How Not to Soundproof Your Basement Studio
Regardless of which environment you choose for your studio space, your two main challenges will always be soundproofing and acoustic control. Adhering to some very basic principles can get you as much as 90 percent of the isolation found in a big-time commercial studio. The problem is that it'll cost you. Soundproofing is the expensive part of building any kind of studio, and adding even a small fraction of extra isolation can raise costs significantly.
However, the easiest way to make isolation more expensive is to do it incorrectly or ineffectively the first time. To avoid that, here is a list of soundproofing ideas that are strange, ineffective, and even dangerous.
The Smell Test
Things like carpets and mattresses might look like something that would stop sound, but they don't. The soft material in mattresses won't absorb sound, but it will absorb moisture, mold and other funguses. If you're considering something that's soft and porous enough that it could one day start to smell, then you are considering wasting your money.
But I Saw It In a Movie!"
In Hustle and Flow, the characters cover their studio walls with egg crates. It might look cool, but an egg crate’s light, porous cardboard does absolutely nothing for soundproofing. They can act as a sound diffusor at higher frequencies, but the bandwidth is so limited that they're virtually useless there as well. Plus, they’re highly flammable!
Doormats, mouse pads, neoprene, or any other variation of rubber will do very little to stop sound coming or going from your room.
Foam rubber does have some acoustical absorption properties, but it will do very little for the low frequencies that will cause all of your problems with the neighbors. Even though it can be just as expensive as materials with real acoustic control properties, it degrades over time, and it will burn like crazy if given the chance.
The Wrong Kinds of Insulation
Even though insulation seems like a perfect solution to your isolation problems, its results are often quite imperfect. Pumping cellulose into walls, for example, makes a slight difference, but it's definitely not worth the cost. It can be helpful if used along with some other basic studio construction techniques, but isn't particularly effective by itself.
Common fiberglass insulation doesn't stop enough of the low frequencies that bug your neighbors. Plus, if you cut corners and pin it to the wall, you will affect the acoustics of the room. It's also a skin and eye irritant, takes up a lot of space, and the dust can be hazardous to your lungs when left exposed.
It's true that plywood panels provide mass and mass is what's needed to stop sound transmission (especially the low frequencies), but the problem is that wood transfers sound too well so the construction technique used is crucial. Not only that: if the panels are too thin, they'll resonate and vibrate, causing an even bigger problem. Particle board has all of the same problems.
Bales Of Hay
Unless you live out in the country, it's unlikely that hay bales are much of an option, but they actually do work. The problem is that they take up a lot of usable space, make a nice home for critters, and are a major fire hazard. Not recommended!
Acoustic foam is helpful in controlling the acoustics within a room, but it doesn't even begin to affect the offending low frequencies, and using too much just makes the room seem dead and uncomfortable. There are much cheaper ways to achieve a better result.
Understand that all of these materials will have at least some affect on the sound of the room (which we'll cover later in another post), but will do almost nothing by themselves to help improve your isolation.
For more information about how to build a home studio effectively and inexpensively, check out Bobby’s book, The Studio Builder's Handbook. You can read some excerpts from the book on his website.