Vocal booths are contentious; people have strong contrarian opinions about them. They have merits and demerits, whether fixed and completely sealed or portable and partially enclosed. The fundamental quest is to know if vocal booths are worthwhile for your studio.
Vocal booths are worth it as they’re integral to professional recording studios & facilities for hire. However, fully enclosed and isolated vocal booths may or may not be quintessential for home recording studios. A fully enclosed and sealed vocal booth is an asset, but only if it’s flawless.
Vocal booths have a few critical and codependent elements: space, materials, construction or installation, and set up management. If you err in any of these, your vocal booth may not be worthwhile. This guide discusses everything you must know about vocal booths to decide.
- 1 Are Vocal Booths Necessary?
- 2 Essential Features of a Vocal Booth
- 3 Vocal Booth Pros and Cons
- 4 Are Portable Vocal Booths Worthwhile?
- 5 Vocal Booth Alternatives
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Sources
Are Vocal Booths Necessary?
The only purpose of a vocal booth is to create an isolated environment so you can record and produce a special sound or audio quality, free from external noise, reverb, and other influences.
Theoretically, all recording artists should use a vocal booth. Practically, vocal booths are challenging to build, and not everyone has the space or financial resources for an impeccable setup.
Vocal booths are necessary to record audio, whether voice or music, in a fully controlled environment. The importance depends on the sounds you record and produce. Artists can use the best available options for a bespoke recording setup.
A vocal booth is a physical structure with predetermined attributes depending on the materials. The eventual audio or sound recording quality still depends on other equipment in the setup. Hence, vocal booths are only a part, albeit a significant one, in the larger scheme of things.
Reasons You Need a Vocal Booth
Like many things in the world, there’s no one right way to record audio or sound. The term vocal booth may imply an isolated space to record only voice, but the setup is also for recording musical solos and other sounds, such as Foley.
Here are the reasons you need a vocal booth:
- You have to record a voice in absolute isolation without any other audio interference.
- You have to record music without any ambient sound and external influence.
- You have to record voices or instruments without any spill or bleed.
- You have to record a track, vocal, or sound separately and mix it with an ensemble.
The impact of a vocal booth is immeasurably valuable. No available substitute can emulate the precise kind of pitch-perfect recording that you can control and create with a vocal booth.
Reasons You Don’t Need a Vocal Booth
Numerous recording artists use premium-quality microphones, pop filters, vocal shields or screens, furniture padding or moving blankets, acoustic panels or foams for absorption, and other resources instead of an isolated booth.
Here are the reasons you don’t need a vocal booth:
- You’re content with your recording setup as there’s no significant glitch.
- You want to use ambient sound for some authentic or organic flavor in your recordings.
- You don’t have enough space for a vocal booth.
- You can’t arrange the essential materials of standard quality to set up a vocal booth.
A poorly constructed vocal booth is worse than not having one. Neither will you achieve perfection, nor will your recordings have the organic flavors that contemporary audiences don’t mind.
Essential Features of a Vocal Booth
Vocal booths are worthwhile only when you have a perfect setup. Thus, you need to ensure the bare minimum. The essential attributes of a vocal booth are optimum size, noise-canceling exteriors, audio insulation, sealed inlet/outlet, sound-absorbing interiors, and flawless isolation.
Small vocal booths can be 4 ft by 4 ft (1.22 m by 1.22 m). Large ones can be 12 ft by 12 ft (3.66 m by 3.66 m).
Commercial recording facilities can have vocal or audio booths as gigantic as an auditorium. The entire studio in such a case is a soundstage, typically meant for orchestras or large ensembles working on a major production, such as movies.
The size of a vocal booth decides the resonance inside the space. Larger spaces generate low-frequency resonance. Personal or home vocal booths can be smaller than 4 ft (1.22 m) in length or width but only marginally.
When you hit 3 ft (0.91 m) or any less, your isolated booth will have high-frequency resonance. You need to choose appropriate absorptive panels to deal with the specific resonance, or it’ll defeat the purpose of the setup.
The height is a crucial factor, too. Eight feet (2.44 m) is deemed a minimum. Ten feet (3.05 m) is more suitable for sufficient headroom. Circular, pentagonal, or hexagonal shapes are viable, but the microphone should be around 2 ft (0.61 m) from the walls. Apply the 3:1 rule.
The Reverberation Problem
Reverberation is a double-edged sword. A reverb can create constructive or destructive interference. Optimum space in a vocal booth or a general room allows you to harness the constructive interference of reverb.
Large rooms facilitate longer reverbs. Small spaces don’t necessarily eliminate reverbs unless you use the requisite sound absorbent and treatment materials, which I elaborate on in the interior section below.
The shortened reverb sounds like messy filters in raw recordings if a small space isn’t set up properly. Low-frequency sound waves like bass or baritone will linger in small spaces for a longer time.
Hence, you need optimum space for a vocal booth. Otherwise, explore viable alternatives.
Noise Cancelling Exteriors
Timber is the most popular choice among recording studio designers and audio engineers. You need solid and dense wood for effective noise cancellation. 4×2 timber (4 in by 2 in or 101.6 mm by 50.8 mm) is generally deemed suitable.
If you use one or more walls as parts of your vocal booth frame, those should be of brick, concrete, or hardwood. Any other material that is not as dense or solid won’t shield external noise. Furthermore, you must check if those walls are in perfect condition.
You can build the frames up to the room’s height if you intend to use the brickwork, concrete, or suspended ceiling as the roof.
Else, you’ll need to create the roof, too. The same principles apply to the wall panels of a vocal booth are also essential for the roof. Furthermore, you’ll need a hardwood door fitted with a gasket.
The timber frames must have acoustic plasterboards attached using a sealant. The plasterboard installation should be airtight.
