By Beth Walters and John Storyk
Each month this column has been dedicated to issues involving small room acoustics: idea, concepts, tips, etc. that might help you create a more accurate and at the same time affordable listening and production environment. (Past articles can be re-visited at www.wsdg.com; go to resources and click on TAXI). This month is a slight departure from that. Even more fun, I get to co-write the article with my wife and partner, Beth Walters (the Walters in Walters-Storyk), who knows more about this stuff than I do.
Many years ago (college years in the late '60s), I would often go into Manhattan and listen to groups, one being The Blues Project. I had long been a fan of Al Cooper. Being a keyboard player, the sound of the Hammond B3 still mesmerized me. I have only run into Al a few times (always very much in passing), but enjoyed reading his column a few years ago that he used to write for one of the pro audio magazines. The best article I remember was the one that wonderfully claimed his most useful friend in a studio to be the chair that he worked in. He then pounded out a few hundred words elaborating on this idea. So here it goes again.
Think about it: how many hours you will be sitting and working? You certainly want these hours to be comfortable! Is there a right or wrong chair for the job? Probably the one that feels the best is going to be the best. Here are some additional ideas to pass on.
The average tabletop height (somewhat of a standard throughout the world) is more or less 29" above the floor. In the past, most furniture had been designed to respect that standard. Thus, for the most part, the world of executive and workplace seating also respects that dimension. This, however has changed a bit in the pro audio world.
The use of more complicated control surfaces has raised this height a bit. The best example is furniture that now exists capable of accommodating both an audio console (or control surface) as well as a piano or typing keyboard underneath that pulls out (figure #1). Having both of these control elements (console and keyboard) on the acoustic centerline of the room is most definitely an asset (figure #2).
In a number of audio production suites we have seen users working on stools with the primary work surface being higher than 29". This has a few advantages and I have often thought that this should (or could) become more commonplace. Several advantages:
a. reduces console or work surface comb filter reflection, especially if there are larger monitors in the room
b. allows more rack units to exist on side board rack hardware.
c. often people like to stand during mixes (or composing) and stool height is a lot closer to this height, so there is little or no difference in the two listening positions.
It is easy to accommodate this "extra" height in the primary work surface -- simply choose a stool for your chair. There are some great stools that are ergonomic in nature as well as have height and posture control levers. Being a person who likes to stand quite a bit of the day, I have worked from a stool (with my primary work surface at 37" off the floor) for 35 years. (In a studio we did a number of years ago for Shaq O'Neal, we had all surfaces at higher than 36", but that was of course for a different reason! See figures #3a and #3b.)
Another subject -- often debated -- is whether the chair (or stool) should have arms or no arms. There is little or no acoustic issue, it's really a personal preference. If you are the only person working at the main production/listening position, then arms will most likely not get in the way. If several people have to sit close to each other, then of course this does begin to pose a space proximity problem. Most of the "ergo" chairs that we see (discussed by brand name below) come in both models. Note: some people simply prefer chairs without arms (I am one of them). Bottom line -- sit in the chair and try it out!
Much of the workplace seating designed today is self-adjusting (in other words ergonomic). We encourage this type of chair. It affords the user the ability to change the chair's orientation with the slight release of a lever. As anyone knows, even when driving, being able to stretch out your legs, change the angle of your back, or inflate a back cushion, relieves the fatigue from being in a position too long. The more sophisticated varieties will do this in two or even three functions.
Our favorite chair is the Aeron chair, designed by Hermann Miller (figure #4). It comes upholstered in a patented nylon mesh fabric, and it has a memory for your favorite tension positioning, as well as arms that swing out. Height is also a very easy adjustment. It is a very sturdy and truly ergonomic chair, priced from $750 to $1000 each. We have seen them a bit less expensive "on the street", but usually not less than $700. Although a bit pricey, it is definitely worth it. A bit more moderately priced are chairs by United and Hon (figure #5). They can start at $350 and again go up to $1000 depending on style, features and choice of fabric or leather. For long stretches of time, leather seems NOT to be the choice of surface. The European market has some very sleek choices, but usually these are even more pricey and often take a long time to get. Vitra is a leading manufacturer. Another brand is Keirhauser.
Choosing a chair (or stool) to sit in for 8 hours a day (or more) is a very personal thing. If it's a chair, our top pick is still the Aeron -- even though we are always on the lookout for a close second.
Good luck! Have fun listening to great music and (if you're in a seat) be comfortable.
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 #8).
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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