Home recording is quite an endeavor. There are many factors to consider when planning your home recording solutions, not just involving the hardware, instrumentation, and the D.A.W., but also how good your room sounds.
In truth, you could have the best gear in the world and be the most skillful sound engineer, but a bad sounding room will necessarily affect your recording. On top of that, it will also make your mixing and mastering process pretty useless, as the results you’ll hear in the monitors will be hugely affected by the environment.
How does your room impact your recording and monitoring?
We are now going to focus on the issues experienced by musicians using a microphone to record vocals or acoustic instruments. Guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, or whoever plugs their instrument directly into an audio interface (maybe through a D.I.) won’t experience these issues during the tracking process. However, a bad sounding room will always affect the monitoring, therefore the mixing and mastering process. If you record instruments and vocals through a microphone, there are two main elements to acknowledge.
Firstly, consider the noises coming in from the outside. You are probably going to record in the extra room in your apartment or your garage. In both cases, your tracking could be spoiled by cars honking, or by dogs barking, or by anything else happening down your street while you’re recording.
Another main issue is the reflection. When sound waves hit a surface, such as a bare wall, they reflect, adding unwanted frequencies and odd echoes to your track. To avoid this, you should consider placing absorbing panels in strategic spots in your room.
Let’s see if the absorbing and isolating material amateur musicians have been using for ages (egg carton) really work.
Can you soundproof with egg cartons?
A lot of home recorders use egg cartons as substitutes for foam or fiber-glass absorbing panels. However, the results are often disappointing. First of all, egg cartons are pretty useless for soundproofing: the carton is just too thin to dampen outside noises.
However, you could optimize the results by adding some other soundproofing material to the carton. Some musicians, for example, attach a few layers of cardboard to the egg cartons, obtaining a decent outcome.
Are they good enough to fix the reflection issue, though?
To figure this out, we have to understand what the sound absorption coefficient is. This metric is a measurement of the capacity of a material to absorb specific frequencies.
Egg cartons do have a significant absorption coefficient, but it is also very variable. It is higher at higher frequencies and very close to 0 at low frequencies.
In other words, egg cartons are not a reliable material to fix the reflection issues in your room, becoming useless and even damaging when it comes to low frequencies (usually the most “disturbing” ones in a mix).
There is an additional element to consider, however: your room. What’s the shape of your room? How big is it? Does it contain furniture? These factors can somewhat change the effectiveness of any acoustic treatment you could do, whether it is with egg cartons or professional soundproofing material.
This is probably why people are still fascinated by the idea of building an inexpensive home recording studio covered in egg cartons: the experiences of musicians with this kind of material are variegated because each room is different. Having a look at the data, however, and the absorption coefficient, we can conclude that egg cartons are not the best material for acoustic treatment.
On top of being pretty useless on the recording and monitoring side, egg cartons could also potentially represent a fire hazard. Cartons, particularly paper cartons, are, of course, very flammable material, so it is no surprise you will find this warning on many audio and home-recording related forums and blogs.
Cheap and safer alternatives to egg cartons
Let’s see how we can reduce unwanted noises coming from the outside without using egg cartons and without spending most of our salary.
First of all, soundproof your windows (if there’s any in your recording room) with curtains. You could use a conventional home curtain, but there are specific soundproof curtains on the market. Their price is affordable, starting at around $30, which could be a bit of an investment, but it will get the jobs done.
Another tiny investment that will work wonders is in weather stripping weather strips applied to your doors and windows will significantly remove the noise coming from the outside, while also making your house more energy-efficient. To fix the reflection issue, you could opt for acoustic foam panels and bass traps. These two products should be used in conjunction to reach the best result, as they absorb different kinds of frequencies.
There are some ready-made panels and bass traps available on the market. If money is a factor, you can also build your own, possibly with acoustic fire batts, very dense mineral wool exceptional for acoustic treatment.
Some other cheap yet effective tricks to have the best sounding room for your recording are: adding carpets to the floor, hanging thick blankets to the walls, or just making sure your walls aren’t bare (even a bookshelf or any other kind of furniture could make a difference).
In conclusion, it is not advisable to use egg cartons for the acoustic treatment of the room you are going to use as a recording studio. There are other cheap yet more effective solutions you can use to soundproof your home recording studio.
If you are determined to try the egg cartons, however, go for it. Just keep in mind that it might be necessary to add some other soundproofing material to them. Lastly, remember that the shape of your room and how you fix the furniture could also hugely affect the results.