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September 27, 2012

Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Filed under: Home Studio — Tags: , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:01 am

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

Whether you’re a self-recording hobbyist or a professional mixing engineer, studio work is about making decisions. If the room you’re making decisions in isn’t a reliable listening environment, then the decisions you’re making won’t be reliable either.

Luckily there is a community of experienced acousticians, design consultants, and studio contractors dedicated to providing specialized services to musicians and engineers, in studios large and small. This article compiles some thoughts from two such studio acoustics professionals:

Tom Day began working on studio design projects in the late 1980s with a friend who had recently opened a consulting firm in Los Angeles. In a couple of years, they built a series of musicians’ studios within, and outside of, the constraints of zoning and code in L.A.’s complex, competitive, and restrictive collection of communities.

In 2001 Tom restarted his business, Wirebender Audio Systems, to provide a variety of services to studios and other customers. He has provided consulting for project studio designs, college studio facilities, industrial and business-space noise control, and a couple of industrial products that required noise output reduction analysis.

Bryan Knisley has been providing custom studio design and contractor services for 12 years. His company, North Orbit, serves a wide range of home, project, and commercial studio clients. Most of the people Bryan works for are musicians or studio owners working in the commercial music industry.

In addition to studio projects, Bryan works on a wide range of commercial and residential sound control projects. He also helps test various products and designs at Orfield Labs, an acoustic laboratory in Minneapolis.

What is the most common acoustic problem you find in the typical home studio or under-designed commercial studio?

Tom: Too much emphasis on reverberation treatment before creating reasonable noise isolation. If the room isn’t quiet, reverberation and reflection problems may not be the biggest problem in the room design. Absorption provides little-to-no value if you are bothering your neighbors, or if outside noises are finding their way into your recordings.

Bryan: I would have to say that most often I find speaker placements and/or mix positions that need to be adjusted before room treatments even start going in. Nearfield monitors are often way too far apart, too close to a front wall, or the engineer is seated too far forward or back for the particular room.

Subwoofers are often right up against a wall, or stuck in a corner. That will excite the existing room modes even more and enhance low frequency problems. Most home or project studios are small, and the fundamental axial mode frequencies are easily reproduced by a subwoofer (or any monitor with a low enough frequency range). For example, a 12-foot wide room has a fundamental axial mode of about 46.5Hz.

What is the most common room treatment question you hear from home studio clients?

Bryan: “How can I treat my low frequency problems so my mixes will translate better?”

Tom: “How do I keep from irritating my neighbors when I’m recording drums?” Next would be, “How do I do all of that [the answers to the first question] cheaply?”

In your experience, are there any particular elements of a typical small studio treatment project that lend themselves to a DIY approach?

Tom: Absolutely. With reasonable knowledge, decent construction skills, patience, a critical eye to detail, and time, I think building a decent small studio space [yourself] is incredibly practical.

Bryan: Yes! Absorption panels are fairly easy to make, and a great place to start. Diffusers, bass traps, resonators, etc. are all very fun to make, and you’ll learn a ton along the way.

Unfortunately, you’ll probably make a ton of mistakes as well. Asking around and finding someone experienced who’s ‘been there and done that’ to come to your space for an hour is probably money and time better spent! I’m very much a DIY guy, but I’m lucky to have worked with very knowledgeable folks over the years and continue to learn new things every day.

A lot of beginning engineers, and even some working engineers and studio owners, dismiss the importance of detailed room treatment, or delay it because of expense. How would your simplest argument against those attitudes go?

Bryan: Unless you’re mixing with headphones, your room is coloring what you hear. You can spend a truckload of money and chase an “ideal” room forever, but with good ears and some effective room treatments you can make a huge improvement in your mixing and/or listening environment. When it sounds good, it’s fun to go to work.

Tom: There is, of course, a return-on-investment to be considered with any expense. However, a well done acoustic treatment can be reasonably priced and can make the difference between a workable space and a constant fight to figure out what is coming out of the monitors.

When room resonances, isolation problems (and the resulting signal-to-noise/dynamic range capabilities of the studio), and reverberant character of the room are appropriate for the work being done, the client can get a lot more work done in less time with more confidence. If the room in question is used for music performance, competent acoustic treatment will make the difference between a recording that sounds professionally done, and one done in a closet.

Sometimes a visit from an acoustic designer can provide useful DIY tips so the client can do the work on a tight budget and get a reasonably professional result.

To read the rest of the interviews please see:  Acoustic Treatment for Small Studios

December 30, 2010

Compressors: How They Really Work

It’s one of the most used, and most misunderstood, signal processors. While people use it to make a recording “punchier,” it often ends up dulling the sound instead because the controls aren’t set optimally. And it was supposed to go away when the digital age, with its wide dynamic range, appeared.

