Acoustic Treatment for Vocals: Complete Guide

To acoustically treat for vocal recording, the goal is to create some kind of isolated space (think “vocal booth”) in which to record your vocal performances, that will be isolated from the rest of your recording studio space.  

You ideally want a space that prevents unwanted acoustic interference from other reflective surfaces in your room from hitting your microphone and thus entering your recordings, while also balancing that end goal against your recordings being too dry due to too MUCH absorption.

So what acoustic treatment do you need for recording vocals? Acoustic treatment for recording vocals requires using acoustic foam panels or some other kind of absorptive material, to isolate your vocal performances, so they sound as clean as possible.

In this article, I will go through some tips, techniques, and materials you will need to make your vocal tracks sound their best when you hit record. The goal is to arm you with as much knowledge as possible, to allow you to make quality recordings without spending a lot of money.

Acoustic Treatment for Vocals

Considerations For Vocal Recording Acoustic Treatment

In order to make this process as easy as possible, I’m going to break down everything you need to consider when setting up a proper environment for recording your vocals.  

Here are three considerations for acoustic treatment for vocal recording, which I will cover in turn:

  • What your budget is.  Budget is of course always a primary consideration.  Those with unlimited funds can build massive, purpose-built rooms with the best acoustic treatment in the business.  Luckily for people like you and I, that’s not necessary. 

    You can get quality vocal recordings at home, and achieving the best results can be as simple as strategically placing blankets or even mattresses around you (or whomever you’re recording) as you sing or talk into your mic.
  • What space you have (room dimensions).  While this is a consideration, it’s not necessarily as important as you’d think. 

    In most applications it will be a good idea to “build” a smaller “vocal booth” isolating your microphone from the rest of the room (or utilizing a closet), so the size of the room is only important in that it needs to be large enough to actually build your booth in.
  • The materials you may already have access to.  Blankets, mattresses, clothes on closet clothing rods, and other household materials can do a great job absorbing unwanted reflections.

What your budget is

This is of course a huge consideration, and will drive most of your decisions in the process.  I know that when I started recording from home, I was a student with very little money.  The DIY approach was basically a necessity, as I had limited discretionary income to spend on acoustic treatment or other gear. 

Analyze your budget and figure out how much money you have to work with.  The key is, there is NO NEED to spend thousands of dollars on professionally-constructed vocal isolation booths to get good vocal recordings.

It is best to avoid temptation to max out the credit card to buy one just to scratch the itch to “feel like a pro”.  Don’t go into debt to do this, and don’t spend above your limits.

What space you have

The size of your room will factor into your decision-making process in setting up your “vocal booth” for recording.  Luckily there are solutions for every room size, from small stand-mounted reflection filters that surround your mic and serve to provide some rudimentary isolation, to self-constructed spaces made from mic stands and blankets, to closets, to full-on purpose-built booths you can assemble in your room.

The materials you have access to

This consideration is tied to your budgetary constraints.  Sometimes it’s best to use what you have on hand.  If you can’t spend a lot of money on acoustic treatments for vocals, don’t worry.  Simple household items can often be repurposed to make great DIY solutions.

What You Need For Sound Treating For Vocal Recording

In this section I will discuss the gear/material you’ll need to treat your space to ensure quality recordings.Opens in a new tab. I will cover three approaches, from minimal in size up through a full-on vocal isolation booth.

Option One: The Reflection Filter

The smallest, most portable way to provide some amount of acoustic treatment for your vocal recordings is to use one of several stand-mounted reflection filters that are currently on the market.  They are certainly a viable option for someone with severely-limited space concerns, even though they do have their limitations. 

Pros: they are portable, don’t take up much space, and do provide some rudimentary isolation that make them better than nothing.

Cons: they can cost a few hundred dollars, and some users note that they don’t get as much for their investment as they’d like.

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Option Two: The Homemade Vocal Booth

This is a great option for anyone on a budget and has a little bit of space to work with. It’s really as simple as repurposing household items like blankets, duvets, pillows, curtains, or anything else absorptive, and surrounding your mic/performer while you record. 

I like to construct a “cave” to sing in: I use boom mic stands, extended as high as they’ll go, with each one locked in the shape of a capital letter ‘T’. I arrange several of these stands in a box shape, with my recording mic on another stand inside the box.  Then I drape blankets over the stands, like towels hanging on a rack.  This gives me an instant and effective vocal booth that minimizes the reflections off my drywall walls, windows, etc. 

You can even use the aforementioned isolation filter with a combination of blankets to your sides and behind you, for an effective solution as well. If you don’t have multiple mic stands, find coat racks, movable clothes racks, or similar materials.  

Pros: Easy on the budget and very effective.  They will give you the biggest “bang for your buck”, gand can be constructed from a wide variety of already-available household materials. This method is the best way to put up the most acoustic treatment (area-wise) for the least amount of money.

Cons: Best if you can keep things portable, and not the greatest thing to look at, but no one sees how you made your recordings anyway.

