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When it comes to recording audio in a room, there are many factors that come into play that can affect the quality of the sound that is picked up.
Echo is one of the main drawbacks of having a bad or non-treated room. In terms of recording, this will create unwanted artifacts, muddiness, and possibly even comb filtering.
So, how do you make a room less echoey for recording?
You can reduce the echo in your studio by covering the walls with acoustic foam panels and bass traps, the floor with thick carpets, rugs, and by adding soft furnishings. Covering the doors and windows can also reduce echo, as well as lowering the ceiling or making the room smaller.
You can drop a ton of money into your studio to achieve the perfect acoustics or you can try cheaper alternatives. Either way, we need to figure out what causes these problems in the first place and I’m here to guide you through all of that!
So, What (Scientifically) Is An Echo?
I’m sure most of you are aware of why sound echoes, but I still think a quick recap is a great start before we learn how to fix or reduce it.
“Sound is a mechanical wave which travels through a medium from one location to another” the Physics Classroom states.
When sound waves meet a barrier, which in the context of a music studio that’s nearby surfaces like the walls, ceiling, and floor, they may be reflected, pass through, or absorbed.
Echo in this situation is the reflection and delayed hearing of a sound wave, let’s say your voice, that bounces off the various surfaces in the studio and reflects back into your microphone.
You might also have heard of reverb, which is the same concept as an echo, but it has a smaller reflection, it comes back within seconds and merges with the sound that hasn’t finished yet.
There are certain factors that make an echo more prominent in rooms and to reduce echoes and reverberations you need to either absorb the reflected waves or diffuse them, and that’s exactly what we’ll be discussing here.
Why Is There An Echo In My Recording Studio?
You can experience echo when standing in a canyon and hearing the sound of your own scream return to you. You can also be in a large empty room, however, the last place a musician wants to experience echo is while recording in the studio.
To understand why this is happening you have to inspect your studio, whether that’s a home garage music studio or a “professional” studio space.
If you don’t have a lot of experience recording in studio rooms, then you might find it difficult to detect obvious issues, for example, the size of the studio would be one.
Even if the room is not necessarily large, then the ceilings might be too high or it might be the fact that it’s quite empty, meaning there is no soft furniture.
Then again if you do have furniture then you might have a room that’s full of hard flat surfaces than can turn your studio into an audio nightmare.
These are all basic problems that are easy to detect, but some of you might have already altered your space by investing some of your money and time to reduce the echo without any good results.
If that’s the case, then perhaps you need to look at whether you put more effort into soundproofing instead of acoustically treating the recording studio.
These two things are not the same, soundproofing is all about making sure that the sound doesn’t leave the room while acoustic room treatment is all about controlling sound reflections.
When dealing with echo you also need to consider any other noise that might be affecting your sound when recording. This includes electronic noise produced by cables, heat pumps, and air conditioners.
How To Reduce Echo In A Room For Recording?
As I’ve already mentioned, the best way to control the echo in your music studio and reduce the strength of the reflection is to absorb or diffuse the reflected waves.
I also want to mention here that there is such a thing as absorbing too much. You can end up with a sound that feels lifeless also known as a “dead room.”
That’s why you need to also diffuse the reflected waves, which means that you need to scatter them in different directions to get a smoothing effect.
So, let’s take a closer look at how you can do that!
Make Your Room Smaller
One of the first things to look at when dealing with echo is the shape and size of the room you are recording in. Large rooms will increase the chances of creating echoes when generating sound within.
One great way to reduce echo would be to either move your studio to a smaller room in your house or if that’s not an option then you can make the room itself smaller, though as you can imagine building a soundproof room within a room is an expensive option.
Before you actually make any changes consider whether you can work with the space you already have or reduce the size by following some of the steps below.
Lower Your Ceiling
Large rooms with high ceilings tend to be very reverberant, cathedrals are a great example of that. But in a recording room, high ceilings mean echo and a way to control the natural reverb in this space is to lower the ceiling height.
Acoustic Drop Ceiling Tiles
This can be achieved by installing acoustic drop ceiling tiles that lay into a dropped ceiling grid. Basically, they create a false ceiling, and they help absorb and reduce echo.
