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Why You Don’t Need A Vocal Booth

Daily Blog - July 2nd 2021

A lot of people are wondering how to build a vocal booth properly. The answer: You don't need to build one, at all! In fact, it might do more harm than good.

Why You Don’t Need A Vocal Booth

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You want to keep early reflections out of the mic.

The most important thing you should focus on, when it comes to the acoustics of your tracking room, are early reflections. These are the reflections from the walls closest to the source that hit the mic almost at the same time as your direct signal. So the two get mixed and the reflections change how we perceive the direct signal. The results are comb filter effects and frequency cancellations/additions in general. It can sound phasey, some parts of the spectrum will become too dominant and others might seem to disappear entirely.

Reflections from the walls further away sound like reverb or ambience.

If it takes the reflections a while before they hit the mic, our brain can tell them apart from the direct signal and we perceive them as reverb. So these are not changing the quality of our source signal, but might add ambience or a reverb tail, which can be desirable or not. 

So you want to treat the close walls (and ceiling) first to get rid of the early reflections.

You do that with absorbers that are as thick as possible, so that they affect the whole frequency spectrum and not just the highs.

You want to be standing with your back against those absorbers and sing into the open room. That way the mic is aiming at the "dead" wall behind you and will only pick up a clear and direct sounding source. The ambience will come from behind the mic, the audible reflections will be further away and much quieter.

If you still get too much reverb for your taste, you can always treat the rest of the room, as well.

But you want to do it without creating new early reflections. So beware of mic screens or thin absorber walls that you put right behind the mic. Those won't absorb much but create new reflections and introduce new problems.

The same is true for vocal booths. 

In a vocal booth you have all the walls very close to the mic and most of the time the absorbers used are not nearly thick enough to really absorb across the whole frequency spectrum. The result is often a dull, lifeless, muffled and claustrophobic sounding vocal recording, because from the low midrange down the absorbers are useless, the top end is being absorbed and the direct signal is mixed with all kinds of reflections.

So unless you can build a really high end booth, with thick absorbers, non-parallel walls to prevent the reflections from bouncing back and forth and enough space around the mic, you're better off just optimizing your room and finding a spot that you can treat where you will put your mic, so that you can sing into the room. 

An open closet or thick mattresses behind you can do the trick. Ideally you build wooden frames, fill them with rock wool and cover them with fabric. You hang those absorbers on the wall behind you and the ceiling above you. Then you listen to how it sounds and treat the rest of the room to your liking.

-Benedikt


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