How to build a home music studio: dealing with noise

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So you are building a home studio. Once you have configure your control room, it’s time to consider the recording room.

All of the treatments discussed for the control room also apply to rooms where we actually want to make noise. Let’s be honest: you’ll never get a large neutral, ambient space in an average home, so unless you have a hall with a minstrel gallery, you should aim for the dry.

The question that usually comes to mind when thinking of arranging a studio space at home is soundproofing. Unfortunately, unless you’re building a control room or a concert hall and want to spend a fortune and make the space virtually unusable as part of your home, there’s not much you can do about it.

acoustic

(Image credit: Avenir)

Double and triple glazing will do a good job of preventing general noise, but it’s almost impossible to keep 100% of the noise outside (or inside) unless you are physically isolated from your surroundings. Low frequencies will arrive in your room through physical transmission from the outside, and nothing you can stick on your walls will make a difference – you just need to bypass that.

If you live in an apartment or townhouse, you might want to think twice before trying to set up anything other than a small control room with high quality headphones for your musicians.

Sometimes even the physical sound of someone playing the keyboard can be a nuisance to neighbors living downstairs. We know from experience …

Windows are often cited as a weak spot, and all you can really do is close them tight, use thicker glass, or seal them (with putty, say) if it’s safe to do so. . If the window is in a recess, you can try cutting a 100mm thick MelaTech shape (we don’t have any parts in MelaTech) to fit perfectly, but that will only get you a maximum of 1 to 2 dB reduction. Using well-fitting fire doors with acoustic gaskets can also help a bit.

Whatever you do, avoid the following completely unnecessary soundproofing treatments – not only because they don’t work, but also because most are fire and / or health hazards.

  • Egg boxes
  • Carpets on the walls
  • Furniture foam on the walls
  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Fiberglass insulation panels on the walls
  • Plywood or MDF on the walls
  • Rubber mats on the floor
  • Any type of “sound-absorbing” paint

Noise reduction hardware and software

Along with the proliferation of computer-based home studios, we have fortunately also seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of noise reduction software. Waves X-Noise and Z-Noise are great for tackling broadband noise like computer cooling fans, while iZotope RX and Accussonus Era are great for dealing with everything else including airplanes, trains , birds, squeaky chairs and kicking mic stands. Used with care, these tools can really help with noise nuisance.

If your studio is a one-room affair (i.e. just a control room), you’re obviously going to find it very difficult to record soft vocals or acoustic instruments there – especially a chosen acoustic guitar – without also capturing the sounds of the fans on your computer. So it’s worth putting your computer in another room if you can, or just in the hallway. USB extension cords and the like are affordable and make it easy to find that noisy piece of equipment.

You can also do a little to calm down your computer. Macs are pretty quiet, on the whole, but if you find yours running too much, it’s usually because you have too many apps running. PCs are much easier to modify, and if yours is racketeering, it might not be too difficult to replace your CPU cooling fans with another cooling system.

Noise reduction tactics

There is some great software out there that can help you get around many of the traditional noise and loudness issues inherent in recording live musicians, especially in a home environment.

Even in a well soundproofed building, you can still hear a band playing, especially at night. A drummer donning a bass drum alongside a powerful bass amp feeding a 15-inch cabin will always make an invincible racquet.

So if you don’t already have one, make it a priority to get yourself a high quality amp / cabinet simulation software suite like Native Instruments Guitar Rig, IK Multimedia AmpliTube and others. If you are a Logic Pro user, you already have some good options in Amp Designer and Bass Amp Designer.

These can give your bassist and guitarist a great sound, allowing them to play to the best of their ability while you capture their performance via DI. You can always re-amplify it later if the sim doesn’t do it for you – during the day, maybe?

Another realistic option – especially for rock and metal bands – is a MIDI drum kit (the Roland TD series, for example) combined with a drum ROMpler like FXpansion BFD, perhaps with real cymbals and hi-hat. for good measure.

It shouldn’t bother anyone (other than maybe the drummer) and might actually give you a better result than recording a real drum kit – not the easiest task in an average house. It won’t be so good for a smoother, more expressive game, but if that’s the vibe you’re after, then a real, gently played kit might just be a viable option anyway.

Grounding

As soon as you start sending a signal from one device to another, it becomes susceptible to all kinds of interference that can appear on your track in the form of unwanted hum, hiss and hiss.

The most common type is the hum of the earth. In a perfect configuration, all of your audio equipment would be grounded on a single, highly efficient earth. In this way, no current would flow through the conductors and cable shields, and therefore no current would enter the circuits and signals.

Your house probably has reasonable grounding, but the actual ground points can be many, shared between houses, and sometimes quite a distance away. The installation may not meet “broadcast” standards and the distribution of electricity to your home may be on “rings” which can cause other problems.

The best thing you can do to keep your sound clean is to only use balanced connections whenever possible. Connecting microphones to audio interfaces using XLR to mono jack cables is just not allowed, we are afraid of it, and mono jack cables are only used to connect guitars, pedals, amps and amplifiers. unbalanced instrument outputs (like old synths). If you are serious about registration, this is an unbreakable law.

Best XLR microphones of 2021:

(Image credit: Avenir)

For all microphones you must use balanced XLR cables. Balanced connections use three wires: “hot”, “cold” and ground (earth). On an XLR, these are pins 2, 3, and 1, respectively, while on a TRS jack, these are the tip, ring, and sleeve. The cold wire does not carry any signal, but will pick up the same interference as the hot wire. When one is electronically phase inverted, the noise is canceled out, leaving a clean signal.

Guitars, pedals, and amps are more difficult to connect remotely and are prone to earth hum as they cannot take advantage of balanced connections. The following walkthrough shows how this can be handled.

Earth lifting

To resolve ground hum, it is common practice to “lift” or disconnect the ground (ground / pin 1 / sleeve) at the input of an audio interface, for example. This can be done on an individual cable, on a loom, or through a section of your patch bay. Be sure to tag wherever you have lifted a ground, as while this may eliminate any hum, it could allow different interference as well.

Great care must be taken with lifting lands on guitars and amplifiers; electrocution is a real possibility. Use a specialized unit for earth-lifting guitars if possible (again, see the walkthrough below). It’s not the most exciting thing about spending 200 pounds, but it will make your home recording experience much more enjoyable – and secure.

Obtain clear signals from a distance

Home studio

(Image credit: Avenir)

Step 1: This is the transmit end of a buffered line pilot system: a powered unit with a high impedance instrument input. The first step is to plug the guitar into the input. If the guitarist is in the control room, a DI output can be taken directly from the gearbox to your DAW for re-amplification or further processing via an amp simulation plugin.

Home studio

(Image credit: Avenir)

2nd step: A balanced XLR cable takes a clean, amplified and balanced instrument signal as far as you need it to reach the amplifier. You can even join XLR cables without worrying about interference. This particular system uses its own type of signal; you couldn’t plug the other end of that cable into a mic input!

Home studio

(Image credit: Avenir)

Step 3: It’s the receiving unit, and it lives across the house, next to your amp. This particular unit also allows you to take two amp supplies from a single signal and drive two amps at the same time without worrying about a ground loop between the two – a feat that can be difficult to achieve in the best of times.

Home studio

(Image credit: Avenir)

Step 4: The Gig Rig Humdinger is a simpler and more economical solution for signal cleaning and dual output operation. If, for example, your guitarist wants to be with the band rather than in the control room, the Humdinger allows you to power up and record an amp, and take a second power supply for a DI or amp simulation in. same time. Boring, maybe, but very useful for home recording …


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