BY SARAH JONES
Acoustician Bob Hodas has tuned more than 1,000 recording facilities around the world, including such legendary studios as Abbey Road Mastering, The Record Plant, and Lucasfilm; his clients have included Stevie Wonder and super-producer Rob Cavallo. Here, he shares a few DIY tips for optimizing your home studio.
What do you do when you tune a room?
I would say 75 to 80 percent of what I do is finding that one spot where the speakers and the listener get the best response out of the speaker system in the room. Once you’ve got these positions, you can easily find where the first-order reflections are and get those treated, and figure out where you want to put bass traps and what kind of bass traps to use. For icing on the cake, equalization would be the last thing.
What are the most common problems encountered in home studios?
As far as the room goes, lack of symmetry can be the number-one issue; controlling the space is primary. Also, in a home, sometimes the door is not in an ideal position for where you might want the speakers or some equipment to go. Or the windows. And you’re typically working with low ceilings, which can create some issues.
Can you share any tips for identifying and eliminating issues without spending money?
The number-one thing is finding the correct speaker position. It’s all about translation to the outside world: If you are sitting in your home studio mixing a record and you have a big hole at 100Hz, and you fill that hole in with EQ on the kick drum, when you take it out to the outside world, you’re going to find that the kick drum is completely out of line with the rest of the mix.
Without analysis gear, finding correct speaker placement can be time-consuming and difficult—but here’s one simple way to improve your imaging and frequency response: Above 400Hz, sound and light act very much alike; it’s simple geometry. I carry a plastic mirror around with me, and have somebody hold the mirror flat against the wall and the ceilings and move it around, and I sit in the listener position. And if I see the front of the speaker, the actual speaker cone, in the mirror, then I know that that’s a point of first-order reflection that I’m going to want to treat.
There are a lot of myths out there concerning acoustic treatment. What are some home-studio don’ts?
I’d say the biggest misconception that I see is that corners are bad things and should always be treated. Every room is unique, and you need to figure out whether you need corner treatments or not. I’ve walked into a lot of rooms that had corner treatments, and there would be complaints about a big hole at 100Hz or 125Hz, and I tore the treatments out of the corner and all of the sudden, the hole went away. I’m not saying that corner treatments are bad; I’m saying that just applying a treatment isn’t necessarily going to solve a problem. You may have a problem that’s not happening in a corner; it might be a reflection from a back wall, so the treatment needs to go on the back wall. The important thing to remember is, there isn’t one blanket solution that will work for all rooms.
Soundproofing is a big problem for home studios. Do you have any tips for keeping the neighbors happy?
Windows are a huge problem. You’ve got to either cover them up, or buy triple-paned glass, or add an extra layer of Plexiglas. Anything that passes air is going to pass sound—cracks under the doors, open windows. Mass is what stops sound; maybe add another layer or two of sheetrock if you can afford to do that. And you could put sound-isolating pucks under your subwoofers to minimize transmission through the floors and the walls. The hardest part of any home studio is keeping the neighbors happy.