Parent article: Home Recording Studio Setup
We're going to look at building a recording booth from the ground up, covering everything you'll need to setup a permanent, acoustically-treated vocal booth in your home or existing studio space.
First, please note the use of the word permanent.
There are many types of movable or what we'd call de-mountable recording booths, which can be purchased and moved as needed. However, they're not cheap and a lot of you might want a more permanent solution.
If so, you're in the right place. For those of you who don't want something permanent, i.e. fixed to an existing structure, this is the wrong article for you.
Construction and Electrical Disclaimer
As I mention throughout this piece, there are certain areas of construction and electrical work that are best handled by hiring a general contractor. That task list could be larger or smaller for you, depending on your own skill set and areas of expertise.
It is my formal recommendation that you consult a qualified general contractor and an electrician before taking on this type of project.
Why Building a Recording Booth is Simpler than it Sounds
At the time of writing this I'm 30 years old and have the following construction projects to my credit:
- Townhouse basement living room, laundry room and bathroom renovation.
- Ranch-style home basement living room, office and bathroom renovation.
- Kitchen demo
- The framing, dry-walling and electrical work for roughly 10 total walls.
The reason I was able to do all of this is because the process of creating an interior room (which is all a recording both is) is actually quite simple. Your task list is the following:
- Basic electrical and audio wiring
- Drywall (partial hire out)
- Install door (hire out)
- Trim/Paint (hire out for trim)
This is akin to adding a small bathroom without having to worry about plumbing. Personally, I can't think of an easier room-related construction project, thus a DIY venture is certainly attainable.
First, let's cover the tools and materials you'll need.
Tools You'll Need for the DIY Project
- Power drill
- Exterior 1 & 1/2 inch wood screws (comes with T-20 star bit)
- Drywall utility knife
- Tape ruler (25ft)
- 48 inch beam level
- Compund miter saw
Materials for Building Your Own Recording Booth
- Drywall screw (1 - 5/8 inch)
- Lumber (2" x 4" x 8')
- Lamson gang box (with nail)
- 20-amp electrical outlet duplex receptacle
- Seismic Audio steel wall plate with TRS 1/4" and XLR connector (for instrument and microphone connection) (2x) or 2-channel XLR snake and drywall pass-through panels
- Interior glass panel door
Parts of the Process I Don't Recommend for DIY
I'll walk you through framing, gang boxes, electrical outlets, audio cable access to the booth and basic soundproofing. However, there are several parts of this process that I would not recommend for DIY tackling, unless you consider yourself an expert, or at least fairly competent, in the given areas.
Those areas include:
- Drywall mud, spackling and sanding
- Wiring electrical outlets into the breaker box
- Installing trim
- Installing an interior door
I'll tell you where in the process all these things need to happen. If you get a general contractor for these tasks, most of them can have each one knocked out in a matter of hours.
Where do you want the booth to be located?
The first thing you need to do is decide where in a given room you want your booth to be located, then plan the size of the booth itself.
In most instances you'll want the booth to go into a corner of the existing room, that way most of your wall space is already built. If you settle on that, you'll have three options in terms of how the recording booth is shaped.
- Squared off against the wall (traditional four wall rectangle shape)
- Pentagon five-side shape (still fits in corner of the room)
- Single wall triangle shape (easiest, in that it only requires you to construct one wall)
Here are a few other things you should consider:
- Is there a corner of the room that already has a light fixture, perhaps a recessed light, installed in the ceiling?
- Where are the studs on the existing walls? (your dimensions should match up with these studs for fixing new wall frames to existing walls)
The pentagon shape is nice because it gives us a little more space and allows us to face the center of the room. However, it involves more complex construction and is more difficult to plan for.
The triangle shape is easier to build but, usually much smaller. Moreover, the construction principles we'll see in the rectangle-shaped booth can be applied to the triangle shape as well, should you decide to go that route.
For our purposes, we'll stick with the more traditional rectangle shape, which will minimize our construction and still give us some decent space, as well as room for a door on one of the two walls we'll build.
First, get the measurements of the room you're building in, then draw up a rough sketch of that room's dimensions. You might call it the "parent room." Keep in mind I'm assuming a nine foot high ceiling.
You might end up with something like this for a typical rectangle-shaped room.
Again, remember to make sure the dimensions of your recording booth line up with studs in the existing walls that you'll be building on. This way you'll be fixing the new frame to a secure wooden beam and not just to drywall.