Rockwool is used to line every edge of the timber frames and walls for effective soundproofing. 4×2 timbers need 4 inches (101.6 mm) rockwool.
The vocal booth door should be designed and installed to leave no gap in any of its edges when closed. Most sounds seep into a room due to tiny spaces under or around the frames of doors and windows. Once a sound wave invades your vocal booth, it’ll reflect and reverb to ruin your recording.
A vocal booth needs at least one inlet/outlet for all cables or wires. This provision demands extensive planning. Sealing the hole and then unsealing it to make way for more cables or anything else enhances the scope for construction or setup errors.
All joints, screwed sections, gaps, holes, and every inlet or outlet should be sealed. Rockwool and acoustic sealants will do.
Sound Absorbing Interiors
The interiors should also be dense and heavy enough for effective sound absorption like the exteriors. Lightweight foam is unsuitable. Dense acoustic foams absorb most sound frequencies.
Acoustic tiles are another option, but they create resonance at low frequencies. You can use bass traps to reduce the reflection or reverberation of low-frequency sounds and vocals.
The specific layout of the vocal booth, its shape, and the placement of the various consoles inside will determine the positioning of bass traps. Ideally, bass traps should be installed at the corners of a vocal booth, slightly away from the walls.
A vocal booth vulnerable to any audio influence or noise interference is not worthwhile. Two more unavoidable elements that can have a severe adverse effect on the viability of a vocal booth are ventilation and lighting.
Both ventilation and lighting create audible interference. You may have an air handling unit or some fans for the purpose. Airflow, natural or artificial, is audible. Fans and air handling units rarely operate in pin-drop silence.
Likewise, you need lights inside your vocal booth. While light does not generate cognizable sound, electrical wires can create some noise if they are not immaculately isolated. Vocal booths shouldn’t have fans buzzing, breeze gushing in or out, and electrical or electronic noise.
For more information about vocal booth features, check out my other articles:
Vocal Booth Pros and Cons
Vocal booths are necessary when you have to record specific types or quality of audio that standard studio environments don’t facilitate.
For instance, you may need the sound of a particular object in complete isolation. Or, the recording studio ambient sound is not conducive for the tracks or compositions you have already.
If you’re recording vocals or a musical composition that’ll be mixed later, then any interference in the studio should be manageable in post-production.
Vocal booths are irreplaceable in scenarios where you must have a raw recording in its most pristine condition.
Filters, mixing and editing software, sound engineering tricks, and special effects can neutralize or conceal many unwarranted influences or interferences during recording.
However, a part of a podcast, vocal or audio recording, music, or video may not be suitable for such post-production effects.
Vocal booths have several advantages and disadvantages. Assess the pros and cons in the context of the attributes of a fully sealed and isolated vocal booth and the challenges involved.
|Exceptional soundproofing.||Expensive setup.|
|Excellent sound absorption.||Demanding construction.|
|Fully-controlled environment.||Complex isolation.|
It’s perhaps time to note that a vocal booth doesn’t replace the need for premium-quality recording equipment. You must have all the essential hardware and software. You won’t need the blankets, vocal or acoustic screens, and ineffective foams.
However, you still need a good microphone and pop filter.
Are Portable Vocal Booths Worthwhile?
Portable vocal booths are worthwhile and viable in many situations. However, most of them are barely or partially enclosed. Thus, soundproofing or noise cancellation and audio absorption aren’t absolute.
Portable vocal booths have several practical advantages. They’re comparatively affordable and convenient to set up. The fixtures are installed temporarily, so you don’t have to block an area or space for the vocal booth.
The precise effect on the quality of a recording depends on the design and materials of a portable vocal booth, such as the vocal screens or shield, microphone, and other essentials.
However, portable setups aren’t nearly as effective as fully enclosed and isolated vocal booths.
Vocal Booth Alternatives
There are practical alternatives for a vocal booth that you can experiment within a recording studio or at your home.
You can try makeshift vocal booths using mineral wool or fiberglass panels. Place these panels upright utilizing some kind of mount or stand just as the timber frames are installed for a booth or room.
Use enough panels to block most or all sides of a vocalist or musician to reduce as much external noise as possible. Remember to leave enough space within the panels for the vocalist or musician to breathe. Tiny spaces make recorded audio sound boxed or boxy.
You’ll have some reverb and other interference, but the solution doesn’t cost remotely as much as a fully enclosed and isolated vocal booth.
Also, consider using a bidirectional microphone. It’s handy to narrow the audio input from only one source while rejecting the noises from the other direction.
Some rooms are naturally better suited for high-quality recordings. Spaces with thick walls having a finish that doesn’t reflect much sound are an example. Larger rooms aren’t always ideal because there’s more space for the produced sounds to linger.
Many situational variables have a significant impact on sound recording. Where you place or how you position the recording console, the equipment you have, the presence of multiple audio sources, the door seal or lack of it, static, and noise from electrical or electronic devices are some common factors.
Vocal booths are quintessential in commercial recording studios. Fully enclosed and isolated booths can also be of immense consequence at home. However, you need them only if you’re working on a significant production.
A flawless vocal booth costs sufficient money. Assess the viability of resources you have to dedicate to set up a vocal booth, such as space and materials. Also, weigh the financial return on investment before making a decision.
- HyperPhysics Georgia State University: Reverberation
- MasterClass: Film 101: Understanding Foley Sound and Why Foley Sound Is Important
- Wikipedia: Spill (audio)
- Wikipedia: Sound stage
- Primacoustic: Designing a Vocal Booth
- DPA Microphones: What is 3:1 Rule?
- Physics Classroom: Pitch and Frequency
- Sound on Sound: Build Your Own Vocal Booth
- Science Direct: Electrical Noise
- Wikipedia: Noise (Electronics)