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Acoustic wall treatment or portable vocal booth (i.e. Auralex MaxWall)?

Discussion in 'Room Acoustics / Studio Design' started by Hugh Jorgan, Feb 14, 2014.

  1. Hugh Jorgan

    Hugh Jorgan Active Member

    I would like to start recording vocals (just for fun/hobby) and I want to get the best sound possible. The instrumental tracks have already been mixed, I just need to add vocals. I've read some of the threads here, and I know that preventing unwanted reflections is ONE of the key elements paramount to a good recording. The room I have is probably awful (sonically) being that one wall is almost entirely mirrored glass, but I dont know...so I thought I'd post the dimensions and a few pics to get some advice on the best (and most cost-effective) way to get a good vocal recording.

    I saw someone on Craigslist selling one of those Auralex portable vocal booths for like $500, but if there is a way to do it cheaper I will gladly implement any suggestions.


    Images were shot from opposing corners.


    Room dimensions (not including bathroom) are: 13' x 11' with 9' ceiling height. Mirrored door area is (approx) 7' x 7'. Wall construction is your average apartment drywall (plasterboard, whatever). Floor is wood construction (upstairs bedroom) with paded, cut pile, wall-to-wall carpet.

    I was thinking the booth would be good because I can not only use it for the vocal recording, but also put it behind my workstation when I'm doing mixdown through my monitors.

    Yes? No?

    Please advise
  2. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Why would you think that you need to put some fairly useless foam behind your monitors for mixing?

    Additionally, what makes you suspect that you need some fairly useless foam for vocal recording in your room?

    It sounds as if you've been drinking some kinda' koolaid... (gotta love the magazines/forums that peddle it all...)

    Have you done any recording of your vocal in the room? Have you tried different mic's, mic positions, etc, and verified that you can't get some sort of acceptable recording?

    I'm pretty sure I'm not completely alone on this, but in order to help you along with a reasonable solution, we kinda' need to know a bit more. I mean, if you haven't even recorded a vocal track... doncha think it would suck to spend even $50 if you didn't need to... because you actually like the sound of the room as it is?!? Or maybe you'ld be better off spending that money on a new mic... or new cables... or my personal favorite-a nice single barrel Kentucky bourbon... that is, IF you plan to keep this as a hobby.
  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    It might not be absorption you need at all, maybe it's diffusion, either way you won't know until you actually record tracks using various mics in various positions and determine if you have problems and what those problem may be.

    Condenser mics will generally pick up more room reflection than dynamics will, so try both to see.

    Stand as close to the center of the room as possible when you record. This will help a little bit in that reflections will hit you (and the mic) at a more even time and dispersion.

    This isn't to say that you don't have issues, you probably do - as most hobbyist recording rooms will - but until you actually track and try different positions and mics you won't know.

    I've recorded great sounding tracks - vocals, guitar amps, etc, right in my own living room, and I have a large picture window, hard wood floors with a large throw rug. There's not an ounce of sonex foam anywhere.

    I agree with Max.... to just throw 1" acoustic foam up on the walls in a "kneejerk" reaction - or because you're making an unfounded assumption that you need it just because you've seen it in pictures or in other studios, is a bit premature, and could very well be a waste of money that could be better spent on treating the room for mixing instead of tracking.

    FWIW, for mixing, those foam tiles won't do a thing for frequencies below 1k.

    I can't count the number of times I've gone into small project studios to mix as a hired gun, and have seen the console jammed up against a wall, which is covered from floor to ceiling with that foam, and for no other reason than the guy who owns it simply assumed that he needed to have it to be "pro".

    And when I ask them why, I laugh to myself when they tell me that "it really helps with standing waves".

    I've recently thought about getting into the home studio consultation business more than the recording and mixing.... because I've run into so many situations where so much money has been spent on things that don't really help at all. Lack of knowledge is the biggest factor - as with that guy who insisted that the foam was great for low end control - but I have to be careful when going in as a freelance engineer that I don't offend them either, because I need the paycheck. And it's pretty risky when you tell someone that all their hard work has amounted to nill. It's like a photographer telling a mother that their baby is ugly and then expecting to be called back for more work. LOL
  4. Hugh Jorgan

    Hugh Jorgan Active Member

    Um, the countless threads about untreated rooms being acoustic nightmares...and because I'm a lead vocalist and not a recording engineer. But thanks for your disparaging response.
  5. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Those "countless threads" can be very misleading, Hugh. You have to consider the source of the info.

    Companies like Sonex and Auralex make a mint off of people like yourself (no offense intended) who don't really know what it is they need, and these companies are very good at telling you that what you need is their product.

    And, as mentioned in my post to you, I explained that much of this "false info" is perpetuated by word of mouth from one person to another, and in many cases neither one of those people passing that word really know what it is they're talking about.

    People are looking for quick, easy and cheap fixes, and they think - ignorantly so - that throwing up a few tiles of 1 inch thick foam for $50 bucks or so is going to magically solve all their problems.

