Is Acoustic Treatment Necessary? Yes, Three Reasons Why

People often use acoustic treatment to improve the sound of their mixes. Acoustic treatment (also called acoustic foam) can take the form of wall panels and bass traps, which may require a bit of work and investment, but will be worth it. 

So is acoustic treatment necessary? Yes, acoustic treatment is necessary because the surfaces, size, and layout in your room can corrupt what you’re hearing from your speakers at your listening position.  

In this article, we will:

  • Explain what acoustic treatment is and is not
  • Discuss how it can help make quality mixes
  • Help you make solid choices for treating your room
Acoustic Treatment

What Is Acoustic Treatment?

Acoustic treatment is a system of acoustic panels made from materials that can reflect or absorb sound waves and functions to clarify the sound you’re hearing in a room.

The goal is to make your mix room sound as neutral as possible (without hyping the highs or accentuating the low end). This is so that you can achieve predictable and consistent results when you mix.  

This goal is achieved by placing your acoustic panels in positions where sound wave reflections can become problematic. For example, where the direct sound reflections from your monitors hit the walls or when bass frequencies build up in the corners.

The idea behind the acoustic treatment is to help tame the sound waves coming from your reference monitors and your listening position and prevents those waves from bouncing around your room willy-nilly, building up low-end mud and making your songs harder to mix.  

That is why it is a critical component of your studio. You want a room where sound waves are controlled as much as possible so you can actually hear what’s happening in your mixes.

Without acoustic treatment, mixing is much harder to do. What you hear in your listening position may differ from the resultant audio in the finished track.

Acoustic Panel

Does Acoustic Treatment Make A Difference?

Yes, absolutely acoustic treatment makes a difference. It allows the mixer to hear consistent results in a sonically neutral environment to ensure that their mixes will translate to multiple listening systems. Without it, it’s actually tough to listen to what’s really happening in a mix.  

For example, you can be tricked into thinking your kick drum is nicely balanced with your bass guitar in an untreated room. In reality, the bass guitar is far too loud to the listener or too quiet and buried in the mix.  

Your mix can sound amazing on your studio monitors, but it won’t translate to other listening systems because without that acoustic treatment to tame the frequencies bouncing around your drywall-covered walls, they will negatively impact your mix.

Your room acoustics are getting in your way. A mix can sound good in your room on your specially-calibrated reference monitors, but it will sound poor and unbalanced on end-user listening systems; your car stereo, AirPods, etc. 

That’s the issue acoustic treatment helps to solve.

Why Acoustic Treatment Is Necessary (Three Reasons)

There are three reasons why acoustic treatment is necessary, they are:

  • Acoustic treatment helps deaden your room and absorb unwanted sound waves.
  • Acoustic treatment cleans up the sound of your room and provides clarity. 
  • Acoustic treatment can help your mixes translate to other listening systems.

Acoustic treatment helps control your room by absorbing sound waves

Acoustic treatment helps absorb unwanted, uncontrolled sound waves and prevents them from bouncing around your room. If you put up acoustic treatment, you’re improving your room acoustics. Even a little absorption helps.

Imagine you’re standing in a bedroom in an empty house where the floor is a hard surface like wood, and the walls and ceiling are made of drywall. Clap your hands. That ugly ringing echo you hear is produced by the sound waves hitting the various hard surfaces in that room. This happens when the sound energy reflects them at angles that repeatedly propel them towards another surface. This is a BAD acoustic environment in which to mix music.  

It’s going to be impossible to hear everything in your mix accurately when it’s bouncing off all those hard surfaces, building up and building up and getting worse and worse.  

Adding acoustic treatment to this hypothetical room would absorb all of those direct sound waves and prevent them from bouncing around. It would help deaden the room, essentially, which is really the best condition in which to mix music in your home.  

Acoustic treatment cleans up the sound of your room

Acoustic panels on your walls and bass traps in the corners can go a long way towards getting rid of low-frequency build-up, standing waves, room modes, and flutter echo.  

Too much low-end can muffle your mix and make everything sound muddy, as though it has a virtual sonic blanket over it. Flutter echo (the rapid ping-ponging echo sound created by sound bouncing rapidly off two parallel surfaces) creates a series of unpleasant, rapid repeats and can build up on your recording, making things a total mess. Room modes can create real problems by causing certain frequencies to become resonant more than the others around it, making them stand out in a mix.

Using some form of acoustic treatment/foam can help eliminate these issues; it is really going to enhance the clarity of the sounds you hear in your room and will give you a far more accurate picture of what’s going on in the songs you produce.

Acoustic treatment can actually help your mixes translate across a variety of listening environments!

Everyone listens to music on different systems–on car stereos, earbuds, Bluetooth speakers in their kitchens, mono speakers while shopping in a store, etc.  

The one thing those systems usually have in common is that they are all FAR from ideal. You need to create mixes that sound good on them, which is a daunting task.

Using acoustic treatment will help get you there. Suppose you take some time to plan out and implement a treatment system. In that case, your music will sound better across more systems because you won’t be fighting the problems your room is throwing at you (like those room modes and flutter echo mentioned earlier).

Who Is Acoustic Treatment For

You should use acoustic treatment:

  • If you are interested in producing music for others to hear.
  • If you do professional mixing for hire.

If you are interested in producing music for others to hear…

Then you should really think about improving the conditions of your mix room! Even if it’s just a bedroom or spare room in your house (which is likely), you should still treat (haha) the situation “professionally.”  

Suppose you want your music to sound its best. In that case, you need to take acoustic treatment as seriously as you choose song arrangement, microphones, interface, and plugins you use.

