DIY in the Studio: Acoustic Panels, Monitor Stands and a Pedalboard

07 February 2016 in Gear -

DIY acoustic absorption panels.

In a constant quest to ameliorate my recordings, I’ve realized that I was missing a most fundamental element that is a sound-treated recording environment. So I decided to build my own acoustic absorption panels and in the same DIY run, two monitor stands and a pedalboard. I will go through my process step-by-step in case anyone decides to do the same. All I can say is that it is way cheaper to buy the materials to make it yourself than buying pre-made sponges to stick on the walls.

So let’s get started.


Acoustic Absorption Panels:

First of all, you have to plan how many panels you want to make and where you’re going to place them in your specific room. Keep in mind that up to a certain percentage of wall coverage, even a few number of panels can make a big difference in the sound quality of your room. Beyond a certain threshold, you will need an exponential number of panels in order to get those last percentages of absorption. In other words, you don’t need to cover up the entire wall surface.

The most important places to put your panels are at the first reflection points from the monitors to your ears. A simple and neat trick to find those spots is to slide a mirror on the wall as you sit in front of your monitors and stop when you see the monitor in the mirror. In terms of monitor placement, it is generally good practice to laterally center your monitors in the room and leave space behind the speakers as well. As for the distance, it is fundamental to have an equilateral triangle between the monitors and your ears and set the tweeters to your ear height.

When you have decided on panel quantity and placement, you’ll have to purchase the necessary materials and tools. Following a good friend’s advice and a quick Google search led me to Roxul’s Safe’n’Sound, an acoustic insulator that has the additional property of being fire resistant. This stone wool material is relatively cheap and can be found in any home improvement store.

Acoustic Absorption Materials

The materials needed for acoustic absorption panels.

Now you can’t just stick that insulator on the walls so you will need to build wood frames to enclose them properly as they can get crumbly. The dimensions for the wood planks are easy to calculate. Depending on the size of your insulator, you’ll need two planks with the length of either side of the insulator and two other planks with the length of the other side of the insulator plus an additional length equal to the thickness of your planks.

As for the width of your planks you have to keep in mind that absorption can be increased by leaving some space between the walls and the insulators in order to trap the sound waves. There are two ways to accomplish this. Either you hang the panels with a gap of a couple inches, or you create a spacer inside your panel allowing you to hang them close to the walls since the space is already taken into considering in the design of the frame. I went with the latter by choosing planks with a width equal to the thickness of the insulator plus a couple inches for the spacer.

In order for the insulator to stay in place within the frame, I planned for cleats that would make sure the insulator wouldn’t move in the frame. They should be fixed on the longer planks that cover the length of the insulator. To summarize, you need four planks and two cleats per panel in order to build one wood frame.

Acoustic Panels Diagram

A diagram to illustrate the design of my acoustic panels.

The wood you choose is up to you but could potentially affect the sound reflections in your room. I went for the cheapest pine I could find but you could go for even more affordable woods. Something to keep in mind is the weight of the frames as you don’t want to hang something too heavy on the walls.

Last but not least, a nice fabric to wrap the whole frame up is the cherry on top. Be sure to select a breathable fabric that does not stop air from going through as you want sound waves to be able to reach the insulator inside. Canvas is a good choice as it is also relatively resistant to the wood shards of the frame when you need to tightly wrap it. Color of the fabric is up to you and you could go crazy but I chose a combination of black and burgundy to alternate every other panel.

Tools I used were relatively standard. A saw to cut the planks (if you wish to do it yourself), a hammer and nails to fix the planks to each other and a stapler to fix the fabric (and potentially strengthen the frame). A ruler and a pencil are useful if you cut the planks yourself as well as sand paper to polish the rough edges. As for hanging, you just need screw hooks, steel wire and wall hooks to hang them just like paintings.

Assembling will take time but after a couple of mistakes it will become straightforward. Build the frame, stick the insulator, cover up with fabric, hang on the walls, enjoy! I ended up assembling ten panels meaning I needed a total of ten sheets of insulator, 40 planks and 20 cleats in total.

