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Best Investment Right Now to Take Your Audio Recordings to the Next Level!

Aug 21, 2008
Have you spent tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in recording gear only to be disappointed in how little difference in quality improvement your big investments actually made in your final product? Do you ever get frustrated when you hear about a famous engineer that make a 1dB adjustment to a mix and when you make such adjustments in your studio you conclude that either your ears are not good enough to even make such a discernment or these famous engineers must be pulling our leg about the necessity of such minute adjustments?

Many people make the mistake of investing more of their money in gear than in the single greatest asset that most greatly affects the sound quality of a studio recording. It isn't sexy to spend money on, but it is, without a doubt, the biggest separator of the good studios from the bad. It is all about the acoustic build-out and treatment of a room. Let's discuss some of the basics of recording studio acoustics.

Without a doubt, home recording folks and recording studios alike get the biggest bang for their buck investing in their recording and monitoring acoustic space. Don't believe me? Just don't be like the guy who answered incorrectly to this question: What will make a bigger difference in a recording, spending less than a thousand bucks in acoustic treatment to fix a 25db null spot at 85Hz in your iso booth or even your control room... or avoiding the slight jitter from a cheaper $800 A/D converter by upgrading to a $5000 A/D converter? I have seen it, a client asks what they should do to help their home studio and when it is laid out there for them they end up buying the top-of-the-line converters instead and wonder why they seem to get the same sound out of the same room with the different gear.

Good studio owners understand this. In my recording studios in Arizona, my partners and I have probably invested about $150,000 in gear, but the studio build-out came out to $260,000. That's money spent above and beyond the cost to get into the building itself. Despite the fact that buying new gear is more fun, we understand that studio acoustics is what separates a professional sounding facility from most home studios that just contain nice gear.

Generally speaking, acousticians work with materials to achieve absorption and diffusion. Absorption is generally treating hard surfaces with soft materials to minimize high-frequency reflections. Other reasons for the absorbent materials is shortening slap-back and room reverb time as well as cutting back on mids and higher-frequency standing waves.

On the other hand, diffusion is generally creating irregular surfaces to reflect sound in random directions to break up standing wave intensity. The way you would treat a control room is different from an iso booth or a large recording studio space like a drum room. Control rooms must have a perfect balance of absorption and diffusion to achieve a flat frequency response while iso booths are made to be as dead as possible. On the other hand, live rooms are usually much more reverberant to accentuate drums, strings, horns and piano.

While it is easy to get caught up in the idea that a new piece of gear will bring your recordings up to the next level in professionalism, often it is the simple investment in the room itself that will bring the greatest acoustic return on your investment.
About the Author
Shane Matsumoto runs a post production audio recording facility in Phoenix, AZ called Positive Network Media as well as a set of class A recording studios in Phoenix, AZ. Shane hosts the Indie Music Podcast and independent musician resource site. Engineering credits include BJ Thomas, Comedy Central's Crank Yankers and artists on Metal Blade Records.
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