Friday, 19 September 2014

Studio Acoustics : Can you hear me?

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Okay, so when you have a spare bit of cash lying around destined for your next studio purchase acoustic treatments are probably not on most of our top 10 lists. Truth be told we would probably rather run off and buy another mic for that all too small mic cabinet, grab a copy of the latest soft synth or a new fancy piece of outboard. But if you sat down to think about how important a role a room and its treatment plays within the context of your recordings you might think twice about where you next put that cash.

I’d like to introduce you to a couple, cost-effective ways of improving your studio acoustics with a range of acoustic accessories that won’t break the bank but are guaranteed to improve your recordings.

Auralex Acoustics are leaders in the field of low cost acoustic treatment solutions and they have finally landed on our shores. I was lucky enough to have discovered them a couple years ago while making a record in the US and acquired a pair of large foam wedges affectionately known as MoPads ™ (picture here).

These high-density foam wedges are placed underneath your near field reference monitors and aid in decoupling the speakers from the adjacent surface. They come with a set of smaller pads, which allow you to angle the monitors to best suit your mix position.

I’ll be honest and say I was rather sceptical at first but they came highly recommended from a fellow engineer and I decide to buy a set and got to work propping up my monitors, which previously sat on stands coupled to my work surface.

After doing a couple A/B tests I discovered the Mopads had really aided in tightening up the low-end response of my speakers, making a definite audible difference and made mixing a more pleasurable experience along with helping my mixes translate better on other systems.

The Mopad

Over the years the ISO line has evolved and additions have been made and I recently acquired their new ISO series kit called Aural-Xpanders™ which include the following acoustic tools: 2 Tri-Xpanders, 4 Trap-Xpanders, 6 Plat Feet and 1 Xpander.

The Tri-Xpander is a set of 2 wedges that are placed below and behind a mic to stop rear and floor reflections. This gives you a somewhat dead sound and is a great way to stop slap back into a mic in a small, boxy room.

Platfeet slip under your mic stands legs and decouples it from the floor. These little guys can be lifesavers for those tapping vocalists who like to tap his/her feet while singing their lines, which often tends to translate into a nasty low end rumble that has made its way on the track through transference.

The Trap-Expanders (see pic) are a real joy to work with. These little pads slip behind your drums mics, minimising bleed from other mics when close micing. This was best illustrated on a recent drum tracking session where the hi-hat was bleeding into the top snare mic, and since I had an additional hi-hat mic I wanted to try and separate them a little and these pads did a great job in doing so. I also happened to use one on the close Kick mic as the snare drums snares where being picked up by the D112, which I didn’t want.

Trap Expanders

Last on the list is the Xpander. This is the largest piece in the kit and typically would be used while cutting vocals again placed behind the mic to deter rear reflections.

Many home studio users will find themselves tracking in the same room they mix in and often to get away from PC noise and clutter throw up a mic in the corner of the room, often facing a bare wall. The problem with this is that when singing into the mic you are getting slap back/flutter entering back into the mic often leaving behind a boxy, lifeless, phasing sound, not a very desirable effect.

The Xpander solves this problem by avoiding rear reflections and not only that but I found the closer you get to the mic the less the room imposes its sonic fingerprint on your track, allowing the use of digital reverbs to change your ambiences.

Similarly the Xpander is just at home in a more professional studio where vocalists are cutting their tracks in a glass vocal booth, which are just as reflective.

Overall I was very impressed with these bits of gear and am glad to have added them to my collection of studio accessories. They are great value for money as the entire Xpander kit retails for around R600 and the MoPads around R400 a set.

There is a Producer Kit option, which includes all of the above and the Gramma, a platform that allows you to decouple guitar/bass amps from the floor. I wasn’t able to try this piece of gear myself but it has received favourable views from studio to stage. This complete kit retails for around R1, 500.

All the products are available from most pro audio stores or call Alec Surridge of Cape Town Audio Visual on 021 9870789, importers of Auralex for your nearest agent.

Author: Matt