They can be manufactured from foam, wood, polyester, and fiberglass and they vary in thickness. The thicker they are the more sound they can absorb.
Echo Absorber Hanging Baffles
Another way to reduce echo is to install echo absorber hanging baffles that are especially great for home studios because they are easier to put up and they are much more affordable than drop ceiling tiles.
Hanging baffles are panels that can be suspended from the ceiling, or you can even hang them on the wall.
You also don’t have to cover your whole ceiling with hanging baffles, just enough to reduce echo and reverb in that space. DIY hanging baffles are also an option if you are crafty and you want to save money.
Acoustic Foam Tiles
Alternatively, burton acoustic tiles can work as well, as long as they are high-density panels otherwise, they will offer little to no soundproofing but they will still be able to reduce reverb and echo in the room.
This is also a very affordable option, you can buy these panels in packs and use them for the ceiling and the walls of your studio.
Unlike the two options above some acoustic foam, tiles will require some DIYing when securing them especially if you want to make sure that they don’t ruin the ceiling.
Uncle Jessy here actually has a great video explaining how he did it.
As you can see he didn’t cover the whole ceiling with acoustic foam tiles, but how many you will use will of course depend on your recording needs!
Cover The Walls
Whether you have a large room, with high ceilings, or just a regular-sized room the walls are the next thing you need to focus on.
Your walls are one of the main surfaces that will reflect sound and create the infamous echo, so you will need to cover them, but with what?
Acoustic Foam Panels
Similarly, to the ceiling, a great way to reduce echo and reverb is to cover the surfaces in materials that will absorb or disperse sound waves and keep them from returning to the microphone.
Acoustic foam panels in particular are a cheap way of acoustically treating your recording room. Their softness is a great dissipator of high frequencies, which get absorbed into the material as opposed to reflecting.
They are designed to have irregular surface angles, which helps them greatly decrease the power of sound waves and further reduce the chance that sound waves will reflect back into your microphone.
Of course, just plastering your whole room with acoustic foam panels won’t improve the acoustics in your room. You also need to think about the placement.
Instead of covering every inch of your studio with these tiles the most ideal placement would be the center of your side walls because that’s where the sound waves are more likely to bounce off.
That of course will depend on the size of your room and how much echo and resonance is created within the room. So, you might have to add a few extra foam panels around the edges.
Foam panels can also be quite aesthetically pleasing if you get them in different colors and various uneven shapes. They are also quite light and by carefully placing them with an easy-to-remove adhesive against the walls you won’t risk ruining them as much.
Consider the thickness as well since thinner acoustic foams tend to absorb the high and mid-spectrum sound waves while if you go thicker like 3” then you will also reduce lower-end sound waves.
If you’re not a big fan of foam, even though I think this is an excellent choice then you can try acoustic panels that also absorb sound waves and reduce reverberation, plus they also have a slicker minimalist look.
However, because of their wooden or metal frame and absorbent core usually made of fiberglass, these are better at absorbing sound waves rather than breaking them up. While you also don’t need to cover every bit of surface on every wall, acoustic panels are more expensive than just foam.
Another absorption device that can help significantly reduce echo are bass traps but don’t let the name mislead you because they don’t trap bass, they are absorption devices that help you attain a flatter low-frequency studio room to record in.
Bass traps do that by turning the sound energy into heat through friction. As they focus on the lower end of the frequency spectrum, they may not always affect your microphone recordings but are great to help balance out the low end. Which in turn, prevents standing waves that often occur in those places.
What are standing waves you might ask?
Well, a standing wave is created by the interference of two different sound waves. This creates moments of nodes and antinodes. Nodes are points of no movement whilst antinodes are points of movement in the wave. These are amplified in lower frequencies where they are more noticeable.
By placing the bass traps on the corners of your room and in combination with acoustic foam panels along the walls, you can have better control of the sound in your studio. If you want to create your own bass traps this article goes in detail on exactly how to make them at home (along with pictures of the finished product).
