Fixing the bass in a San Francisco Home Recording Studio
03/16/19 update: Nowell used his home recording studio to produce the Black Rainbow Blues album by the band Rivelan!
Nowell Valeri is a musical composer, producer and performer based in San Francisco, CA who can be found online at nvaleri.com.
Nowell approached Acoustic Frontiers to assist with improving the acoustics of his San Francisco home recording studio. In the client’s words:
“In 2015 my wife and I decided to dedicate most of our living space to our art. She commandeered the master bedroom in our San Francisco home as a north-light painting studio and I took over the entirety of the living room right below her.
Both studios have their issues as artistic spaces, but our former living room presented many more problems for me, none of which I realized until I started producing (mostly electronic) music in it regularly.
The mixes produced in my studio were wildly out of whack, especially in the lower end. The old “car test”, where an engineer or producer tests his mix on a car stereo, had become so terribly depressing that I began relying solely on headphones to mix, and the mixes still weren’t sounding great. I decided the best way forward was to get an acoustical analysis of the room, which is when I found Acoustic Frontiers.”
Here’s what Nowell’s San Francisco home recording studio looked like at the start of the client’s work with Acoustic Frontiers.
Acoustic Frontiers Solutions
This project followed our typical acoustic improvement process for existing rooms, which is as follows:
During the Room Acoustic Analysis, we visited Nowell’s San Francisco home recording studio to take acoustical measurements of the space and figure out how to improve it.
In the client’s words:
“After only a few sine sweeps Acoustic Frontiers were able to show me the problems with the room and the reasons that I wasn’t able to get accurate mixes out of my space – in particular wayward resonances at several points in the frequency spectrum, most notably at 117hz, 86hz, 65hz and 28hz.
They’d found my smoking gun(s).
We talked about a bunch of options to solve the problems of the room, the first of which was to reorient my listening position and consolidate my workstation to a single desk, down from two.”
There were two main reasons why we suggested that the desk be located in the bay window and fire diagonally across the room:
- To provide left / right symmetry – with this orientation the reflections off the side walls would naturally be redirected towards the rear of the room without need for first reflection point treatment
- To provide the smoothest bass response – onsite measurements revealed the best starting location was with the seating location around 5ft out diagonally from the corner of the bay window
After getting the client’s agreement to the listening position re-orientation, we took a fresh set of acoustic measurements which were used as the basis for the Acoustic Treatment Design. As budget was limited, we focused on the key issues for mix translatability – those sub-100Hz bass issues.
The solutions recommended included:
- Two JL Dominion 8″ subwoofers, one placed under the desk and the other at the rear of the room. With this placement, the 1st axial length would be naturally cancelled.
- A Xilica XP2040 DSP processor, for bass management and system equalization
- Two bass traps, located in the areas of highest SPL for the 80Hz resonance as mapped onsite
- A set of three hybrid absorber / diffuser panels arranged as a cloud with a large and variable airgap (to improve bass absorption over a range of frequencies) over the listening position.
In the client’s words:
“After I’d re-positioned my setup successfully, the next step was to add custom acoustic treatments (bass traps and ceiling cloud) to cut down on reflections and bass resonances. With some help from a friend I was able to install these on my own over the course of a single day. Once the install was completed, we added subwoofers and a DSP unit to further knock down any outstanding acoustic problems. Acoustic Frontiers came back and calibrated the whole system in just a few hours.”
After system calibration, the frequency response looked like this:
Pretty flat, except for the bump and wiggle near 1-2kHz, a typical artifact of a desk reflection.
This photo collage shows the new desk location and placement of the acoustic treatments in this San Francisco home recording studio:
In the Client’s Words…
“Since the install and calibration my mixes have improved dramatically. Problems in older tracks that I couldn’t hear before are very obvious now, and my mixes translate much better to other listening environments than before.
My confidence has been restored to the level where I can push certain instrument parts in my mix (specifically bass-heavy synths and drums) harder, with great results.
My car tests aren’t nearly as depressing anymore, I’m happy to say. I look forward to producing more and more projects in the coming year, including my own personal album, which I’m planning to produce entirely in my new home studio.