If you do professional mixing for hire…

If you get paid to mix, you need to take some time and invest it in improving your mix room’s sonic space. Even if you’re just starting out, even if you’re only making $25 for a song or are trading it for a service, you owe it to your clients to give them the best mix you can. 

Acoustic treatment is going to actually save you time and money by preventing you from doing multiple playbacks of your mix, only to come back and revise it over and over. You can get things sounding great with far less work.

Check out this article about the best flooring for home recording studios.

Does Acoustic Treatment Soundproof?

No, acoustic treatment is not soundproofing. Those two terms are often confused by novice home recordists, so it’s important to mention that.  

Soundproofing is a means of preventing sound from escaping a space. It requires mass and a lot of construction. To fully isolate a room, you’d need to build a floating floor, a decoupled ceiling, walls several feet thick full of absorption, etc. Big bucks, and way overkill for recording music at home anyway.

Three Strategies For Acoustic Treatment

The great thing is, you can achieve some decent results without spending a lot of money when putting together a plan to treat your room. Here are three ways to approach it:

Low Budget Strategy

For a low budget strategy, you may use the following:

  • Add a carpet to your floor if you have a hard surface.
  • Put soft furniture in your room, like couches with throw pillows on them.
  • Hang tapestries or blankets on the walls.  

Even these affordable and straightforward methods can help deaden reflections in your room.  

Many people record vocals at home in closets because the clothing hanging on the rod is a great way to “treat” the “vocal booth.”  

Even hanging a blanket on a couple of boom mic stands can make a very effective temporary acoustic panel. Placing two boom stands, each set in a “T” shape behind a singer, and draping a heavy blanket or duvet over them can help minimize vocal recordings’ reflections.

There’s nothing wrong with using what you have, so experiment and see what you can rig up.

Check out the best rugs for recording studios.

Medium Budget Strategy

For a medium budget strategy, you may use:

  • DIY acoustic panels

DIY panels are another great and inexpensive way to get some great results. All acoustic paneling really is, is a piece of insulation (like the popular Owens Corning 703 or Rockwool, which you can buy at your local home center), set in a frame made of wood (1x4s work well), and covered with some kind of cloth or material for appearances.  

You can easily create several 2×4 foot panels for under a hundred dollars if you have the tools and the time. There are plenty of YouTube videos that will teach you how.

Acoustic Treatment

High Budget Strategy

For a high budget strategy, you should use:

  • Purpose-built acoustic foam
  • Custom made acoustic panels
  • Acoustic bass traps

If time is an issue, and you’ve got some scratch set aside, there are plenty of companies who will sell you custom-built acoustic treatment panels.  

My setup was built by GIK Acoustics (https://www.gikacoustics.com/), and it’s very effective. I got custom-built bass traps for the corners of my room behind my desk, two panels to handle the first reflection points from my speakers, and a cloud. This is my studio:

Check out the best rug for soundproofing.

Who Does Not Need Acoustic Treatment

If you’re just messing around, if you don’t expect other people to ever hear your music the way you intended it to sound, or if you’re just learning about home recording, then acoustic treatment doesn’t have to be your first step. But the moment you decide you want to do a good job mixing music, it’s time to think about it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is acoustic treatment? 

It’s a system to help provide sonic clarity in your mixing room, so your mixes translate to the different systems your listeners use to hear your music.

Where should I place acoustic treatment?  

Ideally, you’d use a system of insulation panels that includes bass traps (triangular cross-section panels in the four corners of your room, spanning the entire height), a series of flat panels spaced along the sides of the walls, starting with the points of first reflection (draw a straight line from your speakers to where the direct sound will intersect with the walls and put panels there), and a “cloud” on the ceiling directly over your listening position, to minimize reflection from the top of your desk.

For more information, check out our article about key places to put acoustic panels.

Will hanging coats and blankets help deaden the room?  

Absolutely! No need to spend a ton of money to help your room sound.

Is that eggshell foam any good?  

Not really. That acoustic foam eggshell stuff isn’t the greatest, does nothing for the bass, and essentially only traps a bit of the high end. I’d recommend at least starting with something from Auralex. 

Final Thoughts

When I first treated my room, my mixes got WAY better, FASTER. It really was amazing to hear the differences, especially with how I was finally able to control the level of the low-end material (kick and bass guitar in my particular genre of music) in my songs.  

Spending just a little time planning and even a tiny bit of money can have big payoffs, especially for someone getting paid to mix. Don’t short-change your clients or yourself! Acoustic treatment will help you out, so experiment with some placement and materials and get to it! Want good results? Especially with bass? Acoustic treatment will help.

Happy recording!

References

https://www.gikacoustics.com/acoustic-treatment-vs-soundproofing/

https://www.homedepot.com/s/owens%2520corning%2520703?NCNI-5

https://www.gikacoustics.com/product/owens-corning-703-2-inch/?gclid=CjwKCAiAhreNBhAYEiwAFGGKPACHh9kDZLo-KgUU9gChX0aFYPsgisFFfwSUn-9BfjpJ-lXszpigZRoCivcQAvD_BwE

https://www.ipr.edu/blogs/audio-production/why-do-recording-studios-need-acoustic-treatments/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acoustical_engineering#:~:text=Acoustical%20engineering%20(also%20known%20as,analysis%20and%20control%20of%20sound

www.auralex.com

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: https://www.varsityaudio.net/ https://www.wildcolonialbhoys.com/ https://www.airgigs.com/user/adambhoy

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