Yet the compressor is more popular than ever, with more variations on the basic concept than ever before. Let’s look at what’s available, pros and cons of the different types, and applications.

Introduction

Compression was originally invented to shoehorn the dynamics of live music (which can exceed 100 dB) into the restricted dynamic range of radio and TV broadcasts (around 40-50 dB), vinyl (50-60 dB), and tape (40dB to 105 dB, depending on type, speed, and noise reduction used). As shown in Fig. 1, this process lowers only the peaks of signals while leaving lower levels unchanged, then boosts the overall level to bring the signal peaks back up to maximum. (Bringing up the level also brings up any noise as well, but you can’t have everything.)

Fig. 1: The first, black section shows the original audio. The middle, green section shows the same audio after compression; the third, blue section shows the same audio after compression and turning up the output control. Note how softer parts ot the first section have much higher levels in the third section, yet the peak values are the same.

Even though digital media such as the CD have a decent dynamic range, people are accustomed to compressed sound. Compression has been standard practice to help soft signals overcome the ambient noise in typical listening environments; furthermore, analog tape has an inherent, natural compression that engineers have used (consciously or not) for over half a century.

There are other reasons for compression. With digital encoding, higher levels have less distortion than lower levels—the opposite of analog technology. So, when recording into digital systems (tape or hard disk), compression can shift most of the signal to a higher overall average level to maximize resolution.

Compression can create greater apparent loudness (commercials on TV sound so much louder than the programs because they are compressed without mercy). Furthermore, given a choice between two roughly equivalent signal sources, people will often prefer the louder one. And of course, compression can smooth out a sound—from increasing piano sustain to compensating for a singer’s poor mic technique.

Now let’s look at some compressor basics…

Compressor Types

Compressors are available in hardware (usually a rack mount design or for guitarists, a “stomp box”) and as software plug-ins for existing digital audio-based programs. Following is a description of various compressor types.

  • “Old faithful.” Whether rack-mount or software-based, typical features include two channels with gain reduction amount meters that show how much your signal is being compressed, and most of the controls mentioned above.
  • Multiband compressors. These divide the audio spectrum into multiple bands, with each one compressed individually. This allows for a less “effected” sound (for example, low frequencies don’t end up compressing high frequencies), and some models let you compress only the frequency ranges that need to be compressed.
  • Vintage and specialty compressors. Some swear that only the compressor in an SSL console will do the job. Others find the ultimate squeeze to be a big bucks tube compressor. And some guitarists can’t live without their vintage Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer, considered by many to be the finest guitar sustainer ever made. Fact is, all compressors have a distinctive sound, and what might work for one sound source might not work for another. If you don’t have that cool, tube-based compressor from the 50s of which engineers are enamored, don’t lose too much sleep over it: Many software plug-ins emulate vintage gear with an astonishing degree of accuracy.

Whatever kind of audio work you do, there’s a compressor somewhere in your future. Just don’t overcompress—in fact, avoid using compression as a cop out for bad mic technique or dead strings on a guitar. I wouldn’t go as far as those who diss all kinds of compression, but it is an effect that needs to be used subtly to do its best.

To read the full article see:  Compressors Demystified

August 13, 2009

In the Studio with Michael Wagener Pt.4 – Bass

Filed under: Bass, Recording reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:05 am

We’ve already dealt with drums and guitar, now it’s time for the bass…

Arguably less interesting, in terms of sound, than a guitar or drums, the bass is recorded through a DI and then “re-amped”. What is re-amping? It’s a technique that consists of putting a previously recorded signal through an amp to record what comes out of it. It’s one of Michael Wagener’s specialties…

See exclusive video demonstration:

Recording Bass with Michael Wagener Part 4

July 13, 2009

Recording Drums with Michael Wagener Part 1

Recording is an art and often a matter of experience, and so what better way of gaining some understanding of what’s involved than by listening to the prestigious American engineer Michael Wagener talk about his recording tips and secrets. Starting with mic placement for drums …

Michael Wagener: If you like rock in general and metal in particular, you probably know his name, because this engineer has worked with some of the most prestigious artists such as: Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Queen, Alice Cooper, Megadeth, Helloween, Testament, Dokken, Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Accept, Extreme, Janet Jackson, King’s X. Quite simply, the list of albums and singles he has recorded or mixed is simply staggering…

So when Royer Labs and Jukebox LTD invited us to meet him while he was in the studio with the band Cockpit, we jumped at the opportunity and decided to film the whole experience, to better show you how he does his thing. And needless to say, we weren’t disappointed. We were even surprised. Not by Michael’s skill (he has little to prove), but by his affable manner and willingness to share his wisdom.

So, we were able to ask him almost anything we wanted about microphone placement, or about the gear he uses. The result is a kind of Masterclass, that we will unveil, episode by episode, in the coming weeks.

