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Why and How to Make a Live/Dead Room for Recording October 18, 2007

Posted by Jeff in Podcast Instruction, Podcasting.
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A lot of studios pride them selves in having a ‘dead’ room. What’s that mean? 1 – it’s free and clear of ambient noise and 2 – it has enough treatments in it to soak up any sound made in the room (so as not to hear an echo).

When recording at home, sometimes it’s hard to get a dead room. Heating/AC vents, windows, neighbors, etc. all contribute to those ambient noises that you’re trying to keep out of your recording. You can also be the culprit with loose clothing, watches, a squeaky chair, computer fan, and even things like moving papers around.

I get questions all the time around the subject, and want to talk about how to make a live/dead room.

A completely dead room is great if you have a lot of equipment to put live sound back in (depending on the level). In most cases, it’s good to have a little bit of presence in your room to make the recording sound alive. The trick for making a live/dead room is curtains.

Hang curtain rods at the wall ceiling joint all around the room (like crown molding). Get the bar type that you can just thread rings onto. Buy curtains that extend from ceiling to floor, and buy enough curtains to wrap all the way around the room and buy them thick enough that they will trap sound coming at them, and keep sound from getting through to you (like say from a window or door).

“Open” the curtains and tuck them in the corners of the room when not recording or recording and needing a live room. The curtains in the corners will act as bass traps, but will leave the walls open for some genuine reverb. When you need a dead room, close the curtains… pulling them over doors, windows, wood furniture against the walls, pictures, etc. Once you understand your room a little better, you may want to close just one wall, partially close another, or open opposite facing walls depending on your microphone placement.

Of course, I always recommend auralex room kits for recording studios… but if you’re a home studio and use your room for multiple things like live recording, dead recording, and a game room :)… curtains are an easy and a relatively inexpensive way to treat your room.

Comments»

1. Ralf Deichler, Bavaria - February 4, 2008

Hello Jeff,

I just read your interesting article
about closed and “open” wall curtains.

My rehearsal and recording room has got 4 to 8 meters.
On the two longer sides and on one smaller side I have attached “flexible” and also rather thick curtains.
On the wooden floor there`s a carpet, especially for the drumsets
(acoustic and electronic).
The wooden ceiling is thinly white painted.
The room is pretty high (more than 3 meters).
The house is built of wood, but the inner walls have a smooth roughcast (also behind the curtains).

Now my questions:
Do you think it`s enough for creating different and good practising and recording sounds to work with the curtains, also as bass traps?
Or should I remove some curtains and put some wooden panels on some of the walls to improve the natural reverb feeling?

Thanks a lot in advance for reading and answering my questions.

Best regards
Ralf

2. Jeff - February 20, 2008

In today’s digital world of recording, I think it’s almost easier to ADD reverb electronically than to try to produce it naturally. The room sounds like a good size, but something that you may want to deaden if you’re not getting a ‘good’ verb sound. Bass traps (especially in corners) would work well for that along with angling a wall or a set of curtains. If the room is rectangle, where two opposite walls are facing each other, it may have reverb… but not the kind you really want.

Bottom line, in your situation, I think I might deaden the room as much as possible and go try to find a good reverb unit for recording.

Good luck.

3. Mary Lou Minor - October 5, 2008

Hi Jeff: Thanks for your article — it’s a really great start for us. I’ve been trying to find something on live/dead rooms for a while because we’re in the process of making a 12 x 12.5 room into a recording/rehearsal space and it took me quite a while to find the right phrase to search for.

Anyway, your advice on what wall/ceiling/floor coverings to use and what other things to use (curtains, bass traps, etc.) would be much appreciated because we’re just at the beginning. We have plywood floor and drywall and t-bar to put ceiling tiles. The t-bar was already there and would make a 7.5’ceiling, but there’s room to raise the ceiling and we aren’t married to the idea of ceiling tiles. We want a nice live room for acoustic rehearsals with natural reverb as we might want to record live off the floor but we also want to be able to deaden the room. We’re planning on putting a 3×6 window on one wall with the computer on the other side, in the family room. It will be two panes with the inside one slanted a bit toward the floor. We’ve been told that this is a good idea.

