From scratch…Part 1

In the interest of walking the walk, I’m going to set up an average home studio from scratch. I’m going to use whatever gear the enthusiast in questions has, I’m going to try to explain everything in simple terms, and there won’t be any large purchases – in fact, I’m setting a budget of $100*

*This doesn’t include all of the tools required, but if you don’t have these simple tools already, hang your head in shame.

Tools

Yes, we get to use tools!


Here are all the tools I will use: Tape measure, spirit level, craft knife, staple gun, No More Nails style glue, and stepladders.

And this is what we’re dealing with:

VIP

Let’s consider the most important aspect of a home studio (or any studio for that matter) – monitoring. Now, you will no doubt be using a fairly small room. This room is roughly 16′ x 12′ x 9′ which is pretty good for a small room in that it is a rectangle and none of the dimensions are divisible. Acoustically speaking, this room will do just fine. However, as it is still a small room in the scheme of things, bass trapping will be required to tame some of the modal issues that are always present in smaller rooms. Fortunately, the owner has not gone overboard with 8″ monitors and has selected a good pair of 6″ monitors that suit this room very well.

The first thing we’ll want to do is to set up the monitoring system in the correct position and play some test tones in order to identify the problems and characteristics of the room. This room has solid wooden floors, one double-brick external wall, and three single-brick internal walls. This is therefore a lively little room and due to the internal walls being brick instead of plasterboard etc. there is little opportunity for low frequency wavelengths to creep out. This just means that the bass trapping will have to be effective.

I’m going to work out the placement of the monitors and the ideal listening position first. As usual, I’m going to position the monitors symmetrically in the middle of one of the shorter walls and they have monitor stands to sit on rather than being perched on a desk, so there are minimal reflections from the surface of the desk into the listeners face. We found some old carpet tiles stacked up in a closet, which will protect the floor from the metal spikes on the bases of the stands (they work better to reduce vibrations than the plastic/rubber ones and should be used if possible). I’m choosing the external wall with the window in the middle as it will be easier to acoustically treat the featureless rear wall and the rear of the speakers is less significant than the front of the speakers. There are thick corrugated blinds over the windows (which makes things easier) and the speakers will be angled to face the edges of the window frame, so any sound emanating from the rear of the speakers will be soaked up or dispersed (and if not, we’ll address it later on). I measure the distances of the rear and side walls from the monitors to make sure that they are positioned symmetrically. I then have the owner sit at the desk whilst I position the monitors to be in an equilateral triangle (the distance between the monitors is equal to the distance between each monitor and the listening position) with a position slightly behind the listener’s head to allow for any casual sitting back and leaning forward to some degree. Generally, each angle is 60 degrees, but I didn’t measure this.

The window is actually off-centre – a good reason to use your tape measure!


Usually, this would be the time to blast out some test tones, but I believe that every piece of gear in the room will affect the acoustics in some way, whether it’s a vibrating rack panel, a reflective surface of any kind, or a bunch of gig bags in the corner. A lot of these interactions may be insignificant, but I’d rather settle any issues now than have to take steps after we’ve treated the room. So, I’m afraid it’s time to unpack and position every significant piece of equipment (I’m not going to unpack cables and other smaller items).

This means you.
 
Now that everything is positioned, it’s time to play some test tones. This is basically a chromatic scale of bass frequencies – I’ve put a link to some test tones at the bottom of this post. When listening to test tones, keep in mind that the ideal listening environment will sound each test tone at the same volume. Higher volumes mean overlapping waves that reinforce each other and lower volumes mean overlapping waves that are cancelling each other out.
Upon listening to the test tones we hear that there are a few bass notes that have a bit too gusto, so there are obviously some issues in the low end – which is to be expected in a small room. Other than that, the tones are fairly balanced, so we’re very lucky to have such a useable room. So, aside from the standard mid-high frequency absorbers at mirror points, we also need to do some bass trapping.
 
DIY Acoustic Treatment
 
I said that we had a budget of $100, so I’m not going to nip out and buy a box of acoustic foam tiles. We take a trip to Bunnings and come back with the following:
 
1 tube of ‘fix anything to almost anything’ glue
1 large painter’s drop sheet – basically a 12′ x 5′ piece of sack cloth
1 Staple gun with staples
*Picture hanging wire
*Picture hooks

*As the house is heritage listed, we can’t nail hooks into the wall or glue anything to the wall

I also go to Woolworth’s and buy a couple of $13 duvets and a couple of $8 pillows to use as the ‘filling’ for our DIY panels.

Using large pieces of cardboard as the backing, I cut a duvet in half, fold it a couple of times, and lay it onto the card. It’s soft and about 5″ thick, so it’ll do a good job. I cover the front with a piece of the sack cloth, flip the whole thing over, and staple it in place on the cardboard backing. It’s not the most attractive thing, but it works. If we had more time and more money, I would have built wooden frames for the panels, but we don’t have either!
I then remember something RODE microphones kindly sent to me. The foam they use in their microphone cases/boxes is very similar to the foam used for acoustic tiles. I wrote to RODE and they kindly sent me a big box of offcuts (I covered freight of course), but pillows, cushions, furniture foam – basically anything soft can be used in place of foam. Department stores always have pillows and cushions for next to nothing.

I set about gluing the foam pieces to a large piece of cardboard for one of my bass traps.

Once the larger trap is finished, we wedge it between the picture rail and an ornamental cornice of sorts (as we’re not allowed to fix it permanently), which leaves a gap of more than 12″ between the back of the panel and the join of wall and ceiling. This improves the effectiveness of the panel enormously and as it is covering the join between the wall and the ceiling, we’ve hit the problem waves where they congregate. I shove the other duvet in behind the panel to complete our DIY bass trap.

The corners of the room are hotspots for wave congregation too (where two walls and the ceiling meet), so I get to work making more bass trapping for these areas.

 
A little rickety, but they work!
 
After following the same procedure (but with less uniform foam pieces), I made two smaller tiles to be positioned across the top corners of the back of the room. I couldn’t position them to meet the ceiling joint as there was an alarm sensor and my guess was that an alarm sensor in a ground floor studio with an external window should be unobstructed! The added space behind the tiles again increases their effectiveness, and I fill this gap with rolled up pillows. It would have been better to fill the space with a loose pillow rather than rolling one up like this (although the density of a rolled up pillow may be more effective even if it doesn’t cover as large an area), but mounting the whole thing without attaching anything to the wall became a real issue. We rigged something up with cut-up, twisted coat hangers and everything stayed in place.


My plan was to place the two larger panels I made earlier using a cut-up duvet on picture hooks and position them on the back wall too. But, we had run out of materials to make more panels and we still had a large ottoman and cushions to position on the back wall, so there’s a good chance we’ll get away with using these panels on the side walls at the mirror points of the speakers.
 
…Part 2 coming soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s