I did a great deal of reading about various ideas for a Do-It-Yourself vocal booth before this putting this project together. And I educated myself about what is sound absorbing, or sound deadening, and what is sound proofing, or sound blocking.
I looked into a PVC pipe frame idea with shower curtain rings and sound absorbing blankets with grommets. This was the most promising idea that people had come up with; however, I've worked with PVC before and I don't like it. Plus buying five sound-absorbing blankets with grommets ($45-$55 each plus shipping) and PVC piping and connectors ($30-$50) and shower curtain rings ($10-$15) was in the neighborhood of $370-$415. Although this design may work decently for a time, should I decide in the future to go the route of creating a professional vocal booth, this would be a wasted expense. In addition, the reassembly or storage issue was not conducive to my small space. So I decided to do some more research and spent an additional $100 for a better and more adaptable design.
What I wanted to create was a nice dry, dead space to allow my vocals and acoustic instruments to shine. My microphone, a Rode NTK, is a reasonably-priced, tube condenser microphone with a cardioid, or heart-shaped, polar pattern. It picks up everything within a short distance, has minimal pick up from the rear and virtually ignores most other noise. This kind of microphone is perfect for my purposes and for this type of vocal booth design.
My plan was to create a 4' x 4' x 7' high vocal booth with a removable roof that could be stored flat against a wall adding a nice sound-absorbing feature to my rehearsal space. This size would provide plenty of room to maneuver with my guitar, bouzouki, ukulele or gittern and allow room for a mobile recording desk. And the height was ideal for those of us with eight to nine-foot ceilings. The seams, or joints, were to be made of duck tape, and the acoustic foam was to be mounted to foamboard insulation sheets. I could also create a rectangular structure with the aid of a wall to form a 4' x 8' space should I need a larger recording area. Additionally, should I decide in the future to build a solid, professional vocal booth, the interior walls would already be built. My budget for this project was $515 and I came in at $495.
1. Six 48" x 72" Sheets of Two-Inch Closed Acoustic / Color Foam. I looked at many patterns of foam and decided on the two-inch closed foam pattern to create a nice, level rate of absorption that would work exceptionally well for recording vocals, my primary focus. And it was well-suited for recording acoustic instruments, my secondary objective. Finding a reputable and reasonably-priced foam dealer took some research. However, I ordered my foam from The Foam Factory and was pleased with the quality and service. They will even make cuts for you for a small fee, so I had four cuts made. However, I ended up buying an electric knife to trim the foam more precisely myself anyways, so I would skip the pre-cut service if I were you. The total cost was $411 which included shipping and the four cuts which were around $20.
2. One 54" x 48" Sheet of 3/16" Corrugated Cardboard for the ceiling of the booth. Using a disassembled, quality cardboard box worked well.
3. Four 1" x 48" x 96" Sheets of Foamboard Insulation. I bought R-Tech foamboard with silver backing from a hardware store and got a super deal on them. They run about $13-$15 a sheet, but I paid only $28 for the lot. If I hadn't got the deal, I probably would have gone with Owen's Foamular as it's super easy to cut and is about the same price.
4. Five Tubes of Liquid Nails Projects (the Red label) Construction Adhesive. This is probably overkill, but at $3 a tube it's easy to apply. The last thing that I wanted was the foam to peel off the foamboard.
5. Three Rolls of 60-yard Duck Tape. This was used to seal the edges of the foamboard and cardboard ceiling and to create the joints to allow the vocal booth to fold and unfold.
1. A Black and Decker Electric Knife to cut the foam. I got it for $8, a steal of a deal, but normally they are $20. I used my dining room table as a guide to make straight, vertical cuts.
2. Caulking Gun
3. Tape measure
5. Yardstick or straight-edge
6. Utility Knife
STEP ONE: Trim and Edge the Foamboard
My rule is use what you have, if possible. For example, I used an old triangle from my architecture classes as a straight edge to mark the cut lines. And I used a pair of scissors for the first foamboard I cut. It did a decent job. Then my partner found a utility knife which was quicker, easier to use and made a cleaner cut. The scissors took longer and the cut was not as clean or straight. If scissors is all you have, use this cut end as the top and it won't matter.