Your thoughts on whether tongue and groove pine or cedar would be good on the walls, hardwood on the floor with area rugs, acoustic tiles or wood ceilings???????? What should be do for a nice live feeling and then how do we deaden if we want. I’m guess your idea of curtains would be the answer.

Thanks so much for sharing your expertise.

4. Jeff - October 13, 2008

I’d love to have a project like yours going on right now :). I’ll give you initial reactions to your note, and let me know if you have more questions.

A 12 x 12.5 room is almost square. Of course, you know that. But, you might want to think about how that will impact the sound. Waves will bounce around so much, that hard wall surfaces will not be the best choice. Drywall is fine. How much drywall is up to you :). It’s not as important to think about what will be going on inside the room, as outside the room, when you think about recording sound. Is one an outside wall? Is the furnace right below or above? Is there a bathroom close? Etc. The *best* thing to do is build a room inside the room with negative space between the old and new walls. That’s expensive. So, double up the drywall. Or, put furring strips and insulation up, and then new drywall.

About the floor, any hard wood will do. I have put in a “floating” floor before, where you have foam insulation that goes down prior to the wood (or wood product like pergo). That seems to cut down substantially on any noise going on below as well as helps sound dissipate instead of being carried through a subfloor or concrete.

About the ceiling… make sure those tbars are secure! I’ve been places where I’ve heard them rattling when sound is made in the room (I’m sitting under one right now). If you stick with them, which I think is a good option (if they’re secure of course), then buy acoustic or 3D tiles. I think the installation of 3D tiles is one of the best ceilings you can put in a room.

See http://www.acousticalsolutions.com/products/tiles/sonex_harmoni.asp for 3D or http://www.acousticalceilingtiles.com/symphony.html for acoustic. The first will cut down on noise inside and outside the room… the second will dampen sound in the room and cut external noise drastically.

Once you have insulated walls, a good hard floor, and a tile ceiling… all that’s left is the dampening if needed. Rugs or curtains on the walls are great, but if you have some cash, go to auralex and buy a room kit. See this chart: http://www.auralex.com/category_roominators/rm_selector_2006.gif

Based on your 12×12, look at the bottom and see how much “coverage” you want. Then, find the proper column. They have a kits… what they call roominators… http://www.auralex.com/category_roominators/category_roominators.asp

About the window. Again, negative space is best. So, install one pane in one wall, and the other in the other. Angled is good for glare and reverberation. Caulk the joints/seams around it really well so nothing can penetrate.

Hope this helps.

5. Audio Equipment Speakers - February 20, 2009

Thanks for this great info. I’m new to all of this and don’t want to spend too much money but this is easily done. What kind of material would you recommend?

Jeff - February 21, 2009

I think a very think burlap or muslin would work well, but you have to think about aesthetics as too. I ended up buying some “real curtains” (not just fabric I cut and hung). Velvet drapes from Pottery Barn clipped to curtain rings and hung on a rod traversing across the entire wall. They fit with the theme of my room, but I’ve been in studios that have also had very thick wool Saltillo blankets or sarapes suspended from rods to “close off” a room. To test, speak or sing at a normal volume away from the material, and then do it close up. If it’s thin and/or non-absorbent, you’ll be able to hear yourself as you did away from it. If it’s good, then you’ll get sound loss or be muffled.

6. wayne atkinson - August 19, 2009

my room is 10×9 …… i,m going to put bass traps in the corners and and do the entire walls with acoustic foams …. The only thing i,m not touching is the floor ….. can you give me some advice please and tell me what you think …. it,s a very small room …. the room sucksbad , bad … thank you

Jeff - August 27, 2009

Bass traps in the corners will work well, and the entire wall isn’t really needed… just a bit of the opposing walls to make sure the sound doesn’t bounce back and forth.

For that small of a room, you may want to look into purchasing a room kit. Auralex makes amazing DIY kits that will make your room much much better. They’re called Roominators.

http://www.auralex.com/category_roominators/category_roominators.asp

7. curtis streetman - November 5, 2010

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for this site. I am in the midst of taking control of my music making, and that means h0ome recording at a quality level.

