A while back we asked you to submit your studio design and build stories. Well, community member Artur Rakhmatulin has submitted his story, it took a lot longer than expected. In part 1 of a 3 part series, Artur walked us through the options, his study, and the theory behind his chosen design. In part 2, we looked at the structure, the detail design and implementation of the floor, ceiling, interior walls, and the layered back wall. Now in part 3, we will be looking at the additional treatment including broadband porous absorbers, doors, air conditioning, ventilation, power supply, lighting, studio equipment, and speaker stands. Over to you Artur...
Since I have used perforated panels configured to low-frequency absorption, in order to achieve a flat frequency response across the full spectrum I needed to use additional acoustic treatment. So, I ended up with the two additional acoustic treatment facilities:
- Broadband porous absorbers;
- Acoustic foam.
The construction of broadband absorber was rather simple. It was a wood frame filled with mineral wool, wrapped with spanbond and bonded with acoustic foam.
After the floor was finished I had several sessions of listening so that I could figure out what I didn’t like. The main thing I understood during the listening was the fact that bass absorption was doing its job but the stereo field was smeared. I was kind of expecting this as the walls were still not covered with acoustic foam yet. It was also clear to me from this batch of listening tests that I would need more absorption at the points of first reflections. So I took the remaining mineral wool and built several porous absorber panels.
Since all inner walls in the studio were made of plywood perforated panels it wasn’t difficult to mount broadband absorber panels using simple metal fixings. To ensure maximum effectiveness of such treatment I placed these panels at first reflection points both on walls and ceiling, using online first point reflections calculator to find out the exact places to place these acoustic panels.
After I had placed absorber panels on the walls and ceiling, I filled the rest of studio surface with acoustic foam, leaving a small area at the end of the room untouched for some natural ambience. The Idea was to have reflective surfaces near the couch in order to be able to have a different perspective on what’s going on.
My designed concept proposed the presence of the double door system that was meant not only for sound transmission reduction between the areas but also was cost-effective and rather easy to implement. The structure of the door was simple.
Each door was a hollow wood frame filled with mineral wool and isolated with the spanbond. The facing surface was made of thin plywood in order to create some kind of a membrane absorber, but it should be quite heavy too.
One of the things I thought about during the design stage was the placement of doors. After I saw and used it in real life I can definitely say that it was one the things I did right. they are very convenient to use and as I understood the acoustic theory they don’t interfere too much with the absorption mechanisms of the room. This placement also made it possible to place a couch at the end of the room giving an additional location for listening.
As I didn’t want to complicate the building process I came up with the approach of natural door retention. This approach was achieved by preserving very strict dimensions of doors and the door frame. In order to get a tight fit, I carefully measured the dimensions of the door frame before I started creating door.
In order to get the necessary reduction of sound transmission, the edges of the doors were profiled.
With the last finishing touches I was satisfied as the most difficult phase was finished. It was impossible for me to use the room without any engineering communications but when I was able to listen to some test tracks I was happy as I got the results I was aiming for. These results were mostly perceptual but they inspired me again and gave me enough inner strength to finish the process.
It was a strange feeling when I closed studio doors for the first time - right at that moment my intentions got a definite form. But to some extent, I felt a little loss. It wasn’t a negative feeling but I understood that things come and go during my journey. So I savoured the moment for a while and then switched to engineering.
Air Conditioning And Ventilation
To get a comfortable environment to work in, I used a forced ventilation approach where fresh air comes through the vent near the door, flows through the studio and goes out through perforated walls up to a ventilation hole in the basement ceiling.
I chose not to use an air conditioner as the basement always had stable 15-17 degrees C temperature, with fresh air coming through the in-house ventilation. I had already worked for some time in the space without the ventilation, and after I had installed a duct fan, I felt how much more comfortable the environment became. One of the things I came up with during this project was the understanding of the importance of ventilation.
During the sessions, I noticed that after some time room temperature started to rise and after 10-12 hours it became drastically hotter than at the beginning. As I knew, when sound is being absorbed by mineral wood its energy transforms into thermal energy, so it was understandable why the temperature rose intensively.
