MSR StudioPanel

Getting a mix to translate to the outside world can be tricky for the budding project studio owner. Often, we’re forced to deal with less-than-ideal room acoustics, which can make it difficult to judge bass levels, perceive high-frequency details, and detect early reflection problems during tracking. In other words, a recipe for mix disaster.

There are a variety of acoustic treatment options for correcting poor room acoustics, including the ever popular and affordable foam wedges and panels. And sure, this kind of system generally helps the reflective qualities in a room. But foam has its limitations. It doesn’t offer the kind of full-spectrum frequency control that more dense, purpose-built solutions do, for example.

To truly tame a room’s acoustic properties and produce a smoother frequency response typically requires an experienced acoustician to come in and install a variety of components: bass traps, diffusers, hanging “clouds”, and so on. But unless you’re booking sessions for major labels, you may not have the bucks to hire an acoustics specialist. That’s where the experts at MSR come into play.

Their StudioPanel treatment kits are designed by a team of acousticians who’ve been in the business of custom installation for over 15 years. They’ve taken this experience and rolled it into a product line of pre-built, modular acoustic systems that fill the gap between foam solutions in the $1,000-range and hiring specialists for many thousands.

If you’ve priced acoustic treatments, you know that StudioPanel systems aren’t cheap, but they do offer several advantages over lesser systems. For starters, the absorber panels are made of a mineral wood/fiberglass composite for improved performance. The kits also incorporate pro-grade diffuser panels to smooth out the soundfield. The bass end of your studio is handled by Helmholtz/dia-phragm resonators, and to finish it off, the panels are professionally covered with flame retardant fabric, which can be ordered in a variety of colors, so you can match or tastefully contrast the panels with your studio’s wall color. The various wall-mount panels are designed to address specific acoustic maladies such as reflections, flutter echoes, decay times, and low-frequency resonances.

In addition to these panels, free-standing bass traps and hanging cloud panels can be combined with the StudioPanel kits. The bass traps, called SpringTraps, are spring-loaded diaphragms with dual port resonator chambers that fit in a corner and soak up a room’s standing waves. MSR’s website is set up to explain and help you choose the appropriate components for your room’s size and shape.

Nearly everything needed to install StudioPanel kits is included. You’ll find rigid tin “v-bars” that hold the panels in place, along with a pocket level and string (intended to help you mark a level horizontal line), a fold-out full-size template illustrating where mounting hardware should go, a small mirror for locating first-reflection points, and detailed instructions on installation and measuring your room’s acoustics. Along these lines, measurement software is included (PC only) as well as an audio CD of test tones.

MSR sent me a mid-sized kit, which comprises five sets of absorber/diffuser and two Bazorber (bass absorber) panels, along with an extra set of Bazorbers and a pair of cloud panels to place above my mix position. The entire system arrived on a palette that consumed the better part of my smallish garage.

After unpacking all of the materials and reading the installation instructions, I realized I’d need at least some self-drilling screws or some other means to fasten the v-bars onto the drywall. So, off to Home Depot I went. About 15 dollars later, I had the necessary hardware.

Back home, I attempted to use the level and string to draw a straight horizontal line, but this didn’t work very well at all. I decided to use a long straight edge and my own 3' level. Less than 20 minutes later, I had my room marked off.

After drilling three pilot holes in each of the v-bars, I was ready to go. It wasn’t easy to get each panel perfectly level and lined up with one another, but after several hours I had installed all of the panels. All that remained was to insert the thin “T” strips, which covered the seams between panels. These certainly added to the “pro look” of the panels.

For the next couple of weeks I recorded and/or mixed several projects, including a couple of commercials and an indie-band demo. The difference StudioPanel made in my room was very evident. Previously, I’d have to move to a certain location to get a better sense of “true” bass. But with the new panels, the bass was more controlled and focused. High-frequency slapback between walls was virtually non-existent, and overall, my room sounded more contained and even. At the risk of sounding like an MSR infomercial, I was able to mix in less time thanks to better imaging and flatter frequency response in my room.

Just for grins, I re-measured my room’s acoustics (originally measured when I put a foam system in about nine months ago), and while there was a noticeable improvement over the results of my previous system, the studio was still far from “flat.” In reality, most rooms aren’t perfectly flat anyway, so this didn’t bother me. Ultimately, the room is way more controlled, though, and doesn’t suffer from any ringing slapback, uneven bass, or smeared imaging. The StudioPanel system definitely elevated the quality of my room’s acoustics.

Color me impressed. StudioPanel is head-and-shoulders above many other “affordable” acoustic treatment options. From an aesthetic angle, the panels look more pro than foam, and being able to choose from a wide range of custom colors is a plus. Sonically, StudioPanel lives up to the claim of being a full spectrum frequency solution. If you’re discerning about the look and sound of your room, but don’t have the cash for a custom install, StudioPanel is the next best thing.