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Producing music is one of those hobbies that can turn into a lifestyle before you realize it. Creating music feels good, and then a person starts researching ways to make their music sound even better, and before they know it they are learning how to hang drywall so they can build a room within a room.
But rather than focusing on drywall and more complicated options, sticking with simple fixes like the flooring is a better solution. So what’s the best flooring for recording studios?
Harder surfaces (like hardwood, tiles, or just plain concrete) make the best flooring options for recording studios whether that’s for a home setup or at the professional level. Carpet is best avoided since even a thin carpet can absorb higher frequencies and interview with the recording quality.
The truth is that a true professional music space is highly specialized. Every construction decision, from flooring to furniture, is made with one goal- to serve the music. A whole building is designed to sound good.
Yet, we are in the era of independent musicians and producers and home studios. Music production equipment has never been more affordable or easier to learn. As a result, more and more people are interested in customizing their spaces to serve their music.
Still, it’s important to keep perspective.
There is virtually no limit to what you can spend to create the ideal listening or recording room. Pro studios cost millions, far more than typical buildings due to their specialized nature. That said, if you know what you are doing, a simple change like upgrading the flooring can make a big difference to just about any room without going bankrupt.
You might not reach pro levels- but so what? Amazing music has been made in less-than-scientifically-flawless spaces and flooring is one of the easiest ways to level up your game.
We’ll explain everything you need to know about picking out the perfect flooring and why harder surfaces are going to the best choice for most folks.
3 Basic Principles Behind Floors for Studios
Whether you’re designing a large pro-level studio, a home studio, or anything in between, the same basic principles apply. Your room should sound “good.” That is to say, it should sound natural, but the sound should also be controlled. Weird echoes or sound reflections should be kept to a minimum. They are distracting at best and ruin music at worst, whether you are recording or producing.
Traditional studios usually have a “live room” for playing, and a separate “control room” for critical listening and mixing. As you might expect, the specific needs of the two rooms are different, so their construction can also differ.
But combined live and control rooms are increasingly common, as you might find in a small home studio or medium-sized project studio. That’s going to be the case for most folks reading this so I suggest looking for flooring that can do a little of both.
Basic Principle #1: Hard Surfaces are Good
In any case, the floor needs tend to be similar across all these applications. Experts agree that the ideal recording studio floor is heavy and has a hard surface.
A bare concrete floor is not beautiful, but many actually consider it the perfectly ideal floor for studios. If you have one, consider making it more livable with colorful area rugs and calling it a day.
If you have a basic understanding of room treatment, you may be surprised to learn that hard surfaces are preferred.
After all, when we treat walls and ceilings, we tend to think “big hard reflective parallel surfaces are bad.” Ultimately, the common approach is to balance a reflective hard floor with treated walls and ceiling. The room will sound more natural than a totally dead room, but much more controlled than an untreated one.
Basic Principle #2: Carpet is Bad
Another widely-held opinion is that carpet makes for terrible studio flooring.
First of all, studios tend to be high-traffic. People tend to move more actively when working in a music studio than in a living or bedroom, especially when accounting for the rolling chair. Beyond that, though, carpeted rooms are acoustically poor.
As you may know, soft and less-dense material such as insulation and fabric absorbs sound rather than reflecting it. You may think this works in carpet’s favor. But carpet is also relatively thin (at least most of the time). Thin absorptive material absorbs high and medium frequency sound waves, but reflects low frequencies.
You can learn more about how this works and why it’s important even when it comes to thin carpet in the video below:
Thus, a carpeted floor acts as a strange low-pass filter, and carpeted rooms have a “booming” quality. This detracts from recording, production, and mixing. While carpet’s sound absorbing qualities can be useful for hotels when it comes to reducing noise, it’s not so useful when it comes to building your at-home recording studio.
Between these two extremes, recording studio floor material is a matter of debate (and subjective opinion.)
Basic Principle #3: High-Density Flooring Is Best
If you’re going for a truly professional setup, you may want to take things one step beyond just worrying about hard surfaces and also consider density.
