Why do I need a home recording booth?
Any song that has a vocal lead requires that vocal be prominent in the mix. We are looking for presence and the enemy of presence is reverb. Reverb causes a sense of space. It pushes the track back in the mix. Natural reverb from the environment that we record in does this and there is no real way to fix it in the mixing stage. It is something that we need to take care of in the tracking stage.
The best thing you can do is acoustically treat your home studio. If you do this right, you will have a place that you can record vocals and acoustic instruments without the unwanted reverb, standing waves, and comb filtering. Read our guide on acoustic treatment for ideas on how you can accomplish this.
If you aren’t at a place to do this yet, there are some options out there for a DIY home recording booth that I have researched. Let’s check them out to see what is best for you.
#1 – Closet Booth
Many people will tell you that to start out you can just sing in the closet with all your clothes hanging around you to achieve that clean vocal sound. While this sounds like a good idea, it really isn’t.
The biggest misunderstanding here is that our t-shirts and pants will absorb the sound. This is actually only the case for very high frequencies. Clothing does nothing for mid to low frequencies. These frequencies can wreak havoc on your recording. Also, you will find that there is still reverb present and you won’t have that presence we are all looking for.
What can you do? The thing you can do is to repurpose your closet. Take the clothes out and replace them with sound-absorbing material. Treat all the walls, ceiling, and floor so that you erase the reverb in the room completely. Make sure to use a good broadband absorber so that you get the low frequencies as well. This can be a viable option but you do lose a closet for your clothes.
#2 – Mattress Booth
Another idea that I have found to be popular amongst the home studio community is the mattress booth. Now, this actually does work quite well. There is a caveat though. You cannot use the coil spring mattresses. There is not enough material there for proper absorption. Memory foam mattresses are by far the best. They do offer pretty decent broadband absorption.
The idea is to use multiple mattresses, 3 or more is best, in order to create a recording booth. If you have 3 mattresses, stand 2 up in a “V” and place the 3rd mattress on the top to form a booth. If you have 4 mattresses, stand three up in a “C” pattern and place the 4th on the top. To maximize the potential of this solution you should add an acoustic blanket on the open side.
In my opinion, this idea is unrealistic for most of us. Most people don’t have 3 or 4 extra memory foam mattresses lying around. They are hard to store and a pain to move. The cost to buy 3 or 4 mattresses could be spent on better solutions so I think this idea ranks pretty low.
#3 – Reflection Filters
The reflection filter can be found online or at your local music store. They are hugely popular because they “look professional” and usually cost under $200. Having said that, they are grossly overestimated.
While they do have acoustic foam, which is absorbent. They do very little to help you remove unwanted reverb and bad frequencies.
The problem is they are just in the wrong place. Most of us will be using cardioid microphones for recording. One of the key benefits of a cardioid microphone is that the back of the microphone that is opposite of the singer is the least sensitive part of the mic. So reflections coming back from the wall directly are already deadened by the mic.
Well, this is where the reflection filter puts all its absorption. Meanwhile, all the frequencies bouncing from behind the singer are free to be picked up by the mic. Essentially, these filters do little to nothing in helping you.
The only benefit I see would be to use these in tandem with one of the other solutions but now you’ve raised your costs.
#4 – Blanket Booth
Probably one of the best all-around solutions, as far as, cost and portability is the blanket booth. With minimal effort, you can make a frame out of PVC pipe and drape either moving blankets or acoustic blankets around it. It is quite simple but very effective because it stops all reverb on all sides.
Here is a video from Deity Microphones to show you how easy it is to set up.
This is the best idea if you are low on space and can’t designate a whole area of the room to a vocal booth. It can be packed up and stored easily and is a great option for mobile studios.
#5 – Absorption Panel Booth
This idea is very close in set-up to the mattress booth. The only difference is using sound absorption panels instead of mattresses. The configurations will be the same based on how many panels you can afford to make.
Generally, the absorbing panels are not that expensive to make. When I have made them I have used the same process as the guys at Music City Acoustics. These panels provide good broadband absorption and are lightweight for easy portability.
The bonus to this is, as you get more money and make more panels, you will be able to use them to acoustically treat your whole room.
#6 – Build a Vocal Booth
This is of course the ultimate solution for the home studio. It is also the most expensive, time-consuming, and more importantly, SPACE-consuming. You will need to designate an area in your room to basically build a room within a room.
The benefit to building your own home recording booth is you know you will get clean vocals and acoustic instruments. Not only that, you will get sound isolation which means no unwanted sound coming from cars driving by, dogs barking, or crying babies.
You can do this by yourself if you are handy or have handy friends. There are plans available with detailed specs. Primacoustic has put together a great article about building your own recording booth that is worth checking out.
The Bottom Line
We all want amazing vocals with a presence that captures our attention and draws us in. Having amazing vocals is so much more than just a great singer. It also requires a good recording environment.
Using a home recording booth is a must for those who have yet to invest in a properly treated room. Find a solution that fits your room and your budget.
Ultimately, the best thing to do is an acoustic treatment in your home studio. But until then a home recording booth will serve you in getting the best vocal takes. To find out what it takes to treat your room acoustically, read our guide answering the question, do I really need acoustic treatment in my home studio?