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Option Three: Sing in a Closet

Believe it or not, a closet makes an extremely effective vocal booth.  The clothing hanging on the rod in your typical household closet is a perfect acoustic treatment solution and requires very little set-up work beyond moving your mic stand and headphone feed into the closet and closing the door.

Acoustic Treatment for Vocals

Above are some images showing how I set up an easy and effective “vocal booth”, utilizing two boom mic stands and a blanket.

In my first “studio” room in my previous residence, I had the perfect closet.  It was narrow but deep, with a big rack full of sweaters and other winter clothing.  It had a standard swing door (not a sliding door) that I would hang a blanket over and close as tightly as I could after entering.  My mic stand and I fit in there perfectly, and I even had room for a music stand for vocal charts that I put a stand light on, and would use to support my bluetooth computer keyboard on to hit stop and record.  

I made a TON of vocal recordings in that closet, and they all sounded really good.  Nicely isolated, but with an open sound that led to easy mixing.  

Pros: Extremely simple option, and very low cost. Offers the advantages of a completely enclosed space, including the ceiling Opens in a new tab.above the singer, which can really help dampen reflections.

Cons: Not every home has a viable closet big enough to fit into.  Can sometimes be TOO effective, and result in a completely dead, almost muffled sound in the recordings, that can make vocal tracks indistinct and harder to mix.  If you are prone to claustrophobia, singing in a tight enclosed space like a closest won’t be too appealing.

Option Four: The Professional Vocal Booth

For those lucky enough to have lots of “mad money” and not a lot of time or DIY spirit, there are a number of companies that make pre-built vocal booths for purchase.  

The various models can incorporate professional acoustic treatment reflection panels, have bass traps in the corners, have absorptive ceilings, offer electrical and audio signal connections, and can even feature lighting and air conditioning options!

While these are all amazing features to have, they are completely unnecessary to achieve great results in your home studio.

Pros: Short of a fully-constructed recording studio room, they are as close as you’ll get to a pro setup.

Cons: They can cost thousands of dollars, and really aren’t necessary to get the job done.

How And Where To Set Up Acoustic Treatment

The option you choose will come down to your budget, and the amount of space you have available to use. 

An important thing to keep in mind is to work with what you have, and don’t let the fact that you DON’T have something or can’t afford something get in the way of you making recordings.  

If all you can do is hang a blanket up, then do that and make some music.  Recording music is a journey, and too many people stop doing it because they’re limited and can’t start at the top.  Just keep going, and don’t sweat the details.  Your skills AND your gear will improve with time and experience, just as in anything else.

For example, a lot of people are literally “bedroom producers”; they make music by sitting at a small desk next to their bed.  If that describes you, then that’s totally okay!  The important thing to remember is that even if your space is extremely limited, do what you can.  

If all you can do is use a small reflection filter, do that.  If you have more space and can set up a “cave”, by all means do it.  If you have a closet that’s big enough to sing in without the clothes being right on top of you, that’ll work well.

Even just hanging some blankets as discussed previously is better than nothing.  You really don’t want your sound bouncing around off your drywall walls, so doing anything to mitigate that is a step in the right direction.  The DIY approach goes a long way when recording at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  Do I need to spent a lot on professional acoustic treatment?

A:  If you’re recording in the typical bedroom or spare room in your house, then use what you have to dampen the sound of that room.  Items such as blankets can be very effective for acoustic treatment here!

Q: Why do I need acoustic treatment?  Can’t I just sing into my mic?

A: The idea is, you want to minimize the reflections the sound waves produced by singing in a room make when they bounce off the walls and hit the mic for a second, third, and fourth time.  The more reflections you’ve got going on, the worse your recording is going to sound.  

So, you have to do some work to alleviate that from happening.  Putting up some quick DIY “acoustic treatment” will result in “dry”, isolated vocal recordings that are easier to work with and that sit better in your mix, with less post-production EQ treatment.

Q: What is the most important position to place acoustic treatment?

A: The two most important places where you should position acoustic treatment, be they fancy Rockwool panels or just blankets, are behind the microphone, and behind the singer.  This is the most effective way to prevent reflections from hitting the microphone and making your recordings sound bad.

Q: I record in my bedroom, and have very little space and a small budget.  What can I do?

A: Even with those constraints, you can still do SOMETHING.  A reflection filter will help, but honestly the best (and least expensive) thing to do is put up some blankets in a right-angle corner of your room, position your mic within that angle and about 12-18” off the wall, and sing into that.  If you can hang another blanket behind you (to create the third leg of the triangle) then do that.  If you can’t, it won’t be the end of the world.

Final Thoughts

Setting up acoustic treatment for vocals doesn’t have to be expensive or labor-intensive.  You can achieve some great results using materials common to any home, and even just doing a little bit of work can go a long way towards improving the sound of your vocal recordings.

I encourage you to experiment and find the best solution that fits your particular set of circumstances, the peculiarities of your recording environment, and your budget.

Good luck and happy recording!

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Adam Coolong

Adam Coolong has played with his band Wild Colonial Bhoys full-time for over fifteen years and has recorded dozens of albums through his studio business, Varsity Audio Recording Services. Professional Links:

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