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Source: THE MASTER HANDBOOK OF ACOUSTICS

20
his is the day of the small recording studio. Musicians are interested in making demonstration records to develop their style and to sell their sounds. There are hundreds of small recording studios operated by not-for-profit organizations that turn out a prodigious quantity of material for educational, promotional, and religious purposes. Studios are required for the production of campus and community radio, television, and cable programs. All of these have limited budgets and limited technical resources. The operator of these small studios is often caught between a desire for top quality and the lack of means, and often the know-how to achieve it. This chap. is aimed primarily to those in these needy groups, although the principles expounded are more widely applicable. What is a good recording studio? There is only one ultimate criterionthe acceptability of the sound recorded in it by its intended audience. In a commercial sense, a successful recording studio is one fully booked and making money. Music recorded in a studio is pressed on discs or recorded on tape and sold to the public. If the public likes the music, the studio passes the supreme test. There are many factors influencing the acceptability of a studio beside sound studio quality, such as the type of program and the popularity of the performers, but studio quality is vital, at least for success on a substantial, long-range basis.

C H A P.

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Public taste must be pleased for any studio to be a success. Producing a successful product, however, involves many individuals along the way whose decisions may make or break a studio. These decisions may be influenced by both subjective and technical factors. The appearance of a studio, convenience, and comfort might outweigh acoustical quality, sometimes because the more tangible esthetic qualities are better understood than the intangible acoustical qualities. This chap. has little to say on the artistic, architectural, and other such aspects of a studio, but their importance cannot be denied. They just require a different kind of specialist.

Acoustical Characteristics of a Studio


Sound picked up by a microphone in a studio consists of both direct and indirect sound. The direct sound is the same as would exist in the great outdoors or in an anechoic chamber. The indirect sound, which immediately follows the direct, is the sound that results from all the various nonfree-field effects characteristic of an enclosed space. The latter is unique to a particular room and may be called studio response. Everything that is not direct sound is indirect, reflected sound. Before dissecting indirect sound, let us look at the sound in its all-inclusive form in a studio, or any other room for that mat80 ter. Figure 20-1 shows how sound level (A) All surfaces 100% reflective varies with distance from a source, which 70 D could be the mouth of someone talking, a Partially musical instrument, or a loudspeaker. absorptive 60 Assume a pressure level of 80 dB measured C (B) All surfaces 1 foot from the source. If all surfaces of the 100% absorptive (free field) 50 room were 100 percent reflective, we would have a reverberation chamber to 40 end all reverberation chambers, and the 1 2 3 4 5 7 10 15 20 30 40 Distance from source - feet sound pressure level would be 80 dB everywhere in the room because no sound FIGURE 20-1 energy is being absorbed. There is essenThe sound-pressure level in an enclosed space varies with distance from the source of sound according to tially no direct sound; it is all indirect. Graph B represents the fall off in sound the absorbency of the space.
Sound-pressure level - dB

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pressure level with distance from the sound source with all surfaces 100 percent absorptive. In this case all the sound is direct; there is no indirect component. The best anechoic rooms approach this condition. It is the true free field illustrated in Chap. 4, and for this condition the sound pressure level decreases 6 dB for each doubling of the distance. Between the indirect all reverberation case of graph A of Fig. 20-1 and the direct no reverberation case of graph B lie a multitude of other possible some reverberation cases, depending on room treatment. In the area between these two extremes lies the real world of studios in which we live and move and have our being. The room represented by graph C is much more dead than that of graph D. In practical studios, the direct sound is observable a short distance out from the source, but after that the indirect sound dominates. A sudden sound picked up by a microphone in a studio would, for the first few milliseconds, be dominated by the direct component, after which the indirect sound arrives at the microphone as a torrent of reflections from room surfaces. These are spread out in time because of the different path lengths traveled. A second component of indirect sound results from room resonances, which in turn are the result of reflected sound. The direct sound flowing out from the source excites these resonances, bringing into play all the effects listed in Chap. 15. When the source excitation ceases, each mode dies away at its own natural frequency and at its own rate. Sounds of very short duration might not last long enough to fully excite room resonances. Distinguishing between reflections and resonances is an acknowledgment that neither a reflection concept nor a resonance concept will carry us through the entire audible spectrum. Resonances dominate the lowfrequency region in which the wavelengths of the sound are comparable to room dimensions. The ray concept works for higher frequencies and their shorter wavelengths (Chap. 16). Around the 300- to 500-Hz region is a difficult transition zone. But with this reminder of the basic limitations of our method we can return to analyzing the components of sound in a small studio. The third component of indirect sound is involved with the materials of constructiondoors, windows, walls, and floors. These too are set into vibration by sound from the source, and they too decay at their own particular rate when excitation is removed. If Helmholtz resonators are involved in room treatment, sound not absorbed is reradiated.

