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About the Author
Philip Newell entered the world of music directly from school in 1966, at the age of 17. His first
job was as an apprentice in audio electronics, during which time he studied radio and
television servicing at Blackburn Technical College, in England. However, he soon gave up his
apprenticeship when offered a job as sound and light operator in a local ballroom, owned
by the Mecca entertainments company. His work was well-liked, and he was gradually moved
to larger ballrooms within the Mecca chain, finally arriving at the Orchid ballroom in
Purley, just south of London, which was then one of the largest ballrooms in the country.
These were the days when musical groups did not travel with their own public address
systems. They tended to rely on the house systems, and usually the house sound engineer as
well. So the Orchid, being such a prominent ballroom, was a natural choice of venue for
many of the famous musical artistes of the time. It was just part of his normal work as the
resident sound engineer for Philip to be working with artistes such as Booker T and the MGs,
Junior Walker and the All Stars, Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, Sam and Dave and many
other stars of the Stax/Motown era, as well as groups such at The Who, The Small Faces and
other British rock groups, many of which he would later meet again, either in recording
studios or whilst making live recordings.
By the age of 21, Philip Newell knew a lot of musicians, and some had asked him to put
together small ‘demo’ studios (the forerunners of today’s project studios) in which they
could work, principally, on their song-writing. One such studio, Majestic, in Clapham, south
London, began to grow out of all proportion during its construction, finally opening in late
1970 as a quite large, professional studio. However, its control room, much larger and more
absorbent than most control rooms of the day, was not well received. The more usual
rooms were heavily influenced by broadcast control rooms, and their specifications were quite
rigid. Recording staff also tended to be quite conservative. Philip’s attempt to build
a control room that he thought was more accurate than many other control rooms did not see
much use. The owner decided that the control room should be reduced in size, brightened
up acoustically, and fitted with a proprietary stereo monitor system in place of the custom
four-channel system. At this juncture, Philip went to work for Pye Records, in London’s West
End, and would not attempt anything on the lines of Majestic for another 20 years,
although he never lost faith in the concept of highly damped rooms.
About the Author
Pye was a large studio complex with two studios, two mix-only rooms (reduction rooms, as
they were then known), three disc-cutting rooms, two tape duplication rooms and a room for
compiling the eight-track masters for the tape cartridges then used in many motor cars. Pye
also had a mobile recording unit, and this appealed very much to Philip’s love of live music
events. His experience of music on-stage made him an obvious candidate for the mobile
recording crew. Until late 1971 he was working in the studios, principally as a maintenance
engineer, and on the mobile recording unit as a ‘Jack of all trades’. Mobile recordings were
then very much a team effort. During this time at Pye records, they built an articulated mobile
recording vehicle, chiefly designed by Ray Prickett, the technical manager of the studios.
This was used to record many live concerts, with artistes such as The Who (again), The Faces,
Free, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Traffic and many other famous groups of that era.
However, the studio’s administration manager was beginning to take exception to the length of
Philip Newell’s hair, and his tendency to wear multi-coloured boots. The ultimatum ‘get
your hair cut, or else .’ resulted in Philip accepting an offer as chief engineer at Virgin
Record’s almost completed Manor Studios, near Oxford, where the wearing of long hair and
multi-coloured boots was almost de rigueur. Within weeks he was recording a solo album
for John Cale (ex Velvet Underground) with musicians such as Ronnie Wood, now with the
Nevertheless, the ‘call of the wild’ (mobile recording) was still a strong pull, and much spare
time was spent putting together a mobile recording vehicle in a corner of the Manor’s 35
acre (15 hectare) grounds. For reasons still unclear, Richard Branson (Virgin’s chairman) took
exception to this, but made an unusual offer, which was tantamount to ‘Give me all your
equipment in exchange for me financing the building of the world’s best mobile recording
studio e of which you will be 20% shareholder e or you are fired’.
The choice was not very difficult to make, so Philip soon began plans for the Manor
Mobile e destined to be the world’s first, purpose-built, 24-track mobile recording studio
(using Ampex’s pre-production MM 1100 24-track tape recorder) in January 1973. By the end
of that year there was so much work that the Manor Mobile Ltd bought the Pye Records
mobile recording vehicle. Around this time, Tom Newman, the managing director of the
Manor Studios, left Virgin, and Philip Newell, at the age of 24, found himself technical
director of a newly-formed recording division of Virgin Records.
