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January 8, 2013 / Randy Coppinger

Portable Recording Booth

It started as a simple idea: what’s an effective way to improve location recording acoustics with low cost materials? Since I already owned some packing blankets and absorptive panels, all I really needed was a method to prop them up effectively. And everything needed to collapse into relatively small pieces to fit inside my Camry.

I decided to focus on the packing blankets, with a support structure made of PVC pipe – the kind used for delivering water in houses, for irrigation, etc. I thought it might be handy to have the ability to hang one blanket on the structure, or configure a larger version that could hold two blankets. Over the weekend I spent roughly $60 on PVC & hand clamps then went to work.

The first pic shows the smaller, single blanket “L” configuration. I laid a panel on top to see how it might function as a lid. This single blanket likely doesn’t have enough coverage to significantly contain a performer and provide much separation from other sound sources. But it might be useful to cut down reflections behind a performer.

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The larger, two blanket “C” configuration shown below would significantly deaden a recording situation, especially with a third blanket on top as shown. I’d like to reduce the sag of the top blanket with some additional structure up there. The blankets are heavy enough (have enough mass) that they would also provide some isolation from other sound sources in the same room. This larger version seriously limits sight lines though, so I’m considering clear vinyl sheets (as used for some shower curtains) to create small windows.

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It’s worth noting both configurations can open up if the top-front support pipe is removed. Wider angles form more of a wall/curtain than an enclosed booth. I can also imagine making a few more of these that could work together in a modular fashion, further expanding options.

This is a solid beginning to affordable, portable acoustical tools that are easy to transport. With some more work, improvements may be discovered. I hope this inspires you to take a do it yourself approach to acoustics and recording. And here’s a pro tip if you decide to work with PVC: a handheld pipe cutter tool is far superior to a hacksaw.

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7 Comments

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  1. Shelby Lock / Jan 8 2013 10:38 am

    Looks like a good idea. I may have to try it myself. Just curious, what’s the low-frequency absorption like with the blankets? I have a small live room (14′ x 14.5′ x 9′) that I’m trying to treat for piano recording, and the room has the most problems at the low end.

  2. Randy Coppinger / Jan 8 2013 10:48 am

    Good question, Shelby. I haven’t tested how well this works across the frequency spectrum. Low end problems are very tricky, especially in small rooms. And pianos are difficult to record – double whammy. I think you’d have better luck trying different locations for the piano in the room. If the microphone(s) are located at the peak buildup of a room mode, that will color the piano recording. Definitely keep microphones out of the corners, and probably out of the dead middle (especially the dead middle between the floor and ceiling). You don’t need to any spend money to experiment with placement, so try moving the piano and microphones. That’s where I’d start. Best wishes.

  3. Brian Vasquez / Jul 28 2013 9:47 pm

    I’m thinking of investing in a booth either from vocalbooth.com or something similar. Is it worth it to go this expensive route or try and construct my own booth?

    • Randy Coppinger / Jul 29 2013 8:46 pm

      There are several factors, Brian. I made mine to be portable. My use is infrequent. I already owned packing blankets and cloth covered rock wool panels. Solid wall booths have to be rather large or you trade one set of problems for another.

      I’m not sure what your circumstances are, but those are some of the factors that influenced my decisions. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

      • Brian Vasquez / Jul 29 2013 9:37 pm

        Thank you Randy. Much appreciated. In my case I am moving into the lower floor of a big house. I need to create a vocal booth to record a lot of VoiceOver work. It will be heavily used so I definitely need it to be dependable and efficient. I was thinking of purchasing a 4×6 size booth. Thank you again for all your helpful input. Your awesome!

  4. thevoicesofbrian / Jun 2 2017 6:10 am

    What diameter PVC did you use? I’m trying to figure out how think I need to support the weight.

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