In our October issue, we talked to top-notch designers to get practical tips for improving your home studio. Here, we share some more of their thoughts… Peter Grueneisen on preparing for your first meeting with a designer:
Our clients usually know what they’re looking for. That’s the most important preparation, I think—to know what you want to do in the room and how it needs to work for you, and those things can be very individual; people have so many different ways of working. Our first goal is to find out how they like to work and what their typical ways of doing things, and try to work with that. Sometimes we’ll find out something that doesn’t quite make sense, and we’ll try to help that person figure out whether there’s a better to do it or if there’s maybe a better way, especially when it comes to special relationships in buildings. Maybe rooms need to be arranged differently so you can move more easily from one space to another, for example. So be ready to talk about your workflow, in other words.
It’s also important just to have all the facts straight. If the client is moving into a new place, get as much information as possible ahead of time. I think the key is also to go in with an open mind, to listen and bring everything out in the open so there are no secrets. I think it’s good to not have too many preconceptions. Sometimes a person gets an idea of doing something a certain way, and maybe it’s not always the best way and they should be willing to change that. Come with your facts straight, but not too many fixed ideas. Chris Pelonis on his Model 42 speakers:
If I were going to give any DIY guys advice, first I’d say you really should buy my Model 42 speakers. I know it sounds funny, but they’re just so deadly accurate. One of the biggest problems happens when people are using speakers that aren’t accurate. I’m not knocking other brands, but you’ve got to have accurate speakers—whether it comes that way or you do some EQ to it. Start with a monitor that you can trust. That’s why I developed the Model 42.
I’m not saying that my speaker is the only [accurate] speaker in the world, but it’s the only one that I would use for my room. Honest to God, it’s the only speaker I trust to do my own recordings and mixing. It’s that revealing. But the Model 42 also doesn’t go down very low. It goes down to about the 70s [Hz range], so you’re going to have less of an issue with low-frequency boundary interference of the really low frequencies—the longer wavelengths—and that’s where you can really get into trouble. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to move a speaker around in the room to get that straightened out with boundary interference. You might have everything below 100 Hz looking good, but then 100 to 300 is a mess; you straighten out 100 to 300, and everything below 100 is screwed up. So with the Model 42 and the Model 42 LF, which is the sub, you can put the subwoofer where it needs to be to line up with the model 42. Sometimes it’s right in the middle, sometimes it’s offset a little bit, sometimes it’s against the wall, and I think there have been rooms where I’ve taken the subwoofer and put it all the way up against the side wall because that’s where everything lines up. Then you can then do some time-alignment to get the sub in phase w/ the Model 42; a 2.1 system that’s really well-engineered can be a big advantage in a room that has acoustical problems. Fran Manzella on defining the scope of a redesign
The priorities for any acoustical redesign depend on the order of magnitude of the problems. The first thing we’d do with a client is do a consult. Let’s identify the different problems. Then let’s decide, based on the budget, what are we addressing. Are we addressing sound isolation? Are we addressing interior room acoustics? Are we addressing aesthetics and lighting? What are your priorities? What are we going to spend this money on? Usually in a half-day or one-day consult, we can come up with a priority list that may , depending on the budget, lead to some design work or further consulting work. I’ve done a number of projects this year where I’ve treated single rooms for post-production customers, and they came to me and said we’ve got $X—$15k, $30k, $45k, whatever it is, and we will try to tell them how they can best spend that money—sometimes that’s what they’re paying me for.
In these cases, we always start by looking at the hardest stuff first. That means isolation: Are we addressing isolation, and what are the problems? Next you get into infrastructure. Are there electrical or air-conditioning problems with the room? Is the room air-conditioned? Do you have enough electricity to run your equipment? Is the electricity clean enough to run your equipment? Do you need to go out and buy a $500 UPS power regulator and deal with that? Then we get into the interior room acoustics, and there, again, we start with the hardest stuff first: low frequencies. Is your gear in the best position it can be, and are the speakers in the best position they can be? Is your listening position in the best place it can be? What about bass trapping? Let’s measure specific problems.
Sometimes after this kind of consultation, we’ll end up giving plans for tuned Helmholtz traps that people will build themselves—like a little speaker box with a port on it. We’ve had great results over the years with those, for very specific frequency problems. If you’ve got, say, this really big buildup at 83 Hz or a really big null at 62 Hz, we’ll find the spot where there’s a lot of that energy and plop down a couple of traps right there. Once we find a solution to low-frequency issues, we next address more reflection control and high-frequency absorption.
A lot of people don’t understand how to prioritize the treatment of the room; it should always be low-frequency first and then reflection control. So wherever I set up my gear, wherever I set up my speakers or sit to listen to them, I have to look around the room and say “Okay, I’ve got a hard ceiling and I’ve got two hard walls—I want to put absorption on those surfaces to eliminate those very early reflections because, otherwise, I’m going to get a whole bunch of cancellations and comb filters because of those early reflections. You know, properly done, a small amount of absorption can go a long way in that regard. It doesn’t have to be huge pieces, but 2x4 or 2x2 chunks of absorptive panels, or pieces spaced off the wall so they have a reasonably effective bandwidth.
After you get past that, you get to overall room absorption. Is the room too live? Is the room too dead? How much absorption does my room need? Those are often the questions. But by the time you do the bass trapping and you handle the reflection control, you generally get into the area where you’ve got enough absorption. Now you can throw some curtains up on a couple of windows, and all of a sudden the room sounds very natural.