Design Goals

Design and construction of the Newport Acoustics Recording Studio
is motivated by my interest in acoustic music.

Project Goals
  • Design and construct a Very Small (8x9x10-ft) Recording Studio
  • Demystify small room acoustics using practical designs and measurements
  • Enjoy using a quality acoustic space for personal music projects

Design

Much has been written about small recording spaces but the minimum studio size is generally assumed to be at least 2000 cubic feet; which is about 8x12x20. Very Small Studios are much more difficult because of the many acoustic resonances and reflection modes they encourage. However, more often than not, they are the only spaces available to the weekend musician. The first goal is to extract facts from myth and apply good engineering practice to applying practical acoustics to treat at least the most important room deficiencies. These practical designs are then constructed, measured and documented to avoid reliance on subjective perceptions where possible. The expectation is for significant, practical improvements which result in a workable acoustic space for recording. Notably,
  • Native Small Room acoustics are terrible!
  • The usual assortment of "stuff" placed in rooms is of no help at all and can actually make the sound worse.
  • Rooms with flat, parallel walls are resonant chambers which distort and color sound at all frequencies
  • Small room acoustics always get even worse below 300 Hz and Very Small rooms even worse
  • Reasonable room treatment solutions cost only about 10% of the total studio cost.
Along the way, I designed the gear configuration, built a custom switch box and built / upgraded some microphones along with investing in software and hardware tools to make room measurements.

Demystify
You can have great instruments, musicians, vocals and buy the best equipment, but if the acoustic space is filled with too much reverberation, bass, flutter, multiple phasing nulls and peaks and 40dB variance in frequency response, the space will not be enjoyable for music and the quality of tracks, mixes and musical clarity will dramatically suffer. Just like with noisy input signals, once the damage is there in the source, it's impossible to remove it. The trouble is that you can't buy good room acoustics in a box; you must modify the acoustic space. One "rule-of-thumb" states that at least 25% of a room's surface area must be correctly treated to effectively improve the room's response. That's over 120 sq-ft even for this Very Small Studio example. The Newport Acoustics Studio has 14 acoustic panels and 2 QRDs covering about 132 sq-ft, added 5/8 dry-wall mass on one wall and new hardwood flooring; a significant acoustic upgrade to the original room.

Enjoy
Newport studio is experimental and a huge challenge but the results have been satisfying. Initial acoustic recordings clearly demonstrate that this level of serious acoustic treatment was well worth the effort.


Disclaimers
I'm an electrical engineer, not an acoustical engineer, so I've taken care to present the information on this site in a technically accurate manner and made an effort to specify when observations are more subjective than measured. The engineering of acoustics is ultimately so complex that it is quite difficult to balance concepts, measurements and practical perspectives and limitations. Substantial bass absorption is required in very small nearly cubic spaces and large window areas add reflective surfaces and little sound isolation. Therefore, the practical perspective on the application of acoustics plays the predominant roll. It's not that acoustic engineering theory has nothing to say on the topic, it's just that practical limitations can easily outweigh the ideal theory. It's always Cost vs Time vs Complexity.

While all of this acoustic work improves room acoustics for recording, it does essentially nothing to isolate the space from surrounding rooms and structures. The present isolation at 300 Hz and above is subjectively acceptable, isolation at 100 Hz and below is much more difficult. Sound isolation improvement (actual sound proofing is extremely difficult) is best obtained by increasing the mass (density) of the walls. While the ideal is concrete, the easiest method for retrofit is to add a second layer of dry-wall to the inside of a room wall; bonded to the original using Green-Glue. A second layer of 5/8 dry-wall mass has finally been added, the carpet has been replaced with hardwood floor and track lighting added between the ceiling panel absorption. To the ears, the changes improved the room's acoustics but new room measurements will need to be taken to observe the final effects.