Rod Gervais has written the book on designing a home studio. With more than 30 years’ experience providing comprehensive services in the areas of studio design, acoustics, and construction, Gervais has helped individuals build creative spaces all over North America and beyond. His instructional reference Home Recording Studio: Build It Like the Pros (Cengage Learning) has become a touchstone for DIY recordists and is now in its second edition.
What’s some of your best advice for someone choosing a space in which to install a studio?
I would always choose the space with the greatest volume given the ability to pay for it. To me this is more important than room ratios because you can always acoustically treat a space to deal with modal issues.
I would also point out that it’s critical for folks to consider HVAC needs when working through all of this. If someone is going to build a studio that has good levels of isolation, that space is going to be airtight. While code requirements for HVAC differ from region to region, all building codes require a mechanical supply of fresh air for rooms constructed without operable windows.
When you’re working with a client who’s installing a new studio, once they’ve chosen a space, what requirements or decisions are important to discuss first?
The most important decisions are generally related to either isolation requirements or budget. Any build that works, when all is said and done, is generally quite expensive. I am also interested in the space or spaces that are adjacent to the studio in question, and how critical it is to achieve isolation from those spaces.
If I am going to be designing the studio for a client, it’s critical that they provide me with very accurate, detailed drawings of the existing structure in order for me to determine what is going to be required to isolate the studio adequately from adjacent spaces, be they neighboring properties or rooms within the same building. All of my designs begin with adequate isolation as the main focus. I can really only focus on the acoustic aspects of a space once I fully understand to what degree it will contain the sounds produced within it.
It is also important that the client explains to me any special wants or needs they might have related to the visual of the space. To clarify: I had a client once who failed to explain that he was not interested in my designing what I consider my “signature rooms” for his facility. Those rooms have predominately wood finishes using a slat-and-slot design. I spent a fair amount of time providing a couple of designs before I finally understood what he was looking for from a visual point of view
Can you offer some tips for getting the most from a small studio space?
As a very general rule, think through the needs of the space. Room testing can be very helpful, and some testing programs are available for free. Work carefully through the room to find the best location for both speakers and ears. Moving either of those just a few inches can make all the difference in the world.
I set up a mastering room for a client once where we had to remove more than half of the room treatments he had in the space because they simply sucked the life out of the room. In that particular building, the space above the existing dropped ceiling was the perfect bass trap. Isolation in that space was not required
What are some good resources for affordable acoustical materials, and do you recommend any of the all-in-one treatment packages that are currently available?
I would recommend folks who are not interested in building their own room treatments reach out to either Ethan Winer at RealTraps or Glen Kuras at GIK Acoustics. Both companies have excellent products along with the ability to guide folks to successful completion of their rooms acoustically. Both of these companies are capable of providing room analysis along with complete room packages. As far as do-it-yourself products go, there are a ton of companies out there where people can purchase raw materials to build their own treatments.
There’s a certain studio aesthetic these days that leans toward one-room spaces, where the engineer and musicians occupy the same space with no glass between. What’s your take on the viability of this kind of space for personal studio users?
One-room spaces are always a pretty huge challenge because the needs of a live room to record in are, as a general rule, vastly different from what’s required in a mixing or control room. However, if someone wants or needs to take that route, it can be accomplished with careful planning.
Online Bonus: Rod Gervais on Studio HVAC Systems
If someone is going to build a studio that has good levels of isolation, that space is going to be airtight, but building codes will require a mechanical supply of fresh air. This means it’s necessary to install an adequate HVAC system, and to manage the noise and heat generated by the system itself.
When it come to HVAC systems, one option to meet heating and cooling needs is through a fully ducted system. The design can simply pull the required amount of fresh outside air through a fresh air-supply duct that is installed close to the return air side of the air handler unit (AHU). A relief duct dumps some of the room air back to the outside world, farther away from the AHU on the return side of the system, via a simple barometric bypass damper.
Note that although the system described above would be relatively simple for a professional in the industry to install, it is not something I would suggest that individuals take a “do it yourself approach” to this installation.
Another heating/cooling option is to install a mini-split unit. In this case, I would suggest that you consider the use of either an ERV (Energy Recovery Ventilator) or an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator).
An HRV unit allows some of the heat from the warmer air stream (the stale air in winter, the fresh air in summer) to be transferred to the cooler air stream. For example: In winter, the appliance “recovers” some of the heat that would have otherwise been exhausted. In the summer, some of the heat from the incoming air is transferred to the cooler outgoing air. In both cases lowering the energy cost associated with heating/cooling the occupied space.
An ERV unit, on the other hand, does everything that an HRV does, but in addition, an ERV allows some of the moisture in the more humid air stream (usually the stale air in winter and the fresh air in summer) to be transferred to the air stream that is dryer. This transfer of moisture—called enthalpy transfer—occurs with very little mixing of the two air streams.