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ARCHITECTURE AND ACOUSTICS--COSTS
By John Storyk

This article will deal with the most dreaded subject of all: What do good acoustics cost? This is typically scary stuff and at least in part for good reason. Hopefully we will take some of the mystery out of it. The bottom line (which of course is what everyone wants to know) is that the costs for good acoustics in a small project production studio have come down during the past five years and will continue to come down. This is good news.

First a quick review of acoustic design and construction. If we separate sound isolation (which I will call sound-proofing) from internal room acoustics (which I will call room shaping and surface treatments), this exercise will get easier.

First the bad news. Soundproofing is and will almost always be the most expensive part of any acoustic construction package. Often small studio environments do not need this work. In a budget installation, the soundproofing construction budget is often minimized:

- Playback levels can be lowered, thus not causing any disturbances to surround environments

- Project studios often use no live microphones, thus very low NC (noise criteria) levels such as NC20 are not required.

- Production environments can be located in quiet locations (ie. quiet basement or "back yard" garage).

When sound isolation soundproofing is required, there are few ways to minimize this expense. In general, try not to require extensive work in this area. Choose a quiet site, work at moderate noise levels!

Now the good news. Once identifying a quiet environment (either by virtue of it's already being quiet or by virtue of one working at low noise levels), then the work required to create a good sounding acoustic environment is quite possible with very reasonable budgets. Let's take the case of a small control room (audio production environment/music composing--listening room, etc.). This might need to be about 250 sq.ft. This could be 16' x 16', although we might consider different dimensions to optimize standing wave alignment (remember Taxi Article #1!). Room area is a function of the required equipment and furniture layouts.

There are only a few design elements we can consider when creating an optimum listening environment.

- Room shaping. This can often be the most effective way to organize low frequency standing waves and in general contribute positively to the modal response of the room. Choosing the optimum room ratios has little or no financial impact. Given the choice between creating an approximately 250 sq. ft. room in a 16' x 16' shape vs. a 14' x 19' shape--obviously we would choose the second one. This costs no extra money and will save a great deal in that we will need little or no low frequency modal absorptive treatments! No extra money is required for smart room shaping.

- Applied absorption on surfaces. This is typically the most common design "solution" for improving acoustics. When harsh reflections exist (which will cause comb filtering and thus frequency response problems at the listening position), absorption is a good thing--just too much of it. Typically you might need less than 160 sq. ft. of mid frequency absorption in a room of this size. This would be (for instance) twenty 2'x4' (2" thick) fabric wrapped panels or equivalent in acoustic foam. Many companies make this type of product and even using a high quality fabric, these should not cost more $10/sq. ft.--thus $1,600. Acoustic foam will run less. Even if one has to add a small number of low frequency absorbers which could cost a bit more, this would only add (at the most) an additional $800 to a room of this size.

- Applied reflection and diffusion on surfaces. This is often the correct treatment for the rear of a small control room or in some instances a ceiling. Very good news here: the costs per square foot for pre-fab diffusors has gone down and is now under $30/sq. ft. Although is not as cheap as absorption, it is still an order of magnitude of what it was only 3-5 years ago! There are a number of companies (RPG, Systems Development Group, etc.) that manufacturer inexpensive surface applied diffusion. Plus, they are lightweight! Which means you can easily apply them--and even consider taking these surface treatments with you when you move! So, consider a rear wall treatment of approximately 40 sq. ft., costing about $1,200. Add another $800 for ceiling treatment (not always applicable, but a good idea in low rooms).

- Floor treatment. Probably best to carpet a small room such as this. We really should not include this in a special acoustics treatment package, but we will. You should be able to get good low static carpet for about $25/yd.--thus about $900 installed. (Don't ever ask how carpet people go from sq. ft. to sq. yard, and include overage).

- Smart speaker placement. Remember the Taxi article about near field monitors? Let's not forget to use speaker stands, instead of placing them on a console (Taxi article #2). So, cost of speaker stands will run a few hundred dollars at the most.

In our small audio control room, the most we will have to spend in interior room acoustics to insure a very good audio response at the listening position is about $6,000. With creative design and a little imagination this can even be less.

Costs Summary:

Mid frequency absorption 1,600
Low frequency absorption 800
Diffusion 2,000
Carpet 900
Speaker Stands 200
Labor 500
-------------------------------
Total 6,000

This is not a lot of money when one considers what is at stake. In summary:

"Cost of surface treatments, $5,500 . . . cost of installation labor, $500 . . . cost of an accurate listening environment, priceless"

Not a bad metaphor since you can use a credit card to purchase most of these items. Good luck, enjoy the acoustic accuracy of your room.

Illustrations for this article will be posted our Web site. Go to www.wsdg.com. On the site, go to "RESOURCES," navigate to TAXI, and park in the correct spot (TAXI Article #7). The web version will have pictures showing examples of the types of surface treatments that were discussed in this article.

The information above came from "Studio Buddy -- The Home Recording Helper." It's a self-contained, easy to use database of recording tips designed specifically for people with home studios. If you find this article helpful, you should download the FREE program at:

http://www.studiobuddy.com

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This series of recording studio and sound engineering articles are being made available courtesy of our friends at Taxi.  The articles aim to help you make better sounding recordings in your home or project studio and will be available here or online at Taxi, complete with pictures using the link at the end of the article or better still - sign up to receive Taxi's Newsletters FREE and get them delivered straight to your inbox!

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