In this post, I will give a brief history of my journey to understanding room acoustics for home recording studios; and, how I eventually ditched most of my expensive studio foam, and built my own DYI acoustic panels. Be sure to read my post on how I’m approaching my new studio design overall. In this post I go into detail about the layout for my space, including the initial thinking around room acoustics and sound proofing (which are two very distinct things.)
Learning about room acoustics
Many years ago, when I was putting together one of early home recording studios, I didn’t know anything about room acoustics and I felt I “had” to buy some of that slick studio “foam” that I would see hanging on the walls of other studios. At that time, I was more interested in sound proofing my studio and I didn’t even understand why room acoustics would be important. “That foam must be what I need,” I thought to myself. The guys at Guitar Center were happy to sell me a giant box of this foam, and, I must admit, I thought it looked really cool and “pro” hanging on my walls.
In addition to looking “pro,” this foam did help deaden my room. However, as I would learn after studying room acoustics in more detail years later, that type of foam is really only good for absorbing the upper-mid and high frequencies; it is basically useless for absorbing the lower and low-mid frequencies, which are often the ones causing most of the problems. For one, the lower frequencies can build up in the corners of the room, and “amply” themselves. Additionally, foam provides no sound proofing support, which, was my original goal for using it. I should have done my research!
Fast forward to today, the goal for my studio is to create an environment that has the most flat frequency response possible. In other words, I don’t want to “hear” my room when I’m mixing or recording. I don’t want the room to amplify any specific frequencies as this will give me an inaccurate representation of the sound. For example, if the “room” is raising frequencies in the 80hz range, then I will turn the bass down in my mix making it sound thin when played back on other sound systems.
What I’m building to help the room acoustics in my space
First, I want to call out that I’m currently more interested in tuning the room for mixing purposes (vs live performance sound.) While I do record live instruments, my room is still relatively small, and I tend to do more close-micing where there less chance to “hear” the room as the mic is so close to the instrument source. Therefore, I’m less concerned about making the room sound great for live recordings and more focused on room acoustics for mixing.
For my new studio, I need to focus on acoustic materials that will help control the frequencies from bouncing around and messing up my mix! (See this post to learn more about my room layout and where the potential problem areas could be.) While the foam was OK at taming some of the higher frequencies, I need material that is denser.thicker and able to absorb the lower and mid frequencies. I’ll save the deeper details about where in the room I’ll be looking to use these materials for another post, for now, I will make this post about how I made the acoustic panels myself.
Room Acoustics: Panel Supplies
Before I decided to DYI my own acoustic panels, I did investigate some commercial products and found they averaged about $75-$100 (or more) per panel on Amazon. In comparison, I ended up spending around $100-$125 on all the supplies to build about 6-8 panels. While it does take time, about an hour per panel once I was up and running, for me, this was by far the more cost-effective way to go. Plus, I was able to make them look exactly how I wanted. I bought just about all of the supplies at Lowes, but they should be available at any hardware-type store, Home Depot and Amazon:
- Wood (2 16″ x 4″ and 2 48″ x 4″ to make 1 panel)
- Rockwool Safe and Sound Insulation (I hear great things about their Rockboard product, which is also firmer and keeps it’s form better.)
- Burlap fabric or similar breathable fabric.
- Corner brackets
- Staple Gun (Most people recommend a “heavy duty” gun, but I did fine with a simpler one.)
- Tape measure
- Mirror hanging kit (I went with mirror kit over picture, as mirror kits come with thicker wire!)
- Screw driver, Hammer
- Saw (unless you have your lumber provider cut your wood for you, like I did!)
- Screws (some come with the corner brackets if you buy as a kit.)
- Wood Glue (Optional. I ended up not using much.)
Note that I made my panels 16″ wide. This was because it was much easier to find the 16″ inch Rockwool Safe and Sound insulation; but, also, I wanted slightly narrower panels (vs 24″ wide) because my studio space is small and the 16″ would be ideal for my corner panels (bass traps.) If you want to make the 24″ version, you can easily swap my 16″ dimensions for the larger size.
And don’t forget to wear gloves, and a mask, when handling the Rockwool Safe and Sound Insulation.
DYI Acoustic Panel Costs
The main supplies (Rockwool Insulation, wood, burlap, corner brackets and mirror hanging kit, cost me around $125 total; so, again, that’s around the cost if you buy one of these panels from someone else. (I had my own screw driver, hammer and tape measure, so did not include them in the $125 price tag.)
Step 1: Build the Frame
I started by screwing one of the long boards (the 48″) to the shorter boards (the 16″) as shown in the photo below. The photo shows me screwing a single screw, but I also doubled-up sometimes and used 2 screws. Obviously, 2 screw would be much more secure, however, I will also be using the corner brackets on the inside of the frame to attach these 2 boards. So, you should experiment to see what works best for you. If I was working with the 24″ panels, or larger, I might have always doubled-up the screws here. As well, on some panels, I used the wood glue – in addition to the screws and the corner brackets. So this is another option.
