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How to Make Your Bedroom Studio Sound Great

Transcript
Mitch: Hi, I’m Mitch Gallagher, welcome to the Sweetwater Minute. We’re at day 2 of GearFest 2016, and I’m joined by Gavin Haverstick and Russ Berger. Thanks for coming in, guys.

Gavin: Thanks for having us.

Russ: Glad to be here.

Mitch: So Haverstick designs studios for Michael Jordan, Ringo Starr, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, all kinds of great design work going on there.

Gavin: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun.

Mitch: And Russ with Russ Berger Design Group, 2,500 different facilities you’ve designed? Something like that?

Russ: It’s over 3,500, but we just stopped with that. Well I mean, it’s just, you know.

Mitch: Incredible, absolutely incredible. 8 TEC awards, all kinds of wonderful accolades and things there.

So the three of us are doing a panel discussion here at GearFest on how to turn a spare room at your home into a great home studio, and we thought today, we’d sit down and share a little bit of these guys’ wisdom with you and how you go about that.

So let’s start with — I think one of the big questions is, as you’re going through your home, what should you be looking for in a room to make you say, “You know, this would be a great space to actually do some recording, or some mixing, or some music working?”

Russ: Well, the best place to start is with the people that are in the home, and one thing that we’re always concerned with, I mean, anybody can hack together a room and make it work, but you don’t want a room that’s located right next to the baby’s room. Are you married? Do you want to stay married? Those kind of noise control issues are critical.

So I guess the number one thing is being on ground floor rather than up. When you’re up, sound goes everywhere. It’s hard to keep it out. Trying to isolate it with floating floors, then you have steps, you have the diaphragmatic action of the structure. Most people live in wooden, timber structures. Actually, the premise of the idea — one thing to look for is move out of the bedroom, go to the garage. Garage is great. Park outside, just make that work.

Gavin: You know, I would echo that as well when it comes to location. Isolation is so much harder to deal with than making a room sound good, so if you can get off on a good starting point and be away from noise sensitive areas, that’s really important.

Also, I know when I built my first house, I wanted to look at the dimensions of the room as well, and if you can get lucky enough to find rooms that aren’t divisible by the same number with their dimensions, then — like, you don’t want a room that’s 8 by 16 by 8 if you can avoid it. I remember the first bedroom studio I had, it was 11 by 15 by 8, and that was decent for a pre-constructed building, but yeah, location is huge. I spend the majority of my time worrying about isolation, and then making the room sound good afterwards is relatively easy in comparison.

Russ: The thing with the common multiples like Gavin said too, that’s when you have a room that has one tone, and everything sounds that way, and if you happen to be doing vocals in there, or overdubbing guitar, everything takes that tone on, and you’re multiplying it, and it’s — you know, you get this sort of brown, tonal, it’s horrible.

Mitch: And you can’t really equalize that out after the fact, it’s kind of part of the whole signature of the sound.

Russ: No. That is your sound. [laughs]

Mitch: And trying to treat for that is a difficult thing as well.

Russ: Yeah. One other thing about the dimensions, there was somebody that I talked to yesterday, they had a basement. That’s a common place too to try and locate it, and you’re typically fighting seat clear height in there, and having a room that has good clear height is — if you can find a room that has more ceiling, you’re going to be a whole lot better than one that doesn’t.

These guys had a basement where they had six foot clear. Seven foot two is code, minimum, so this is truly a crawl space.

Mitch: Right, right. To say nothing of the fact that I would be scraping the top of my head if I — it’s kind of difficult to relax and work there.

Russ: Well, a lot of people don’t think about it. You wouldn’t walk up to a wall and sing into a wall, but when the ceiling is right there, that’s what you’re doing. You can fuzz it up, but that’s only so effective. It’s still the local reacting surfaces.

Mitch: So getting close to those surfaces, as you mentioned, singing close to a wall or the ceiling, the same thing happens when you have monitors. And what is the effect of getting too close to those boundaries?

Gavin: Just take it paper rock scissors? [laughs] So when you have the monitors right up against the wall, that’s going to be a buildup point anyway for lower frequencies, and you get a speaker boundary interference issue, where you can have certain, very specific frequencies that are going to cancel out, based on that distance between that front wall, in relation to where you’re sitting. So a lot of times, people will neglect treating that front wall, because they’re like, “The sound is coming this way,” but not the low end, right?

The low end is omnidirectional. It’s going to hit that front wall, and it’s phase cancellation that happens, so it’s important to try to get away from that wall, but not so far into the room where you end up getting to a point where, say, the quarter wavelength point of the room, and your speakers are now exciting the room even more than it should.

