ZERO BUDGET RECORDING

Is It Possible to Build a Good Sounding Home Studio With No Budget?

It is possible to acoustically treat a home recording studio or production studio with a small to zero budget using common household items. It may not be possible to create an exceptional studio, but it is certainly possible to create a room that at least sounds very good.

home studio setup

Many professional content creators and producers use their home for producing their content.  

It can be very easy to spend hundreds of dollars on acoustic treatment  to help enhance the audio quality of your content, however you may already have the tools in your home to do a similar job.

At the end of the day acoustic treatment products such as absorbers, diffusers and bass traps are materials that absorb and manipulate sound.

Using common household products such as heavy drapes, curtains,  rugs and mattresses, you may be able to achieve a similar effect.

Granted it will never be as optimum as “specifically designed” acoustic treatment, but with good placement of these common household items, you can create a room that sounds very good.

What are some common household items that you can use to acoustically treat a room?

Curtains and Drapes

Curtains and drapes can be very effective in improving the acoustics of a room.

When selecting curtains and drapes to double up as an acoustic treatment, choose curtains and drapes that are heavy and soft.

When hanging the curtains ensure that they are not flat – allow them to gather together into folds as this creates extra absorption as air is trapped between the folds.

In addition, folded drapes create extra depth which will absorb more frequencies, particularly lower frequencies. 

Finally when the drapes are gathered, they act as a diffuser,  allowing acoustic reflections to bounce off the curtains and disperse around the room.

So, from hanging heavy drapes or curtains, you will build yourself a high frequency absorber and a simple diffuser all in one. 

Recording studios will often use heavy drapes, particularly on large walls or over doors.

If you have the material available, it is recommended to use layers of curtains if your curtain pole can support the weight. Hanging multiple layers of material creates an air gap between the material which will further help with acoustic absorption.

Using heavy drapes and curtains in this way will create a simple acoustic sound absorber which will stop internal room sound reflections and help improve the audio fidelity of your recordings and productions. 

Blankets 

Similar to curtains and drapes blankets can act as a sound absorber when hung on a wall.

The heavier the blanket the more sound absorption you will achieve. 

Similar to drapes, do not hand the blanket flat but allow it to fold and crease. This will create air pockets within the blanket folds, which will improve overall sound absorption.

A “folded” or uneven surface  will also act as a diffuser as your sound waves bounce off the face of the folded / crumpled blanket and will disperse around the room

If you are not too concerned about the aesthetics, doubling up on blankets and hanging thick layers of materials on your wall can really help sound absorption and improve internal room acoustics,

Pillows and Seating Cushions

Attaching pillows to your wall may not be practical but it could be feasible to place thick dense pillows and seating cushions around your room to absorb sound.

Similar to curtains and blankets the denser the material the better, as dense material will absorb more acoustic frequencies, particularly the high end frequencies.

I have seen some studio designs place a pile of thick dense seating cushions in the corner of the room. Placing cushions and large absorptive materials in the corner doubles up as a seating area and a bass trap.As the name suggests, bass traps will trap and control the low end frequencies in your recording room.

It could be possible to do something similar in your own home studio with pillows and cushions.

household cushion

Bookcases

A bookcase (without a flat surface), is a natural diffuser. Personally I love using bookcases as diffusers as they look great and are also really practical

To ensure that you are using a bookcase as a natural diffuser, try not to make you bookcase too neat – the idea of a diffuser is to have an uneven bumpy surface so when sound waves hit it they strike at random angles and are diffused off in different directions throughout your room.

bookcase as acoustic diffuser

If your bookcase is all “even and flat” and you will not get a good diffusion surface and sound waves will not be diffused appropriately in your room.

If space allows,  you could also place some pillows in your bookcase so that your bookcase doubles up as both an absorber and a diffuser.

The idea of a diffuser is to scatter sound waves around the room. True diffusion can be hard to achieve with a home built solution as difffuses are carefully carefully designed using mathematical calculations to scientifically scatter sound waves around a room.

However a bookshelf with uneven surfaces is a great home alternative to a diffuser. The result won’t be pure diffusion, but it will give you a good result by breaking up sound waves and allowing them to scatter throughout the room.

Couches and Sofas

Couches and sofas can be great to have a home recording studio

Not only are they practical by acting as a seating location but these large objects which are typically padded with cushions and material act as really good bass traps

Having a sofa or large dense item like a sofa or mattress in a room will help reduce the Reverberation decay in the room 

Placing a sofa or couch up against one wall will greatly help absorb some of the low-end frequencies in the  room 

Similarly using overly stuffed arm chairs can greatly help with low and frequency trapping and high and frequency absorption.

Closets and Wardrobes

Having a closet or wardrobe full of clothes can act as a natural bass trap as this is a large object that is dense and large enough to absorb low-end bass frequencies.

Please remember to open the doors of your wardrobe however!

If the doors to your wardrobe or closet are closed, you will have a hard surface which acoustic waves will just reflect and bounce off. This hard (and maybe shiny) surface could even create internal unwanted room modes. 

By opening the doors to your closet / wardrobe, sound frequencies will strike the clothes inside and because the clothes are soft,  frequencies will be absorbed and not reflected back into the room. 

Where should I place common household items to improve room acoustics?

When acoustically treating a room for better sound recording and production, be it with professional acoustic treatment or common household items, there are some basic rules that you can follow

Studio layout and acoustic treatment positioning is an artform and there is often a lot of discussion and discrepancy between acoustic engineers as to where to place acoustic treatment. 

For home studio design you are limited with what you can do,  as often acoustic treatment can only be placed in areas that are practical so that you can still use the room as part of your home living space.

Below is an image of a typical rectangular room, treated with professional acoustic products. This is the image on the left. 

The right image shows a potential alternative using common household objects. 

studio layout
home studio acoustics

This example gives you an idea  of where to place items relative to your listening position to create a good listening environment.

Again, this will vary from studio to studio as your room will be a different size and shape to mine however you will notice some common features in this room that you can apply.

  1. Firstly place large absorbers such as chairs and cushions in the corners as this will act as good bass traps where low frequencies tend to build. 
  2. Place drapes and curtains in front of and beside your listening position as this will help absorb high frequency reflections.
  3. Placing a large sofa or bed along one wall will help absorb low and high frequencies

As every room is different, which makes acoustic treatment so difficult to apply generally, this image is just a guide for reference only  but is a good place to start

The traditional approach is to place absorptive materials around the speaker monitors and listening positions while leaving the back end of the room “live”or reflective i e bare walls with very little absorption.  

Placing bass traps in the corners of your room is always a good idea.

Treating the wall behind which you sit and listen is important to do, and this is best done with a diffuser or absorber.

As will all acoustic treatments, although it is calculated using complex mathematics,  as every room is different, it is considered more of an art form than a science so when trying to acoustically treat your home studio so that it sounds good for recording and monitoring audio – experiment!  Try different approaches, listen to the audio produced and then compare to find a good studio balance. 

Conclusion

It is perfectly possible to create a very good sounding home recording studio and listening room using common household items.

You can never be guaranteed that the results will be as good as buying off-the-shelf or specifically designed acoustic products,  however you can achieve a level of acoustic treatment that is very good and acceptable.

Using common household items to treat your studio on a zero budget is a great approach and a great starting point for content creators.

Not only is there the potential to improve the quality of your audio content, you will also learn loads about how the acoustics work in your own personal studio, without ever spending a penny 🙂

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