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As a streamer, audio is probably the MOST important factor to consider. Not only in audio hardware, but also in room acoustic treatment.
A noisy signal isn’t only caused by your microphone or interface. In fact, quite a lot of it has to do with the room you are streaming in.
Bobby Owsinski did a fantastic job covering this subject, and I recommend you give this video a watch. Bobby is a Professional in-room acoustic treatment and home studios and is the man I’ve learned the most from about room acoustic treatment.
A Quick update: DIYPerks over on YouTube did a fantastic video on making your own DIY Acoustic Panels.
Proper Room Acoustic treatment
What doesn’t work, or doesn’t work well
Let me stop you real quick and just quickly mention that acoustic foam is generally a poor choice for treatment. Not only that, but many people overspend on it unnecessarily in addition to buying the wrong, or cheap material.
Also, it’s pretty darned ugly, looking like the remnants of a mattress topper. (which some people use as a treatment, though it’s not great for this purpose, as it was not designed for acoustics and can smell bad if it was used.)
Then there are those who completely cover the walls, corner to corner with this stuff. Unfortunately, the fact is, That’s wasteful and has minimal effect on the sound past a certain point. You only need to treat a fairly small portion of the room itself in actuality, and it can be done at various price points, from free, to $150, up to $5000 or Beyond. (Law of Diminishing Returns applies)
We’ll come back to this, but remember for those DIY Guys and girls out there; Mass = Absorption. If it’s not dense, It’s probably bad for acoustic absorption.
The Problem Areas –
In a room, you have several areas that are considered to be problematic acoustically.
- room shape
- object placement in rooms
- object material
- noisy electronics
- noisy clocks
- fans – Ceiling, Window, Freestanding, PC Fans
- Central Air
- Washing machines
- Water/gas pipes.
It is a lot to take in there, but these are just some of the problematic areas of a room that you might have. But don’t worry, I’ve outlined some of the things you can do to treat these problems, or outright eliminate them.
The Basics – Eliminate the sources of the noise (where possible)
The first, and most effective step to room acoustic treatment is to turn off anything that is emitting noise being picked up by your microphone.
Eliminating the source of the noise is by far the best way to deal with the problem, and is completely free(and can even save you money(electricity)).
Got a noisy ceiling fan woosh? – Turn it off.
Audible AC in the background? You guessed it – Shut it off. Within reason. Don’t put your health in jeopardy. If you need AC on, Keep reading below for how to treat the issue were shutting off the source isn’t possible.
Use your mic and an Analyzer VST plugin like MAnalyzer to find the source of noise if not immediately obvious. Echolocation anyone?
The Next Step – free things you can do to treat room acoustic treatment around the room
Next up, we have our free options to treat the problems we can’t outright eliminate. These are fairly simple things to do and are often overlooked by streamers who are novices when it comes to understanding room acoustics.
The Doors & Windows – Isolate the room
Simply put, shut your door(s); Close your windows. Pull the shades over the window to act as a rudimentary sound absorption sheet and reduce sound reflection.
By shutting the door, you partially isolate the room from the rest of the house. The same can then be applied to any or all windows, especially if double or triple pane glass is in play. This technology (and yes, it is considered a technology) acts to seal the room off externally from the rest of the world and creates air gaps between the panes. In other words, a perfect example of acoustic isolation.
These steps are often overlooked by novices in the streaming world. I see doors wide open in the background of many streamers, even bigger ones. There is no reason for this other than innocent ignorance.
I suggest having a sort of “Pre-flight checklist” that you go over before you go live. It makes a pretty big difference and only takes a couple minutes before each stream to make sure everything is in order. This can go a long way to avoiding mid-stream technical difficulties.
Object Placement within a room
The Bookcase(If you have one)
Yes indeed, Object placement has a fairly large influence on the acoustics of a room. For example, if you have a bookcase, the best location for this is the wall directly behind you facing the sensitive side of your mic.
This serves as what is known as an acoustic diffuser. It will take the sound that is reflected from the wall in front of you as you speak, sent backward, to reflect again, and instead of a flat reflective wall, meets the bookcase. This results in the sound waves being sent off in random directions because of the oddly shaped objects on the shelf. The Result: substantially reduced echo of your voice, and all you did was relocate a piece of furniture you may already have in your room!
If this is not possible with your current desk placement, try to see if there is any way to move your desk so that you can use this invaluable tool.
Of course, it can be any sort of shelving with any sort of object population, the point is that it is uneven, and filled to the brim with oddly shaped objects. Books work especially well as not all books are the same size, and have a high density as well, allowing the sound waves to be slowed down in addition to being deflected at various angles away from your mic.
The Best location for your desk, (Or microphone) is in the direct center of the room. Ideally, the room would be rectangular in shape, as a perfectly square room is terrible for room acoustics. If you have a square room, you can make a PVC frame and hang a thick, heavy moving blanket on it to create an artificial divider. Alas, you can only do what you can with what you have or can afford.
The reason the center is best is for even levels of reflection in all directions. You would then apply your Acoustic treatment options (covered in the next section) to the front, left and right walls, as well as the ceiling directly above you.
Ideally, all remaining objects should be packed into the 4 corners of the room to act as bass traps for those corners. More on this below.
Budget Solutions to the room acoustic treatment
There are very cheap, and very effective things you can do to further enhance the quality of room acoustic treatment. Again, we seek to target a few of the problem areas listed above.
Doors – Always with these doors!
