We’ve all been there. Someone (a neighbour, a parent…) angrily tells us to “turn it down”. Could even be the police at the door telling you the rest of the street has been complaining they can hear the bass from your party!
Later, looking for solutions, you may see pictures and videos of posh studios, all the walls and ceilings coated in futuristic-looking materials, thick carpets on the floor, and start thinking…
You figure, “if I can get some of that stuff, maybe I can soundproof my DJ room at home”.
Cue online research about expensive panels, sound diffusers, bass traps, sticking egg boxes to the wall, etc.
If this is you, stop there! Read on for the truth about how all this does – and doesn’t – work, and to make sure you avoid making expensive mistakes as you try to “fix” the issue.
How to soundproof a room – the truth
Regardless of what anybody tries to sell you in stores, or any well-meant advice people give you, there are only three things that will soundproof a space – and neither comes cheap.
One is a “box-in-a-box” option – literally building a complete room, floor, ceiling, walls – within your existing room. Since DJ music is “bass-heavy” that box would ideally be sitting on rubber silent blocks as well.
The second solution works through mass. Basically, the heavier and thicker your walls/floor/ceiling are, the less sound they’ll transmit to the outside. So, find an old European Second World War concrete bunker with 10-inch walls and you should be fine!
The third is space. Set up in a building a mile from anyone else. There’s a reason why many famous recording studios are in farms or on islands in the middle of nowhere. A slightly more practical way may be to set up in a cellar or basement. Won’t help others in your home, but may stop the music travelling quite so far down the street.
As I say, all three options are expensive, and usually of course simply not feasible.
(By the way, the reason the neighbours complain about the “bass” and not the “music”? That’s because the lower the frequencies used, the farther – and easier – the sound waves reach the outside world. So you lose the highs pretty quickly, but solid bass can travel a long way. It’s why when walking to a festival, you hear the bass first.)
Soundproofing vs sound shaping
All the other things you may consider or be recommended, from egg boxes to drapes to (typically extremely overpriced) “acoustic tiles”, will do little to nothing for soundproofing.
Are they useless? Definitely not, but their purpose is not soundproofing, it’s sound shaping. Every room has an acoustic signature, depending on shape, materials, size, where equipment is set up, how much, if and how much furniture is there, and so on.
While for DJ practice this is largely irrelevant (sometimes, it’s actually better to practise in less than stellar acoustic environments, as real life playing out will hardly ever be in a great acoustic setting), it does make sense for producers to get this fixed, so they can hear the music as “true” as possible.
Things like standing waves, which can interfere with bass sound, and reflections/echo, which mainly affect high frequencies, can all be countered by a fair margin with relatively easy options (mostly).
However, to know what to change you’d have to analyse the room first. This involves running pink noise, measuring microphones (your good ole SM58 won’t cut it) and some software. You should measure with the microphone where your head would be in normal circumstances, and the software will show you where the anomalies are on the frequency scale. Typically for non-commercial spaces a +/- 6dB from centre deviation is considered OK.
Read this next: 5 Tips For A Great-Sounding DJ/Producer Home Studio
Once you figured out what frequency(ies) you need to address, you can then start targeted actions. No rocket science and lots of info online, but be prepared for lots of experimenting and (re)calculating and measuring. It’s one thing to home build a decent bass trap or absorption panel (fun weekend projects), but getting them set up in the right spot for the desired effect takes some trial and error typically.
So while it may well be worth spending time and money sound shaping your practice room, especially if you want to make music too, it won’t help with soundproofing. And as we’ve seen, soundproofing options are unfeasible for most of us. So what should you do then?
First, rearrange your room so your speakers are at ear level, and very close to your head. This means the music will sound louder to you with the speakers turned down lower. (It also makes beatmixing easier to practise and do.) Get speaker stands to help with this, or wall mount your speakers.
Second, learn how to mix in headphones. There are two ways to do this. you can use the “split cue” method, where the master output goes to one ear and the cued sources to the other (this is the “pro” way to do it, but most low to mid-range DJ gear doesn’t give the option), or you can use the “cue/master” knob to blend cued music with the master output.
With the “headphones” solution, you could even purchase IEMs, or “in-ear monitors”. They are basically posh musician’s earbuds – so yes, any earbuds you own will do for now. You can learn to DJ with them “in all the time”, which is how DJs like our very own James Hype and Laidback Luke do it.
As you can see, both methods involve lower audio levels, which actually is better for you in the long run. Yes, loud is fun, but it’s also killing your ears – trust me, I’ve been living with tinnitus and strongly deteriorated hearing for the last 15 years or so. Look after your ears!
Read this next: 7 Ways You Can Protect Your Hearing As A DJ
Hope this helps anyone who is worried about bothering their neighbours or family members when practising DJing, and especially if you’re planning on spending money to try and fix it.
As much as that, I also hope I’ve made you think about why it may well be worth spending money on acoustic treatment – because it is definitely worth thinking about, despite being next to useless for soundproofing.