So I saw ventilation as a mechanism that provided not only fresh air but also cooled acoustic treatment material. After I had installed the duct fan the temperature in the room stayed at a more comfortable 23 degrees C during a 12-hour period. At that moment, when I compared two things I understood that spending time on ventilation was an excellent investment.
To minimise the noise from ventilation I used silent Soler & Palau duct fan – it did add some noise, but when it was too critical for me, I turned it off for a while. To prevent the vibration transmission from the fan, it was mounted to the ceiling of the basement.
There is no doubt that ventilation added air noise but for me, it sounded like a PC tower chassis. I could use duct silencers or air tube with a broader diameter but it was not a big deal to me as it would complicate the building process. With big holes could come higher sound transmission between the premises so I would be forced to create additional treatment, which in my case I determined was not worth it.
As I liked to smoke in the studio I used a powerful fan that fully changed air in about 9-10 minutes. In order to understand how it worked, I imagined the room as a tank of water. So I figured out how strong should be the inflow in order to fill the tank of water fast enough. As I knew the volume of the room, I considered the amount of air a duct fan would need to pass through in an hour and how loud it should operate. After that, I quickly found the silent model I used in my studio. Also, I have an ability to install a channel air conditioner if my current setup would not be able to keep the temperature at an acceptable level.
I used an electrical heater to be able to set comfortable room temperature for me. Despite the fact that the studio was in a heated basement, it was still a basement and had a temperature of 15 - 17 degrees C, so an additional in-room heater did the work just fine.
I chose to use a heater with an automatic thermostat as it was foolish of me not to use natural thermal energy from the sound absorption. Once it became warm enough in the room, the heater turned off and began working again the moment temperature dropped. I usually saw it working at the beginning of the sessions and after several hours it didn't turn on frequently. Personally, I like to work in the warm environment. I usually play guitar and keyboards, so the fingers become warm much faster if it's warm in the room.
Although, before any of my musical activities I put my hands under the flow of a very warm water for several minutes. Basically, I see it as a life hack - I don't spend my body energy to warm my fingers but instead, I use the power of water pipes to do this work for me and studio heater to sustain that absorbed energy.
One For Next Time
Nevertheless, in my next studio, I would like to create a climate system that would be able to control not only temperature but humidity and fresh air inflow. Of course, I'll spend enough time to make it silent as possible. It is important to achieve at least some basic ventilation in the room with the time needed to fully cycle air in the room being as low as possible. Due to the fact that low inflow of oxygen can cause hypercapnia, it was important for me to pay this task a fair amount of time.
Power Supply And Lighting
While designing my studio, I chose the approach of distributing electricity inside the studio using 3 different power lines. It wasn’t so hard as the house was already powered by three-phase power line but it was important to provide an even electric load distribution.
Also, I wanted to minimize the interference between power lines while using “noisy” equipment such as guitar amps or using the automatic heater which can generate pops and clicks while switching on and off.
|Line 1||Recording equipment, computer, studio monitors, expansion chassis;|
|Line 2||Guitar amps, guitar effects, synthesizers;|
|Line 3||HVAC, lighting.|
To ensure the provision of sufficient level of protection, all lines were connected to a residual-current circuit breaker with overload protection, and each line has a dedicated circuit breaker. For line powering the recording equipment, I used an additional voltage regulator device to ensure a stable energy input. The line for guitar amps, effects and synthesisers uses an additional power conditioner. I’m planning to use an online uninterruptible source of energy with double conversion when I have a certain amount of outboard gear. Right now, it doesn’t seem rational.
As I couldn’t go with natural light, I chose to create several light sources each with a dedicated purpose.
I do believe that lighting influences the mood. So I wanted to create several variations of lighting that I can switch to shift my mood in the desired direction. I knew that sometimes I needed some changes in the environment to freshen up my perception. And with that in mind, I chose to install different types of lighting. I didn't use any high luminosity light sources as bright light usually distracted me from the creative process. To ensure the ability to control the light, I installed a wide power grid that gave me an electricity point nearly in every corner of the room. Which brings me to the next important part of the building engineering system - safety.