Once again, we take aim at the humble door…
The cheapest thing you can do to treat the door is simple “Weatherstripping” that is typically used for external doors. The idea is that if you seal the air gap, you block all routes for the sound to travel without first hitting that material and slowing down. Slow the waves down enough, and they become inaudible to even your microphone.
Line this weatherstripping onto the frame of the door, rather than the door itself. Then have a friend or family member shine a light at the gap, and turn the lights off. If you see light, you need to adjust the stripping.
That strip is applied to the top, and sides of the door frame where the door touches the frame.
Next, you have the Bottom of the door. For this, you have two options. Either a Door Sweep or a rubber wedge “door Jam”. The first is fairly easy to find but will wear out much quicker than the jam, but the jam is more inconvenient.
A step further with the door
A more expensive and potentially unneeded step for your door has to do with its density, material, and shape. You want a solid core, Flat surface door ideally, so if your door has paneling, or is hollow core, replacing it with one with a solid core will yield better results.
The reason is mentioned above Mass = Absorption.
The more mass the door has, the slower the sound waves get. This reduces the volume of unwanted sound in the room and prevents leaking of sound you do want.
The Windows – and the walls
Sorry, I couldn’t resist that slant reference. Props to the guys who get it.
Those with double or triple paned windows can safely skip this step. Of course an additional air gap is beneficial.
We’re targeting windows next. Short of replacing the window itself with double or triple pane glass panels, you have one other solution. Measure the frame and add two inches to the total measurements. Then go to your local Lowes or home depot, and ask for those measurements in 1/4′ thick “Lexan”.
Lexan is a clear polycarbonate material, similar to Acrylic, but is slightly better than acrylic for acoustics. Also, ask them what screws would be best to screw into that material and wood, and get 4 of them(Or more, in case you lose em.)
Go home and line the window frame with more of that weatherstripping from the door project, and set the Lexan panel in for a test fitting. Then you may secure it with screws as tightly as you can without stripping the screw.
Walls are next, Almost done!
Next up, we have the walls to consider. I know I said Acoustic foam was bad, but it’s not in ALL cases.
And that case is the front wall, where the insensitive side of the mic is facing(If your mic has a cardioid pickup pattern).
What your looking for is 3-inch thick Acoustic foam panels, which will best handle the frequencies of your own voice. You will want to buy about 4 ft wide by 2 feet high worth of this stuff. If your wall space is too small, scale that down as necessary. This wall is mostly optional as your mic will naturally reject noise from this direction.
Rock Wool is safe to touch, unlike fiberglass insulation. This makes it very easy to work with, and you can cut it with a serrated knife fairly easily. You’ll want to have 2ft by 4 ft tall panels of this stuff(about 8 total, 3 on each side, and 2 on top.
The side walls, to your left and right, should be made of Rockwool panels covered in burlap. (You can cover the Rockwool with a pre-painted canvas of burlap to mask it as a canvas painting. This is optional, and merely improves the room aesthetics.)
You can run wire through the corners of the Rockwool panel and hang them on a nail on a stud as if it were a picture frame. As each panel is 6lbs, you need to make sure it’s in a stud. This makes it extremely easy to remove later on, and is apartment friendly, no need to glue them.
If instead, you prefer a prefabricated solution, ATS makes some pretty decent panels. You will spend more on these vs making them yourself, and they aren’t made of Rockwool.
As for the ceiling, the last step for panel treatment; This is a bit more complicated, you’ll need to secure at least 2-4 panels similar to the above image (Or ignore it entirely). The ceiling is often neglected, but for the best results, it is one of the most crucial steps.
The corners, a bass-ic problem
How many corners are in your room? 4? 8? Actually, in a rectangular room, there are 20.
You have the 4 corners you’d expect and associate with the word “corner” but then you also have the path to those 4 corners. So 8 corners. Mirror that for the floor. And don’t forget the extra 4 from the walls where the floor meets the ceiling.
All of those corners like to trap low-frequency sound, due to the physics of air pressure. This is a problem for sound.
The answer? Bass traps.
Now, you could buy Foam traps, but remember that Rock Wool? That stuff is amazing. You probably will have leftover Rockwool from your wall panels; Cut that up into triangles, and stack it up in the corners. Then cover in burlap to secure them together. You’ve just made your very own bass trap, and it will look a lot better than the foam ones, and work as well as, if not better than them too; all with leftover material.
The corners you want to focus on are the top 8 corners, and the 4 mid corners.
W-what about the floor?
Nope. Ya done. We want some floor reflection because it sounds more natural to us because that is how our ears work for audio cues and the like. If you have a carpet, that’s fine, but don’t go thinking “I need to put carpet in my room?!” Because even hardwood is completely fine.
Beyond the basics
Well, now that we’ve covered the basics… Yep, those were just the basics… Let’s Introduce you to the big guns. Doing these will require structural changes, and require permits to implement. They are all very expensive, and should only be considered if you are a partner and are dedicating a room to be the home studio for your job.
The more Acoustically isolated you become, the more expensive it becomes, and will even require an HVAC unit to cycle the air out, or you will suffocate from CO2 buildup. It is for this reason I recommend consulting a professional company that does this sort of thing in your area before attempting ANY of these treatments.
Due to the complex nature of the treatments, and the expense, I’m not going to cover beyond what I already have. As stated above, If you wish to take it a step further, you will need to consult acoustic professionals who do home studio work. Expect to pay in the Thousands for room acoustic treatment at this level.