Russ: Or you’re backed up against the wall, and now that’s coming up. I’m a big fan of subwoofers. I love the whole idea — I guess Chris Fichera at Blue Sky or whatever is the one who started the idea of the 2.1. Many other people have followed along with that, but it allows you to place the subwoofer in the ideal place in the room, and then, you have less interactions, less concern with the interaction of the speakers off the side wall, because not only moving them out from the front wall, you have that certain distance, and that creates a null and bumps that are there, you have the side as well, and of course the ceiling and the floor, and of course, we build a box, put a driver in it, then we put that in another box and get in there with it and listen.

It’s just kind of, the smaller the space, the harder it is to deal with, and all those problems come right up in the middle of the mid-range.

Mitch: I see that as well with — I’m a guitar player, and I see a lot of other guitar players with home studios, and we all want to just put our amp against the wall so it’s out of the way, and it sounds great when you’re just in there playing, and you’ve have what I call the bedroom tone, and its got this huge bass bottom end, but when you put a mic on it, all of a sudden, you have problems, so you kind of want to pull that out into the center of the room, and same thing with vocals, as you were mentioning.

Russ: And get the amp up off the floor. Or, get down there with it and listen to it. People are blowing it in their pant leg, and they’re going, “I love that tone.” That’s not what the mic’s hearing.

Mitch: There’s a lot of high frequencies you’re missing there.

Gavin: A lot of times, I tell people to experiment with placement, because it’s free. You know, you can buy a lot of acoustical materials, or a lot of different gear, but just placement in different locations, like a lot of times I’ll take measurements in rooms where I’m just moving the mic three inches back each time, and finding out where that good point in the room is. At least start off on the right foot there, and it costs nothing. Like one studio I was working on, we just moved everything back two feet from where he had it when I arrived, and I mean, it was a night and day difference. Placement is everything.

Mitch: And that’s because of the way the waveforms interact, and resonate, and bounce in the room?

Gavin: Sure, and a lot of it is just avoiding these cancellation and build up points in the room, based on axial modes, and tangential modes, and trying to find that sweet spot.

Russ: A lot of people think of the low frequencies in a room of, the speaker speaks, and there’s this wave that walks across the room. It’s more like squeezing a balloon. One side bulges out as the other one goes in. So you have to think of it more as pressurization, or rarefaction, instead of just waves going across it.

Mitch: Right, right. So let’s talk about some of the things that people do sometimes to treat their studios.

For example, how effective is it to put a couch in the room with you?

Russ: Great source of absorption. The cushions can be pulled out, great way to make a little amp dog house out of that. Put the amp behind the couch, pull it out, there’s all kinds — but you know, are you talking studio recording it or mixing? And those are two really different things. The beauty of recording is every space in your house can be a recording venue. Go to a room, if you like the way it sounds, I mean, if you have a guitar amp, you’re not worried about the dog barking in the back yard. You’re going to get over that.

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If you’re doing vocals, that’s different. Or whisper tracks from six feet away. But…

Gavin: Yeah, I would say with the couch, I mean, any soft surfaces, and if you can get thick soft surfaces in a room, that can be helpful, but it needs to be in the right place, some thought needs to go into it, some things, like couches on the back wall, it’s kind of a no brainer, you might as well have something like that, or some of my clients, they need book shelves, and sometimes that can be a natural diffusor for people. It may not be a mathematical one…

Russ: You pull the books…

Gavin: Yeah, you have to read thicker books and comic books as well to get the right sequence, but I think using things that are going to be in the room to your advantage, rather than putting them in the wrong spot — sometimes, they want to put posters of movies they really love with glass frames right on the sidewalls of the first reflection points in a theater or home studio, or something like that. So just try to be smart about it.

Mitch: Right. And where should they place the egg cartons?

Gavin: Oh, yeah. In the fridge.

Mitch: In the fridge.

Russ: Vintage. I actually have test reports from lab test reports of the egg cartons. They don’t work very well.

Gavin: Is it like, a 0.3 or something like that?

Mitch: Yeah, not the first choice for controlling the sound.

Russ: I have a really good story about egg cartons, if you want to hear it.

Mitch: Sure!

Russ: We were working on a public radio station in Hawaii, and their first station that they built there, they had almost no money, and of course, there was no money left over for acoustics. They had to do it themselves. So they bought egg cartons, stapled it up all over.

