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Better Studio Acoustics Part 1

Acoustic Tips

Top Tips For A Better Studio

There's nothing better than producing a new track in Logic Pro X and filling your space with sound!  Carefully crafting and working meticulously to get the music sounding perfect in your room can be great fun and rewarding.  With the mix finished it's time to sit back crank up the volume and languish in the sonic delights you've created whether it's a fat sub, dirty beat, perfectly crafted acoustic guitar, sweet vocal or banging dance track it's something we've all done, do and enjoy.  For me I often listen back a number of times but I'm completely narcissistic!

Going to Grannies house!

The problem though comes when you take your music to your friends, band mates, clients or grannies house and play it back in their room so they can share and delight in your brilliance.  The problem is and to put it as subtly as possible it can often sound bloody terrible!  So of course the simple solution is to play the music again but louder 'cos that gives it more bass and definitely makes it sound better.  So you crank it right up again for a second run, grannies ears bleed, you pray it sounds better but the music still sounds ... well ... bloody terrible!  

If you've ever experienced this issue like I have, your first action might be to go back to the mix and start turning things up, perhaps increasing the bass because in other rooms the bass was lacking, maybe adding more brightness as it suddenly felt a little dull and seemed to be further back in the mix.  So you remix, remaster go back to those odd sounding rooms but disappointingly it still doesn't seem quite right?  Maybe there's a problem with grannies room 'cos it rocks in the studio!  There is a solution but you won't find it in Logic Pro X.

Fill Your Room With The Right Sound

Speaker IconMaybe the issue isn't your mix at all?  Maybe grannies room is just fine to demo your music in, I mean she loves listening to Elvis and he sounds great in the space!  Maybe the issue is the way sound is filling and moving around your studio room?

I speak from experience I now work in a treated room but spent a long time working in rooms that were barely treated and I wasted a lot of time going back and fourth remixing and re-bouncing music to try and get my Logic mixes sounding right, which they rarely did. What I was missing all along was a room that was FILLED WITH TREATMENT rather than just filled with sound!

If you mix in a room which has no treatment at all you will only ever end up with one result, a mix that sounds amazing in one space.  YOUR ROOM!  If you mix in a room with acoustic treatment you're more likely end up with a mix that sounds great in many spaces from little rooms to big rooms, cavernous or warm and fluffy rooms!  It'll sound great everywhere.

So how do you go about getting a room to sound good?  First off it's not easy and I'd be conning you if I said you can do it on the cheap but there are a few inexpensive and almost free things you can do to help improve how your Logic mixes sound balanced in your acoustics space.

Let's take a look at a few top tips you can do to help improve your room.

1. Monitor Stands

StandsIf you can afford it and have the space I highly recommend you save the cash and invest in some dedicated speaker stands.  A wise purchase and often the first serious purchase to improving your rooms acoustics. 

One of the big problems with speakers and the endless quest for speaker designers is how the speaker diffuses sound as it leaves the speaker and cabinet.  The perfect monitor design would be one with Jedi like properties that floats in mid air, this would mean the speaker wouldn't transfer sound vibration directly to any other surface and thus the speaker would perform and resonate perfectly.  Unfortunately I'm not aware of anyone having harnessed the power of the force just yet (I've tried for years!) so speakers still have to be placed on a level surface, monitor stands are the closest you can get to a speaker floating and so are a wise choice for improving the sound of your room.

A monitor stand basically aims to decouple the speaker from the room, often solid and heavy perhaps filled with sand, many have spikes at the base to minimise contact with the floor to reduce vibration being transferred to your room.

Most speaker stands also come with a layer of acoustic foam to help reduce the speaker vibrating, this helps the speaker perform better and reduce frequencies.

If you have the space to place your speakers on stands I highly recommend you invest in monitor stands, they aren't as exciting as a new VI but they really will improve the quality of your mixes and that's definitely worth more than a new VI in my humble opinion!

You don't have to spend a fortune there are some great inexpensive options on the market that will do the job in improving how your speakers resonate and perform in your room.

Stand Spike

Stands that come with spikes can further help minimise the speaker vibration.

Stand Adjuster

Speaker stands that can be adjusted are great for setting at your mix height.

2. Studio Monitor Isolators

ISO-SmallIf you don't have the room or have stands and want to take you rooms acoustics to the next level, acoustic isolator stands are a very good choice.

There's a lot of options on the market from foam isolators to Isoacoustic's speaker stand isolators.  These work in much the same way as monitor stands, they can be used to create an almost Jedi like stand set up by placing them on top of monitor stands for the ultimate in decoupling of your speakers. 

But they really come into there own for small spaces where your speakers sit on a table, studio desk of other work top.  They are brilliant at decoupling your monitors from whatever surface they are sitting on and can be adjusted easily for the perfect height.

They are not the cheapest of options for your monitors to nestle on but are well worth the investment and you really can hear a difference. 

I have used the same mastering engineer for a number of years at Metropolis in London and he has his near field speakers sitting on Iso stands.  So if it's good enough for a top mastering suite it's definitely worth looking at this affordable acoustic monitor stand for your own space.