Michael Wagener is quite exhaustive on the subject of mic placement, and his views are all the more interesting since he uses ribbon mics quite extensively. He therefore dispelled certain preconceived notions about them: no, ribbon mics are not only for jazz, no, they are not limited in the high frequency range, and no, they are not as fragile as we’re led to believe, you can even record a bass drum with them.

But let’s listen to what he has to say in this first episode:

To see more exclusive video demos visit Audiofanzine Videos.

May 23, 2009

Making a Studio Pt.3

Making a Studio Pt.3
Acoustics

Sound is a wave, much like the ripples on a still body of water when a rock is dropped into it. The larger the wave, the lower the tone. Lower tones, known as bass frequencies, travel in wide long waves while higher tones known as treble frequencies travel in a tighter, shorter wave. Frequencies heard by the human ear range from 20Hz to 20K. Just as an indication, a piano’s range, probably the widest range of any instrument, is from 39Hz on the low note and 3Khz on the high note.

Plan de groupe A typical 1/3 octave graphic EQ plugin with frequencies ranging from 20HZ to 20K

Sound is measured in decibels also represented as dB. An average concert is about 95-100 dB while a heavy rock concert or hip hop concert could reach levels of 130dB. This is above the threshold of pain; so don’t forget to wear your earplugs which are designed to protect your hearing when in extreme sound levels. Interestingly enough, whales can actually produce levels of up to 180dB. It should be remembered that taking care of your ears is the most important thing you can do to prevent damage and have a sustained career. So don’t hang out with any whales and put some protection in your ears when exposed to loud volumes.

Plan de groupe A typical 1/3 octave EQ spectrum analyzer with frequencies ranging from 20HZ to 20K

Now let’s take a closer look at other aspects…

Commercial & Private Studios

The commercial studio is there to provide the ultimate service for anyone who wants to pay. They are out to cater to the demanding Artist. The ultimate goal for the commercial studio is to make a profit. Top recording artists have healthy budgets to get that ultimate sound. Many artists like the no hassle style of recording that the commercial facility provides. The premier studios will have all the requirements needed to have a smooth production.

Plan de groupeCherokee Studios [1]

The studio equipment is always the latest and most technologically advanced to keep up with the never-ending race for the most groundbreaking sound creation device. Commercial studios are constantly purchasing new gear. The elite studios will also have a collection of vintage gear as well. Vintage gear has a certain character that can only be reproduced by the older technology. This becomes a very valuable asset in achieving alternative sounds.

The studio staff is available for what ever any artist, engineer, or producer may need. High-end full service studios can accommodate any possible situation from a simple rock band to a huge orchestral string section.Most studios have interns or runners that are required to do anything asked of them. At any given studio the interns may be seen washing cars and cutting grass.

The assistant engineer in most cases will have immense knowledge of how the room is setup and be able to quickly reply to any request that is commanded. He becomes the engineers’ right hand for connecting all the microphones and patching outboard gear. The Assistant Engineers’ job is basically limitless. Knowing how to make a good cup o’ coffee can definitely come in handy. Sessions can literally go for days at a time, and the commercial studios are setup and accustomed to the long hours. The technicians are on staff immediately if there is a problem with anything breaking down. Studio gear is very sensitive and delicate, therefore is does breakdown often. Many times user error may cause gear to be not working at times and if the Assistant can’t figure out the issue then a Tech will surely be able to troubleshoot the problem.

Upscale studios will also have security and respect for privacy for sensitive productions. Even getting into some studios without an appointment could be like getting into Fort Knox. All great studios will also have reliable recommendations for musicians, engineers and producers if they are not already on staff.

Plan de groupeVillage Studios [2]

What to look for

Look for studios that have recorded records that are similar to the Artist you are recording. Simply pick up the records you like and see where they where recorded and by who they were recorded. You will be surprised that you will see many names recurring. Check the discography of the studio to see how much experience the studio has. If many hits were recorded there it is a good sign that the studio is doing its job. That is one of the best references a studio can have. The Engineer should be consulted to make sure that all the proper equipment; software and microphone selection is available for the style of music that is being recorded.

If everything is clean and in working order that signifies that the studio will also take pride in your music. Quickly overlooking that all the lights are in working condition on the gear and console is a simple way to see that the equipment is properly maintained. Changing light bulbs is a simple task. If that is taken care of, that is also a sign that the studio is on top of their maintenance. Polite and professional atmosphere is of up most importance to the entire process. Nobody wants to deal with attitudes. Remember the Artist is the only star that shines in his booked studio time. Seeking a studio that has the vibe or atmosphere that makes the Artist or Producer comfortable is a key issue in determining where to establish the recording process also. Many hours will be spent within close quarters so décor and general atmosphere is a main concern.