I chose to spread the power cable system on the outside of the walls. That left me with the ability to add light sources and outlets anywhere I wanted. In terms of aesthetics - all cables were placed under the acoustic foam so they were not easily visible. Again, I had put my needs above the technical solution and after several years I can say, I did that right.
|Spot lights||Average||Composing, recording, editing sessions;|
|Fluorescent lights||Average||Reading, writing, Photoshop;|
|Spot & fluorescent lights||High||Cleaning, organizing workspace;|
|Back-wall lights||Average||Playing guitars, programming synthesizers;|
|Spot & back-wall lights||High||Recording guitars, vocals, synthesizers;|
|Lava-lamp||Low||Listening and analyzing music & sounds.|
I like to feel cosy and comfortable in the studio, so I prefer a warm light (3000K – 4000K) for my primary lighting. Although sometimes I needed to work with texts, photos and do some creative stuff in Photoshop, and for me, neutral light (6500K – 8000K) is better for this stuff.
In addition, there were two back-wall lights, one with green luminescence, that gave me the feeling of a club and could set the mood for guitar playing or synthesiser programming. In order to immerse in the music and pay attention to the tiniest details of a mix, I set the luminosity to a minimum using my orange lava-lamp.
I figured that approach as a result of spending several weeks in the studio. When I was sitting in the dark my eyes didn't participate a lot and my brain switched its processing power to the ears. At that moment I could see any instrument or sound in the mix as it was floating in the air in front of me. Limited visibility helped me understand the effects of frequency masking and reverberation. I couldn't achieve the same effect when I closed my eyes as my brain knew that I had my eyes closed. But when it was dark and my brain couldn't do anything about it, my sub-conscience increased my ear perception and I found I could literally see the sound. I couldn't increase the effect by switching every light in the room off as some equipment had LED lights that were distracting me when it was too dark. When every part of the studio was ready I understood that I was nearly at the end of my journey. That time I clearly saw that after the moment I finished every engineering system, the result was determined. The rest was just habitation.
The core of the studio was the Avid Pro Tools rig based on:
- Apple MacBook Pro 15 (Mid-2015) (i7 2,8GHz, 16 Gb RAM, 1TB SSD, DG);
- Avid Pro Tools HDX + Sonnet Echo Express III-D;
- Avid HD OMNI;
- Universal Audio UAD-2 OCTO (installed in Sonnet Echo Express III-D along with HDX).
The main idea of using Pro Tools HD was that I would be able to use a digital system with a very low latency. Another strong point was a dedicated DSP card for plug-ins which would make it possible to work at 24 bit 96 kHz with my laptop. The last, but not least, was an option to export sessions in an industrial standard format.
But, truthfully, I just wanted to buy Pro Tools because in 2005 I was reading about Pro Tools HD with Core and Accel cards and dreamt that someday I would be able to buy myself a Pro Tools rig. I knew that if Pro Tools was used in major recording studios, then its converters and software possibilities were enough to solve even the biggest tasks. So when it was time to buy a recording system I chose the most affordable option for me but I fulfilled my dream and bought Pro Tools HDX system with Omni as an interface and monitor controller.
During my journey, I have used Cool Edit 2.0, Cubase SX 3, Cubase 4, Logic 8, Logic 9, Logic X and I liked them all a lot as they helped me achieve what I had in mind. On the other hand, I never explored all features of software so for me it was always the feeling - either I liked it or not.
After all, I'm concentrating on creation, so if the tools suit my needs, then I'll use it forever. Sadly, I didn’t have any outboard gear, so my only way to manage tracks was based on using plug-ins in my signal chain. I relied on plug-ins more in a creative and additive way. Either it added something to the sound that changed it, or it transformed a sound to some unusual states. For me, if it was possible to solve a problem outside the digital domain I tried to do it. After some time I tried to make minimal changes to the sound as I heard how fast the analogue sound was becoming flat when I was adding plug-ins and effects. At with my, not so high, level of knowledge, I can say that I find transparency the most valuable parameter of digital signal processors.
