3 ways you can improve your home studio today 😁
The plethora of information available on acoustics can overwhelming and arguably confusing. For producers and engineers, understanding what can directly impact the consistency of your results is essential for a long career in music. In this article, we explore the definition of an RFZ, critical listening space and how this can help you get better results.
There are a number of ways to approach the build of a control room. if money was no object and you could get the best in the business to design and build a room for you to work in, odds are - you will be presented with 2 types: Live End Dead End (LEDE) and a Reflection-Free Zone (RFZ).
So whether you don’t have the budget for a posh acoustic consultant or you want to build it yourself, let’s take a look at some design ideas that can be adapted and how they can affect your productions.
The acoustic characteristics of the room you work in have a direct impact on your perception, regardless of your speaker configuration and whether you mix in 2.0 or immersive. Inherent room resonance and interference between reflections from walls, floors and ceilings combined with direct sound will colour your room. As a result, you will hear a boost in certain notes, especially in mids to highs. Similarly, the stereo image will be f**ked, effectively muddied and unfocused, Too much Reverberation can lead you to misjudge audible artefacts.
Let’s unpack the ideal room setting to work in: *a neutral acoustics space where you can listen with no colour or interference – while recording – you would want to listen through the acoustical environment of the live room where musicians are performing – don't forget that !!!
In most cases; control room space is limited and lacks treatment and most end up with a horrible sounding room. In critical listening rooms, we want to suppress early- reflections from the walls of the room, acousticians tend to increase the initial time delay gap before reflections from the room arrive. Diffusers on the rear wall scatter sound turn the sparse room reflections into something more like the reverberant decay of a larger room, with increased reflection density.
I would not recommend this for small rooms though !!! 🤓
Professional consultants would usually use one of the following strategies to improve acoustics :
Non Environment: usually employs flush-mounted monitors
Reflection-Free Zones: ideal for small rooms
Live End Dead End: cost-effective with less overall treatment
The strategy is simple and focuses on absorption; furthermore, removing reverb and early reflections. You end up with quite the dead space. Speakers are often flush-mounted in said space to eliminate reflections from the front wall. An efficient absorbent material is deployed in the rear, sides and ceiling, as a result; you get to listen to the direct sound only.
For purists – this design is not progressively dead since the sound desk and floor will cause some reflections, while some might argue reflections of the floor can be a nuisance, the impact of that is negligent.
🤔I would argue that this type of design helps you listen to the low end in detail since you are not listening to any masking by reverb or so – no to mention the lack of early reflections improves the stereo image. One thing to note is that creating such a room needs broadband material which will significantly take whatever space you got – think half the room volume.
One critical piece of info you need to know before deploying such a strategy for your space, most people will not listen to music in a dead space like that, and in a livelier room– such as a domestic setting- there is support for loudspeakers – roughly 10 dB on top of the direct sound. Considering you are aiming for your mix to translate well, then you would need to use almost 10 times amplification level to recreate the same environment. Think about the implications if you tried this strategy for mixing in Dolby Atmos for example.
Live End Dead End:
In September 1980, Don and Chips Davies proposed a new approach to the AES called the many"live end-dead end" (LEDE-) approaches. The strategy focused on the control of initial time delay, psychoacoustic removal of the directional clues belonging to the control room, and control of the early reflected sound field's density, spacing in time, and acoustic level.
The paper claims that this results in an exceptionally neutral acoustic environment and allows the development of a sound field at a mixer's ears which correlates remarkably with the sound field appearing at the microphones in the studio, thereby allowing precision judgments to be made at the mixing console.
In a nutshell, absorbers kill all reflection from the front of the room ( where you and your loudspeakers are ); effectively creating a dead end. The back of the room remains live and left untreated, with some deployments having flush-mounted monitor, the rear end is often improved by diffusion which breaks strong reflection at the back wall.
‘That’s in a nutshell for you!!!’ 😏
Treating your space this way is more cost-effective since you will treat less volume and your speaker will be more efficient since you won’t have to compensate for the lack of reverberation to boost volume. Your RT60 is dictated by the absorbent in the dead-end, this can be done in a way to resemble a domestic listening space so your mixes can translate better eventually.
On the downside, your mix will sound different at the sweet spot compared to anywhere else in the room – think a client attended session or similar. The fact remains is that this approach is suitable for home studios since less treatment is required with less dense material,
Also * you can’t easily scale this approach to immersive mixing rooms 😑.
Reflection free zone is simply focused on a practical and pragmatic approach in which you implement treated as and where needed. So what’s needed to do this in your space?!
You treat and control early reflections, identify the relevant walls, ceilings. Then you create a reflection-free zone around the listening position. Once you’ve identified where to place your treatment, focus on mid to high frequencies which have the greatest impact on your room’s sound. You can easily pinpoint your treatment locations by holding a mirror along the walls and treat wherever you see a reflection of your loudspeaker from the listening position.
👆DO NOT FORGET that imaging appreciates symmetry, otherwise your imaging will be all f**ked 💩. The same approach can be deployed in oddly shaped rooms and can be scaled for immersive rooms. A variation of the approach can be implemented by redirecting sound away from the listening area to remove any early reflections mostly using complex curves that give you a chance to have your speakers free-standing for example. Note that moving away from the sweet spot will result in a deteriorating quality due to the number of early reflections building up; however, if you diffuse that s**t then you will be in good shape.
So the size of the listening area is directly proportional to the amount of absorbent material you use; larger reflection-free volumes require larger absorption patches. Note that more diffusion will give you a broader image so try to get the right balance between absorption and diffusion for your space.
When you are ready to build your studio, consider your own preference. There is no magic pill and no design is perfect. I recommend reaching out to local studios in your area, get a tour to see different styles and listen to them ( don’t forget to make notes to find out which sounds best to you)