    You need to do some tracking and mixing first to determine what and which problems you do actually have. And because you yourself stated that you are a performer and not an engineer, you don't have the experience to just walk into a room and be able to determine what you need to do. It might be that you do need some tiles, or, it might be that you need diffusion, or, it could be that you need broadband absorption, or, if the Gods are looking favorably upon you, your room might be pretty good as it stands now. But there's no way to determine that until you actually do some tracking and mixing.

    All we're saying is don't jump the gun and run out and buy material(s) that is unsubstantiated in necessity, because it may not be helpful to you at all. ;)
  6. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member


    Not hardly... just been at this long enough to know that many folks are falsely influenced by photographs and ads into thinking that they really need something when they don't... or at least should be informed of the fact that the amount of "help" that many of these products offer is quite minimal for most situations.

    As far as engineering a vocal... I prefer a bit of liveliness to the environment... even if a take is a bit bright with reflections, a simple eq cut resolves that issue quite well most of the time. Which brings up the more common misconception about tracking environments.

    All too many folks think they hafta record in a completely sterile and reflection free room... and then add some sort of environment with verbs, delays and fx. That's fine... but it's not necessarily the way it's been done since the creation of recording technology. Room sounds are actually quite fun... if you at least have a basic understanding of how sound moves and how it interacts with surfaces and structures. Doesn't anyone shoot pool anymore?

    For example, in your room, you've got that nice big flat plate in the room that you can use to your advantage for recording vocals... but will also prove to be a major PITA for mixing... much more so than any problem to be solved by putting foam behind your speakers. That flat plate will eat your sense of space and dump excessive HF back into the room... with the issue being that you'll tend to dull out your mixes because the room is too "bright".

    But to solve that issue... It takes very little mass to stop high frequencies... which is about all that the foam will do. So, rather than buy some foam that looks nice, but costs $500 and takes up a good bit of floor space ALL THE TIME... Doncha' think you'ld be better off to consider buying an inexpensive curtain rod, put it over the door, and hang a blanket over the door when you need it that way??? Get a coupla' spring loaded wood clamps from bLowe's or HomeRepot or your local hardware dood for about $5 each. (Harbor Freight and others have em' in kits of like 6 for $10)

    IMHO, it calculates out to less than $50... hmmmm... 10 fold savings...

    That is what you wanted to know, right?

    So, disparaging is not the intent... it's the cynical realization that our educational system has let us down by not ensuring that folks understand the basics of physics...
  7. Hugh Jorgan

    Hugh Jorgan Active Member

    Dude, I'd hire you...my baby IS ugly!! In fact, I'd rather just have the musician that recorded the music record my vocals... but he is in California and I'm in Texas, so that aint gonna happen.

    My biggest concern is...I dont know WHAT (as far as negative anomalies) I'm supposed to be listening for. Are these things obvious during playback? I'd hate to record vocals and think I've done a great job...only to send the song back to the musician and have him hear "Standing Waves" or "Comb Filter" (or one of the other THOUSAND engineering terms I'm not familiar with).

    I can sing my ass off (3+ octave range), and I really want to showcase my talent...but I dont know dick about recording, and I just wanted to start with the best environment possible in an attempt to avoid a great deal of wasted time with unusuable vocal takes.
  8. Hugh Jorgan

    Hugh Jorgan Active Member

    Yeah, I was gonna take Physics...but I took Chemistry instead because I wanted to learn how to make "KoolAid". :wink:
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Yeah, I drank some of that back around '75... never been the same since. ;)

    Standing Waves are eactly what the name says... sound waves that "hang around", sometimes to the point of even bumping into each other, which is where you can encounter "null" points, or, attenuated (lessened) frequencies, sometimes to the point where you'll even have complete cancellation in that frequency in a certain area, and you may move two feet in either direction and the bass knocks off your hat.

    Low frequency issues are the most common in home studios, because those home recordists are using space that's available to them out of convenience. The roms weren't built or desinged with acoustics in mind.

    One way to tell, besides walking around the room with a db meter while a tone oscillator is throwing a low frequency tone and checking to see if you have substantial peaks and valleys of measurement in that range, is to take your mixes and play them back in an environment more suited for accurate listening. If you find that your mixes are bass shy, then it's a pretty good bet that you have too much uncontrolled bass frequencies in your room. In short, you hear a lot of bass in your room, and because you do, you don't feel like you need to add anymore to the mix because when you do, it becomes boomy and muddy on the bottom end. But that doesn't mean that this is really the case. If your room is lying to you then you'll never get an accurate foundation from which to mix.

    You will likely encounter low end issues moreso than high end ones, and I'm not saying you won't have top end issues, but most of the time it's the low end that is the culprit in untreated rooms. I say all of this in a wide generalization because in your case, I'm not able to actually hear what's going on. You may indeed have top end issues but you won't know until you record and mix, and, I have to say I really like Max's suggestion of trying home made hi frequency absorbers... a heavy curtain or packing blanket suspended from a PVC frame, or maybe even a couple of mic stands.

