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Posted by on Jul 24, 2013 | 1 comment

Can’t We All Just Get Along? Arguments about acoustics and design

Guest Contribution by Steven Klein

1-Sea-Vista-Control-Room-design-fabric-wall-treatment-acoustic-consoleThere are many reasons for conflicting viewpoints and misinformation on studio design / acoustics. This article will examine components contributing to the confusion along with some advice on how to avoid common pitfalls.

Chaos

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary: the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system.)

We must first realize that science is challenged by chaos. I present the thesis that talent supersedes everything. Since this is immensely abstract and unknowable where it fits in the analysis, chaos is exposed. Talented people will work in the worst conditions and have great results. The untalented can work in the greatest environments and never produce. There is an ambivalent conclusion for what works.

The reality that great music/production can come from adverse conditions leads one away from the true objective science of acoustics and physics.

Superstition

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation.)

Success in music and audio is difficult to say the least. No one has success immediately. Success requires discipline, love, talent, practice, and opportunity. It may be fleeting as artists are often judged and condemned by their last piece of work. So it is understandable that professionals will hold onto or perpetuate what brought them success in the past. Resisting change is a natural instinct, even though it may oppose objective knowledge.

Opinion

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary: a view, judgment, or appraisal formed in the mind about a particular matter.)

When facts are known and presented that contradict a presumption, they are often referred to as opinion. I hear this all the time, “Well that is your opinion.” Pretty much that means they are not going to use my advice. What I understand to be fact is to be dismissed. When math and physics are dismissed by presumption everything becomes a matter of opinion.

Experience

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary: the conscious events that make up an individual life.)

Studio design and construction require many disciplines, i.e., architecture, mechanical, structural, musical, interior design, ergonomics, costs, regulations, etc. It is impossible for any one person to be fully competent. We are all working at the limits of our experience.

Correspondingly is quality of the experience. There is a great difference between 10 years experience versus 1 year experience practiced 10 times.

Technology

The state-of-the-art is ever-changing. Advances are being made in every aspect. Considerations that may have been relevant in the past no longer have the priority once held. Bass traps are a prime example (see article, Time to Rethink Bass Traps).

Moreover, rooms, design, and acoustics reflect the medium they are creating. Size, reverb times, frequency response, stereo verses multi-channel, audio/video content, performance, audience, reproduction, etc., are a variety of factors influencing architecture and acoustics. Priorities in one room may have very little in common with another.

Self-Education

Acoustics is not an intuitive science; it is a very complex subject. Nonetheless all people are sensitive to sound and acoustics leading to a superficial understanding. I repeatedly see complex problems addressed with simplified solutions as well as simple problems expanded to fit complex and costly remedies.

I encourage increasing one’s knowledge. The wiser you are the more likely you are to ask the right questions. However without widespread experience, odds are you will waste resources and opportunities.

Chat Rooms

The abundance of internet chatter is immeasurable. I have learned from contributors yet I have read many arrogant as well as inappropriate conversations. The reality is; professionals should not seek guidance from semi-pros or amateurs. Most people get it wrong and are out of their element to advise.

My advice is, as I have written in other articles, “Find someone you trust and stick with them”. Gathering information from different sources may lead you to improper combinations. Another risk is to find poor information you agree with, so why bother?

Inefficiencies, conflicts, and problems with “vernacular” acoustic design is the subject of this article.

Money

I have great respect and admiration for anyone who pursues music, architecture, or acoustics with a passion for helping others in their creative and business aspirations. There are many enormously talented, gifted people at work.

However, there are unscrupulous, nearly deaf individuals and companies anxious for your money. Superstores simplifying acoustics to sell at discount prices and vendors over-selling their products with unsubstantiated or exaggerated claims, as well as fabricators whose primary motivation is to get your money.

Sometimes it works well; Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Often people have so much invested, financially and/or emotionally, that they falsely believe. The effect this has on our community is the introduction of many false precepts.

Unqualified self-proclaimed experts

There are many talented people that have years of experience inside studios. This does not make them acousticians. Take the analogy of supermarkets. I like to cook and have years of experience inside supermarkets. I know fresh food properly organized at a good price is a top quality supermarket. Given the task, I could not build, design, manage, or organize a great supermarket. Asking my friends seems like a ridiculous choice. Looking for guidance from Google is equally absurd.

Because someone has studio experience does not qualify them as a designer. I have years of experience recording guitar players. Still, I cannot play the guitar.

This also applies to many builders. If they have not studied acoustics, are you sure you are in the best hands?

Bargain Hunting

Beware of discount elevators, discount submarines, and discount acoustic products. If the price is too low you will lose. Do not think you can outsmart the market place. If it seems too good to be true, it will be false.

There are poorly experienced, greedy, uneducated people all trying to win your business. Buyer beware!

Conclusion

It is impossible to prove a negative, so one goes through life not knowing what could have been. I see many victims of bad advice, misinformation, and ignorant decisions. The help and guidance of proven professionals for your work environment will be well worth it.

“Find somebody you trust and stick with them.”

Steven Klein has been involved with music, recording, and production since the early 70’s. President of Steven Klein’s Sound Control Room, Inc., located in Los Angeles, Steven currently designs, builds, consults, and manufactures custom products primarily for music and audio professionals.  There are many more articles along with plans, guidelines, photos, and products at his website; www.soundcontrolroom.com

1 Comment

  1. Good article, more philosophical than practical studio design but an importantly useful context for everyone to read who has a passion or interest in music/sound production. When i was at high-school my first Physics textbook was titled Natural Philosophy 5. There are various definitions for philosophy e.g. ‘a particular system of thought based on such study or investigation’ (dictionary.reference.com) whic is exactly what acoustics/acoustic-design is. A never-ending cycle of experimentation~ observation~ discussion~ reflection~ action~… Studio, loudspeaker and acoustic instrument design all share the same function: the dissipation of non-linear transduced energy at some point observed by a non-linear transduction receiving system (human) Is it any wonder there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ system?

    Start with the basic premise that the design process is about reducing the ‘errors’ to an aesthetically acceptable brief, and remember that you will never hear the same thing twice. Worry less about Eigentones/Modes/RT60/Critical distance and more about doing the best with what you have at your disposal. Engineering might be a science but sound recording is an art.

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