Voice Over Blog

Home Studio Essentials - Your Room

Whether you realise it or not, our ears are quite spectacular. Not only do we have two of them, allowing us to create a stereo image of the audio world around us, they are capable of recognizing differences in timing down to a tenth of a millisecond. They also are incredibly sensitive. Just Wikipedia “threshold of hearing” to find out. What does this tell us? It tells us that our ears hear more than just the source of a sound. It hears all the reflections that sound makes as well.

These reflections are generally known as “reverb.” Reverb is short for reverberance and, in short, is a part of almost every sound source you have ever heard. The only exception, would be if you have the fortune to experience an anechoic chamber (I hear they can be quite disturbing, actually!). Everywhere you are, the sound you hear bounces off of other surfaces, feeding our ears information that identifies the shape of the room, the texture of the room, and many other things.

Interestingly, though, our ears take most of this information passively. It hardly ever registers in your mind that a room is particularly lively or dead. That is until you record in it.

You may have noticed by now, that if you’re recording in a room without much furniture, hard wood floors, or very little hanging on the walls, your recordings likely have a lot of natural reverb and reflection in them. This is both a good and a bad thing.

This is a good thing if you’re recording something in a fantastic sounding room. Recording studios dedicate spaces to this very thing, enabling engineers to record the room ambience as well as the source signal. But for voice overs, room noise might not be your best friend.

Most of you understand that you are trying to get the tightest, cleanest sound possible into your recordings. Having good mic technique will get you part of the way there. The other part is done by treating your room.

Just as you’ve seen in countless pictures of professional studios, sound absorbing foam is your friend in your home studio. Not only will you reduce the reverb of your sound source (that is your voice), you will also reduce the natural reverb of the room. Often, without even realizing it, our recording space has low level background noise. In an untreated room, all this low volume noise bounces around the room just the same as higher level noises. It creates a cacophony of background noise that you can’t easily scrub from your recordings. Room treatment will deaden those reflective surfaces and thus deaden the natural reverberation of those low level noises, i.e. your room will be quieter giving you greater headroom between your sound source and when no sound is being recorded.

Places to Consider Treating

For voice overs, particularly you want to try and create a quiet space that you can record your voice into. Too small of a room and you might find a lot of bass build up as those long bass waves bounce around the tight space. Too big of a room, and your voice will sound thinner and drier. I realize that most of you cannot change the size of the room you are recording in. I simply state these facts so that you can make adjustments depending upon your recording space.

To figure out where to put absorbing foam, think of how sound travels. Try and figure out the natural reflections of the walls and place foam accordingly. If you know that you will generally speak into your microphone in a general direction of your room, you can place foam where the source will naturally reflect to reduce reflections bouncing back into the microphone.

It is also a good idea to put absorbing foam behind your monitors and possibly on your ceiling as well. The ceiling in most rooms tends to be flat and hard, making it considerably reflective. Placing some foam above the area you record or mix (or both) will make a big difference as to how much room reflection is heard.

Bottom Line

A good engineer needs to be in control of her room acoustics. This means treating the space that you record and mix in. Since our ears are so sensitive, it behooves us to absorb the reflections in our room to create cleaner, better sounding mixes. Before running off to buy a more expensive microphone or another piece of gear, consider treating your room. Remember, a treated room will improve all of your recordings!