    Work with what you have before you run out and spend money on things that you can do yourself to correct.

    One final suggestion... because you're not an engineer, don't discount the scenario of handling the performance end of things and letting a pro handle how it sounds. There's a reason why Sting or Steven Tyler or other pros don't record in their bedrooms for commercial release... Pro studios have the tools and rooms that are designed to give the utmost in fidelity, and they are also staffed by engineers who know exactly how to use that gear. There's nothing wrong with you focusing on the performance and letting a real pro handle the tech side of things. ;)
  10. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    No one wants unusable takes... that's a waste of time, but the unfortunate reality that most of your takes end up not being used. (Thank goodness for cheap hard drives)

    Unfortunately too, that's the double edged problem with the advent of all this cheap technology... Finally, anyone can cheaply record music of any type, anywhere, any time and it don't cost much to have more power in a phone than what the best 100 equipped studios of the 30's through the 50's had. But the fact still remains that it's a technology that requires a knowledge base... and no matter the technology, you still hafta learn the technology... and that just plain takes time.

    How much time depends on the individual and how much time, energy and effort you wanna put into learning the craft of recording. As a musician, I still find it a major PITA to try and record and mix my own stuff at the same time. Not because of the technology... but because of the two distinct disciplines involved. They require opposite sides of the brain to function at the same time and one usually gets in the way of the other.

    As far as "knowing" what to listen for... that too takes time to learn.

    The best approach I can offer you is to record something in several different locations in your room. Be somewhat meticulous doing this... Take notes, take pix, make drawings... whatever you gotta do. Do nothing but record... don't listen back until you've done a bunch of recordings. (They don't hafta be long... 15-30 seconds)

    Then go back and listen to each take and note what you DON'T like... FOR THAT TAKE. Example; can you hear some "slappy" sound that conflicts with the tempo? Does it sound muddy? Is it too bright?

    I think you'll find that pretty soon, you'll have a "map" of your room and what to expect from a certain mic position.

    That's just what I did (and had to do) here in my shop... It took awhile, but I've zoned in on where I need to put something and where the mic('s) need(s) to go to give me the "sound" the client and/or I, are looking for. Truth be known... it's what every engineer does and has to do.

    If I put a "vocal" mic up against one wall, I kill most of my high end... If I move it closer to another wall, I get a nice slap that's killer for some genre's... Otherwise, I have a nice central spot that gives me the characteristic of space that's about twice the size of the actual room, when I put a room mic up... and every now and then, I'll put a mic up close in the far end of the room, then mic up the bathroom and track the two of them... giving me a sweet 119mS delay that I can physically drop down to 95mS by moving closer to the delayed mic.... Again, all the while keeping my eye on what I want for the appropriateness (if that's even a word) that serves the song.

    But I didn't just magically have the knowledge... Just as it takes time to learn vocal technique with a stage mic, it took time to actually do the work to learn what my room(s) do... even when designing the space, it took a lot of forethought... and by the grace of God, I have a space that's really flexible and easy to work in... just as your space is capable of, if you just take the time.

    The other thing is to be sure you're listening as accurately as you practically can.

    Set your monitoring position as accurately as you can and while you may not be in a perfect listening position, you CAN learn what translates well and is at least a usable track.
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I would add to that the loss of objectivity. I'm a composer, a musician of various instruments, a vocalist, an arranger, a producer, and engineer... and I can tell you from personal experience how very difficult it can be to wear all of those hats. Sooner or later you're going to start hearing things too much....too many takes, too many punch ins, too many mix passes, too many attempts at various processors like EQ, Gain Reduction, Verb, Delay, etc., so that by the time you've reached the stage of what should be completion, you've lost all sense of objectivity. You don't know up from down. You don't have fresh ears anymore, you don't know if 1k is too heavy or too shy, you don't know if the low end is tight and defined or it's equal to warm oatmeal in a wet paper sack.... in short...you don't know whether you've been shot, stabbed, screwed or snake-bit.

  12. Space

    Space Well-Known Member

    "It might not be absorption you need at all, maybe it's diffusion,"

    It might be reflection.

    Diffusion is difficult to achieve in a proper range AND considering the room. So while it seems to some that you either absorb or create diffusion, you have to know that keeping the highs that you might lose from absorption and mid/bass trapping especially in small rooms, cannot be over looked.
  13. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    The cheapest fix I can think of is some blankets on the wall, and singing close into a dynamic mic. A good performance should overshadow any tech deficiencies.

    what usually happens, I think, w these types of scenarios is that a lot of money gets spent, and the person is never really happy w the end result, due to lack of experience, and lack of a purpose built room, which in the end they realize they need. This isn't to say you can't improve your room, but expecting more than some basic improvements like killing slap echos are what keeps these foam companies in business.

    id just use cheap moving blankets, and the room to sketch ideas, then just go to a studio for a couple hours for the final takes after the melody and arrangements have sussed out. Just the fact they they have purpose built rooms, and a selection of mics pres and eqs, that will help flatter your voice.

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