A typical recording booth size is 6' x 4'. If you want to go larger, that's up to you. Just make sure you account for the larger dimensions as you go and line your new walls up with studs in the existing walls.
Once you're ready, sketch the dimensions of your recording booth inside the parent room.
Where and how big should the door be?
At this point you'll need to decide where your door is going to go and how big you want it to be. I've already noted, and will recommend, that you get a door with some kind of a glass component allowing you to see through it.
The more glass, the more light.
Something like this Moda interior door from Home Depot would work great.
This will save you from having to frame out and buy a window since a glass door will let light in. Personally, I'm not opposed to a door that is mostly glass. Doors can be special-ordered for just about any size, but here are a couple things you'll have to pre-determine:
- Which side of the room should the door be on?
- How wide should the door be?
When you build the wall you'll construct a "rough opening" for your door, which should be about two inches wider than the door you plan to install. The most typical rough opening is somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 inches wide and 80 inches high. Again, this is an area where you have some creative space in which to move.
Here are a few examples of recording booths with doors framed in that you might want to consider.
Building the Frame
Whatever design you decide on you'll have to use 2x4 pieces of lumber to build the framing for your walls. Note that in all the above photos the walls of the recording booths stand about eight feet high but do not touch the ceiling.
Each brown shape (below in the graphics) represents one 2" x 4" x 8' (two inches by four inches by eight feet) piece of lumber. If you have shorter ceilings, or want more space between the ceiling and the top of your recording booth, you'll need to cut each 2x4 to your own desired length. For my example, I'm leaving the length as-is, assuming a nine foot ceiling, giving me one foot of open ventilation space between the top of my recording booth and the existing ceiling.
Starting on the First Wall
Here's how you'll setup your first six foot long wall.
Using a miter saw, cut two 2x4s to the horizontal length of your wall. Assuming a six foot wall, you'll need to measure and cut two feet off of each board. Remember, my example is six by four feet, but you can feel free to make the room larger, if you prefer. Again, just make sure the existing studs line up with the new walls.
Now, you'll need four supporting beams, two to go on each side of your wall. Use exterior wood screws and a power drill to secure the frame.
Now we need to add three more beams for the doorway. You should have two on each side, with a 36 inch opening and 16 inches of space between the end of the wall and the beginning of the door. The doorway header should be 80 inches above the floor of the frame and will connect the two vertical beams.
Now, we need to add supporting beams that will go underneath the header and on either side of the doorway. Measure again (with framing it's never a bad idea to measure twice) and use your miter saw to cut the supporting beams. They should fit snug between the base of the header and the beam on the floor.
If you want to be really thorough, you can add additional supporting beams that are offset to either side of the doorway about two to three inches. It'll look something like this:
Now you're ready to add the rest of the supporting beams into your wall's existing frame. Each beam should be approximately 16 inches apart, and on a six foot wall, that should leave room for two more beams. If your wall is longer than six feet, simply continue adding vertical beams every 16 inches.
Building the Second Wall
Once you have this wall built, you can build the second wall (the four foot wall in my example) using the same process but, without the complexity of a door frame. However, you might want to wait until you've setup the larger wall and then build the smaller wall in place to make sure your measurements are correct.
Remember, we're planning to use a door with a glass opening which means we won't need a window, so don't bother framing out a spot for a window in either wall.
Here's a quick look at what your second wall will look like as a finished product.
And here's your final products, side by side:
Fixing Walls in Place
Setup the larger wall first.
Make sure to go back and look over your measurements to be certain you have it set against the right spot on a stud in the existing wall.
You'll need to secure the larger wall you just built (the one with the door frame) to the stud at the top, middle and bottom of the existing wall using wood screws. Have someone else hold the wall in place until you're finished with the screws.
At this point, the frame should be sturdy enough to stand on its own, at least long enough so that you can secure it to the floor. Securing the bottom of the frame will depend on the floor's material. If it's a wood floor, even one with carpet over it, you can just use the same wood screws you've been using.
If it's concrete, you'll need the following items:
In either case, you'll want to screw the bottom of the frame into the floor at or near the following spots:
You can repeat the process for your smaller wall or, if you haven't built it yet, take a fresh set of measurements and construct the wall in place as I mentioned earlier.
You should connect the two walls to one another at the corner where they meet, as you build the smaller one. Once everything is finished, your frame should be sturdy and secured to both ends of the existing wall. It should resemble something like the right angle wall examples I provided earlier.