This is how it looks like (design inspired and adapted from video of Home Studio DAWg):

Acoustic Absorption Panels

The acoustic absorption panels in the Ark studio.

Since the insulator came in 12 packs, I had two sheets left that I decided to cut each in three, in order to stick six small panels on the ceiling. These were wrapped in fabric without any wood frames to make them the lightest possible and avoid potential injuries when falling on my head.

Acoustic Absorption Clouds

The acoustic absorption clouds in the Ark studio.

The changes in room acoustics were drastic from the moment I put up a couple of panels at a few strategic spots. The reverberation was tamed and the high frequencies became dryer. As for the low end, I still need to make what are called bass traps. Thicker insulators and frames placed in the four corners of the room can be enough to do the trick.

However, these frequencies can be harder to tame because they are difficult to localize and have longer wavelength than the high frequencies. I figured that covering corners from floor to ceiling was a tedious task so I decided to stick with only high frequencies for now and make good use of the installation I had already done.


Monitor Stands:

Having made the effort to make beautiful acoustic panels, it was a shame if I didn’t properly set my listening environment. Hence, I felt that stands were mandatory to place the monitors at the right distance and height. Since stands can be very expensive for what they are, I thought why not make them myself.

Turns out it was the easiest thing I ever built. Obviously as a purely utilitarian good, I didn’t put much emphasis on its design. I assembled four wood planks for each stand, two squares and two long thin ones. I chose the cheapest wood I could find and hit the nails at the right spots.

Monitor Stands Diagram

A diagram to illustrate the design of my monitor stands.

And it looks like this (design inspired and adapted from video of Sangam Chouchan):

Monitor Stands

The monitor stands in the Ark studio.

You could go for any design as long as it’s solid enough (if you are not concerned about sound waves traveling in the stand itself). I could have also made it lighter if I had chosen a different wood but it would have cost me much more.

On a side note, I also considered building a guitar amp stand in order to elevate my amp from the floor and reduce any early reflections from the ground when miking. However, considering how heavy my amp weights and how poor my DIY skills still are, I didn’t take the risk. Maybe next time.


Pedalboard:

The pedalboard was very fun to build and happened to be my first DIY project of them three. Prior to gathering the materials, I had informed myself that a certain IKEA product by the name of GORM shelves had all the necessary pieces for the completion of a pedalboard. Unfortunately, being outdated information the GORM line was no longer in production at IKEA.

However, I was convinced that it was just a matter of Swedish name conventions and found equivalent shelves in the HEJNE line with similar specifications. All you need to add now is velcro and rubber feet to the shelf kit and you’re all set.

Before anything, decide on the width of your pedalboard by placing pedals on one of the shelf (they come in packs of two) by keeping in mind that you may want extra space to account for inevitable future proliferation of gear.

Then, dismantle all shelf pieces with a hammer to prepare for wood cutting. I highly recommend drawing lines with a pencil before sawing as the procedure can drift very easily. Cut three planks to the length chosen prior to this step. Cut two additional planks to the same length plus the width of the side planks to accommodate for them. Cut one of these additional planks in the direction of the length to create the front plank. The other one will become the back plank. Be careful not to drift with the front plank cutting.

Pedalboard Diagram

A diagram to illustrate the design of my pedalboard.

We can now start assembling the pedalboard by hammering the nails back on the three support planks. As for the front and back planks, you will use the included HEJNE screws but you need to create holes in the planks so not to crack the wood when you screw them.

The final step is to put the velcro on the pedalboard and the pedals. People have different opinions on where to put the hooks and loops of the velcro. I decided to stick the loops on the pedalboard and the hooks under the pedals because of two reasons. There’s significantly more velcro surface on the pedalboard and loops felt smoother on such a long surface. In the exceptional case where I would need to use pedals on their own, hooks would make the pedal less slippery than loops.

And here is what it looks like (design inspired and adapted from video of JJ Tanis):

Pedalboard

The pedalboard in the Ark studio.

I hope this DIY article was informative and will also push you to build useful constructions of your own. These endeavors were greatly inspired by my friend Sangam Chouchan’s DIY projects that you can speed check in his time-lapse video.


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