I am renovating my basement into a live room recording studio, for classical chamber music, instrumental and vocal. The rectangular room size is 10 ft. by 27 ft. The room is only 7 ft. high. The control room is isolated and off to the side, already very dead. I will be hanging curtains as you suggest, in order to have some flexibility in the live/dead makeup of the room. The room has concrete exterior walls with insulation, then soundblok between two layers of drywall.

I emphasize that this is for classical music, which might make a difference in your advice.
questions:
Should I install a hardwood floor, then have a rug? for the walls?
Should I alternate between reflective wood panels, and acoustic tile? panels, etc) on the walls, or should this room be as dead as the control room?
What are your suggestions for the ceiling?

Jeff - December 14, 2010

Hi Curtis,

For classical music, there is an opinion of purists that you have to consider. You could make the room as dead and dry as possible, then add your own reverb using a digital small-hall, big-room, cave, etc. But, most people will say that the effect will never sound as good as live reverb… but you don’t have a large hall to record in. Most musicians like the feedback that reverb gives them as well and feel more comfortable playing with some.

I think having some local reverb is a good idea. You can then use it / boost it with an effect. Hardwood floors (with rugs for flexibility) and panel walls (with curtains for flexibility) are great for having local reverb. Ceilings, being so close and parallel to the floor, are a bad type of reverb. A drop ceiling with acoustic tiles to soak up some sound would be appropriate, even at angles or different levels, or foam panels every so often.

Hope that helps.

8. Claire - August 8, 2011

We have great news to announce here at Metrosonic Recording Studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Renovations on our
850 square foot live recording room have been completed, and the room is ready to rock. The room is adjacent to our current recording room and has lots of space to accommodate bigger bands. Our new live room is perfect for larger jazz ensembles, multi-instrumentalist rock groups, and bands with more equipment than members! Our new room is comfortable and spacious. Its high loft ceiling, clean, white walls and excellent acoustics make it the perfect space for recording. The room is also music video and photo shoot compatible for those wishing to document and promote their recording process. The combination of ample space, exceptional equipment, and superb engineers make Metrosonic the ideal place to record. Let us know when you want to come by to check out the new studio space.

9. Yitzy - April 18, 2012

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your time and effort, I was looking for a post just like this! I have a audio book I want to record acx (audible) in my home and spend less than 1000.00. So far on my list of necessities is a good mic (thinking about the Shure SM7B) and dead room insulation. The room i have in mind is in the basement and has one wall facing outside with windows, Do you think curtains will do the trick or should i invest in auralex or bass traps as well?

Thanks in advance for your time and looking forward to your suggestions.

10. Anonymous - April 19, 2012

Hello Yitzy,

I’ve responded to your email… but for others reading… the room sound is more important for live band recordings or large audio. For a single speaker voice… isolation is the key. Eliminate all background noise however possible. It could be as simple as a wrap around behind the mic and putting your back against a foamed wall. Something like this:

http://blogs.oreilly.com/digitalmedia/2008/02/build-a-portable-vocal-booth.html

Or this…

http://www.musictechmag.co.uk/mtm/reviews/reflexion-filter

This is too expensive, but I wish I had one…

http://www.wiretotheear.com/2009/02/25/costco-sheds-as-sound-isolation-rooms/

11. Kenneth - October 14, 2012

Do you think the principle of dead room can be modified so that rooms next to Heavy Traffic can have most of the traffic noise absorbed ?

12. Lawrence - October 21, 2012

Hi Jeff,

Been reading your live/dead room blog with great interest and gratitude – I’ve created a room using your advice on curtains/acoustic tiles/traps etc; it works a treat.

But there’s a ‘but’.

For reasons of space efficiency I won’t bore you with I’ve had to create my room within a garage, which is beside a busy road. When the road is quiet, great, it’s a great room, but when the road is not my microphones are picking up extraneous traffic noise.

I need some way of deflecting the sound before it leaks into my room. To clarify I have sealed the entrance door with draft excluders and the room is mounted on runners to isolate it from the floor.

I was thinking of covering the outside of it with acoustic tiles, or maybe running curtains around the perimeter of the room. Do you have any suggestions?

Any wisdom gratefully received.

Yours in appreciation.

Lawrence O’Shea

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14. forexrevealednow.com - August 3, 2013

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