noise is recorded into a vocal take, it is very difficult to remove.
You can take direct action to soundproof your recording space by purchasing dedicated soundproofing products or upcycling household items that can be used for soundproofing purposes such as heavy curtains and rugs.
Below are some typical soundproofing items that you can purchase to assist with soundproofing your recording space.
To save some money, can you think of any household items that you may already have that can replace some of these soundproofing products? For example, do you have a spare duvet that you can use instead of heavy curtains?
Door Sweeps or Draft Stoppersshop door soundproofing on amazon
Heavy Curtainsshop window soundproofing on amazon
Vinyl Rubber Sheetingshop vinyl soundproofing on amazon
#2 – Acoustic Treatment
Improving room acoustics is an essential function of any vocal booth.
Vocal booths are typically acoustically treated to reduce echo and internal room reflections.
You will see the walls lined with dense foam and often, foam with an uneven surface to help disperse soundwaves throughout the space.
Dense foam is a great acoustic absorber and one of the ways you can get the “vocal booth” sound.
To recreate the professional vocal booth sound, place dense material such as acoustic foam on your walls, or around your vocalist.
This will reduce echo and remove the “sound of the room”, greatly improving your recording environment.
The denser and thicker the foam you can find the better. You could even double up layers of foam for greater absorption.
If you are not willing to spend money on acoustic foam, you could use household items such as duvets and pillows to absorb sound to replace the acoustic foam.
Check out this article for some ideas on how to create a good-sounding home recording studio using household items.
Are microphone sound shields (aka portable vocal booths) effective?
Also known as portable vocal booths, microphone sound shields are an effective off-the-shelf option to improve home vocal recording.
There have been mixed reviews and feedback on microphone sound shields. I can understand this, as it may not always be audible how a sound shield is helping.
Personally, I always use one for home recording when I don’t have access to a vocal booth.
If nothing else, they stop the vocals drifting off and bouncing around the room. You can record a stronger vocal take.
With good microphone techniques and placement, microphone sound shields can improve the recording by making the vocal recording sound “closer” with less room sound.
The key to a good microphone sound shield design is to get one with dense foam. I love this one by Gear4Music, as it is durable, wraps around the microphone and has dense foam.
It is a little bit tricky to assemble but for the price, it is a good buy.