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Improving Home Recording Studio Acoustics for an Electronic Musician

Client Profile

Leo is an electronic music composer based in San Francisco. Some of his work can be found online on Sound Cloud.

Project Overview

Leo came to Acoustic Frontiers for help with his home recording studio acoustics. His room is almost a perfect cube, at 10’3″ x 9’8″ x 10’9″. The room had been moderately treated with RealTraps products but he still had various issues, particularly in the bass region, and wanted to know how to take things to the next level. In particular he was interested in getting a more formal analysis done to determine whether to treat the room further, or modify his setup in some way, such as by adding a subwoofer, re-orienting the speakers or changing the furniture in the room.

Acoustic Frontiers Solutions

We conducted our Room Acoustic Analysis process, which involved a site visit to assess the room and take acoustic measurements.

Whilst the mid and high frequencies were well controlled due to RealTraps absorption and diffusion panels, the area under 100Hz was poor, with decay times over 1s at 45Hz and over 15dB of variation in the frequency response! Bass issues under 100Hz are difficult to fix due to room modes that are widely spaced in frequency and speaker boundary interference cancellations, and are one of the most common issues we find and help fix in client’s rooms.

Spectrogram
Spectrogram of Leo’s room. This chart shows how sound decays in the room.

Frequency response
Frequency response in Leo’s room, at 1/12th octave smoothing, for the left (yellow), right (blue) and both (purple) speakers.

Our solutions to solve these room acoustics issues included:

  • Moving the system to fire left-to-right instead of front-to-back to better place the mix position relative to the 1st axial null
  • Moving two bass traps behind the speakers on the front wall to reduce speaker boundary interference
  • Adding additional damping to the room modes via two RPG Modex Plates and a Modex Module tuned to 80Hz
  • Adding two JL Audio Dominion D110 subwoofers to increase the low frequency extension of the system. Electronic music requires a full range speaker system with ability to monitor the 20-40Hz octave , otherwise mix translation to environments such as cars and nightclubs is often poor
  • Adding a digital crossover and equalizer, in the form of a Xilica XP-2040, so that the main speakers could be rolled off early and two subwoofers used in a mode canceling arrangement

The Results

After installing the subwoofers, additional acoustic treatments and digital EQ / crossover and performing an Audio Calibration, we achieved the following results:

Frequency response after improvements
Leo’s frequency response after acoustic improvements. The response is within a 5dB window except for the speaker boundary interference cancellation dip around 130Hz.

Project Studio
Leo’s room, after making the design changes.

In the Client’s Words

“Two years ago, I set up a small project studio in my San Francisco apartment.  I use the studio to compose, mix and master electronic music.  Given that the studio is intended for end-to-end music creation, it’s important that the sound in the room is accurate and even.  However, the room is very close to a cube in its dimensions, which resulted in a very inaccurate sound in the studio — with no acoustic treatment, many frequencies in my studio were nearly inaudible, while others were heavily accentuated.  In particular, I found that it was nearly impossible to accurately monitor low frequencies in my studio.  This was an unacceptable state of affairs for someone like myself, who creates music that is heavily dependent on low end. 

Initially, I performed a bit of solo research and received some advice from friends in music production on how to apply acoustic treatment to my room.  Based on this research and advice, I treated my room with some bass traps and diffusors.  Although my efforts resulted in some slight improvements, the audio “translation” problems remained significant.  This led me to seek the help of professionals — specifically, Nyal at Acoustic Frontiers. 

Upon first visiting my home studio and taking some measurements, Nyal suggested that I reorient my listening position and some of the furniture in the room.  He also recommended that I move some of the bass traps that I had originally installed.  These recommendations made a considerable difference in my studio, and it required no additional equipment.  I was extremely appreciative of this approach, given financial constraints.  

Nyal later recommended that I purchase a couple of subwoofers, a digital crossover and new bass traps.  Mindful of my budget limitations, Nyal proposed a solution that was well within my financial means.  I ultimately followed his recommendations; after implementing Nyal’s proposed changes, the room has been utterly transformed for the better.  His changes have led to an appreciable improvement in my ability to monitor my compositions and mixes, which has directly improved my work overall.

Nyal was extremely patient, educational, responsive and friendly.  He was great to work with — and thanks to him, working in my studio is nothing short of a pleasure.”

Leo, San Francisco, California.

Update 03/23/16

We replaced the Focal monitors with ATC SCM20ASL and tweaked the EQ.

ATCM20ASL

The ATCs are much flatter than the Focals in the mid and high frequencies! Take a look at the new measurements:

1/12th octave smoothing, ATC SCM20ASL
1/12th octave smoothing, ATC SCM20ASL

FR3
1/3rd octave smoothing, full frequency range, ATC SCM20ASL.

One thought on “Improving Home Recording Studio Acoustics for an Electronic Musician”

  1. I had no idea that there were people out there who worked as acoustical consultants. I think the idea of making a room as acoustically pleasing as possible is an awesome idea. Especially if you’re working in the music industry (or anything that requires good sound), it seems like that could be a huge help. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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