How to Set Up a Home Recording Space to Record Audiobooks and Podcasts

How to choose a room in which to record • Rooms to avoid • Simple and free ways to improve sound • How to create a “dead” room

Home Audio Recording Studio

How to Set Up a Home Recording Space to Record Audiobooks and Podcasts

The home is increasingly becoming the site of all forms of media recording. Whether it’s for podcasts, voiceovers, audiobooks, YouTube videos, or music, we are finding a convenience in home recording that going to a professional studio does not provide.

However, some forms of media—namely those that are audio-focused—require a recording space that is set up to record sound cleanly and at a desirable quality. Since my focus is in spoken-word media, this post is specifically designed for those looking to record purely voice.

This post details a number of ways you can outfit your recording space to produce a quality recording, whether it be for audiobook narration, podcasting, or voiceover production.

The Room: Location and size

The most important factor in determining a quality recording is the room itself. Rooms for recording voice should be small. The ideal room in your house would be a small closet. If that’s not available, you may need to test out a few other rooms in your house.

Rooms you should avoid include bathrooms, the kitchen, and any other space with a high amount of hard, flat surfaces.

In the event you need to use a bedroom or other small room, a number of steps can be taken to improve the space, which we will cover below.

Another good point to keep in mind for home recording is where the room is in relation to the outside. In a home environment, outside noise is constant: birds, traffic, construction, gardeners, and other daily neighborhood commotion is the bane of the home recordist.

Choosing a room that is as insulated from the outside as possible is ideal.

Acoustics: How to create a “dead” room

The ultimate goal of building a recording space is to make it as “dead” as possible. “Dead” refers to the inability for sound waves from your voice to reflect off of hard, flat reflective surfaces back into your microphone.

When sound waves reflect off surfaces back into the microphone, your recording will sound reverberant and “echo-y,” which is not desirable for audiobook recording.

The best way to achieve this is through the use of plenty of absorbent material. Heavy blankets, pillows, rugs, and similar items can greatly improve the acoustics of a voice-recording space.

This is also an advantage of using a small closet: the presence of hanging clothes, perhaps with the addition of carpeting and pillows stuffed in the corners, can easily result in a great-sounding “dead” room.

Conversely, the absence of absorbent materials and presence of a high amount of hard, flat surfaces leads to a room which can be described as being “live,” meaning there are many opportunities for sound to reflect back into the mic and result in a reverberant, echo-y recording.

Rooms like bathrooms and kitchens contain many of these reflective surfaces, such as tiled floors, mirrors, and exposed walls.

Save your money; get creative!

You’re not trying to impress anyone with a home studio; nothing needs to be as fancy as your standard pristine professional recording studio. Thus, anything you can do to dampen the room’s sound and increase absorbent surface area will help.

Here are four inexpensive options for improving your recording space:

  1. Moving blankets: Moving blankets can provide a relatively inexpensive form of absorbent material for your studio. Hanging blankets over doors or windows can help dampen your room. If you’re in a bedroom or otherwise small room, you can use moving blankets to partition off part of the room by hanging them by command hooks or something similar from the ceiling, thereby making the space both smaller and more dampened.
  2. Mattresses: This may seem like a wild idea, but using mattresses to build your little recording booth-fort is an easy way to block out several square feet of space for sound absorption.
  3. Pillows: Pillows are another often-readily available material that you can use for deadening your recording space. They can be particularly effective in the upper corners of a room, which are prime areas for bass frequencies to cause trouble by building up and feeding back into the microphone.
  4. Rugs: If your recording space has carpeting, that’s great. If not, it’s important to cover the ground with as much material as possible. Rugs are an obvious way to do this, but any sort of material, including blankets and towels, will help as well. 

Absorption vs Diffusion

I’ve talked thus far only about absorption of sound waves. In addition to absorption of sound waves, another tactic used in recording studios to deaden the space is the use of diffusive surfaces.

In a square room with flat, hard walls, sound waves will easily bounce back and forth from wall to wall. Think of how a bouncy ball will act when let loose with force in an empty, square room. Each bounce off of a wall will result in another bounce off of the wall it ricochets to.

Fill the room with objects like furniture, however, and these objects with their varying shapes and sizes would cause the ball to ricochet less smoothly than a clean bounce off of a wall, and the ball would lose power more quickly.

Diffusive surfaces in recording work the same way. The more diffusive surfaces, the faster your sound waves will break apart and die off. A sparse, flat-walled room lends itself to more reflections and, thus, a livelier sound.

So, don’t fret if you choose to record in, for example, a corner of your room with a bookshelf. In fact, a bookshelf is a prime example of a diffusive object that many people will already have in a home.

Books of varying sizes offer a wonderfully uneven surface which will aid in breaking up the sound waves of your voice.

This is why movie theaters will not be perfectly square: it helps to prevent sound from bouncing strongly off each wall.

While absorption of sound should be prioritized in my opinion, remembering the usefulness of diffusive materials will help in achieving a quality sound out of your recording space.

Multiple levels of absorption

Levels of Absorbtion

Using just one or two blankets will probably not be enough to deaden a recording space. This diagram of acoustic paneling shows the several layers that factor in its absorption quality.

Using multiple layers of blankets and other materials can greatly help your recording conditions.

A microphone isolation shield is a great tool that can help prevent your voice from shooting out into the room to find a hard surface to reflect off of; however, these shields are not an adequate remedy for a room that’s not treated for recording.

No matter how expensive an isolation shield you invest in, you will still “hear the room” in the recording. For that reason, these tools are best utilized in conjunction with a properly set up recording space.

Microphone Isolation Shield
Home Recording Studio desk

Acoustic foam paneling can be a good investment, but be aware that it is, like an isolation shield, best used in conjunction with other sound-dampening measures.

Be Aware of Mechanical and Electrical Noise

In addition to outside noises, the various noises of devices and appliances within your home itself pose a risk to the home recordist. Refrigerators, laundry machines, dishwashers, and plumbing can all easily make their way into a recording through the walls.

Just be aware of this fact and avoid both setting up your studio too close to any one appliance. Also avoid any unnecessary laundering, showering, or other pesky and noisy home activities.

In addition to appliances, it’s extremely important to pay attention to the risks of a noisy computer. Most computers make some amount of noise, and those that make a lot of noise are the archenemy of the home recordist.

The easiest way to avoid this is by keeping your computer separate from your recording booth. You may need to invest in some long cables in order to do this. Some people also use a remote to control recording and playback from inside the booth.

Are you interested in recording your audiobook?

The space in which you record is the number-one factor in determining whether you get a quality recording. When you work with AuthorImprints, we provide individualized consultation about your recording space and can evaluate a test recording to check sound quality.

Ready to get started? Contact us for a free consultation about what it takes to record your own audiobook. It’s easier than you think!

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