Q: What is the best material for my studio floor?

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Record-Producer.com.

Thursday November 30, 2006
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A 'band parent' asks whether the floor of their converted basement should be covered with laminate or carpet.

A question from a 'band parent'...

My 22 yr old son plans on making an area of our basement into a home recording studio. Please advise: is one floor material preferable than another? (ex: laminate vs carpet) Any help is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Band Parent

Hmm, 'band parent' is an interesting expression. I suspect there might be an awful lot of long-suffering band parents who wish their offspring had taken up art instead...

The first point here is that the room is a basement. That's great because there is nothing below it to cause any problems. Unless you live near an underground railway of course, which actually many people in major cities do, so it can be a real problem. But let's assume that it isn't here. If you have an upper level room and cover the floor with laminate (or so-called 'engineered wood' which is effectively a laminate made from real wood), then you may have a problem with impact noise from footfalls. The solution to this is to 'float' the floor by placing a resilient layer under the laminate. But in a basement this problem doesn't arise. If you look at photos of professional studios, you will often see laminate flooring. So this seems to imply that it is better than carpet.

The one major reason why laminate is better than carpet is that carpet gets pretty shabby under heavy wear. And studio areas do get heavy wear - there is a lot of motion going on in a small space, much more than in a typical living room (where people spend most of their time 'vegging' in front of the TV.) The drawback to laminate is that it creates a hard flat reflective surface, and hard flat reflective surfaces are bad for acoustics.

Generally speaking, there has to be some reflection in a room, otherwise it sounds too dead. But that reflection needs to be broken up by irregular surfaces, and an irregular floor doesn't really work too well for walking on. The acoustic drawback to carpet is that it absorbs at mid and high frequencies, but not at low frequencies. So too much carpet can bias a room towards the low end, making it acoustically 'heavy'.

So let's cut through to the solution, which is to use a combination of laminate and carpet. Use laminate in the heavily trafficked areas, such as the operator's position at the mixing console. And use carpet where people don't move around so much. Of course, other acoustic treatment will be necessary on the walls, and you have to consider the ceiling too. But as far as the floor is concerned - job done!

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