Balancing sound and functionality—that’s the trick when you build a personal studio. In my case, the room needs to be an inspiring place to rehearse, record, and compose, as well as serve as a comfortable place to write and hang out (hence, the windows, because I like natural light).
Windows take a bit more work than walls when it comes to sound isolation, but we overcame that hurdle. Now, I can watch the neighbor mow his law from my one-story perch and just barely hear the low-end sounds of the motor. It’s well below the ambient noise level for recording, and that makes me very happy.
We put a lot of wall and floor mass between the inner studio and the outside world for this very reason. So even though the room is not yet in a state where I can move in, we’ve met at least one of my criteria: a high degree of sonic separation from everyday noise pollution.
In Bobby Owsinski’s upcoming book, Studio Building on a Budget, he asks you to imagine that water will seep in anywhere a space or crack appears in your studio. That’s because sound works the same way. You can put as many layers of drywall up that you want, but if one of the seams isn’t sealed properly, or if there’s a gap at the bottom, sound will leak in. This is a concept I’ve been aware of throughout this project, and I’ve been reminding the tradesmen at every turn to make sure they seal all the gaps, even the ones that no one will see (the idea being that, in case of a failure in a caulked seam, there is redundancy built in). They’ve been on top of it, and the results are obvious.
A couple of days ago, however, I stepped into the studio where my contractor was installing bookshelves and he greets me by saying, “I can hear everything you say downstairs in the living room.” He points to the small hole in the wall where a PVC pipe, loaded with cable to create tielines, leads downstairs. The pipe is wide open at either end.
Great. We haven’t even wired them up yet, and already the tielines are transmitting sound.
We’re finally at the stage where the tieline’s jack panels can be soldered on to each end of the cable snakes in the PVC pipe and then mounted on the wall. But before we mount them, we’ll have to add some acoustic conditioning in the pipe, as well as try to further isolate and decouple the PVC from the building itself.
But I notice a pattern that has appeared; the time of tweaking has begun.
In fact, it started two months ago, when I was playing an electric guitar through a tube combo amp a full volume in the dining area. At that point, we had just moved in and I was exploring the sound of each room.
While I chugged away on an E chord, something started rattling—something high up in the kitchen. At that point, I was too distracted by the fun of hearing an Orange amp cranked up in the living room to investigate the source of the noise, but I made a mental note that I’ll have to do so in an organized way before I can do a real session downstairs.
First I have to give the studio upstairs a rumble test, to see what rattles, which I hope to do over the long weekend with an amplified electric bass. The air exchange vents were recently installed, and although they’re set in there tightly, I want to see if they’ll make noise.
Returning to the sound vs. function discussion, the 12-foot bookshelf on the north wall is meant to act as a diffuser once it’s filled with LPs and books (see Fig. 1). The north/south walls are parallel, with windows on the south wall directly across from the bookcase, so any reflections from the glass will get diffused by the uneven surfaces of all the treeware I’ve collected.
But with the wall and ceiling design, there’s plenty of absorption and diffusion going on around the room, as I’ve explained in earlier chapters of this blog. In Figure 2, you can see the fabric-covered walls before the wood was attached. That part of the installation only took about a day and a half.
Putting up the wood, however, took nearly two weeks. In Figure 3, note the three different widths of the wood, which is a pattern we kept consistent throughout the studio. We started with a stack of 1 x 8 fir boards, which were then cut to width and length as needed. Installing the ceiling boards was particularly tricky, as you can see from the opening shot.
At this point, the room has a fairly short decay, with a slightly longer resonance in the lowest frequencies. I’m already wondering what kind of bass build-up I’ll get in the corners (of which there are seven) once I get a band in there.
The to-do list now includes finishing the electrical outlets and installing the tielines (next week), then installing the lighting tracks and finishing off the surrounding part of the doors (the following week). Once that’s done, I can start plugging things in and checking for line noise in the AC, and exploring the sonic characteristics of the room itself. I already have a couple of projects queued up, and I can hardly wait to get started.