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The sound of the studio, embracing these three components of indirect sound plus the direct sound, has its counterpart in musical instruments. In fact, it is helpful to consider our studio as an instrument that the knowledgeable musician, technician, or engineer can play. It has its own characteristic sound, and a certain skill is required to extract from it its full potential.

Reverberation
Reverberation is the composite, average effect of all three types of indirect sound. Measuring reverberation time does not reveal the individual components of which reverberation is composed. Herein lies the weakness of reverberation time as an indicator of studio acoustical quality. The important action of one or more of the indirect components may be obscured by the averaging process. This is why it is said that reverberation time is an indicator of studio acoustical conditions, but not the only one. There are those who feel it is improper and inaccurate to apply the concept of reverberation time to relatively small rooms. It is true that a genuine reverberant field may not exist in small spaces. Sabines reverberation equation is based on the statistical properties of a random sound field. If such an isotropic, homogeneous distribution of energy does not prevail in a small room, is it proper to apply Sabines equation to compute the reverberation time of the room? The answer is a purist no, but a practical yes. Reverberation time is a measure of decay rate. A reverberation time of 0.5 seconds means that a decay of 60 dB takes place in 0.5 seconds. Another way to express this is 60 dB/0.5 second = 120 dB/second decay rate. Whether the sound field is diffuse or not, sound decays at some particular rate, even at the low frequencies at which the sound field is least diffuse. The sound energy stored at the modal frequencies decays at some measurable rate, even though only a few modes are contained in the band being measured. It would seem to be a practical step to utilize Sabines equation in small room design to estimate absorption needs at different frequencies. At the same time, it is well to remember the limitations of the process.

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Studio Design
In a general book of this type, space is too limited to go into anything but basic principles. Fortunately, there is a rich literature on the subject, much of it written in easy-to-understand language. In designing a studio, attention should be given to room volume, room proportions, and sound decay rate, diffusion, and isolation from interfering noise.

Studio Volume
A small room almost guarantees sound colorations resulting from excessive spacing of room resonance frequencies. This can be minimized by picking one of the favorable room ratios suggested by Sepmeyer (see Fig. 13-6) 1.00 : 1.28 : 1.54, applying it to a small, a medium, and a large studio and seeing what happens. Table 20-1 shows the selected dimensions, based on ceiling heights of 8, 12, and 16 feet resulting in room volumes of 1,000, 3,400, and 8,000 cubic feet. Axial mode frequencies were then calculated after the manner of Table 15-5 and plotted in Fig. 20-2, all to the same frequency scale. As previously noted, the room proportions selected do not yield Small studio perfect distribution of modal frequencies, but this is of no consequence in our investigation of the effects of room volume. A 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 visual inspection of Fig. 20-2 shows the Medium studio increase in the number of axial modes as volume is increased, which of course results in closer spacing. In Table 20-2 the 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 number of axial modes below 300 Hz is Large studio shown to vary from 18 for the small studio to 33 for the large. The low-frequency response of the large studio, 22.9Hz, is shown to be far superior to that of the two 0 50 100 150 200 250 300 smaller studios at 30.6 and 45.9 Hz. This is FIGURE 20-2 an especially important factor in the Comparison of the axial-mode resonances of a small recording of music. (1,000 cu ft), a medium (3,400 cu ft), and a large We must remember that modes other (8,000 cu ft) studio all having the proportions 1.00: than axial are present. The major diagonal 1.28: 1.54.

