One of the most overlooked aspects of putting together a project studio is acoustic treatment. A variety of factors contribute, including expense, room logistics, and the perception of acoustic design as somewhat of a black art. Primacoustic has set out to address those issues by offering comparatively inexpensive acoustic-treatment solutions in packages designed around common room sizes and audio applications. I reviewed the London 14 ($600).
All Primacoustic products are made from high-density, flame-retardant urethane foam in a charcoal gray color. According to the company, gray is least susceptible to fading when subjected to light. You can spray paint with the color of your choice, but be careful not to fill the pores. The hard paint coat will increase reflection at very high frequencies and trap more lows.
Unlike most acoustic treatments, there are no waffled molds. Instead, Primacoustic's approach is to combine prefabricated panels made from high-density, open-cell foam formed as flat panels or trapezoids. The panels are combined in kits designed for specific applications, along with various suggested assembly patterns. The company's Web site provides a good resource and some visuals that make my discussion more tangible.
The London series is Primacoustic's package designed for the average project studio where the same space is often used for mixing and recording duties. Standard sizes include 12 feet by 9 feet, 14 feet by 10 feet, and 16 feet by 12 feet. The London kits incorporate four Primacoustic kits: Europa Flutter Wall, Orientique Washboard, Scandia Scatter Blocks, and Australis Bass Trap.
The Europa Flutter Wall is a broadband acoustic absorber designed to go on the front wall to eliminate standing waves and front-to-back room chatter. The Europa carries a low-end spec of 400 Hz, with component panels including 3-inch-thick midbass blocks, 2-inch-thick voice-range blocks, and small anechoic wedges for soft diffusion of high frequencies.
The Orientique Washboards mount on the sidewalls and are constructed to squelch side-to-side chatter and primary reflections from the sides of the monitors. The Orientique is made from the same building blocks as the Europa, except the wedges are longer and, therefore, are fewer.
The small Scandia Scatter Blocks are a series of 6-inch-by-12-inch wedges intended for distribution over the rear wall to further reduce standing waves and front-to-back chatter. The actual number and positioning you choose is a matter of taste, as those choices are determined by the amount of live or dead feeling you desire. After some experimentation, I chose a modest smattering to ensure that the room didn't become too dead — something that can lead to overly wet mixes.
The Australis Bass Traps are 3-foot trapezoids designed to go in any corner seams to reduce the boomy and muddy qualities associated with unchecked low frequencies. You can place the four Australis wedges just about anywhere there is a corner seam, because low frequencies are mostly nondirectional. The Australis's low-end spec goes down to 45 Hz when stacked. Physics dictates that you need much larger traps (and larger rooms) for effective bass management below that range — something that is often impractical in real-world project-studio environments.
The first challenge I met when I opened the boxes was the overpowering chemical smell inherent in fresh foam. Although I admit to a modest level of chemical sensitivity, the intensity would bother just about anyone. (The manufacturer claims that it has not received any other odor complaints.) I propped them up outside around the perimeter of my house, and it still took days to bring the scent to an acceptable level. In the meantime, exposure to direct sunlight did present a fading problem.
Primacoustic kits come with plenty of Liquid Nails for attaching the foam to walls. Because my studio is in a rented space, I had some trepidation about damaging the walls. At Primacoustic's recommendation, I purchased some lightweight Coroplast (4foot-by-8-foot corrugated plastic panels) from a local sign company and mounted the foam components on those panels. The trimmed panel assemblies were surprisingly light for their mass, allowing me to affix them to the walls with a handful of drywall screws.
The London 14 is a welcome addition to my studio. The effects in controlling unwanted acoustic artifacts have been significant. No generic kit provides the same results as acoustic treatment that's professionally custom designed for a given room, so it all comes down to how discriminating you and your wallet wish to be. Primacoustic's kit approach strikes a great balance in price and performance.