building a studio

Home studio picture

Here are series of articles about building home and/or professional music studios

There are a lot of myths in existence about home studios that can hamper people’s ability to create a studio that is tailored towards the type of music that they wish to create or even put them off creating a space in which to record sound altogether. Home recording is an area in which a mountain of mistruths exists. Perhaps the most common fallacy that people like to spread is the idea that there are rules to having a home studio that extend beyond ‘make it as effective as possible at recording music that sounds good.’ A studio does not need to be a work of art and does not need to extend across seven different rooms. It simply needs to capture the essence of what is being recorded.

In a professional or commercial recording studio, at least two rooms are devoted to the recording process. The control room holds all the equipment, such as the mixer, the computer, the outboard effects, and the monitor speakers. The control room is also where the engineer, producer, and other non-musicians (such as the client or record-company executive) hang out.

The studio, or live room, holds the musicians and has very little equipment in it other than microphones and whatever gear the musicians need to create their music. The studio is typically adjacent to the control room, separated by a wall with a large, multipaned window to allow visual communication between the musicians and the control room personnel. Verbal communication is accomplished electronically through the microphones in the studio (so that the musicians can speak to the control room) and through the musicians' headphones (which allows the control room, via a „talkback“ mic, to speak to the band).

Professional recording studios spend thousands of dollars to treat their rooms for soundproofing and acoustics. Home recordists who are serious about creating a neutral environment, and who have earmarked funds for this, might construct a floating room, insulate the four walls with special material, and purchase movable baffles. But more likely than not, you'll spend your money on more tangible items, such as a spare hard drive or a software-based sampler.

For our hypothetical room, we'll consider several approaches to taming sound, none of which costs very much money or requires that much effort or expertise. Even hanging a winter coat in the corner or facing an acoustic guitar toward an overstuffed couch instead of the wall can help you either reduce reflected sound or isolate an instrument when recording.

For the computer recordist, the philosophy of room sound is sort of a black-and-white proposition: If you can't make the room an acoustic paradise, then you want to deaden it almost completely and add any ambient treatment (such as reverb) after the fact (i.e., during mixdown), electronically. Because you'll be recording (which can require isolation) and mixing (which should be done in a neutral room), the best compromise is to go for a deadened sound.

It's important to clear up one key issue in matters of room sound: Soundproofing is an entirely different issue from sound treatment. Soundproofing deals with keeping outside sound out and the inside sound in. As simple as that sounds, it can be very difficult and expensive to achieve.

Because the computer is the center of your musical operation, you might be tempted to place it front and center—say, within arm's reach of your right hand. But because a computer is noisy (due primarily to its cooling fans) and bulky, it's better to place it off of the desktop and out of the way. Keep just the monitor in a central location.

You will, of course, need access to the CPU periodically—when installing software or plugging in cables—but the most physical interaction many of us have with the computer box itself is pressing the power switch. After that, most of our activity is conducted via the mouse or the keyboard.

A good solution is to keep the computer on the floor under your desk. This not only keeps the desktop free and clear but allows the desktop surface itself to act as a sound barrier that somewhat inhibits the fan noise from hitting your ears directly.

Once you know the physical configuration of interfaces, it's time to look at the different types of interfaces available from a functional perspective (i.e., the different tasks they perform). An interface, regardless of whether it's a soundcard, breakout box with card, USB, or FireWire, can perform a variety of duties involving audio, MIDI, and other digitally controlled signals (such as synchronization). Also, many devices can perform all these tasks, which could make your interface a one-stop shopping solution for all your signal-routing and processing needs.

Analog Audio Interfaces

Analog audio is what comes out of your mic or instrument cable. It's what you would plug into a P. A. system or an amp, if you were playing live. But now we're in the digital recording world, so this signal needs to be converted to digital data to be recorded onto a computer. Inside an analog audio interface are analog-to-digital converters, chips and circuitry that turn continuously fluctuating voltages into discrete digital chunks. When audio is converted into digital data, two specifications are considered: the sample rate and the bit depth. The sample rate is how many times the converter samples (takes digital snapshots of) the incoming signal. Just as film projection involves moving a series of still photos past the eye fast enough to simulate continuous motion, so too is digital audio playback a series of frozen sonic images that, played sequentially at a fast enough rate, appears continuous.

Several sample rates exist, but the CD spec is 44.1 kHz (kilohertz), or 44,100 samples per second. Once these samples are captured, the next spec that comes into play is how to store them. A single sample at 16-bit resolution (16 bit means 2 to the 16th power) has a range of 65,536 different places to represent that signal. Higher sample rates and bit depths exist, and musicians are pushing to get these better formats as part of our available listening choices, but for now the CD spec of 44.1 kHz/16 bit is what all music must eventually become (even if it was originally recorded at higher and better sample rates and bit depths) if it is to be listened to on a conventional CD.

This article has a purpose of suggesting a home recording engineer several solutions on how to build a home production studio at affordable price. The great bit of a home musician’s talent is an ability to find best deals for buying professional gear at the bet price.

A nice way to get a quality low budget home recording and producing studio is to choose Pro Tools. For a home studio located in a small room this is a great method to save not only money but also space.