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Table 20-1. Studio dimensions.


Ratio Height Width Length Volume 1.00 1.28 1.54 Small studio 8.00 ft 10.24 ft 12.32 ft 1,000 cu ft Medium studio 12.00 ft 15.36 ft 18.48 ft 3,400 cu ft Large studio 16.00 ft 20.48 ft 24.64 ft 8,000 cu ft

Table 20-2. Studio resonances in Hz.


Small studio Number of axial modes below 300 Hz Lowest axial mode Average mode spacing Frequency corresp. to room diagonal Assumed reverb, time of studio, second Mode bandwidth (2.2/RT60) 18 45.9 14.1 31.6 0.3 7.3 Medium studio 26 30.6 10.4 21.0 0.5 4.4 Large studio 33 22.9 8.4 15.8 0.7 3.1

dimension of a room better represents the lowest frequency supported by room resonances because of the oblique modes. Thus, the frequency corresponding to the room diagonal listed in Table 20-2 is a better measure of the low-frequency capability of a room than the lowest axial frequency. This approach gives the lowest frequency for the large room as 15.8 Hz, compared to 22.9 Hz for the lowest axial mode. The average spacing of modes, based on the frequency range from the lowest axial mode to 300 Hz, is also listed in Table 20-2. The average spacing varies from 8.4 Hz for the large studio to 14.1 Hz for the small studio. The reverberation times listed in Table 20-2 are assumed, nominal values judged fitting for the respective studio sizes. Given these reverberation times, the mode bandwidth is estimated from the expression 2.2/RT60. Mode bandwidth varies from 3 Hz for the large studio to 7 Hz

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for the small studio. The advantage of closer spacing of axial modes in the large studio tends to be offset by its narrower mode bandwidth. So, we see conflicting factors at work as we realize the advantage of the mode skirts overlapping each other. In general, however, the greater number of axial modes for the large studio, coupled with the extension of room response in the low frequencies, produces a response superior to that of the small studio. The examples of the three hypothetical studios considered above emphasize further the appropriateness of musical instrument analogy of a studio. We can imagine the studio as a stringed instrument, one string for each modal frequency. These strings respond sympathetically to sound in the room. If there are enough strings tuned to closely spaced frequencies, and each string responds to a wide enough band of frequencies to bridge the gaps between strings, the studio-instrument responds uniformly to all frequency components of the sound in the studio. In other words, the response of the studio is the vector sum total of the responses of the individual modes. If the lines of Fig. 20-2 are imagined to be strings, it is evident that there will be dips in response between widely spaced frequencies. The large studio, with many strings, yields the smoother response. Conclusion: A studio having a very small volume has fundamental response problems in regard to room resonances; greater studio volume yields smoother response. The recommendation based on BBC experience still holds true, that coloration problems encountered in studios having volumes less than 1,500 cubic feet are severe enough to make small rooms impractical. For reasons of simplicity, the axial modes considered in the previous discussion are not the only modes, but they are the dominant ones.

Room Proportions
If there are fewer axial modes than are desired in the room under consideration, sound quality is best served by distributing them as uniformly as possibly. The cubical room distributes modal frequencies in the worst possible wayby piling up all three fundamentals, and each trio of multiples with maximum gap between. Having any two dimensions in multiple relationship results in this type of problem. For example, a height of

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8 ft and a width of 16 ft means that the second harmonic of 16 ft coincides with the fundamental of 8 ft. This emphasizes the importance of proportioning the room for best distribution of axial modes. The perfect room proportions have yet to be found. It is easy to place undue emphasis on a mechanical factor such as this. I urge you to be well informed on the subject of room resonances and to be aware of certain consequences, but let us be realistic about itall of the recording that has ever taken place has been done in spaces less than perfect. In our homes and offices, conversations are constantly taking place with serious voice colorations, and we listen to and enjoy recorded music in acoustically abominable spaces. The point is that in striving to upgrade sound quality at every stage of the process, reducing sound colorations by attention to room modes is just good sense.