The Private Studio

Many Producers and engineers have their own private studio. It is common nowadays that the recording budget is spent on purchasing gear for a studio. The benefit is that the equipment belongs to you in the end. Another major advantage is that you will not be charged by the hour for studio time. Average studio rates are from $50 to $250 per hour.

Privacy and secrecy is much more controlled in a private studio as well.

Privacy and Setting the Mood

Keeping all sessions under a vale of secrecy is highly important. New music is constantly being recorded in every studio. It is imperative that this music does not fall into the wrong hands. If it leaks out into the public before it hits the airwaves it could lose momentum for a successful single. Even worse the possibility of another artist stealing the song may be a factor without sufficient security and privacy.

To read the full detailed article see: Making a Studio Part 3


May 11, 2009

Making a Studio Pt.2

Making a Studio Pt.2
Electricity

Nothing will work without electricity unless you’re jamming at the local drum circles down on the beach. Electrical installation studio power is often overlooked. Studios will setup a “clean feed” that is a separate breaker from the rest of the general power that is being used for air conditioning, lighting and the basic necessities of the rest of the building. Have you ever plugged something in and heard that horrific buzzing sound coming from the speakers or guitar amp? This is usually due to bad electrical wiring, which causes ground noise. This is the first thing to listen for when going in to a studio session. A simple solution to the problem would be to use a simple ground lifter on the gear or lift the ground from a direct box which can also solve the problems. We will go into details later.

Ouverture

Isolated electrical circuits for each individual room are a must in a recording studio. The proper amount of amperage is also a must. Not enough amperage will surely cause your breakers to blow. Consult with an Electrician who is familiar with studio setups to insure that wiring and voltage is regulated and conforming with local codes.

Unregulated Power Supplies (UPS) should also be in place just in case there is a power failure. This will insure that valuable equipment will not blow up or cause a fire. If there is a case of a power outage the UPS will provide enough time to backup important computer files and safely turn off your equipment. Some studios will have complete generator systems in place to keep the studio running for the remainder of the session.

Improper lighting can also cause buzzing ground issues, especially fluorescent bulbs. Avoid using these in any studio. Dimmers can also cause many problems. The average household dimmers will surely put a damper into a clean sound. Make sure that professional grade dimmers are installed to avoid ground noise. Always listen carefully to signals being recorded before committing to a final take. There are a countless number of accounts that the engineer discovers electrical noise on takes during the mix process.

Plan de groupe A simple ground lifter can help to eliminate buzzes in the studio.

If you are serious about your studio, may I suggest balance power or a separated panel with neutral power conditioning. The evil problems of ground issues are a direct reflection of sources returning or looking for a different ground. Voltage potential between neutral and ground will certainly change your way of looking at things… for example, .5 volts between neutral and ground is the maximum allowance by UL code that electronics will operate optimally without potential induction issues. I would suggest having a meter installed to rate this. Logging this information and having a good rapport with the local electric company would not hurt at all.

Now let’s continue…

Location

Booking the proper studio

Where one decides to record is as important as what they are recording. If a band is located in Los Angeles why not just find a studio in L.A.? There are plenty of studios in L.A. with amazing gear and fabulous rooms yet the distractions of being in their hometown could take away from the focus of concentrating on the recording process. Many artists will book studios in remote locations to avoid outside interference and distractions. Privacy is very important in the entire process. Friends coming over to drink beer during the sessions could definitely hinder the process.

When budgets do not permit then finding a studio in a location that is suitable for the logistics of all who are involved in the project must come into play. The most important thing is that everyone feels comfortable in the location. If you have to pack your 9mm to get from the car to the studio then you may want to reconsider. When booking the studio look for a good location, a good price and make sure the gear and the room is adequate.

Deciding where to build a studio

Plan de groupe Urban…

In business, location is everything. Asking yourself if you have enough clients in that area to sustain all of the bills that incur for your studio, must be the key to your decision. Only a few very talented industry pros have the luxury of clients going out of their way to work in a remote location.

Purchasing a building for a studio is a great option for many reasons. By owning the property you become the landlord. Therefore you can do a build out as you please. This is a great investment as an alternative to a lease. Many Artists these days are buying houses and renovating them as Recording Studios. Many mansions have been converted into studios. This option for obvious reasons definitely brings the comforts of home right to the recording process.

Plan de groupe or Rural?

Whether building a private studio, a home studio or a commercial facility, they all take a bit of investigation before committing to the expense. Parking should be considered as well as local conveniences such as anything that your focus client base may desire. If your clients are country artists I don’t think they would like recording on South Beach and if your clients are looking to be around where the action is the mountainside resort studio is probably not ideal.

Visit Audiofanzine soon for part 3 of Making of a Studio, talking about acoustics, commercial studios, home studios and more.

To read the full detailed article see Making a Studio Part2

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