While I’m a big fan of acoustic foam panels and for a good reason, there are other options out there, especially for those of you who are trying to set up a home recording studio on a budget.
Heavy curtains, you know the ones that are so thick that the sun can’t get through, are another great option to absorb the sound waves in your recording room.
You can also go for heavy tapestries instead and hang decorative rugs on each wall. Not only will they reduce reverb and echo, but they can give your studio a very alternative, or vintage aesthetic.
Blankets are another option, and with the right print, they can be a great-looking backdrop for your video recordings. Similarly, cloth backdrops could have the same effect and reduce sound reflections.
You also don’t have to cover each wall with a rug or tapestry instead you can combine these options with acoustic foam panels to reduce the overall cost.
This might be excessive for some, but since I’ve seen a few studios use this method I thought it was worth mentioning the fact that you can use burlap also known as hessian to cover absorbing panels like fiberglass.
Burlap is made from strong natural fibers and because it has an open weave this fabric allows air and sound to pass through easily, and it will let the panels do their job better while making your studio look very country.
Cover The Floor
Now that you have covered most of the flat and hard surfaces in your studio it’s time to move on to the floor.
The major issue with the floor is not just echo or reverb, but your footsteps and how noticeable certain materials can make them sound.
Rugs are a quick way to add a layer of softness to your room, helping to further decrease the chance of reflection when recording.
A thick shaggy rug is a great kind to use in this situation as its texture is soft, thick, and has a large surface area, which are all important factors in reducing that echo.
Even placing a few rugs around the room can make a difference, if not for the echo then for the noise that comes from your steps.
This might not work for everyone but if you have the money and you don’t mind making permanent changes to your studio then consider laying carpet.
A thick carpet can reduce echo and the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America actually found that carpets are noise reduction coefficient (NCR), as low as 0,25 and if you add decent quality carpet padding then the NRC can go as high as 0,7.
However, I must add that carpets can mess up with the acoustics because they absorb high frequencies, and you will need to consider your whole setup, walls, and ceiling, before installing carpets.
Install New Flooring
We’ve already covered the best flooring options for recording studios, that’s why I don’t want to just mention carpets because they don’t always work.
Instead, harder surfaces like hardwood or concrete are your best choices no matter if you’re setting up your personal home studio or a professional studio.
If you’re trying to build a more premium recording studio, then hardwood is the way to go. That being said, you don’t have to spend a bunch of money installing expensive wooden floors, vinyl floors are a much cheaper alternative, and they have great sound-absorbing qualities.
If you want to install wooden floors instead of carpet, there’s another major way to boost the quality of your acoustics by installing sound-proof underlays.
These are designed to reduce the sound waves that reflect and transfer through timber and concrete floors.
This is definitely an expensive investment and if you have the money then this could improve the sound in your studio and reduce echo.
Cover The Doors And Windows
Your walls are not the only flat surface that can create acoustic problems in your recording studio, doors and windows can increase echo and if you are recording in your bedroom then mirrored wardrobe doors will also reflect enough sound to create reverb.
While you could buy permanent door and window sound barrier panels, I would actually advise you to use the same heavy curtains I was talking about before over your windows and even the door.
I actually installed a curtain rod over my door and used it to hang a heavy velvet curtain. It’s easy to pull to the side when I don’t need it, and the studio looks super cool when the door is covered, more so, it does the job of absorbing sound!
The same can be done for windows, and wardrobe doors, and you can use a blanket or a less thick material if velvet feels too stuffy.
Use A Tension Rod Room Divider Kit
Going back to large rooms, if your studio is too big, or it’s a long rectangular room that acoustically doesn’t work for you then you can use regular dividers or something more advanced like tension rod room dividers.
Once again you can use the rods to hand a heavy curtain or drapes and make the room smaller and most importantly this will give you more control over the room’s acoustics. Plus you can use the divider as a cool backdrop.
Add Furniture and Soft Objects
A great way to reduce echo in a room is to add more furniture and other soft objects to it. As mentioned before, the more open space there is in the room, the more opportunity there is for waves to spread out and reflect.