Reverberation Time
Technically, the term reverberation time should not be associated with relatively small spaces in which random sound fields do not exist. However, some first step must be taken to calculate the amount of absorbent needed to bring the general acoustical character of a room up to an acceptable level. While reverberation time is useful for this purpose, it would be unfortunate to convey the impression that the values of reverberation time so obtained have the same meaning as that in a large space. If the reverberation time is too long (sound decays too slowly), speech syllables and music phrases are slurred and a definite deterioration of speech intelligibility and music quality results. If rooms are too dead (reverberation time too short), music and speech lose character and suffer in quality, with music suffering more. These effects are not so definite and precise as to encourage thinking that there is a specific optimum reverberation time, because many other factors are involved. Is it a male or female voice, slow or fast talker, English or German language (they differ in the average number of syllables per minute), a stand-up comic or a string ensemble, vocal or instrumental, hard rock or a waltz? In spite of so many variables, readers need guidance, and there is a body of experience from which we can extract helpful information. Figure 20-3 is an approximation rather than a true optimumbut following it will result in reasonable, usable conditions

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1.4 Reverberation time - seconds 1.2 1.0 0.8 0.6 0.4 0.2 0

Mus

ic

Speech

1,000

2,000

5,000

10,000

20,000

30,000

Room volume - cu ft

FIGURE 20-3
Suggested reverberation times for recording studios. The shaded area is a compromise region for studios in which both music and speech are recorded.

for many types of recording. The shaded area of Fig. 20-3 represents a compromise in rooms used for both speech and music.

Diffusion
Before the advent of the Schroeder (diffraction grating) diffusor, there was little advice to give regarding diffusion in the small studio. Splaying walls and the use of geometrical protuberances have only a modest diffusing effect. Distributing the absorbing material is a useful means of not only achieving some diffusion, but increasing the absorbing efficiency as well. Modular diffusing elements are on the market that really diffuse as shown in Chap. 14. There are even 2 ft--4 ft-modular units that offer high-quality diffusion and excellent broadband absorption (0.82 coefficient at 100 Hz, for example), all within a 2-in thickness (the Abffusor). The application of this new principle of diffusion, with or without the absorption feature, contributes a feeling of spaciousness through the diffusion of room reflections and the control of resonances.

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Noise
Noise is truly something in the ear of the behearer. One persons beautiful music is another persons noise, especially at 2 AM. It is a two-way street, and fortunately, a good wall that protects a studio area from exterior noise also protects neighbors from what goes on inside. The psychological aspect of noise is very importantacceptable if considered a part of a situationdisturbing if considered extraneous. Chap. 18 has already treated the special case of air-conditioning noise.

Studio Design Procedure


We have considered reverberation and how to compute it (Chap. 7), the reality of room resonances (Chap. 15), the need for diffusion (Chaps. 13 and 14), various types of dissipative and tuned absorbers (Chap. 9), and as mentioned, one of the most serious studio noise producers, the air-conditioning equipment (Chap. 18). All of these are integral parts of studio design. The would-be designer should also sample the literature to see how others have solved similar problems.13

Some Studio Features


A glance into other peoples studios often makes one aware of things I want to do or things I definitely dont like. Figures 20-4 and 20-5 show the treatment of a budget 2,500 cu ft studio. Built on the second floor of a concrete building with an extensive printing operation below, certain minimum precautions were advisable. The studio floor is 34-inch plywood on 2--2-inch stringers resting on 1 2-inch soft fiberboard. Attenuation of noise through the double 58 drywall ceiling is augmented by a one inch layer of dry sand, a cheap way to get amorphous mass. The wall modules, containing a 4-inch thickness of Owens-Corning Type 703 Fiberglas (3 lb/cu ft density), help to absorb and diffuse the sound. The studio of Fig. 20-6 with a volume of 3,400 cu ft has a couple of interesting features. The wall modules (Fig. 20-5) feature carefully stained and varnished frames and a neat grille cloth. Those of Fig. 20-7 are of two kinds, one sporting a very attractive fabric

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FIGURE 20-4
View of a 2,500-cu ft voice studio looking into the control room. World Vision, International.

