A recording studio is an integral part of making TV, music, podcasts, and radio shows. All the music you like, your favorite cartoon or soap opera, and even your morning radio host require recording studios. Seemingly, the point of a recording studio is to reduce the amount of noise interfering with your sound mixing, recording, and audio production, but how much does outside noise interfere with recordings, and exactly how silent does a recording studio need to be?
A recording studio should be very quiet, only as loud as 25 to 30 decibels or as loud as a library or chapel. A sound studio can minimize the amount of random noise recording equipment picks up when creating sounds for media content. Soundproofing the room can lessen this interference.
This article will discuss what a recording studio is in greater detail, how sound is measured, and how quiet a sound studio needs to be for practical use.
What Is a Recording Studio?
A recording studio is a specifically designed room made to capture and optimize sound into a completed project. It is used for sound recording and reproduction, sound design, and mixing. Sound recording and reproduction capture or recreate sound – like speaking, music, sound effects, and singing – by mechanical or electrical means.
Sound design is when people create soundtracks (in this case, meaning collecting or making sound effects, not music) with audio production equipment and techniques. There are two ways to create sounds for media: you can edit pre-existing sound effects or audio or make new sounds with a synthesizer.
Audio mixing is when mixing engineers combine and refine recordings into multitrack recordings simultaneously recorded and fused into a final product. Mix engineers can make three different kinds of multitrack recordings:
- Monaural (mono): The sound comes from a single position and only requires one loudspeaker.
- Stereophonic (stereo): It is created with the illusion that it’s coming from multiple directions and is often achieved by combining two separate audio channels through two or more speakers.
- Surround sound: A method of increasing the accuracy of sound recreation and its clarity and depth, which is possible by surrounding the listener with speakers.
In ideal circumstances, you’d have a recording studio designed by an audio engineer or acoustician, people with a deep, fundamental understanding of how sound works. That’s not to say that the average person couldn’t build a sound studio. Take YouTubers, for example; many of them work out of rooms in their own homes that they’ve converted into sound studios.
As mentioned earlier, people can use sound studios to record music and radio personalities. But voice actors – for commercials, animated television, and dubbing (replacing audio in TV shows and movies) – record from sound studios.
There may also be smaller compartments within the studio called isolation booths. These small rooms are designated for loud musical equipment like drums and amplifiers to keep microphones in the main sound studio from picking up the noise.
Speaking of microphones, they’re just one type of equipment you’ll find inside a recording studio. A sound studio will likely contain a host of audio mixing equipment, like mixing consoles that allow you to combine various audio signals and heavy instruments like harps and electric pianos, to name a few.
For more information, check out my Complete Guide to Building a Home Recording Studio.
Noise Limit in a Recording Studio
So you now have an idea of what recording studios are and some of the purposes they serve. But as mentioned earlier, sound studios are made to keep extra noises out. If you or your co-workers aren’t behind the noise in the studio, it shouldn’t be in there. Unfortunately, some extraneous noise is liable to sneak into your studio, but how much is too much?
The amount of outside noise your sound studio can have depends on what you’re doing. Your studio should be absolutely quiet if you’re making Foley effects – no noise whatsoever should enter beyond the studio doors. Foley effects are reproduced sounds that mimic noises found throughout everyday life. Things like high-heels clicking, sheets billowing in the breeze, and rain are all foley effects.
Classical music requires absolute silence as well. The louder instruments can cover any random noise that finds its way into your studio. Quieter, more subtle parts of classical music, however, won’t mask background sound. Acoustic music is terrible at hiding extra noise as well, so again, total quiet is critical.
If you’re not working on Foley, classical, or acoustic music, the loudest noise that should find its way into your studio is a whisper – and we do mean that literally. The maximum amount of loudness any extra noise should have ranges from far off to close-up whispering.
Far off, whispering is about 25 decibels, and close-up whispering is around 30 decibels. If your recording studio manages to be as loud as a concert hall, chapel, or library, then you’re (mostly) good to go.
How Is Sound Measured?
We can measure sound like weight and mass despite it not being a tangible thing. Sound travels in waves through the air, objects and we measure it in frequency and amplitude. Frequency is denoted in Hertz (Hz), and amplitude is given in decibels (dB). Hertz is how many times a sound vibrates per second, and decibels are the amount of pressure and force behind any sound. High amplitude noise is classified as loud.
Sound, or more specifically, decibels, are measured logarithmically by the decibel scale. Logarithmic scales generally don’t measure in even intervals but instead, the next point on the scale increases by a particular multiple. The decibel scale, for example, increases by ten the louder the noise gets. A 20 dB sound is ten times louder than a 10 dB sound, 30 dB is 100 times louder than 20 dB, and so on.
It’s possible to make a room wholly soundproof and even give a quick guide on doing it. You’ll need detached walls, floors, and a suspended ceiling. You would have to construct a frame and attach the walls, floors, and ceiling to accomplish this. Think of a metal cube that you’re closing in with wood on each side. That cube would then need to go inside a larger room, and you’ve got your soundproofed space.
Creating this room within a room makes a void between the walls of your soundproofed area and the larger space it’s inside. This void pocket makes it so that sound is unable to travel into the smaller room. The catch, however, is that this costs a lot of money. Practically speaking, most ordinary people can’t pull this kind of construction project off. Completely soundproofing a room is possible but not probable for most.
Cheaper soundproofing methods involve covering walls with quilts or thick blankets. You can also attach absorbing panels to the ceiling and walls.
Sound Absorption vs. Soundproofing
One other thing while we’re on the topic, sound absorption is not the same as soundproofing. As the name suggests, sound absorption uses particular methods and materials to dampen sound to minimize echo and reverberation. Soundproofing is keeping sound out of a specific space.
A recording studio’s primary purpose is to record, mix, and create a sound for various media types and keep interfering noises out. It’s best if your sound studio is entirely silent, especially for foley, classical, and acoustic music projects. A totally soundproof recording studio is likely impossible outside professional settings, though, so a maximum loudness of 25 to 30 dB (as loud as a library) is acceptable.
Check out my guide to how big a recording studio should be.
- Healthy Hearing: What is a decibel?
- Science News for Students: Scientists Say: Decibel
- Adventures In Audio: Should your recording studio be completely soundproof?
- Wikipedia: Foley (filmmaking)
- Wikipedia: Recording Studio
- Lighthouse Acoustics: Acceptable Sound Levels Explained
- Noisy Planet: How is Sound Measured?
- Wikipedia: Audio engineer
- Wikipedia: Audio mixing (recorded music)
- Wikipedia: Mixing engineer
- Wikipedia: Multitrack recording
- Wikipedia: Monaural
- Wikipedia: Stereophonic sound
- Wikipedia: Surround sound
- Wikipedia: Sound design
- Soundproof Central: Can You FULLY Soundproof a Room? The Facts vs. the Myths