Although I liked the plug-ins from the likes of Universal Audio, Soundtoys, iZotope and Plugin Alliance - they taught me a lot about signal processing, and I used them a lot. I understood how different setting affected the sound, and I learned how to use equaliser and compressor. Also, I found an answer to a question what comes first. For me, it depended on a situation.
Finally, I found out that I'd really like to go broadly analogue with Pro Tools or synced DSD-recorders (such as Korg MR2000S) serving the multitrack recording purposes. For the rest, I'd like to have a fully analogue signal chain. After all, Studer A820 will definitely be something I'll remember for the rest of my life.
For the last part, I wanted to leave the thing that started the whole studio building story - my pair of Adam S3X-H monitors. I was planning to buy a vertical version of Adam speakers, but I found a good deal on these ones and I switched to them. It wasn't a difficult decision as I knew that pretty well any speaker in that price range would deliver great results. I heard their vertical version and I was more than OK with them. Due to the fact that my speakers were quite big and heavy, I needed strong and stable stands so that speakers wouldn't flip over.
After spending some time searching for the stand that will be both stable and durable, I came up with the idea of ordering one from metalworking facility. With a custom design project and calculations, the job was done perfectly. Sure, it took additional time but going the extra mile is always good (if it’s not something stupid, of course). My speaker stands were made from solid steel rods placed on a heavy metal base that weighs nearly 50 kg. They are placed directly on the basement floor with high-density rubber gaskets inserted under them. I totally liked the mid-field monitoring approach as it was very comfortable for me to work with. I'll absolutely go with the mains the next time.
One of the things I learnt after some time was that in order to get a web balanced mix I needed to lower the volume as much as possible. Even so, I usually crank the volume up while I am working with the low frequencies. The funny thing was that I learnt it when I was watching one of the Andrew Scheps tutorials. I had never watched his tutorials before and knew nothing about him, but on that day I clicked on his video and got a knowledge that changed my vision and helped me better understand the mixing process.
Studio Building Summary
After the building process was finished I measured the results with the Fuzz Measure software.
It was an exciting process as I was going to find out where my aspirations led me. I used a Behringer ECM8000 microphone and RME Fireface 400 audio interface (as I couldn't make Pro Tools rig work with the Fuzz Measure software) to get the results. And to set sound pressure to 105 dB, I measured it with ADA ZSM 130+ while playing white noise. After I had got the results, I was pleased and disappointed at the same time. I was pleased that the overall RT60 was much lower that I forecasted. But I was disappointed that frequency response was not as flat as frequency response in top studios of the world. Nevertheless, I needed to leave something for the next time, so my next studio would be a significant step from the current level.
Sadly, I didn’t save the very first measurements that I made in 2014 when the studio was first built. For this article, I measured the room in 2017, and I got the current room characteristics. But it happened that I also found the tests I made in 2015. So I compared two different acoustic setups I had in my studio over several years.
|YEAR OF ACOUSTIC SETUP||ADAM S3X-H SETTINGS||SPEAKER STAND|
|2015||<150 Hz -4dB;||127 cm tweeter (above ear line)|
|>6 kHz +3dB;|
|Gain +2 dB.|
|2017||<150 Hz 0 dB;||115 cm tweeter (at ear line)|
|>6 kHz 0dB;|
|Gain 0 dB.|
To understand the frequency response in the room, I first found the frequency response of similar speakers – Adam S3X-V (they are vertical versions of my speakers).
I was once a person of graphs and benchmarks - I liked to dig in and crunch the numbers. The moment I saw the frequency response of Adam speakers I understood that it didn't matter much as I liked what I heard for the first time with them. I saw that frequency response as a reference of acoustic capabilities of a speaker - there was a little bump in the lows, a slight dip in the mids and a little lift in 3 kHz - 6 kHz region. Again, it didn't matter as I understood that the results laid in the head and not in the tools. With better tools, I could just reach my goal slightly faster.
