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Acoustics and layout

Introduction to the design and layout of a recording studio with regard to good acoustics.

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You may think I’m exaggerating for effect, and of course I am. But I know I’m correct in saying that energy wasted on coping with an inefficient system is energy that could be put to good musical use. The average housewife - or househusband - knows full well that a kitchen needs to be well designed, otherwise most of the time spent in cooking is taken up walking from one work area to another. If the kitchen is designed so that the various pieces of equipment are in a logical sequence, then a lot of effort is saved, and you get your dinner sooner!

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfectly designed studio, there are too many conflicting requirements. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop used to have a circular studio design which may have come close for one person operation. Their layout uses several small mixing consoles rather than one large one so that they can be arranged in an arc with everything within arm’s reach. A single conventional console might fit into the room easily enough, but the lone musician/engineer would have to move around much more.

Acoustics also play a role in studio control room layout. As you probably realise, large hard flat surfaces are ideal for reflecting sound. Reflected sound (specular, mirror-like, reflection as opposed to the less harmful diffuse reflection) is one thing we do not want. What a pity that all those effects racks, synth control panels and mixing console surfaces produce reflections in abundance, clouding the wonderfully clear sound coming out of the monitors.

You probably eagerly scan photographs of pro studios for their design ideas and layouts - and so do I. What conclusion do you come to? If you have seen enough studios, then the only conclusion is that the basics are similar, but beyond the basics there are a thousand and one workable studio designs. Most of them do the job of recording music adequately, but the tradeoffs have been made in different ways according to the requirements, and whims, of the studio owner and designer. As always, I am trying to present ideas which you can incorporate into your own scheme of things.

By David Mellor Tuesday February 1, 2000
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