Well, it’s traditional over there that you bring the local Kahuna in to bless, you know, a new construction, and she walks in with the beads and rattles, and goes, “Oh, oh, the tortured souls of the dead chickens, this is going to be very expensive.”

There’s always an honorarium, you know. Ultimate consultant.

Mitch: That’s right. Now, should someone be concerned about treating the ceiling if they’re trying to get a mixing space? Do they need to worry about that or just the sidewalls?

Gavin: Definitely. The ceiling is really important, and what you end up with is it’s just as important as the walls, or any other surface that you’re sitting close to. The way that we hear these early reflections, we all just sum it together with our brain, there’s no way to discern, “Okay, that’s coming from behind me, I’m just going to ignore it.”

You know, if it’s within a certain timeframe, then it’s all going to get summed together, so any surface that you’re close to, and that includes huge rack gear that’s only on one side, versus not having it on the other side, you can create problems that way, so yeah.

Russ: Keeping it clear in the medium plane is really important. Keep it clear.

Mitch: One of the issues that many of us face putting a studio into, say, a bedroom, is that often, they’re not symmetrical. We have a solid wall, and we have a window.

Russ: Or L-shaped.

Mitch: But is there something you can do about that? Having a window there or having a door there?

Russ: One of the problems with doors is you start putting treatments on them, and unless you really are careful and do it right, they wind up getting damaged, they fall off, they’re typically thin, so they don’t get down in the lower range, and you run the risk of over treating the room, getting too absorptive. Windows, they’re two problems. Well, doors and windows are two problems. First, for sound isolation.

There’s a guy mowing outside, the birds coming through, everything is, “Oh, it’s a thermal pane, we got the double paned glass.” It’s got a huge coincidence dip just like regular glass does, and the two very thin layers, you need sound rated laminated glass, and you can buy thermally rated. Replacing the window is one thing. Building a cover to go over it, a plug, but then you’ve blocked the natural light.

I mentioned earlier, if it’s a control space like that and you’re sitting, you want to particularly treat in the medium plane for those first reflections in there. You can treat part of the window, or build something that just covers part of it, and still have some of the light coming in. That’s one of the uses for the space coupler.

Grids like that is that it’s good for first reflection control, and allows you to still have light coming through. That’s another possibility. I don’t know really what — you know, there are absorbers, the Microperf Absorbers, but those really don’t behave well in the near field. They’re really a far field treatment, which is a problem with most treatments, the way that they are tested.

Okay, sorry.

Mitch: That’s okay. Anything to add?

Gavin: Yeah, the windows are a common problem, like you said, for isolation, there’s so many people that don’t want to work on their studio tan, and they want some natural light coming in, so sometimes we’re doing plugs where it’s put into place when you need that isolation, but you can remove them and still open the window, get fresh air, things like that, but windows and doors are great, but they also cause a lot of problems for us, so.

Mitch: So any tips for how a person should orient their gear in the studio? Should they be — we typically have different dimensions, we’ll have a long dimension, short dimension kind of thing. Any suggestions there?

Gavin: I would say, a lot of times, I like setting up the mix position facing a short wall and firing the long direction to allow the sound to open up a little bit more and not be so close to that rear boundary, but sometimes you go against that for symmetry reasons too. It’s not — you have to look at the whole picture versus just saying, “Okay, we’ve got to go on this short wall.”

Yesterday, in my presentation, one of the people attending said they faced the long wall, but it’s because they have a weird closet in the back that would’ve put them off center if they would’ve went the other direction, so you’ve got to factor all that in when you’re deciding.

Russ: It’s one big series of compromises, and you just have to pick and choose the best ones, and that’s why I can certainly make a plug for Gavin, or anyone that does what we do in the design realm, is we can help people step through and make the right choices, it’s not always just putting a bunch of expensive construction in, it saves money by just being clever. Anybody can throw money at it and eventually get it, but it’s making clever, good choices.

Mitch: Right, right. Also using your ears. I know you recommended this to me, and it’s been great advice, and that’s to before you even start, take the speakers in there and listen, and see where you hear problems, or where there are things, and you’ll hear them very, very quickly, and then you can start working around that kind of thing. So a little bit of shuffling the gear around a few times may really reveal a lot about the room you’re going to be working in.

Guys, thanks so much for coming in. I think we’re going to have a good time on the panel discussion, we’ve even more to talk about, lots more to talk about, and thanks for being here at GearFest, we appreciate it. Great to see ya. Thanks Russ.

And thank you for joining me for the Sweetwater Minute, I’m Mitch Gallagher.

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