The measurements were made with the following conditions...
|Sweep frequency range||2015: 1 Hz – 22 kHz|
|2017: 1 Hz – 48 kHz|
|Duration||2015: 10 sec.|
|2017: 45 sec.|
|Level||105 dB SPL|
As it is seen in the graph below, there’s the effect of monitors inner EQ. Different configurations sound different, but I can honestly say that my mix transition became better in 2017. But maybe it’s me and not the room.
After I had got the first frequency response result, I saw that at 105 dB there was not enough treatment for the low end. The room was too small to absorb so much energy that was given by the speakers. Nevertheless, I got the results that were cosmically better than my previous listening environment with 2-way speakers placed close to the walls with one of them standing in the corner of an untreated room. In the nearest future, I'll be able to measure frequency response at different loudness. Also, I'll take tests with the table put away and a carpet laid down to research the influence of those things on the frequency response.
Like with everything that can be measured, it can get insane, and you become numbers and graphs incarnate. It can become disappointing. But there’s a funny fact, after spending nearly 3-4 hours a day researching room acoustics, it took me almost a calendar year to make a trip from “I want” to “I get” and I didn’t overwork. The characteristics are somewhat average, but I know that if I continue this journey further on this path, after some time, I will be able to create a studio with even better characteristics and capabilities. It’s always much more interesting in the next chapter!
Truth to be said, I'm fond of my studio - I liked the results I came up with. They were not ideal, but they showed me that wishes could come true. Whether it was hard work or learning new knowledge, I wanted to achieve my goal. I was sincere with the project I began - I did redo many things when I saw they didn't fit, I stopped to think about some things when I felt that they needed attention and I forced myself to work when I was tired as hell. The only thing I didn't think about was a failure. On the contrary, I thought about things I needed to do to avoid it. Everything I understood during the process was that I started digging and I found a buried treasure.
Looking back, I can say that it took me nearly a year to achieve this result. I reached my target destination in only a year, and it was an exciting ride. Although, for deep-minded scientists, my studio is just a sandbox game, and I totally agree with it. But exactly after this experience, I began to know what I want to get next time. And the next time I'll create a much more complex project.
So that's the point for me - it's interesting to find out how high the next jump will be. Will I be able to touch my dream?
I took this journey as I thought that it could help me progress more in the desired direction. And it absolutely did! I like what I've achieved, and I tried to lay it down for those who seek answers and I hope you can find some of them here. I know how confusing this road can become, so I hope I covered everything important. During this voyage I acquired some elements that helped me more than once:
Mastering new horizons are not as hard as it seems - At the beginning of this trip, I didn't even know how to start the project. But time passed by and I got new knowledge, new experience, new acquaintances and raw emotions. Besides the answers to my questions, I made life more interacting. No matter how unapproachable this science seemed in the beginning, at some point, it revealed me everything I needed.
Belief is the key to success - Seventeen years ago I couldn't even think about the Helmholtz resonator principles of work. Yet when I came to a point in my life when I needed a studio, I got it rather quickly and painlessly. I never doubted my intentions. It was always about exploration and new achievements. It was always about the correct point of view. And belief in success was always the key factor.
Go big or go home - I am very good at finding comfort zones so for me it was important to push myself. At the moments I saw that I was moving too slow, that I didn't know enough to make the next step, I kept digging, I kept forcing myself to be at my peak performance. I applied all my acquired knowledge, and the approaches that I got in my previous life and for me, everything just came up nicely.
All my life I was not fond of mathematics and physics, it was always hard for me to apply myself in those sciences but this time it was much easier and I had enough basic knowledge to understand everything I needed to finish that journey. It was easy as I wanted it to be easy.
I had the key point in my hands - I applied my vision to this project, and it helped me to reconstruct my thinking processes. In fact, I didn't force myself to work on this project at any given time - it was my will that made me do everything I did.
I see it as a program that I loaded into my mind, and after some time my body computed it and provided me with the results and that's the beauty of it - if I can imagine something, then I can reach it. This experience can be perceived in many ways, but in my situation, it played out the way I showed it.
So the final thing I'd like to say is that I'm grateful for what I got during this voyage and I hope that this experience will inspire those who are only at the start of their journey. As always I'm ready to answer any questions and participate in a discussion. I wish you all the best.