Building a Recording Booth: It’s Done!

The semester has proven to be quite busy starting out, and so I haven’t actually had time to keep up with my usual posting. But, here is one that I’ve been waiting over a month to share with you.

This summer, I got hired at a local media company.

Shortly before I got hired, I was asked to build a recording booth. It was mid-project that I was officially “hired”. But, nonetheless, I had a recording booth to build and I had never actually done something like this. So, after a little back-and-forth arguing between what I thought should be done to build it and what my boss was willing to spend, we came up with a solution which has so far worked pretty well.

So let’s get to it. The dimensions were going to be 4′ x 4′ x 7′, and the construction was to be plywood and studs. I wanted to do plywood on both sides of the wall panels, but the boss didn’t want to spend that much on plywood. I wanted 1″ plywood, he said we could settle for 3/4″. Okay, so I knew outright that this wasn’t going to super professional, but that it would be enough to get the job done. With that in mind, join me on a journey of cell phone photography and vague descriptions.

Building the wall frames was easy, albeit time consuming. Measure, cut, assemble. Each wall panel looked like this when assembled.

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Next it was time to add some sound-dampening insulation. We settled for Safe n’ Sound fiberglass insulation. All of the batts needed to be cut down to the right length to fit, but it was better than the alternative of needing extra.

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Since the other side of the wall panels had to be covered by something to hold the insulation in, and the boss didn’t want to shell out for more sheets of plywood, we stretched canvas dropcloth over them and stapled it into place. This was perhaps the most tedious portion of the whole project, because 1) canvas does not stretch easily, 2) canvas tears easily, and 3) there was barely enough to stretch half an inch around either side to staple it down. But, it came out looking something like this.

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Next it was time to line up some acoustic foam squares on the panel to see if everything was just right. It was. I was happy.

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The boss had decided that he wanted these four walls hinged together in groups of two, so they could alternatively be moved around the studio to “spot treat” the room acoustics for shooting videos. Smart idea, boss man. So using three heavy duty hinges per pair, this is how it came out. By the way, these could only be attached standing up. It probably should have been a three-man job, but we managed with two.

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There was still the issue of attaching the acoustic foam to the panels. I ended up using 3M Super 77 spray adhesive. If you’re using spray adhesive and you want a good, permanent bond, I’d recommend spraying both surfaces (in this case, both the canvas and the foam). I was asked not to spray the canvas (mostly because that would have meant spraying inside) and so I had to spray extra on the canvas to (hopefully) make thing stick. I had to go back and re-adhere a few pieces, but otherwise they didn’t look too bad.

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Next it was time to put a lid on it. I recommended building another 4″ thick wall panel to put over top, but due to concerns about being able lift it up and take it down, we settled for just a piece of plywood. I decided to staple these foam squares directly to the wood this time, so that they wouldn’t fall down. Of course, I also used the spray glue.

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The booth was nearly ready. We only now had to get something in there to help address the reflection coming off the floor.

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During construction, we had both overlooked the fact that plexiglass only comes in 24″ lengths and that we’d have to pay a steep premium for anything longer. Unfortunately, this realization came after the assembly, and after the scrap parts had been disposed of. So after installing the window, we stuffed this little spot with dense packing foam.

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We (actually, I’m going to just say “the boss” on this one) had overlooked the fact that not using plywood on the both sides of the wall panels meant that handles wouldn’t be able to be mounted to the inside of the booth. This means the booth can only be opened and closed from the outside. Of all our design flaws, this is the most apparent to me.

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The panels are sitting on foam discs with felt on the bottoms so that they can slide around on the floor (not very easily, though; it’s still a two-man job to move these things around). This has proven to be better than our original idea of putting them on casters, since it allows less noise to seep into the booth from underneath.

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The window was a success, and while it doesn’t allow much light into the booth, it’ll be nice so our narrators will be able to see out and not feel entirely confined.

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Despite our original desire to paint it to look like a TARDIS, I was a little saddened to walk into work one day and see it being painted black. Still, it doesn’t look too bad.

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There was still the issue of illuminating the inside, but I found that a LED work light down in the corner helps to light the place just enough. I use an LED light inside because they generally operate at a lower temperature than their incandescent and halogen counterparts, and thus our narrators won’t be sweating up a storm while they’re in here.

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And worked great for our first session! In fact, the boss said that I’ll be able to use this for personal projects if I so desire (after hours, of course).

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In all, I think this was a fun project to do, but it could have been designed and executed better. I’m sure there’s a way we could have gotten these panels to move around a little easier while still not having to use wheels. I really think there should have been plywood on both sides of these walls, and we didn’t really address the corners of the booth either. But as long as it’s quiet in the room around the booth, the noise level in the booth is so minimal that only a little bit of gate is required to eliminate general white noise. While I wouldn’t recommend this exact design to someone looking to build a recording booth, I would say that it’s a cool concept to build a booth that can double as room acoustic treatment, especially for small studios with concrete floors (like ours).

I’m looking forward to using it.

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