Obsessing over sound quality should never prevent you from actually launching your show and getting episodes out there.
Content and consistency are definitely more important than your actual audio. However, that’s not to say the sound of your show isn’t important – far from it in fact.
As your podcast grows and matures you will start to strive for a more professional sound, and that’s where your home recording environment becomes pretty important. It’s not all about what mic you use!
Sound Proofing, Or Sound Treatment?
Firstly, it’s worth clarifying something that many podcasters tend to get confused over.
There’s a big difference between sound “proofing” and sound “treatment”.
To “sound proof” a room means you are isolating it from any unwanted external noise elsewhere in the building.
There’s a misconception that by putting up some foam acoustic tiles on a wall that you’re “sound proofing” the room. But that isn’t going to have any impact on noise bleeding through from outside.
To “sound treat” a room means you are going to improve the way sound sounds within that room. So why might you want to do that?
Acoustics & Reverb
Buying a top of the range microphone is all well and good, but if you’re recording your show down a well or in a cave it’s still going to sound bad.
Excessive reverb or echo on your voice can make your show sound amateurish. A room with a lot of hard and bare surfaces will have your voice bouncing around like a pinball machine.
On the other hand, a room with a lot of soft and furnished surfaces will prevent that from happening. Think of the way your voice sounds in the bathroom, compared to in the bedroom.
Finding the best sounding room or area in your house is a great starting point if it isn’t possible to create a dedicated podcasting space. For most people, improvisation is key…
There are numerous reasons why you might not be able to dedicate an entire room to becoming a podcast studio. Whether you share the house with your family or flatmates, or you simply don’t have the space, a permanent setup isn’t an option for everyone.
So what are your options?
Use a pre-existing area. This might simply be the best sounding (softest furnished) room in your house, or it might be a walk-in wardrobe full of hanging clothes.
- Localised treatment. Instead of worrying about the sound of the room, create a small ‘studio’ around yourself and your mic. This might be anything from popping your mic into a cat bed, to draping a duvet over a clothes rack. Okay, you might look a bit silly when you’re recording, but remember, we’re working in audio. Whatever setup you put together though, just make sure it’s comfortable enough to actually record a full podcast episode with!
If you’ve got a bit more room in your house you can set up a recording studio that can still be used for other non-audio related purposes.
You can buy or make sound treated baffling boards or partitions on stands. These can be set up to form a mini ‘deadroom’ around your recording area, and can be tidied away afterwards – though you’ll still need a reasonable amount of room to store them.
Another option is to use acoustic blankets or curtains which can be hung on rails or hooks.
Though these are easier to tidy away, they are a bit more permanent in the sense that you’re probably going to have to attach something to your wall to support them. For more on this, check out our review on using acoustic blankets for podcasting.
If you do have the luxury of commandeering a spare room or walk in cupboard, then life immediately becomes a whole lot easier.
I converted a walk-in cupboard in my house into a vocal booth a couple of years ago. I measured the walls, ceiling, and door, before ordering an equivalent amount of 12″ x 12″ acoustic foam tiles.
I deliberated over how I was going to attach them to the wall. There were a few different options.
- Velcro tape – not the cheapest, and I had visions of the tiles falling off too much.
- Specialist adhesive – designed specifically for these tiles. Quite expensive and a bit too permanent.
- Glue – far too permanent. If I move house I want to take my tiles with me, without leaving bits of them all over the walls.
We were decorating the rest of the house at the time so I tried some wallpaper paste. It worked a treat holding the tiles firmly in place, and when I peeled one off it left very little foam stuck to the wall.
None of the tiles have fallen off (over 2 years later), not even the ones on the roof.
Sound Proofing a Room
Maybe you do have a spare room that you plan to turn into a permanent recording space. Before you go ahead and dive in though, there’s a few things to consider.
Will sound treatment alone be enough?
Unless you’re custom building a room from scratch, sound proofing is very much about prevention, rather than cure…
External/Internal Noise Considerations
- Are any of the walls of the room external or joined to your neighbour’s house? Does your neighbour tend to play the drums, watch the television at a high volume, or have a dog that never stops barking?
- Is there a window in the room? Does it back on to a busy street with lots of noise outside?
- Does the room have anything in it that might make noise? By this I mean anything that can’t be moved. A boiler, a gas meter that clicks sporadically, that sort of thing.
- Are you recording near a loud fridge? You can turn it off, but it’s almost certain that you’ll forget to turn it back on. One great tip for this comes from Ric Viers (The Sound Effects Bible) who suggests putting your keys or wallet in the fridge when you unplug it. This is always a good one to have to explain when someone else inevitably finds it in there.
Though you can deaden a room from reverb, external noises are a different thing altogether, so take this all into consideration before you go and buy £200 worth of sound treatment.
If the bulk of unwanted noise comes from outside then you might get away with blocking up the window. But if the building his paper thin walls that bleed sound then you’d probably be better off just recording in your car, or even outside.
Summary – Considerations
With all that in mind, you need to decide what best suits you, your home, your budget, and your podcast.
Is it vitally important that you have no reverb or background ambience at all? This might be the case if you’re running a business show and you want it to sound really professional, or if you’re recording something like an audio drama.
If not, then recording in your bedroom with a few cushions propped around the mic will do just fine for most.
If you need to get the cleanest sound possible, but have no permanent space, then it’s going to add a bit of time to your podcasting schedule to allow you to set up and dismantle your temporary ‘studio’.
External and internal sounds that you have no control over can creep in to your recordings so you need to decide which ones you can live with, and which ones you’d really rather not hear in your podcast.
Finally, do you have any money to spend, or do you need to use household items (duvets, sheets, etc) for your sound dampening? The latter can be just as effective, even if they don’t look as good, so don’t worry if you can’t afford a few boxes of acoustic tiles.
Need More Help With Your Audio?
You can get support, resources, and advice from us on sound quality, or any other aspect of podcasting, inside The Podcast Host Academy.
In there we’ve got courses on everything from audio editing and voice training, to promotion and monetisation. On top of that we run regular live Q&A sessions too. It’d be great to work with you in there.