Setting Up Your Digital Audio Equipment
Whether your audio environment is a home studio, recording studio, DJ booth, or bedroom, you can set it up to produce a clean sound and to function as an efficient workspace, as long as you can decipher a bit of technical jargon. Manufacturers and audio pros tend to assume you have the knowledge and experience they have, even when you don't, but getting a grasp of the basics isn't difficult.
Setting Up Your Workspace
Set up your space so that your computer, keyboards, control surfaces, and other often-used devices are within arm's reach. Avoid placing a mouse or trackball where you have to stretch to reach it, and keep the computer screen near eye height so you don't have to hunch over to see it. Even your work chair requires some thought: pro studios have comfortable chairs with wheels so engineers can shift location easily and work long periods without fatigue. Repetitive strain injuries are a danger with computer music work, so take regular stretch breaks. Many online workplace health resources can help ensure that your setup won't result in injury. Regular exercises like those at MyDailyYoga.com (www.mydailyyoga.com/yoga/rsi.html) can help you stay loose during extended work sessions.
Sound Isolation and Sound Treatment
Major recording studios aren't valuable just because they have a lot of cool audio toys: their major edge is that professional engineers designed and built them to sound good, making adjustments to the physical space to prevent any sound contamination. Sound isolation is the separation of the audio you want to record from outside influences. Specifically, sound treatments are materials that are added to a space to improve acoustic perception, including the use of consumer products like acoustic foam. This includes several related techniques:
- Soundproofing reduces sound leakage through walls, windows, and doors in your work environment. Soundproofing generally adds mass at these weak points to reduce the amount of sound that can get in and out. If you can't afford to rebuild walls, keep in mind that the goal of all soundproofing is never perfect sound isolation. You can at least consider the weakest points of your studio, like windows and doors.
Absorption and diffusion
treatments help avoid the slap and echo and unevenness that can be caused by walls or irregularities in a room (
Figure 3.1 This room's acoustic properties have been improved by the use of professional sound treatments, including the flat foam Auralex SonoFlat panels on the walls, which are designed to absorb mid-to high-frequencies. (Photo courtesy Auralex Acoustics)
- Bass traps are designed specifically to control bass frequencies in locations like corners.
Of course, even the addition of carpeting to the floor can make a big impact on the sound, replacing the hollow, characteristic sound of a room with the warmer, more appealing sound you'd expect from a professional recording studio. A few hundred dollars' investment could be a wise choice for recording work; cheap microphones in a well-treated space often sound better than expensive microphones in an untreated space. See the sidebar "Sound Treatment Resources" for some suggestions on where to start.
Like real estate, speaker placement has three rules: location, location, location. Speakers are affected by proximity to other objects, like walls or your desk, and proximity to your ears. To get the best sound, follow these principles:
- Keep your setup symmetrical: Place each monitor at an equal distance from other objects to maintain even sound throughout the room. Move furniture if you have to.
- Don't put speakers in a corner or against a wall: Walls artificially enhance bass; put a little bit of space between your speakers and the walls.
Mind your ears: Generally, speakers should be approximately at ear level, and far enough apart from each other and your ears that you achieve correct stereo separation (
). Surround sound requires additional adjustment to create the proper surround field.
Figure 3.2 The general rule for determining stereo speaker placement is to imagine an equilateral triangle between the listener and the two speakers, so the distance between the speakers is about the same as the distance from the speakers to the listener.
- Consider a stand: Placing a speaker directly on a shelf or desk creates two problems: frequencies are transmitted through the surface and reflect off it, impacting the sound, and the height of the speaker may be incorrect. A speaker stand can resolve both these issues.
- Experiment: No rules can completely describe the many minute details of your personal audio space. Try moving speakers and other objects to different locations, and see how changes impact the sound.