FIGURE 20-5
Rear view of the 2,500-cu ft voice studio of Fig. 20-4. Wall modules containing 4-inch thicknesses of dense glass fiber contribute to diffusion of sound in the room. World Vision, International.

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FIGURE 20-6
A 3,400-cu ft studio used for both recording and editing voice tapes. Decorator-type fabric provides an attractive visual design for the absorber/diffusor wall modules. Mission Communications Incorporated.

FIGURE 20-7
Close view of the wall modules of Fig. 20-6. Mission Communications Incorporated.

design, the other more subdued. The studio of Fig. 20-6 has a rather high ceiling, hence a virtual, visual ceiling was established at a height of 8 feet. This consists of four 5--7-foot suspended frames as shown in Fig. 20-8, which hold fluorescent lighting fixtures and patches of glass fiber. The plastic louvers are acoustically transparent. The voice studio of Fig. 20-9, with a volume of 1,600 cu ft, employs wall absorbing panels manufactured by the L.E. Carpenter Co. of Wharton, New Jersey. These panels feature a perforated vinyl wrapping and a 38-in rigid composition board backing. The concrete floor rests on soft fiberboard with distributed cork chips under it. The low-frequency deficiencies of carpet and wall panels require some Helmholtz correction, and

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FIGURE 20-8
The high structural ceiling of the studio of Fig. 20-6 allows the use of four 5 X 7 ft suspended frames to bring the visual ceiling down to 8 ft and to support illumination fixtures and absorbing material. The plastic louvers are acoustically transparent. Mission Communications Incorporated.

FIGURE 20-9
Voice studio with a volume of 1,600 cu ft. A 7 X 10 ft suspended ceiling frame hides 13 Helmholtz resonators for low-frequency absorption. Wall modules are proprietary units covered with perforated vinyl. Far-East Broadcasting Company.

thirteen 20 40 8-inch boxes are mounted in the suspended ceiling frame out of sight. Figure 20-10 is a 3,700-cu ft music studio that is also used for voice work. Low-frequency compensation is accomplished by the same Helmholtz boxes mentioned above, 14 of them in each of two suspended ceiling frames.

Elements Common to All Studios


Chap. 4 of Reference 1 treats sound lock treatment, doors and their sealing, wall constructions, floor/ceiling constructions, wiring pre-

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FIGURE 20-10
Music studio with a volume of 3,700 cu ft employing two 9 x 11 foot suspended ceiling frames that hold a total of 28 Helmholtz resonators. Far East Broadcast Company

cautions, illuminating fixtures, observation windows, and other things common to all studios and which can create serious problems if not handled properly.

Endnotes
1

Ballou, Glen, ed., Handbook for Sound EngineersThe New Audio Cyclopedia, Indianapolis, IN, Howard W. Sams & Co., 2nd ed. (1991): Chap. 4, Common Factors in All Audio Rooms, by F. Alton Everest, p 67-101; Chap. 5, Acoustical Design of Audio Rooms, by F. Alton Everest, p. 103-141; Chap. 6, Contempory Practices in Audio Room Design, by F. Alton Everest, p. 143-170, Chap. 7, Rooms for Speech and Music, by Rollins Brook, p. 171201. 2 Allison, Roy F. and Robert Berkowitz, The Sound Field in Home Listening Rooms, J. Audio. Eng. Soc., 20, 6 (July/Aug 1972), 459-469.
3

Kuhl, Walter, Optimal Acoustical Design of Rooms for Performing, Listening, and Recording, Proc. 2nd. International Congress on Acoustics, (1956) 53-58.

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