If your room has wooden or otherwise smooth flooring, this will be a natural environment for reflection to take place. If installing a carpet is not an option, there are other, simpler ways to create more softness in the room.
A soft couch, plush armchairs, and bean bags are a couple of sizable objects that can be an easy addition to a room, creating more absorption and diffusion of sound waves. Furthermore, a couch will add some coziness to the room, and it’s a great spot to hang out with the band during breaks.
I also want to mention that flat surfaces contributing to the echo problem can also be part of your studio furniture. So, if you have a table then use a tablecloth to reduce the possible reflection. If you have a leather couch then use a throw to reduce reflection.
Bookcases or bookshelves that are filled with books can also help scatter the sound waves and reduce echo, especially if you play around with the book positions by making them uneven, whether that includes height or how deep they sit on the shelf.
You could also add house plants because the foliage can be effective at absorbing sound, but I must warn you that if your studio doesn’t get any light then the plant won’t last long.
Choose The Right Microphone
You can spend days and months acoustically treating your studio but if you can’t seem to eliminate the noises and echo then perhaps it’s time to consider getting a microphone that does a good job of hiding room echo.
Shotgun microphones are designed to focus directly on the sound source they are pointed at. So, if there’s a certain area in your studio room where the mic picks up more noise and echo then you can aim the shotgun mic to find the angle where the sound is just right.
This type of microphone will also work great for group recordings when you have multiple instruments playing at the same time, if you’re by yourself recording foley at home, or if you have too much ambient sound.
Of course, there are other microphones that can work better for the type of audio you want to record, and certain brands and higher-quality mics can actually help you control echo.
Getting the right microphone will get you a long way, but you also need to think about the right placement to reduce echo while recording.
The placement will depend on the type of microphone you are using and your space, but usually, it’s best to place the microphone as close as possible, that’s an inch or two away from the vocalist’s mouth, or the guitar amplifier, or both if you are using two microphones.
If space allows for it, you can add a microphone shield to your setup which is a much closer proximity method of blocking out unwanted echoes and artifacts.
Microphone shields come in slightly different shapes and sizes, but they usually tend to be crescent-shaped and are filled with acoustic foam.
They work best when placed only a few inches away from the microphone on its opposite side. So, if you have a larger or taller microphone you may want a taller shield to ensure isolation.
On their own, they may provide a little assistance in reducing the echo into a microphone but are best used alongside other methods listed here because using shields alone may not be sufficient to prevent echo from making it onto the recording
How Could You Reduce Echo On A Budget?
To what lengths you’ll go to achieve the right acoustics in your studio will mostly depend on your budget and the time you have on your hands.
Some of the above options can be done cheaply and it’s possible to find affordable alternatives especially if you don’t mind getting crafty.
Let’s start with the simplest changes like covering the windows and doors. You also don’t have to install new floors or even carpets, instead, you can use rugs that you can find in the thrift store, same goes for blankets and curtains.
Furniture is another easy solution, you don’t have to spend much to get a soft couch, or bean bags as long as they are secondhand furniture from your local charity shop, or even online.
Remember that you can always find cheap acoustic panels to put up on the walls or hang from the ceiling to reduce echo. This 52-pack of acoustic foam panels from Audiosoul is exactly what I’m talking about, while they won’t do much soundproofing they can definitely minimize echo and you check them out on Amazon by clicking here.
The same goes for diffusion panels, or instead, you can also create your own sound panels from the right absorption materials or use egg crate mattress toppers to help with echo.
Most importantly, before you start making major changes make sure to use what you got first, and if you are in a band consider asking your bandmates to bring something as well.
In an untreated room, echo can and will run rampant through all of your microphone recordings. Unless that natural echo is something that you desire then it is paramount to treat your room via the above methods in order to remove or minimize the effects the room has on your recordings.
If you take all of the methods listed above and put them into action, you will have a high-quality acoustic treated room. If you find that you could do with some more cushioning in the environment then don’t hesitate to add more, in fact, you can check out our blog on how to build your very own soundproof room!
But remember that finding the balance between a “Live” and “Dead” room is important. A room that is “dead” could result in an unrealistically dry recording instead of an airy, natural sound.
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.