The ultimate portable vocal booth?

The ultimate portable vocal booth?

In the quest for ever-drier vocals, how can you achieve the ultimate dead zone in your studio?

by David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

It is often better to record vocals very dry, without any ambience or reverb. This is because you can process the recording in any way you want later. You can add reverb, but you can't take it away.

But achieving a dry vocal sound isn't always easy. If your recording room has hard surfaces, whether flat or irregular, then you will have ambience (the word 'ambience' is generally used to mean the reverberation of a small room). This might sound nice on instruments. It might even sound nice on vocals if you get the mic placement exactly right. But being able to achieve a very dry recording should be part of any recordist's technique.

So you could add acoustic treatment to the room. Acoustic treatment in general (which is not the same as sound insulation) comprises both absorption and diffusion. But here we just want absorption. Without going into the lengthy details here, with sufficient budget and materials you could make any room dry as a dead dingo's armpit.

But what if you don't have the budget? Or you don't want to make the whole room dry? Then you might consider a vocal booth. You can buy a vocal booth, but once again we're talking money. You could build one. Bear in mind that the acoustics of very small spaces are difficult. You could build a small booth, put a lot of absorption in, and find that it ends up sounding 'boxy'.

So in the face of these difficulties, a new class of product has emerged - the portable vocal booth. Typified by this example from sE Electronics, the main aim is to prevent excess vocal sound energy flying straight past the microphone and energizing the room. The device will also reduce reflections that would otherwise strike the back and sides of the mic.

This is a noble aim, although one would have to consider whether any of the similar devices on the market might reflect some sound directly back into the mic. Clearly this would be undesirable.

But one thing seems puzzling. Why are portable vocal booths so small? Well they are not exactly small but they could be a lot bigger. Like a Dyson Sphere versus Ringworld. It's weight that is the problem. It's one matter to sell a product that will sit on a mic stand, quite another if it requires a scaffold to hold it in place.

But these products conventionally treat the vocalist and microphone as an entire system. What about just considering the microphone? What if you could reduce the aperture through which sound energy can access the microphone, so that the microphone is screened from the room in all other directions?

Sounds crazy? Well fortunately there are people in the world crazy enough, or inventive enough, to try it out. Here for instance is the Harlan Hogan Porta-Booth (shown in the photo above). And here is how you can make a similar gadget for yourself...

It's an 'over to you moment'. If you use a booth like this, or build one yourself, send us some 'before and after' audio. A lot of people out there are interested.

P.S. What about adding a hood to go over the performer's head like an old style photographer? Just kidding. Or maybe they already have (at 1:50)...

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass
Thursday January 20, 2011

Readers' comments on this article...

Lovette, Kampala, Uganda
Friday June 10, 2011

iproduce music with a DAW logic platinum 5.5.0 my sample drum kit don't sound natural when i compresse them or Eq them compared to the music i relate them with is it because am using an old DAW or the problem is with my mastering skills or drum kit samples(visit my page please and listen to my music to get the real taste of my question www.reverbnation.com/bigtunestudios
Anonymous
Wednesday March 23, 2011

Mr. Rick this device is likely to replace a booth when one plans to have a mobile studio. A sound proof room is not portable remember.
Samson, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
Monday February 14, 2011

Respected Sir, I am Samson one of your online student's in India. I would like to know more about this addition, Let me know more about HD work flow with music and HD you Tube New releases. Please help me. I am very interesting in the same. How I hear the music with HD? If we have any conversion software to change the music by HD? If you know about the New Edition of HD please inform to us. Thanks Yours faithfully Samson Manohar Emails: sam_j_1966@yahoo.com or samson.1845@rediffmail.com
Stefan Gamble, Goole, England
Monday February 07, 2011

If you folks are interested in this idea I suggest you look at UK Patent GB2350968, registered 22 August 2001. The loudspeaker parts of this technology is now earning European manufacturers up to £57K per pair, and the Microphone Housing elements are just as advanced. Also this technology is now free to use, all that I ask for is credit for the idea. If anyone is interested I have significant new acoustic technology ready for release. I have no problem with publishing my Email address. Peace.
Michael Jones, Anaheim, Ca, USA
Monday February 07, 2011

The portable booth shown is only good for projects that are fairly low quality (I made one). While good in concept, it's only muffling half the reverberance in most cases, and thus you still get slapback, expecially in a small room. For quality vocals and voice over you need an insulated space in all directions and a booth is the way to go. But on a budget you can make one out of doubled up moving blankets and 4'x5'x8' PVC frame for less than $200. Within a quiet house, and near the middle of a carpeted room with a popcorn ceiling you will get almost no slap back. It's good enough for most projects. I built one of these for my wife for voice over work years back and the results were excellent. Never a compaint, and many return clients.
Ford Prefect, Guildford, Surrey
Monday February 07, 2011

It is when you shove it in the singer's mouth!
Jeremy
Monday February 07, 2011

The answer to Fred is NO. A towel is not a soundproofing device.
Rick Fitzpatrick, Coos Bay, USA
Monday February 07, 2011

Unfortunately, the most common reason for using a booth isn't for making the sound dry. It's to keep the sound being produced from transmitting to an adjacent neighbor...or vice versa. Most home recording enthusiasts don't have the luxury of a "soundproof" recording room. Hence building a small version of a "soundproof" room. If treated correctly, it will not sound "boxy", and will succeed at it's intended purpose as well. So, for all intents and purposes..this device will NOT replace a booth.
Fred, Leiden, Netherlands
Monday February 07, 2011

I wondered if it would help to just cover the sides and the back of the condensor microphone with a towel or something like that. That would diminish the level of the back and side reflections as well, I guess. (Correction of previous post).
Fred, Leiden, Netherlands
Monday February 07, 2011

I wondered if I would help to just cover the sides and the back of the condensor microphone with a towel or something like that. That would diminish the level of the back and side reflections as well, I guess.
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