While it’s not required for a home studio set up, a professional recording studio would generally have flooring that’s as dense as possible (in order to reflect sound). In some cases, the walls will be designed to absorb sound and this all comes together for the ideal acoustic experience. If you want to get really into the details you can use a flooring/ceiling reflection calculator to perfect the process but that’s beyond what most home recording studios need to worry about.
Too much absorption from the floor (which is usually caused by carpet) and the entire recording studio will sound flat. Especially if you’re combining carpeted flooring with absorbant walls.
So to get the best sound, very dense flooring material like concrete (or hardwood with absorption panels underneath) will give you the best sound. However, most people that are building their own home recording studio aren’t going to be able to lay down concrete so this won’t apply to most people.
But if you’re lucky enough to have concrete in your recording space already, you may want to consider your search for the best flooring material to be over and just stick with the plain concrete thanks to its high density.
Recording Studio Floor Materials To Consider
Now that you have a better idea of what we’re looking for, let’s break down the pros and cons of each flooring material.
Wood flooring is a popular look at the moment in general…and for good reason.
People are rushing to pull up carpet and “save” the original hardwood floors underneath, favoring the natural look. Many pros favor the sound of hardwood floors in recording studios. The floors are relatively thick and heavy. Furthermore, wood reflects with a particular tone that is widely seen as pleasing and organic.
But it doesn’t just sound great wood flooring is also very aesthetically pleasing and gives the entire recording studio a bit of a warmer feel.
Cost Of Wood Flooring
However, if your floor is not already hardwood, then laying one may be out of the question. Hardwood floors are expensive to install, and unlike some options, professional installation is required. Furthermore, a high-traffic area like a studio will have to be refinished eventually.
But how much are we talking about here?
Your basic engineered wood will run around $6.40 per square foot and solid wood (attached with nails the old school way) will be closer to $8.00 per square foot. Neither of which are cheap but if you’re recording space is relatively small it may be worth the cost.
While it’s often overlooked, if you go for wood flooring, you’ll also need to invest in rugs, stands, or other doodads to protect the flooring. After all, you don’t want to fork over the dough for hardwood just to scratch it up.
There’s always going to be some subjectivity to sound quality, but it’s hard to beat wood flooring. As long as you’re managing the echo you can expect the ideal balance of absorption and reflection. Wood flooring meets all three basic principles that expect from quality music studio flooring in that it’s hard, dense, and obviously not carpet.
However, there’s going to be a big difference between cheap hardwood and solid hardwood so just keep in mind that if you want the best quality go for the solid hardwood if it fits your budget.
Laminate flooring (such as Pergo) is also gaining popularity over carpets. Generally speaking, it has many of the same advantages as hardwood floors- durability, ease of cleaning, and a pleasingly natural look.
Furthermore, laminate flooring is much cheaper than true hardwood, and easier to install- you can even do it yourself. Laminate flooring can be installed to “float” meaning it is not actually adhered to the surface below.
If you have a concrete floor but don’t want to feel like you are working in a garage or prison, I have seen the recommendation to lay laminate on top (with the manufacturer’s recommended padding in between.) A more comfortable feeling, but the acoustic advantages of the concrete slab.
Generally speaking, laminate installed the typical way does not sound as good as a true hardwood floor. It lacks the pleasing character of wood, and since it is thin it is not very “massive.” A compromise exists, simpler and cheaper than hardwood but better-sounding than simple laminate.
Try layering multiple levels of ¾” plywood on your floor. You can use Green Glue noise proofing compound (see on Amazon) between the layers of plywood to improve your room’s sound isolation (sound will not travel into or out of the room as easily.)
Finally, install the laminate on top of the plywood. This floor will have a more pleasing sonic character than laminate alone, but can more easily be installed DIY and more cheaply than hardwood.
Cost Of Laminate Flooring
Laminate flooring can be a more affordable option but not by as much as you might think and you should expect to pay as much as $4.80 per square foot. When it comes to larger recording studios, that $2 to $4 difference between wood flooring and laminate can make a big difference.
But if you’re building a smaller home studio, that price difference between laminate and the higher quality wood flooring might not be as big of a deal.