How do I deal with the corner where the walls connect?
There are a few different ways to tackle the framing of a wall corner.
With a room this small, you'll have some flexibility in terms of how you connect the two outermost studs where the walls meet, though you may still want to add some supporting beams, particularly so you have some extra surface area for when you do drywall.
In the above photo the walls simply meet at the corner forming a right angle, while the backing stud is added so you have some surface area for fixing drywall. Some call this the three-stud "California" corner.
This photo provides three different corner examples, all designed to give you some surface area to make sure there's a spot for securing drywall. The "California" corner is what I would recommend as it gives you some additional structural integrity and the right amount of interior support for fixing drywall as close to the corner as possible.
Once the framing is done, we can do a little bit of DIY electrical work.
As I've already mentioned, the scope of electrical work that I'd advise doing in a DIY capacity is limited. Personally, I do not know how to wire outlets or lights into an existing circuit (or into their own) so I would advise you getting some help on that front.
What we can do is setup the outlets with Romex so that your electrician can come in and wire the Romex into your breaker box which, if they're a good electrician, shouldn't take more than a couple of hours at most.
First, for those of you who skipped the intro, let's do a recap of the materials we'll need.
- Lamson gang box (the kind with nails) (2x)
- 20-amp electrical duplex receptacle
- Seismic Audio steel wall plate with TRS and XLR connection
- 12/2 yellow Romex (for outlet)
The first thing you need to do is place your blue gang boxes, which also happen to be the easiest part of adding electric outlets. In my example, I've assumed you'll need just two, one for the electrical outlet and another to run audio cables into your recording booth.
- One blue gang box for the electric outlet
- One blue gang box for the audio plate or pass-through (the TRS and XLR jack)
If you have gang boxes like the Lamsons I listed (the ones with the nails) you can simply use a hammer to fix them onto an existing beam in your wall frame. Check your local codes and regulations to confirm, though in most areas of the United States, electrical outlets should be placed somewhere between 12 and 18" above the floor.
For your second gang box, the one for the audio cables, you can place this pretty much wherever you want, since there are no electrical concerns or codes governing it. Choose a spot that is most convenient for you and that makes sense for how you're going to use the room.
For such a small space, you'd probably be fine to place it one or two beams over from the electrical outlet.
What about the lighting inside the room?
The difficult issue about getting a light into the recording booth is that our project assumes existing construction. Since we didn't have to build a ceiling for the booth, you'd have to cut into an existing ceiling to install a light. If you haven't constructed the framing under an existing light in the room, you can still probably rely on the light coming in through the top of the booth and/or the light coming in through the glass doorway.
Additionally, you can use one of the outlets in the booth for a standing lamp or small desk light. Together, those light sources should be more than enough for you to see sheet music and keep the room decently lit.
I would avoid cutting into an existing ceiling to wire a new light source, if at all possible.
Adding an Outlet and Wiring to the Gang Box
Now that your gang box is in, there are a couple different options your electrician might recommend for getting power to the box.
- Wire into an existing outlet (existing circuit)
- Wire into its own circuit (new circuit within the breaker)
If you're going to be running guitar amps from the outlet, I would personally recommend going with the second option and wiring the outlet into its own dedicated circuit. This is also why I've recommended the 20-amp outlet as opposed to the 15.
Consult an electrician about which option would be better in your case.
Going into an existing outlet would also depend on where the closest outlet is and how much power is already being drained off that particular circuit.
When I was adding electrical outlets to a new music room (my office) in my home's basement, I had the advantage of working in a basement that was entirely unfinished. This meant that getting Romex to the breaker box was a lot easier as I didn't have to cut through drywall. Your situation might be different, in which case a dedicated circuit would be harder to pull off as you'd have to cut through beams and drywall to run the wiring properly.
This is where an electrician's input would be highly recommended.
What you can do, in the meantime
What I do when setting up a new outlet is simply run some yellow Romex into the back of the gang box, then screw the receptacle on loosely so my electrician can get to it quickly. It'll look something like this photo, minus the drwall:
Run the rest of the Romex line up through the frame (you may need to use a Speedbore auger drill bit to bore holes in the 2x4s) and leave some slack for your electrician to work with.
You can wire up the receptacle if you want but, how you do this will depend on whether you're going into an existing circuit or not. I would just loosely secure the outlet you plan to use onto the gang box and let your electrician take care of the rest.