Note: If you have high ceilings and don't want to cut the foamboard, you can use it as is (eight feet). This will save you a little work; however, remember to order more foam and have it cut differently if you don't want a one-foot section of your booth uncovered. And the removable ceiling would be eight feet tall now requiring a step stool and/or some fancy balancing to pull it shut. I'm 5'10" and I'm not able to reach an eight-foot ceiling. And seven-foot sheets are easier to move around.
After I cut the foam boards, I edged them with duck tape. This will reduce wear and tear and ensure that you don't have tiny foam particles eternally scattered about your recording space.
Center the tape.
Smooth it down.
For corners, pinch them first then smooth them down.
STEP TWO: Assemble the Foamboard
I laid the foamboards on the floor, duck-taped them together then added a couple more strips of duck tape overlapping the joint, one offset to the left and one to the right, for support. It seemed like it would have been easier to add the foam to the foamboard before taping the foamboards together; however, I didn't want to deal with peeling back the foam to add the tape especially due to its awkward size and fragility. The area I had to work in was about 12' x 10', so it took some ingenuity to tape the foamboards together. My back wall measures 17' long; however, the room is angled and only the center and right sides of the room were large enough to accommodate the large boards.
STEP THREE: Cut the Foam
Now that you've got the foamboard cut, edged and assembled, it's time to cut the foam. To make the vocal box close nice and snug, you must account for a 2-inch gap, the thickness of the overlapping foam, for the joints as well as for the ceiling. You will, more than likely, have to trim every piece of foam as it is normally sized a little larger from the factory than the ordered specs. I found it helpful to cut on one or two sides as the factory cuts were fairly straight. In addition, I used my dining room table as a guide to maintain a nice vertical cut with the electric knife. Here are the cuts that I did:
Large Side Panels:
- Two 48" x 70" pieces
- Two 44" x 70" pieces
Small Side Panels (bottom pieces):
- Two 48" x 12" pieces
- Two 44" x 12" pieces
- One 48" x 48" piece
This will take some time; however, it is well worth the patient effort to get the cuts right. And after some practice, you will get better at working with this material. In addition, it is helpful to place the foam on the foamboard BEFORE EACH CUT to ensure that you measured it correctly. If it's too big, no problem. You can trim it. If you cut it too small, foam doesn't grow back even if you water it! And I had a decent amount of foam left over including a large 48" x 48" piece. I may mount this on the wall should I decide to face the booth against it to create a 4' x 8' space.
STEP FOUR: Glue the Foam
If you don't want to risk messing up a large piece of foam by slathering it with glue, assemble the roof first. You've got an extra 48" x 48" piece, so doing the roof first will allow you a do-over. You will probably do some or a lot of back-and-forth measuring and trimming to get it right, but that's how carpentry goes. Be patient and mark the corners where you want the foam placed. This will provide a guide to where you should apply the glue. I recommend putting the glue on the foamboard and conscripting a helper to help you line it up. However, you have about 20 minutes to get the foam in its final place, so don't panic if you get it wrong a few or many times.
In addition, I edged and bound a couple 1' x 4' foamboard scraps with duck tape and made a neat little folding wedge to hold up part of the box while the lower part was drying. I glued foam to a maximum of two 4' x 7' foamboards per night due to my restricted space and let the glue dry for 12-15 hours. That was probably overkill, but it didn't inconvenience me. And I placed heavy books on the foam to press is down and left it to dry overnight.
STEP FIVE: Stand the Vocal Box Upright
This may seem easy; however, once you have the foam glued to the foamboard, it may be a little cumbersome and challenging to set it upright. So take your time. You only have to do this once and you're done! Enjoy your new vocal box. This project took me about four three-hour evenings after I figured out a good design and the proper materials. Now, the real work begins: recording.
Comment below with any questions or modifications you made.