Anyone can buy a bunch of equipment and make recordings, but there are many more things that go into success. One is simply the recording and monitoring environment. Today’s question illustrates.
“OK, so I’ve bought the recording gear, built the sound room, and did just about everything else under the sun, but I know my room needs to be tuned still. Starting with the basics, can you tell me what I need and where to get the goods to make this happen? Years ago I lived in Los Angeles and I all I needed to do was look in the yellow pages to get someone to come over. Now, far from there, the best I can do is to find a shareware oscilloscope and heartburn.”
For clarity to all the readers we should define what is meant by “tuning a room.” This primarily consists of changing the physical attributes of the space, though with the control room it also can include equalizing the output of the studio monitors to compensate for the acoustic properties of the space. Before we go on it should be said that most people using near field monitors choose not to apply any equalization to them. When you are monitoring in the near field the impact of the acoustic space on what you hear is greatly reduced, especially if the room is rather large. Many engineers feel that equalizing studio monitors does more harm than good in these situations. If you have a good pair of near field monitors it is possible that a few minor adjustments to your space could produce a satisfactory monitoring environment.
So what about treating the space? Gee, I hate to give you a Tech Tip that says, “read a book,” but room acoustics are a deep science filled with many, many variables. Every room is a totally unique case that must be studied by someone who knows what they are looking for. In a real general sense we can say that you don’t want to have too much reverberation, but then you don’t want it too dead and lifeless either. Some people hang a bunch of foam (or even carpet) and think they’ve treated their room. While this can help, it sometimes serves to throw off the spectral balance between bass and treble due to the fact that most absorption materials are much more effective at soaking up high frequencies compared to low frequencies. You want to focus on eliminating early reflections, which means you need to keep the area around the speakers more absorptive. You also should eliminate obvious sources of reflection between the speaker and the listening position. Having someone move a mirror around the walls and ceiling can reveal these spots (a tech tip we’ve given several times before). Anyplace you see a reflection of your speakers in the mirror is an ideal candidate for absorption or diffusion. Diffusion is generally best applied to back walls and ceilings, though it can be effective on side walls. The same basic rules apply in the recording space as the control room. The only major difference (depending upon the attributes of the room of course) is you probably don’t have one location where the mic or the sound source always goes. That said, many recording spaces utilize the old LEDE approach, which allows you to position mics and sources to get optimal results based on the specific recording situation.
The bottom line is, if you are going to try to do this stuff yourself you have a lot of reading to do. We’ve done several related Tech Tips in the past that you can find by searching on some key words. We’ve also done an entire inSync Summit on acoustics that you may find interesting, and finally we have a very helpful white paper published by our friends at RPG on line for your reading pleasure. All this should help, but ultimately you’re going to get the most thorough information out of any number of available textbooks on the subject.
If you don’t want to become an expert and do it yourself you have a couple of other options. You can still call any of the professional consulting companies. Yes, most of them are located on the coasts, but they do rooms all over the world. You have to weigh the cost against how critical you think it is for you. The final, and perhaps most practical overall option, is to contact a company like RPG or Auralex. These people are immersed in acoustics all day long, but they both have very cost effective consulting services. These are biased services based on them hoping to sell you the materials they make to tune your room. RPG even has a software program you can purchase to help you critically analyze your needs. Our Sales Engineers can help you go down these various paths as well. We have a great relationship with a number of companies that provide these types of solutions, and we can stay in the loop throughout the process to make sure you end up with excellent results.