Still, remember that to really get the most out of your laminate flooring you’ll want to add some underlying pads to increase the acoustic performance. That’s not only going to add to the cost but also the installation effort which only makes wood flooring even more appealing for the recording studio.
Vinyl floors have numerous advantages as well. Much like laminate, it is inexpensive, easy to install, durable, and easy to clean. Vinyl floors are offered in the widest range of colors and patterns out of possible studio floor materials, including imitation tile and wood.
Furthermore, vinyl flooring is among the best at insulating sound and temperature- attributes for any room, especially recording studios. Some say that vinyl flooring reflects sound in almost exactly the same way as wood, meaning a vinyl floor may lead to more natural sound quality than laminate.
Vinyl flooring is not without issue though. This softer material can be susceptible to damage from sharp objects. The color can gradually fade over time, particularly if exposed to direct sunlight.
Cost Of Vinyl Flooring
Vinyl really stands out when it comes to cost and you can expect to pay a very affordable $1 to $2 per square foot for sheets of vinyl (as in one larger square) and only $2 to $3 for the individual planks of vinyl that allow you to get a more precise look.
As a result, I usually recommend folks go with vinyl for the budget option or hardwood floor if you’re trying to build a more premium recording studio.
Concrete may not be the most glamorous but it’s perfect for the recording studio. If you’re producing some grimey, edgy or hardcore music having the dungeon feel of a concrete recording studio could even be perfect.
Concrete can also be great if you’re the only one using the recording studio but if you’re trying to invite artists over or just give off a professional vibe then wood flooring is probably your best option.
While you don’t want to throw off the acoustics, a few well-placed rugs can also make the studio feel a bit more classy and also give musicians clear spots to set up in the room.
An even better solution is adding epoxy flooring and you can completely transform the look of boring concrete with the right epoxy finish. You can see exactly what I’m talking about in this video:
Cork flooring shows up from time to time but it’s honestly not the best choice for the vast majority of recording studios.
Because cork does a great job absorbing sound and depending on the thickness it can even rival carpet. This can have some particular use cases but it’s usually well beyond what the average recording studio needs.
In short, cork flooring breaks basic principles number one and three since it’s both soft and not very dense.
Cork also doesn’t hold up very from a durability perspective and you can’t expect cork to hold up very well with the wear and tear of the recording studio.
Cost Of Cork Flooring
Still, cork is affordable and you can expect to pay as little as $5 per square foot. But at that price, you’ll usually be better off with laminate.
Other Floor Types
For music studios, they are far preferable to carpet, but not as ideal as hardwood or concrete. If you already have one of these, it’s probably not worthwhile to change. But if you are already intent on laying new flooring for your studio space, you are probably best off with one of the choices listed above- concrete, hardwood, laminate, or vinyl.
Where To Get Flooring For Your Music Studio?
So you’ve picked your new flooring material…now what?
While I’m a big fan of buying online, I honestly suggest that when it comes to something like this you shop in person. Or at least get your hands on the flooring before you place a larger order online.
Shopping online is great when you’re just going based on looks but when it comes to finding the right match for your music studio, you’re better off holding the flooring in your hands. Even if you’re not an expert audio engineer, having something in your hands will really help you understand how it will impact the acoustics of your space.
It will also help because there can be big differences in quality between different brands of the same flooring material.
Finally, unless you’re already experienced I can’t recommend that you go cheap on installation. DIY might sound appealing, but when it comes to laying underlying materials or other small details that make a big difference, it’s usually best to leave it up to a professional.
Making your room work for your music is essential, but you don’t have to try to build the next Electric Ladyland to make a big difference to your room. Hard floors work for recording studios on many levels.
Combined with appropriate acoustic treatment on the walls and ceiling, hard floors contribute to a pleasing-sounding room, with the added benefits of being low-maintenance, durable, and easy to clean. Regardless of your budget or level of DIY skill, you have multiple options. Also check out this recent article for more decorating tips that also serve to acoustically treat a room. Good luck on your quest to create a musical world!
Robert is a freelance audio engineer and the lead writer for Range of Sounds. Robert has had a lifelong obsession with dissecting and understanding music and is a self-taught composer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer, and recording engineer.