Soundproofing the Skype Studio

Soundproofing the Skype Studio

Summary: Fortunately, the soundproofing and sound-sculpting materials work and work quite well. The room is now virtually silent and I've been able to get excellent recording and broadcast sound quality.


All projects: DIY-IT Project Guide This project: Build your own, broadcast-quality Skype Studio

"So, I don't know if you know it or not, but it's really noisy in there." Those were the first words out of the mouth of the painter I'd hired to paint the green screen wall in my new studio.

I'd just driven over to pay a visit to the contractors working on the house I'd bought the previous month. The building had a very strong shell, but it needed a lot of work. My favorite feature, though, was the small room we'd allocated to be my studio, the space where I'd do all my webcasts and video interviews.

The three or four times I'd been to the house before, the neighborhood was really quiet. We didn't know too much about who our neighbors were, but it was a bedroom community, and -- at least until now -- seemed very quiet.

My response was bafflement. I thought he was talking about the air conditioner or something. So, when I said, "Well, we're getting the current AC system replaced. The one that came with the house is in really bad shape, and the new one should be much quieter."

The man actually looked at me with pity in his eyes. "It's not the AC. Actually, that doesn't work at all," he said. "There's this lady, and she's always screaming at her kids."

Uh. Oh.

I was committed. We'd bought the house. We were getting set to move in, and I had to be able to do my webcasts from that space. In fact, before we were even willing to make an offer on the place, I had broadband installed, just to make sure I could work successfully from our new home.

And, now, it looked like it was all going to come unravelled because a neighbor I hadn't yet met couldn't control her kids (or her mouth).

But I was a resourceful guy. I also had a secret weapon and a superpower. To the Internet! To the Google! Away!

Okay, so maybe having access to Google isn't exactly a superpower, but with enough diligence, phone calling, question asking, and research, you can find almost anything. I found a solution to my neighbor and her five (yep, I found out she had five!!) kids: soundproofing.

There are actually two different aspects of sound wave management in a studio: sound blocking and sound sculpting. I'd been expecting to deal with the sound sculpting problem, which is where the challenge is to get the best quality sound into the microphone.

But my new problem was blocking sounds.

And for this, I found a bizarre, but amazingly well informed Web site called Soundproof Cow. Yeah, I'm not sure why bovines were in the equation, but hey, it's a good resource. I called up the company and explained to the guy there my mommy problem. He recommended I install a soundproofing material on the inside wall of the studio.

You can put soundproofing insulation in the walls and ceiling, but the architecture of this room wouldn't support that because I wanted to soundproof an exterior wall, rather than one built somewhere in the middle of the building.

What I settled on was a material they call Quiet Barrier. This stuff feels like sheets of very heavy rubber, but it turns out to be a highly insulated specialty material. It's also very heavy.

My contractor applied it to the drywall by peeling back one side and sticking it to the drywall. One important note: once this stuff goes up, it doesn't come back down without destroying the drywall. It's permanent. If I ever wanted to turn the room back from a studio, I'm going to have to rebuild the walls this stuff is on.

The way Quiet Barrier works is that it reflects sound waves. Sound coming in from the outside hits the barrier material and is reflected back out. Unfortunately, sound inside the studio hits the other side of the material and is reflected back into the studio. This provided a very reflective sounding space, and that, too, needed work.

We solved the inside sound reflection problem by placing a row of bookshelves right in front of the Quiet Barrier material. Because the books and the bookshelves are somewhat haphazard from sound reflectivity point of view, the reflections of the Quiet Barrier were successfully absorbed and dissipated before they made it onto my recordings or into the webcasts.

I did run into one other nasty reflection problem, which didn't seem to be too troubling for the video interviews, but turned out to be problematic for the audio quality in the webcasts. My green screen is a painted wall, and that entire painted wall makes a very nice, reflective surface for sound.

When doing webcasts, I had to muffle that reflectivity. I wanted my voice, as it was picked up on the other end, to have a rich, rather than a sharp tone.

The Soundproof Cow folks helped there as well. I bought two convoluted acoustic foam panels for a little over a hundred bucks. Rather than permanently mount these to the walls, I hang them from the room's rigging during webcasts. You can see an example of that in the picture on the right.

They're a little bulky to store (about the size of a large speaker, when rolled up), but they work exceptionally well to absorb and sculpt the sound that goes out through my mic in radio interviews and webcasts.

Overall, my neighbor cost me about $500 in soundproofing materials and probably another $150 in labor. But, as we all know, there's no way any sort of persuasion or negotiation is going to convince a mom with five kids to keep her voice down.

Fortunately, the soundproofing and sound-sculpting materials work and work quite well. The room is now virtually silent and I've been able to get excellent recording and broadcast sound quality.

This article is a continuation of our DIY-IT Skype Studio series. Here's what's already been published on our DIY-IT Skype Studio series:

Topics: Social Enterprise, Collaboration


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

    Don't fool yourself for a minute. The ability to find quick knowledge on the internet IS a superpower. Ask anyone who is not adept at doing it. My family is constantly amazed that I can find answers to almost any question at light-speed. It keeps me in line for a constant stream of baked goods and goodwill.
    • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

      @tradergeorge Oh, baked goods. The things I will do for home made cookies and pie...
      David Gewirtz
  • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

    You should be so lucky to get away with that small cost to sound proof your home studio.<br><br>Years ago, I visited a friend who worked at a commercial radio station whose studios, at the time, were located about a mile from Tampa International Airport! <br><br>Outside you could easily hear the jets as they roared overhead; once inside the studio, it was as quiet as a cemetery at night (snicker). I asked how they pulled that off, and I was shown that the studio was a room within a room, within a room. (Triple nested if you are confused.)<br><br>When asked how much that cost, the response was: "You don't want to know?"

    EDIT: Typo.
  • change the green wall

    put a sound barrier on the green wall, put sound absorbing material (e.g. acoustic tile) on the ceiling. Build a new lightweight green wall at an angle to the original green wall so the bottom is a few inches farther into the room than the top. This will reflect sound upward into the ceiling and away from your microphones. The angled wall shouldn't disturb any simulated background you need to use during videocasts. And you shouldn't need to fool around with hanging and removing the sound absorbtion material.
    Jim Johnson
    • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

      @Jim Johnson That's very cool. If I ever get a really big bug up my bum to do something cool to avoid the hanging/taking down process, I'll look into this. Thanks! Great suggestion.
      David Gewirtz
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  • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

    Very interesting project, I'm going to follow this.

    A question about the Logitech C910 that you tried before going for a camcorder; aside from the problems with autofocus and auto white balance that you couldn't disable, what do you think about the image quality of the C910 compared to the camcorder? Could the C910 have done "broadcast quality"?
  • RE: Soundproofing the Skype Studio

    Oh, and how come your voice is heard only in the left speaker?