Acoustic treatment is one of the most important factors in a professional recording environment. But it’s also one of the most complex and frequently misunderstood. 

If you’re struggling to achieve balanced mixes or compelling ambience, acoustic treatment may be the missing ingredient in your setup. 

In this article, we’ll break down the basics of acoustic treatment for pro studios and suggest some of the best products available to help you control your room’s acoustics.

What Is Acoustic Treatment?

Acoustic treatment is the practice of changing the sonic characteristics of a recording or mixing space by adding features that improve its acoustic properties. It’s done so that the recording environment contributes positively to the sound and has predictable qualities for critical tasks like mixing and mastering. 

Acoustic treatment includes the basics of studio design such as the layout and geometry of rooms and spaces, as well as the design and placement of acoustic absorbers and diffusers. Perfecting the acoustics of high-end music facilities is complex and often expensive. But any recording space can benefit from basic acoustic treatment through the correct use of commercially available products.

How Does Acoustic Treatment Work?

Acoustic treatment uses the properties of shapes and materials to influence how sound waves travel within an enclosed space. 

When a musician's instrument produces vibrations in the air, they interact with features of the physical environment. As the waves emanate from the source, they bounce off hard surfaces like walls, floors, and ceilings, creating reflections that fill the space and blend with the direct sound.

In some cases, these reflections are pleasing and desirable, like those in a meticulously designed concert hall. But in untreated acoustic spaces, this phenomenon can wreak havoc on recordings, creating buildups of frequency energy that cause issues during the mix.

Acoustic treatment relies on the principles of absorption and diffusion to control reflections that sound bad on a recording and skew the response of monitor speakers. With enough treatment and correct placement of the speakers, you can create an environment that allows mixes to translate and sounds pleasing to capture with microphones.

Absorption? Diffusion? Bass Traps?

Before we continue, we’ll need to unpack some terminology related to acoustic treatment.

First off, absorption is your main line of defense against excessive reflections. As the name implies, this type of treatment prevents acoustic reflections from bouncing back into the room, reducing their influence on the sound.

Broadband absorbers are the typical acoustic paneling that you’ll see in studios. They’re made up of a rectangular chunk of sound-absorbing material in some kind of structural frame. This type of absorber works well for most of the frequency spectrum but can’t effectively reduce low-end reflections.

For this frequency range, a special absorber called a bass trap is usually required. Bass traps contain a greater volume of absorptive material and are meant to be placed in positions like corners where low-end frequencies gather.

Finally, diffusion is another method for reducing the effect of acoustic reflections. This type of treatment relies on textured surfaces that scatter reflections in many directions rather than bounce them back toward the source. This type of treatment is less common but still considered essential by many experts in an overall acoustic treatment strategy.

Brands like Vicoustic and Primacoustic offer a wide range of acoustic treatment solutions suitable for studios of all sizes.

The Best Acoustic Treatment Solutions For Any Budget

With the fundamentals out the way, here’s a list of three common setups and the acoustic treatment products you’ll need to implement them.

Minimal Setup

If you need to get the best bang for your buck, you’re probably looking at a minimal setup with basic bass traps and broadband absorber panels. In this case you’ll want to focus on the main problem areas—the corners and first reflection points for each speaker.

These are located in line with the listening position on the long walls of the room on either side. This setup requires 2-4 bass traps and 2 broadband absorbers.

Average Setup

Once you get started with acoustic treatment, you’ll likely want to continue to get the best results your room can deliver. In addition to the basic coverage in the minimal setup, an average setup expands to deal with reflections from the ceiling and the front and rear walls of the space.

For this you should include several “cloud”-style broadband absorbers above the listening position as well as 2-3 regular ones directly behind the speakers. The rear wall is often associated with late reflections that can help a room sound more lively in the top end. In order to reduce the negative effects of these without absorbing them entirely, you might consider a diffuser in this position.

Advanced Setup

Finally, if you’re looking to fine-tune a room for truly professional performance, you’ll need to aim for maximum coverage. This includes adding bass traps not just to the vertical corners of the space, but potentially all other 90-degree angles in the room.

With full coverage end-to-end, you’ll be able to greatly reduce the influence of low-frequency reflections and achieve flat response down to the lowest end of the spectrum.

From there, you’ll need a mix of broadband absorption, diffusion, and maybe even additional bass trapping to get a truly neutral response. For a small space prone to bass buildup that can add up to a considerable amount of treatment!

A Note On Vocal Booths

So far we’ve been talking mostly about acoustic treatment for mixing rooms. But another essential recording area to consider is your vocal tracking space.

As the loudest element of most mixes, vocals need to be completely free of problematic reflections to sound their best. Not only that, any leakage of incidental sound from elsewhere in the environment can cause issues. If you mainly record vocals in your workflow, you might consider a dedicated vocal booth to get the most from your recordings.

What About Monitor Calibration?

Finally, if you’ve been researching room treatment solutions, you’ve likely come across the concept of monitor calibration. These are software tools that create EQ curves to compensate for missing or overemphasized frequencies at the listening position. 

Monitor calibration can be helpful, but it should be considered part of a broader strategy that includes control of acoustic reflections and optimization of the listening position. When used in conjunction with these techniques, monitor calibration can help your mixes translate better and make your mix process quicker.

Special Treatment

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to acoustic treatment for recording studios. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get practical results with off-the-shelf products if you use them well.

The suggestions we’ve given above are just general advice, and professional acousticians go into much greater detail when they design studios. Even so, if you get started using the technique listed above, you’ll have a better-sounding room to do your best work.

Bill LearnedIf you'd like help purchasing acoustic treatment for your studio, we can help! Please contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.