Room Acoustics: The Basics

My wife and I purchased the AIX world headquarters building 9 years ago. The facility that housed AIX Media Group used to be in West Hollywood and occupied a small studio and iso booth on the 5th floor of an office building. The studio was built to demo NED’s (New England Digital) SynKlavier, which was a very expensive keyboard driven sampler and synthesizer. Just the yearly software upgrades cost eight grand! When I arrived on the scene with my little Sonic Solutions based mastering business and Mac II computer (with a whopping 4 megs of RAM!), they had just declared bankruptcy. Their loss was the start of AIX Media Group. Actually, it was know as the Pacific Coast Sound Works at the time but expansion into content development was not far away.

Finding a new location on the west side of the Los Angeles basin was a challenge. Any studio space that we found was old school and smelled like smoke. At the last possible opportunity, a realtor showed us a 5000 square foot building with a very high bow truss ceiling. There wasn’t any studio inside but the open space was begging for one to be built. This was to become the main studio for AIX Media Group. And it’s a large room. The main studio…the control room…is 30 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 12-14 feet high. The iso booth is about 15 feet square and has been used as a personal studio space for the past 5 years because I don’t use it.

The raw space was more than ample for my needs. However, I needed the services of an expert in studio design to assist me in laying out the right configuration and making sure that the final result would sound amazing. I hired one of the partners from Studio Bau:ton, a very well-know architectural firm specializing in studio spaces. Peter Grueneisen had established his own firm, Non Zero Architecture a few years before and was willing to develop the plans for my space…he did me a great favor in keeping the costs manageable.

150802_floor_plan

Figure 1 – The floor plan for AIX Studios. Notice the non-parallel walls.

The essential things to remember in putting together a new room are to keep the volume of the space as large as possible and to avoid the extremes of having a room that is “too live” or “too dead”. You may have seen pictures of various studios and assumed that all of the fabric covered sound panels and soft surfaces “deaden” the space. They do, but with a specific purpose. They are strategically placed to break up standing waves or room resonances, which are particularly troublesome at home. Depending on the size of the space a sound generated at one of room will reflect off of the other surfaces. If the reflection returns to another surfaces that is parallel to the first one, a specific range of frequencies can build up. The causes the sound in a room to be “colored” and unlike the sound intended by the artist. The final playback in the mastering room is the correct sound and you can bet that the mastering house has a great playback setup.

So the first rule in setting up a great sounding room is to make sure there are no parallel walls. This is not a challenge in a new room but houses are full of parallel walls.

We look at solutions tomorrow.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

6 thoughts on “Room Acoustics: The Basics

  • August 2, 2015 at 6:30 pm
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    Hi Mark,

    I have always wondered if a bunch of labels – or a very wealthy one – could build the ideal recording space avoiding the complications of using churches or the costs of renting concert halls, what would it look like, and would it be feasible?

    Cheers?

    Reply
    • August 3, 2015 at 11:13 am
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      Too expensive. The closest thing I’ve every seen or used is the scoring stage at Lucas Ranch in Northern California. It’s fabulous.

      Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 1:31 am
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    Dear Mark:

    I hope you can tolerate the length of this reply.
    I have had in mind to write to you for months now. Yes – I’ve been “lurking” since 24th April, when I became aware of you and began my subscription to your daily blog and newsletter, during the period you were setting up for the Axpona show.
    It amazes me that you manage to have lots to say and do so every day!

    A bit of background.
    I was born and raised in Toronto Canada, now living in the UK with Carol, my British wife, in a town called High Wycombe (pronounced “Wiccum” sort of) about 25 miles west/northwest of central London.
    This lifetime I was always fascinated with music and audio, and, to some degree – electronics and amateur radio.
    In the summer of ’67 during holidays from high skule, I had a job selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door and one of those magazines was High Fidelity, to which the late Julian Hirsch was a key contributor. That was my introduction to the field and it has fascinated me on & off over the years since.
    I’ve not owned a high end system and though it appeals to me, I don’t expect that it is likely to be enough of a priority among my life goals to spend the enormous amount of money required to put together something close to a state of the art system, including of course a proper room in which to house and enjoy it.

    The first system I bought was in 1974 and a very exciting time for me. I took out a bank loan for it 🙂
    It consisted of a Pioneer TX-9100 tuner (analogue), a Thorens TD-125 turntable with Shure SME 3009 tonearm with non detachable head and a Shure V-15 Type III cartridge, a McIntosh MA6100 solid state integrated amplifier, and Advent utility speakers.
    Today I have some used Quad equipment which I bought on eBay a few months ago – the model 34 pre/control amp and the 306 power amp, and for me they repesent excellent relatively cheap and cheerful purchases.
    My speakers were also bought used on eBay, a couple of years ago – KEF 103/4, finished in rosewood. I’m using another eBay purchase of several years ago now – a now very dated Technics SL-P999 CD player. These serve my needs for now if not my ultimate wants.

    It is with considerable interest that I read your post of Sunday, 2nd August, beginning the story of your studio space and room acoustics.
    It has been in my mind for many years – if I were to have the very considerable dosh needed to build such a room, particularly in a house, if would be acoustically treated, along the lines of yours, and at least some of its dimensions would be: 32 feet long, allowing full extension for the wavelength of the lowest pedal tone on a concert organ, like yours, it would have non parallel walls, including a rising cathedral ceiling, and it would allow for comfy seating. So I am reading your current posting on this quite eagerly.

    I would like to personally thank you for all the work you’ve done and for the effort you’ve put into promoting and disseminating the truth about audio production/reproduction at its highest levels and for trying to dispel the myths and misinformation so rampant.

    There are parallels in a couple of unrelated fields – one, natural health, for the valuable work of Dr. Mercola (www.mercola.com), and, in the humanities, the life work and legacy of L. Ron Hubbard, for his highly workable technology and applied philosophy directed toward the resolution of planetary insanity. I’m of course referring to Dianetcs and Scientology.

    In your field then, you da MAN! I know where to look for information that truly IS authoritative, not the pseudo authoritative nonsense generally masquerading as truth. Many kudos!

    That essentially is what I want to convey to you today, now that I’ve to some degree come out of the virtual woodwork and written to you.

    Regards,

    Michael Kaufman

    Reply
    • August 3, 2015 at 11:13 am
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      Thanks very much Michael.

      Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 12:35 pm
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    Hello Mark
    I’m sure you will cover this later but I can’t wait. Should speakers be placed on the floor or on stands? If located on a desk should they be at the leading edge or at the rear? With all things, when does all this become an exercise in personnel choice? Thanks for your work.

    Robert Buckner

    Reply
    • August 4, 2015 at 1:37 pm
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      I have anchor stands under my B&W speakers. You should always have the most solid connection between the speaker and the floor. Using spikes is recommended. On your other point, make sure you speakers don’t have any nearby surfaces to reflect off of before getting your listening position.

      Reply

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