Home Studio Layout: Vocal Tracking for Under $1000

Building a home studio is a common dream for any music creator or audio enthusiast. Today we will break down two common setups that homeowners will commonly have for vocal tracking while working with a $1000 budget.

Part I: Layout and Acoustic Treatment


The two scenarios we will analyze are:

  1. A room which is dedicated to audio tracking
  2. A room that is also being used as a bedroom

Both rooms will contain the same dimensions of  10’x 12’ x 8’. Immediately we must consider the room modes that come with this size of room, the main ones include: 47.1 Hz, 56.5 Hz and 73.5 Hz. To calculate further room modes, you can use this online room calculator to generate your potential room modes: 

Layout & Orientation

Before we begin treating the room to correct for these modes, we must first consider the layout and orientation of both rooms. For the dedicated space, the desk should be placed center of the longer wall with the vocal booth on the opposing long wall in one of the corners. This placement will prevent bass buildup, with the vocal booth acting as a bass trap.

Moving on to the bedroom layout, a similar placement for the desk would also be ideal, however, placing it against the shorter wall could also be an option. Avoid placing the engineer’s desk in a corner or opposite window to prevent reflections as bass buildup. As the bedroom studio is not a designated audio space, it will not feature a vocal booth.

Acoustic Treatment

Now that we have our essential layout, we can move on to acoustic treatment. As both studios are home setups, and we have a small budget, major structural changes will not be an option. However, small walls or gobos can be used in the designated audio room setup in order to create the vocal booth. Ideally, the vocal booth should have minimal parallel surfaces to any wall, meaning a hexagonal or pentagonal shape is preferred.

With a permanent wall, a small window for the vocal booth would also be ideal to place on one of the angled walls, to prevent the performer from being completely isolated. Furthermore, the designated room should feature diffusers and absorption panels opposite the desk and inside the vocal booth to dampen the room and decrease reflections.

Bass traps within the corners of the control room and the vocal booth will also be necessary to help eliminate the aforementioned room modes, as they were mostly low frequency. Lastly, the audio room layout should also have a pop filter on standby to further aid the recording process.

Continuing on to the bedroom studio, the same bass traps, absorption panels and diffusers should also be placed along the walls. If bass traps in all corners is not possible, a good alternative is to place the bed in one of the corners. At the very least, 2 absorption panels and 1 diffuser should be placed opposite the speakers. As the bedroom layout does not have a designated vocal booth, a vocal shield, as well a pop filter, will also be necessary.     

Part II: Gear and Accessories


Following up from the acoustic treatment, we need to consider the gear that will be used in each studio. Gear that will be the same for both layouts: the microphone,  mic stand, cables, audio interface and speakers.

Microphones

Both layouts require one microphone at the very least to start and some good starting options for vocal mics include SM58 and Audio Technica AT-2020. While both mics come included with a mount or clip, we will still require a mic stand, preferably with a boom arm, to allow for more maneuverability.

Next up, we will need  10-25’ XLR cables to hook up the mics to the audio interface, some ¼” or ¼” XLR cables for the speakers and a USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt cable to connect the audio interface to the computer. These variations between the speaker and audio interface connections are dependant on the type and brand of interface that you purchase. Ensure that you own the proper connections required for your gear.

Monitor

Both studio setups should have reliable, but affordable studio monitors such as Fostex PM0.3H and Tannoy 402. Both of these monitors are good value for their price.

Audio Interface

While many options exist, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is an excellent beginner option for recording vocals and keys, working with two inputs at an entry level and respecting your budget. 


Part III: Dedicated Audio Tracking Room

Speaker Stands

First, the speaker stands for the designated space should be standalone towers with both foam padding and shock resistance. As space is not a concern, these stands will ensure the most decoupling possible for the speakers against any surface.

Desk

The desk should be quite large to allow for expansion later on or possibly allow gear racks to be built in. It should also include a comfortable chair as this workspace may involve long hours of sitting.

Flooring

If possible, a rug or carpet would allow for further absorption of reflections and further dampen the room.

Part IV: Bedroom Studio Setup


Speaker Stands

Unlike the designated space, the bedroom studio may not have the space to allow for speaker stands, as such, it will need foam padding to be placed under the speakers at the desk to help absorb the vibrations and decouple the speakers from the desk, such the Primeacoustic IsoWedge.

Desk

In a bedroom studio, considering the size, a small desk will be needed, with just enough real estate to allocate space for the computer, speakers and audio interface.

Seating

As for seating in the bedroom studio, a simple office chair can be used or even the bed itself, depending on the ultimate layout of the room. The final piece to examine is flooring in the bedroom space. A rug or carpeted floor would go great lengths to treat the space without any major modifications.

Part V: Budgeting and Getting the Materials


By far the largest portion of the budget for both setups will be allocated to purchasing gear if speakers are on the list. This can be brought down considerably, however, with the substitution of headphones, leaving far more budget for acoustic treatment, especially the vocal booth.

If we consider both scenarios utilizing used gear, headphones rather than speakers and as much DIY as possible, the budget breakdown should roughly go as follows:

Item Cost
Headphones, audio interface and cabling $300
Microphone and boom stand $200
Desk seating and flooring $100
Vocal booth dividers, acoustic foam and bass traps $400
Total $1,000

Market solutions are plentiful, and there is an abundance of options for used gear and sale price acoustic treatment options. While market items may be more visually appealing and reliable they can increase the cost of building a studio substantially. However, using DIY methods can lower the budget immensely and allow for far more room treatment.

Part VI: Do It Yourself


To begin, building gobos and bass traps from scratch is not overly difficult and can save you a lot of money. Using a mix of 2x4 planks, burlap and insolation can create very strong dividers and corner traps with very little cost. Another method to reduce reflections is using a mattress or couch against a wall. The absorptive material is quite handy for soaking up reflections. Finally, stacked egg or milk cartons can be excellent replacements for acoustic wall foam and diffusers. Recycling used materials in this way can greatly lower the cost of building a studio.

Taking the Build Into Your Own Hands

While both scenarios vary in their acoustic, spacial and gear requirements, both are capable of holding a professional audio studio completed with room treatment and all necessary gear for under $1000. When building your very own studio, it is well worth looking on used gear sites such as Kijiji, Sweetwater, Amazon, eBay or going to your local music and hardware stores.

 
Author: Sam Beilman