3. Lose The Room Alltogether

This isn't something I've used personally and so can't vouch for how good they are but I do know some fellow musos that have used software based room correction systems and felt they improved and aided for a better mix. 

Room correction software works by using a dedicated microphone that has a colourless response, which you use to analyse your room.  Once complete the software then compensates and automatically adjusts your rooms acoustic irregularities effectively taking the room out of your mix and speakers.  In other words once the rooms been analysed and the your mix is running through the software what comes out of the speakers is a balanced mix you can trust is accurate.

The idea is that if your room hypes the low end say at 80Hz the software will attenuate by the correct amount so that what you're hearing from your speakers is in fact a truer picture than if the software is bypassed.  Meaning when you play your music to granny it'll sound closer to what you originally had in the studio.

There are two products on the market that are worth checking out ARC System 2 by IK Multimedia and KRK Ergo are two trusted products that spring to mind.  They might be a good starting option but the best bit is if you eventually treat your room with acoustic panels, which in my opinion is still the best way to go the software would be a great aid to enhancing your room further.  So it's a wise investment that would reward you with good results for years to come. 

If however cash is no object to you and you have a spare $5500 burning a whole in your pocket the grand daddy of loudpseaker room optimization technologies is a Trinnov system.  I've heard this is in action and it's a stunning addition to optimizing the balance of a room but you'd expect that at a price that you could buy a small car for!  So let's leave Trinnov for big studios with bottomless budgets!

KRK Ergo

KRK's Ergo is a great way to help your room and you get a control monitor and mic too!

Arc System

Another great room adjustment tool which also comes with a quality mic, no controller though! 🙁

Trinnov

Daddy of room correction with a big room price tag.  You'll end up with a killer sounding room though!

4. Measure Your Room For Free

Well almost for free, the software you need to measure your room is free but the mic you need to actually capture your room isn't unless you steal one but that's totally uncool and illegal!  So you'll have to buy one, beg for one or borrow one if you want to measure your room.

Knowledge is power

If your room does need to be treated and you think investing in your space is a good idea to help you improve your mixes and masters buying acoustic treatment blind wont' be the wisest choice.  There's so many options companies and products that treat different aspects of room acoustics the it's worth while arming yourself with the knowledge of what problems your room actually has.  Every room is different and therefore will most likely need to be treated in slightly different ways.

Room measurement is actually one of the best things you can do because it allows you to graphically see what's actually happening in your room.  Knowledge is power, if you measure your space and the software indicates your room has a bump at 80-100Hz it indicates bass trapping might be a better way to spend your hard earned cash on quadratic diffusers.

So where do you sign up for this software?  REW is what you might find useful and it's completely free, you can donate to them though to keep their software alive, even just a donating a dollar is worth what the software can give back in uncovering the issues in your room.

What is REW?

Room EQ Wizard or REW for short is "free room acoustics analysis software for measuring and analysing room and loudspeaker responses.  The audio analysis features of REW helps you optimise the acoustics of your studio and can even help find the best locations for your speakers, subwoofers and listening position."

It's a full featured software program that will give huge amounts of information about your room, it won't improve the acoustics of your room own it's own but it will give invaluable and accurate information about the biggest problem frequencies in your room so that you can make the right choices and decisions about what types of acoustics you should buy in order to balance the room and ultimately give you confidence in your speakers.

What you get?

With REW you're able to analyse virtually all aspects of your room from the frequency response where certain frequencies stand out or dip down more than others.  In other words and sticking with the 80Hz idea if your room has a dip at 80Hz, say by 4-5dB  it might mean when mixing your speakers will trick you into thinking you need to boost more than you need too. So you boost by 7-8dB to compensate without realising your room is tricking you, you bounce out your mix thinking it's great to play it to granny who gets a whopping 10dB of bass boost and the mix that you thought was great actually isn't at all. Decay times can be a problem too, how long frequencies decay away for, REW will tell you exactly what issues your room has with decay times so that you can work out whether you need bass traps, broadband diffusers or broadband acoustic panels and where is the best place to position them.  REW can help you solve those problem and much more!

Check out Room EQ Wizard I highly recommend you take a look!

It's not all Free

Most producers and musicians have a least one mic so you might be thinking why not just use that SM58 to check out the room when using REW?  You could do that but it will fool you just like your speakers are because you really need a dedicated mic that has a flat, colourless response; the good news is unlike a Neumann U87 they don't cost the earth!  

Although like most audio tools there's lots of options out there but a good inexpensive choice that works well with REW is the Behringer ECM8000.  This mic is perfect for the job it has a flat response isn't expensive especially if you pick one up second hand and you can plug it straight into your interface to start using it.

The way you analyse the room is to place the mic in your seating mix position and the software plays back seemingly random noises and sine waves, which makes sense to the software but is basically to excite the room to measure it.  Measurements can be taken all round the room but the most important is of course your seating position.

Once you've finish the software will display all sorts of lovely graphs for you to get all confused about and you'll scratch your head wondering what it all means for you and your room.  For the acoustic novice like me that's where expert advice comes in, which I'll talk about in the next post Better Studio Acoustics Part 2.

rew01

How much ring does your room have?

rew02

A dedicated mic is needed to capture your room.

rew03

See where your room dips and spikes.

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