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Careful Consideration, Good Consultation Mean Better Acoustics

Careful Consideration, Good Consultation Mean Better Acoustics
by Strother Bullins
ProAudio Review April 2010

Copyright © 2010 by Strother Bullins and NewBay Media, LLC

Applications: Recording & Broadcast, Home Theater & Entertainment, Church & Worship Facilities

Material: Absorbers, Barriers, Diffusers

Sonora® Series Acoustical Panels, BlockAid®Barrier, Geometrix Bass Traps, QuadraPyramid

For a moment, forget about your microphones, your monitors, your front end, your back end, and your DAW. Your forest amongst your trees isn’t your hardware and software, it’s your environment — the room in which you do your critical listening.

Thus, we suggest periodically setting aside a small percentage of your business time (and funds) purely for removing at least one negative acoustic characteristic from the space in which you listen. Even if you don’t have an actual budget for acoustic materials this year, very affordable results are to be had with careful consideration, phone consultation with reputable acoustic treatment authorities, and just a touch of physical labor.

Nick Colleran of Acoustics First Corporation is an industry veteran and expert in the realm of acoustic treatment materials, applications, and installation techniques. Based on decades of treating all kinds of listening and recording environments — from world-class places to humble home-based spaces — Colleran generally advises to make logical, one-byone small changes, then stop and listen for improvements, if any. 

Data Before Dollars 

First of all, before you spend a dime on any acoustic treatment materials, closely analyze the space you need to treat. Before contacting an acoustics expert, simple data, pictures, and measurements should be compiled. “Room shape and size, what the surfaces are made of, and what will be accomplished in the room are the basics,” says Colleran. “We like to see a half-dozen photographs — front, back, up, down, right, and left — because we might not know about the giant pink stuffed elephant in the corner which affects the acoustics. If it’s a large room, we like a recording of a balloon being popped so we can hear it. If it’s something small, like many control rooms, that is less relevant.” 

Common Problems With Early Reflections

“If the space is for listening to playback,” Colleran continues, “remove all the first reflections near the source of the sound so the sound from the speakers reaches your ears before the room interferes. Any direct and reflected frequencies that combine out of phase will cancel and conversely those frequencies that combine in phase will be boosted. String together those valleys and peaks and your resulting frequency response will look like a jagged mountain range."

You May Already Own (Or Rent) A Bass Trap

Nearly all bedrooms have closets, many residential studios are in cube-ish bedrooms, and most of these spaces are in need of bass trapping. Luckily, your closet is a bass trap in waiting, advises Colleran. “Open it up. If you have a closet, you have a pre-fab bass trap. The hanging coats inside will act like the bass traps back in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Just hang a curtain over it to conceal your wardrobe.”

In that same manner, adjoining rooms are also potential bass traps. For one particular job, Colleran cleverly used the next room over to act as a larger bass trap. “We worked it in by leaving a heavy curtain over the entrance to a bedroom off of the control room,” he explains. “That gave the extra space for the bass to ‘develop’ so he could hear what was going on down there.”

Misconceptions, Tips, and Motivations To Seek Advice

Colleran is quick to point out some standard misconceptions among audio professionals when it comes to acoustic treatment materials and techniques. The most common?

“That foam blocks sound, because it doesn’t. It’s porous. Sometimes people think that the shapes [of acoustic panels] are particularly important. They’re not quite as relevant as people think they are (or want to make them). Also, putting a lot of absorption in the corners of a room does not serve as a bass trap; it’s a broadband trap, and it’s going to absorb everything.”

Colleran continues. “Here’s a tip: You can reduce reverb time (RT) by putting any absorption in the room, in any position; it’s not directional, and it just being in the room takes the RT down. Also, a hanging panel will absorb on both sides, cutting RT.”

Noting that his thoughts here only scratch the surface, Colleran unintentionally assures us of one more fact regarding acoustic treatment techniques: that good consultation from a knowledgeable professional is truly valuable, indeed. 

Strother Bullins is the reviews and features editor for Pro Audio Review.

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