By Tim Martin, Auralex Acoustics
With today's limited budgets, many production teams do not have the luxury of producing their projects in properly designed facilities and are being forced to work in makeshift studios-spaces such as spare rooms, closets, hotel rooms, commercial office spaces or even home offices-that were not originally intended or created to be used for audio or video productions. However, even though these types of environments are not ideal for recording and can have a negative impact on the final project, there are a number of steps that you can take to overcome many of the acoustical challenges.
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First and foremost, there are number of resources available to help you with your acoustical issues. Professional acousticians are a great resource and are easily accessible. Getting professional advice will save you a lot of time and money and get you on the right track the first time. Here are two examples:
1. Auralex Acoustics offers a FREE Personalized Room Analysis Service. This service provides professional advice that is specific to your individual acoustical challenges. Simply fill out the Personalized Room Analysis Form located at www.auralex.com and send it to Auralex along with a diagram of your room. An Application Specialist will contact you with a solution within 2-3 business days.
2. For more complex isolation issues you may want to consider an Acoustical Consultant. Acoustical Consultants are professionals that specialize in the science of acoustics and they may be called upon to assist with your project. The web site for the National Council of Acoustical Consultants is www.ncac.com.
Location, Location, Location
While you may have limited options for where a project is produced, you can reduce or eliminate unwanted external noise by moving your work away from that source. For instance, outer walls which allow traffic, construction or aircraft sounds to get in or HVAC ducts can all have a significant impact. If your space has windows, curtains are a very effective way to reduce unwanted reflections. Avoid recording in the corner of your space as low frequencies tend to build up in corners. If you are planning to create a new production facility, isolation issues are best addressed during construction or major remodeling. This has become an even more important consideration in this digital era of increased dynamic ranges. For more detailed information visit www.acoustics101.com. There you will find a wealth of information in easy-to-understand language.
Once the location is set, turn your attention to other noise makers in your room such as computer fans and disk drives. If possible, move them to a well-ventilated closet, nearby equipment room or as far away as possible. If this is not an option, checkout www.custom-consoles.com/isobox.php for a custom isolation box.
Now that you've removed all the ancillary noise, you can turn your attention to acoustically treating the room. For the purposes of this article, we'll focus on "absorption" for treating room reflections, "monitor or speaker isolation" for sonic resonances and "bass trapping" for low frequency issues.
Absorption is necessary to reduce reflections coming from the front wall, side walls and ceiling. Acoustical foam and fabric wrapped fiberglass panels are the most common materials for absorbing unwanted reflections. Left untreated these reflections will eventually return to the microphone and are a source of unwanted sound coloration. You'll be hearing the room, not the product you are working on! To diagnose these reflections, use the Mirror Trick described here.
If permanent wall absorption treatments won't work for your situation, don't despair. Consider isolating your microphone with acoustical foam to eliminate external noise bleed and filter those undesirable external overtones. You'll be amazed at the difference this small but effective treatment suggestion will make.
In addition to treating your mic, consider a mobile absorption solution. These portable solutions provide the flexibility many production engineers need for their ever-changing work environments. There are number of options and styles to fit any application.
Isolating your speakers or near-field monitors from their environment is one of the least expensive and most dramatic actions you can take to improve your sound. Everything in your production environment that vibrates contributes artifacts to your sound. And once your speakers cause whatever they're resting on, or near, to vibrate, everything else that's in physical contact with your speakers also starts to vibrate. Eliminating or reducing those vibrations will automatically improve the accuracy of what you're hearing! There are a number of great products out there to assist you.
Finally, low frequencies are typically the biggest problem to solve in a small production environment and are not to be ignored. Left untreated, low frequency build up can color an audio signal leaving it
"muddy." It is best to work incrementally and treat the room corners from the ceiling and work down. Treating room corners with Auralex LENRDs, TruTraps or CT45's, for example, will minimize bass build-up.
These simple, yet very effective suggestions will get you well on your way to better production output no matter where you do your work. If you run into an issue you just can't seem to solve, ask a professional. They'll be happy to assist.