Before we get into specific products you can buy for your recording environment, let’s quickly talk about what makes a good recording environment in the first place, and what you should avoid at all costs.
There are two types of sound that make for bad recordings: ambient and reflected. Once these sounds are recorded as part of your source audio, they are difficult to impossible to remove during the editing process. So take the time to reduce them as much as possible before you hit record.
Reducing Ambient Sound
Ambient sound is natural sound from the environment that gets captured by your microphone. It could be a phone ringing, a car driving down the street, your HVAC system, or even the fan inside the computer on you desk.
The obvious way to reduce ambient sound is to create an isolated space to do your recording. Find a low-traffic, interior room where you’re not going to be bothered by other people or street noise.
If you’re in an office building, try to find a room with structural walls that go all the way up to the true ceiling, as opposed to dividing walls that only reach up to the drop ceiling.
Reducing Reflected Sound
A square office with concrete walls and tile flooring is just about the worst recording environment you could pick. Why? Sound travels as waves and, as a result, bounces off of everything it hits. The result is called reflected sound, and avoiding it requires some forethought. Here are some basic things to consider when choosing a recording environment, with respect to limiting reflected sound:
- Avoid rooms with parallel walls, if possible. This keeps sound waves from bouncing back and forth across your microphone. Decoupled walls are the best, though uncommon.
- Walls lined with anything from curtains to bookshelves will help absorb sound.
- Bare windows are highly reflective of sound, but heavy drapes or curtains help dampen the reflection.
- Do not record in a room with bare flooring. A carpeted room is the best.
Treating Your Environment
Now that you’ve figured out where you’re going to record, you can further improve the environment with certain treatments aimed at blocking out ambient noise and deadening the internal acoustics of the room.
If you’re really going all-in but don’t want to build your own studio from scratch, you can buy a modular sound booth that fits inside a larger room. We wouldn’t recommend sticking one underneath a highway overpass, but they’ll turn most any medium-noise environment into a soundproof chamber. They come in all shapes and sizes, to accommodate just one person standing up, or a large group of people sitting around a desk.
If you have the space and budget, and can’t otherwise guarantee a quiet space to record your podcast, a sound booth could be a great investment. Plus, they’re pretty fun. But there are other, more economical ways to achieve a good recording environment.
If you’ve found a nice, somewhat isolated room to convert into your recording studio, here are some additional improvements you can make:
- Situate your desk so the mic is in the middle of the room.
- Keep the recording device as far away from the microphone as possible.
- If there is no carpeting, add some rugs to cover the floor.
- Cover windows with heavy drapes or curtains.
- Line walls with bookshelves to absorb sound.
- Hanging acoustic panels/foam on the walls and in ceiling corners can dramatically deaden the room. These are not expensive per unit, but based on your room size, cost might add up.)
If you want to go total commando on a DIY budget, here are some easy steps you can take to improve your environment (though your spouse or business partner may not agree with our definition of “improve”):
- Drape a blanket over yourself and the microphone. (You’d be surprised how many radio stories are delivered this way.) Furniture blankets work the best.
- Lean a mattress against the wall.
- Pile some blankets into each corner of the room.
he extent to which you go in order to create an isolated, sound-dampened recording environment is entirely up to your budget and space. Environments without something to absorb sound waves will result in you sounding like you’re podcasting from your bathtub. But hey, maybe that’s what you’re after.