Audio Cable Ports
We can now work on some of the more musical aspects of this project. As we're leaving the heavy electric duties to the professionals, we can run our own audio cables a lot more easily and can do so without outside help.
Once again, you have a few options, depending on your situation:
- Run TRS and XLR cables through the wall to an external audio source (mixer, recording room, etc.).
- Allow the TRS and XLR input to connect from the outside of the recording booth wall.
- Using a two-channel XLR snake and a drywall pass-through to run audio cables out of the recording booth.
In most cases the third option will be the easiest solution. This essentially means that you'll run a cable into a pass-through that you'll put in the drywall where you've positioned your second gang box. Depending on what kind of pass-through apparatus you have, you may not even need the blue gang box.
If you do want to use something like the Seismic Audio XLR and TRS panels, you'll need to solder the two ends together so that cables plugged into the inside and outside panels will be connected.
Soldering the XLR Output
This option would be better for larger parent rooms (the room containing your vocal booth) where more cable slack is needed.
Alternative to the Wall Plate and Soldering: Pass-Through with Snake
As mentioned, if you don't want to mess with the wall plates or the soldering, you can simplify things by using a two-channel XLR snake, like this one:
Here's a drywall pass-through box you can use in place of the metal audio plate. Once drywall is installed, you would need one on both sides of the wall covering the blue gang box.
You can pretty easily place one of these one either side of the drywall, even after the drywall has been installed. Then simply run your snake into the pass through and connect the outer end to channels on your recording device or mixer.
If you want to use a guitar or other instrument that requires a quarter-inch TRS intput, you can add a male-to-male TRS to XLR adapter.
Drywall, Mudding, Paint and Installing the Door
I'm not going into much detail for these sections because most people know how to put up drywall and paint it. The step in between the drywall and paint, mudding and sanding the drywall, is something I'd recommend hiring out for.
However, putting up sheet rock and painting it after it has been properly mudded, is a pretty simple process and not really unique to recording booths. With a few sheets of drywall, drywall screws and a power drill, most folks who are DIY savvy can have this done pretty quickly.
- Drywall install (DIY)
- Mudding and sanding (hire out)
- Painting (DIY)
After these three steps are complete, you'll want to pay a contractor to come in and install your door.
At this point, I'll assume you're comfortable with those steps and can move onto sound-proofing.
Acoustics and Soundproofing
All the heavy lifting is now completely out of the way and the only thing we have left to do is properly soundproof our new recording booth.
The first thing to consider is the floor and what material it's made out of. If you built the booth over a wood floor, laminate or any hard surface, I'd advise placing a thick comfy floor rug that covers as much of the interior floor of the booth as possible.
If you've built over carpet, there's no need to add anything else at ground level.
For walls and ceiling a 12 pack of acoustic panels are a good place to start. Depending on the size of your recording booth, ordering two or three of these packs should give you plenty of coverage. Each panel is 12" x 12" and one inch thick.
For a room this small, using foam soundproofing panels like these will probably be the only thing you have to do.
The parent room in which you've built the recording booth will also play a role in sound isolation, so consider adding some foam panels to those walls as well.
A Recap of NON-DIY Tasks
I've covered a lot of what I know how to do and what I think is attainable for the average DIY buff who sets about building a recording booth in their home or studio. Just to be thorough, let's recap the steps involved with building a recording booth that I don't recommend you do on your own.
- Installing the door
- Mudding and/or sanding drywall
- Running electrical outlets into the breaker box
What about trim around the base of the room?
Baseboard trim is another gray DIY area that I have done both ways. Me and my dad have installed trim in a living room and I've paid a general contractor to install it after me and my wife re-did our kitchen.
Having experienced both sides of that, I would have to say that hiring this job out is a no-brainer. Our contractor was really fast and was able to have it done in the kitchen within a couple hours.
When me and my dad tried to do trim, it took us nearly all morning and afternoon.
Your time is money, so if you want trim, hire that job out and have it done in a quick hour. Also consider that for such a small space, trim isn't really necessary unless you just want it to look nice. There's no right or wrong answer on that one.
Once your recording booth is done, I think you'll find that the results will have been well worth the effort. Particularly for vocals and mic'd acoustic guitar recording, the small isolated space will make a significant difference in the quality of your final product.
It's a lot of work, but it's a faster job than what you might think, especially if you hire out for the steps I suggested.
Depending on how responsive your contractor is, two weeks should be the high end of how long it takes to complete a job like this.
If you have questions about the process or my recommendations, drop them in the comments section below.