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ERGONOMICS AND ROOM LAYOUTS
By John Storyk

The past few articles have dealt primarily with both theory and practical applications towards design solutions that will affect the audio production rooms you work in. This article will specifically discuss the ergonomics of these rooms. Ergonomics is how we arrange the equipment, furniture and any other element in our rooms and how these elements affect the usefulness and comfort of the room. Basically -- "where do we put everything in the room?"

What makes this subject particularly interesting for audio productions rooms is how all of this affects and is affected by acoustics. Remember, our goal is to have the most accurate acoustic response possible in our listening and production location.

You will get the most out of this article by looking at the diagrams and studio examples that are posted at www.wsdg.com. Words are only going to go so far when we are discussing architecture. For this article we have posted a lot of diagrams and pictures!

1. Quick Review of Acoustic Performance. (go to the past few TAXI articles) Acoustic performance in an audio production environment is typically most affected by the following:

  • a. room dimensions -- this is related to the low frequency modal build-ups (often referred to as standing waves)
  • b. surface geometry (angles) and treatments -- mostly associated with mid and high frequency reflection control, for instance, eliminating comb filters and other harsh reflections.
  • c. relationship of speaker vs. listener position -- again this mostly affects low frequency modal response in the room.

2. Ergonomics and Equipment Configurations. As important as the acoustic performance of the room is, equipment layout, general comfort, workability, and the ergonomics of the room come first. Acoustic design is then applied to accommodate these requirements. To quote one of the 20th century's most famous architectural anthems " . . . form follows function." I believe this to be true almost all the time.

For project studios (the audio production rooms that you may be working in) we could categorize room layouts as follows:

cockpit style -- symmetrical arrangement
cockpit style -- asymmetrical arrangement
railroad layout -- symmetrical arrangement
railroad layout -- asymmetrical arrangement

Add to all of these layout configurations the issues of speaker configuration -- basically either stereo or 5.1 surround, while using near fields, mid fields, and large format / tracking monitors. Most of your rooms will not be using large format tracking monitors, due to the relatively small size of our rooms (under 350 sq.ft.).

a. Cockpit Style -- Symmetrical Arrangement. This is probably the most common layout we have experienced. If post production (mixing) is taking place, the room's acoustic centerline (axis between primary stereo mixing speakers) will be centered on a mixing console or workstation. There is really no reason for this not to happen. All other equipment, processing devices, composing gear (ie. keyboard) will be arranged on either side of this position, as symmetrically as possible. The acoustic advantage of this layout is that the equipment and furniture are not in conflict with the speaker reflection patterns. On more than one occasion we have seen a perfectly well designed room be acoustically compromised by one large piece of equipment (ie. tall equipment rack) which would then create a comb filter or harsh reflection for one speaker that would be quite different than the other (see figure 1).

b. Cockpit Style -- Asymmetrical Arrangement. This type of room arrangement is often not that different than type "a," but has the characteristic of one side of the room (again centered around a stereo speaker acoustic centerline axis) creating a non-symmetrical equipment configuration. Often this is required due to a door location or window placement or the need for a large rack or piece of furniture. In general I would try to not create this configuration, unless it's absolutely necessary for other reasons. Try not to have one side of the acoustic centerline be that different (physically) than the other one -- at least in the front portion of the sound field. Ultimately a simple ray trace pattern will reveal whether there will be an acoustic conflict in the primary listening position. Sometimes a slight re-positioning of a rack will solve what could be a reflection control problem (see figure 2).

c. and d. "Railroad Style" Versions of the Above. Almost every other type of audio production environment can be classified as a version of the types "a" and "b" but with some sort of additional equipment / furniture element to the rear of the listening position. There are many reasons why this happens. Some of these might include:

i. need for visitors and other production team members
ii. preferred location for rack equipment (immediately to the rear of console position)
iii. keyboard composing position

When possible, it is always better to have all, or as much of the rear room furniture and equipment as symmetrical to the room centerline as possible. When not possible, try not to have any large elements taller than about 36". This will assist to ensure that they are not in conflict with primary reflection pathways (see figures 3 and 4).

3. Conclusion. There is no one perfect way to organize equipment and furniture in the room. As we have discussed, these layout varieties depend on the room's exact use, room size, budget, final use, etc. When ergonomic and function uses have been solved, use the basic acoustic principals of comb filter prevention and reflection control to assist in effectively organizing these elements. Again a reminder, this article, more than any other article, is best viewed on the web page so that you can refer to the drawings and pictures.

Good luck. Have fun.

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 #5).

Figure 1: Room layouts and photos. Cockpit; Symmetrical Configuration
Figure 2: Room layouts and photos. Cockpit; Asymmetrical Configuration
Figure 3: Room layouts and photos. "Railroad Style; Symmetrical Configuration
Figure 4: Room layouts and photos. Railroad Style; Asymmetrical Configurations

For the online version of this article (including illustrations), go to

http://www.wsdg.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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