*As shown in the photo below, be sure to attached the long board on the outside – screwing it into the short board. If you reverse this, then, you’ll not be getting the full 16″ width as the long board will reduce some of the space and your insulation might not fit inside when you’re all done.
Then, on the inside of the frame, where these 2 boards meet, I attached the corner brackets as shown in the photo below. So, these 2 boards are attached by the screw on the outside, and the corner brackets here on the inside. Again, if you are working with larger materials, you might want to double-up here. I will say, that my panels turned out super solid and secure with the single screw and bracket approach described here.
Then, do the same thing when attaching the other long board (48″) to the shorter 16″. (See photo below.)
After connecting them all up, you should have a frame like the one in the photo below. Note the corner brackets in each corner.
Step 2: Attach Burlap Fabric
So here is where my approach is quite different from other folks. Most people will wrap the burlap around the frame (hiding the wood). This is bar far the easier way to go! But for me, I really liked the look of the burlap inside the frame, so that the wood frame can be seen around it. With either route, you simply cut your burlap to fit all the way around the panel. In my case, that would be 48″ long, by 16″+16″ + 8″, or 40″. Of course, be sure to tack on a few extra inches in both directions, so that you have extra room to work with.
If you’re doing it my style, then you place the burlap inside the frame, positioning it so that half of the material is inside the frame, while the other half is “waiting” outside the frame, ready to wrap around the frame once we add the Rockwool insulation inside. (See photo below.)
Staple the burlap
This is the hard part, and it might convince you to do the other “wrap-the-burlap around-the-frame” method. In order to get a clean, tight look, where the wood frame appears to wrap around the burlap, you need to carefully line-up the burlap against the wood panel, so that its tight and there are no wrinkles. Then, take your staple gun and staple the burlap to the bottom of the wood frame (this keeps it tight and looking clean.)
See the photos below. Note how the staples are in a line, on the bottom of the wood panel. Of course, you should also staple the burlap to the top of the wood as well. I wanted to illustrate how important it is to keep the burlap tight, and in a straight line, with no wrinkles, in order to get a clean look when you view from the other side.
*Note that I’m only stapling the burlap to one side of the frame. You can also staple the burlap to the other side of the frame, however, I found that after I placed the insulation inside, it all just “fit” and the mass of the insulation helps keep the burlap in place and looking clean inside the frame.
If you really hate this approach, or, if you prefer the look of wrapping the burlap around the frame (and covering it), then you can just attach the burlap to the outside of the panel, wrap it around, and staple it to the wood frame. You’ll still want to keep it tight, and free of wrinkles to get that clean look!
Step 3: Place Insulation
Now the easy part. As I made my frame the same size as each Rockwool insulation piece (16″ by 48″), I simply place the Rockwool inside the frame – with the burlap wrapping around the insulation as shown in the photo below. Also, note that I’m wearing my gloves when handling the Rockwool!
Ready to wrap! After you place the Rockwool inside the frame, you should have the other half of the burlap on the outside, ready to wrap around the Rockwool, as shown in the photo below:
Step 4: Wrap up the back with burlap
Now things are coming together. After you wrap the other half of the burlap around the Rockwool, staple it to the wood frame to complete the wrapping of the insulation. I like to make sure all the insulation is covered – don’t want those Rockwool particles escaping into the air!
Then, clean things up by cutting any extra burlap. Because this is the back of the panel, no one will see how messy it is, and it’s less important to staple things super tight and clean, but you still want to make sure nothing is poking out that could be seen from the front once the panel is mounted.
Step 5: Attach Mounting Material
It took me awhile to sort out how to mount these things. Through my research, I’d learned about several different approaches that other DYIers had done. They seemed good, but in the end, I decided to try what I was most used to: the approach use to hang mirrors and paintings/pictures. You can actually buy these hanging kits at Lowes or on Amazon, and they come with everything you need. I decided to go with the mirror hanging kit as those appeared to have the stronger hanging wire (not that my panels are as heavy as a mirror.)
Also, I ended up attaching some of those felt pads, used on furniture to protect your floors. These pads (pictured in photo below), not only help protect my walls from the hanging panels, but, they also help create a small air gap between the panels and the wall – helping to reduce vibrations as well.
Adding the mounting is easy! Simply measure equal distance on each side of panel (I did 6 inches from top on both side); screw in the mounting hinge things (I discovered these are called D-rings); finally, attach the wire across the back of the panel by wrapping it around each D-ring – making sure to wrap many times to secure it from unraveling. You want the wire to be tight across the back panel so that the panel doesn’t hang down too far and expose the wire.
Attach the felt pads to each corner.
Step 6: Mount!
Time to mount them on the wall! I will cover this, as I go into more detail about the placement of acoustic panels for optimal room acoustics, in a future post. Stay tuned!
Watch the videos!
Part 1: Building