1975 saw the rebuilding of the Manor Studios, with Tom Hidley, the then chief of Westlake
Audio. During the same year, Philip also spent months working with Mike Oldfield on his
Ommadawn album, which was re-mixed into quadrophonics in the newly completed
‘surround’ control room at the Manor. Shortly after he re-mixed the classic Tubular Bells into
four-channel surround; a mix which was re-released in 2001 as one of the first Super
Audio Compact Discs (SACDs).
About the Author xix
In 1978, again with Tom Hidley, Philip led the Virgin team who built The Townhouse, in
London. In 1979, he was back on the road again, as front of house engineer for Mike Oldfield’s
45-musician extravaganza which toured Europe. But, not only was he doing the front of
house mixing, he was also producing the recording of the live album, Exposed, which was
a gold disc, on advanced orders, before it even reached the shops.
During eleven years with Virgin, Philip was involved in a mountain of recordings, both in the
studios and with the mobile recording units. He produced artistes such as Gong and Mike
Oldfield (producer or engineer on six of his albums), recorded The Warsaw Philharmonic
Orchestra; The Duke Ellington Orchestra; Hawkwind; Led Zeppelin; Don McLean; Captain
Beefheart; Jack Bruce; Dizzy Gillespie; The Small Faces; Ben E. King; The Buzzcocks;
XTC; Nana Mouskouri; The Motors; Jim Capaldi; Stevie Winwood; The Band; Patti Smith;
Queen; Can; Tangerine Dream; Steve Hillage; Alvin Lee; The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
e not to mention church organs; English brass bands; fairground organs; Welsh male-voice
choirs; Scottish pipes and accordions; gospel choirs; The Edinburgh Festival Choir e the list
goes on. The great lesson learned from this variety of recordings, plus an enormous
number of long-forgotten recordings, was that a great recording usually begins with great
musicians. What goes into the microphones is much more important than what a recording
engineer can do with the mixing console.
As Philip Newell was later to say: ‘The thing that I found most disappointing about being
a recording engineer was the lack of correlation between the effort put into the job and the
success of the results. I could work extremely hard, using all my skill and experience, trying to
get a half decent recording from a group of mediocre musicians, or I could sit with my feet
on the desk, pushing up a fader with one finger, and record an absolutely fantastic guitar sound
from Dave Gilmour or Jimmy Page’. This no doubt contributed to his almost total
departure from the recording industry in 1982. Virgin was also getting to be much more ‘big
business’ and bureaucratic, which was not well suited to Philip’s somewhat free-spirit, so
he sold his shares in the company and invested more in his seaplane fleet, which he had begun
in 1979. This had been largely in connection with Richard Branson’s purchase of Necker
Island, in the British Virgin Islands, and on which they were planning to build a tax-haven
recording studio. However, the collapse of the pound sterling on the foreign exchange markets,
the very high spending by the Virgin group on other projects, and the election of Margaret
Thatcher, who greatly reduced the higher tax rates in Britain, all conspired to squash the idea of
the Caribbean studio.
However, it was perhaps the ‘call of the wild’ again, which drew Philip to the wide-open spaces
of the world of float-planes and flying-boats. He flew in many air-displays, and also for
cinema and television work (and even a BBC radio programme), and by 1982 was a flying
instructor, and an examiner on certain types of small seaplanes. However, without the income
from the music business to support it, it was difficult to keep these operations afloat; both
About the Author
in the physical and financial senses. In 1983, he sold everything, and returned to music to
produce an album for Tom Newman, the co-producer of Tubular Bells.
In 1984, he met Alex Weeks, who had a company called Reflexion Arts, specialising in the sale
of very expensive gold and silver flutes. In the same year, Philip had been asked to design
a studio for Jacobs Studios, in southern England, so he joined with Reflexion Arts to begin
a studio design division, and Jacobs ‘Court’ studio was their first endeavour together. He then
designed a range of monitor systems under the Reflexion Arts name.
In 1986, he realised that he needed further, specialised help in the design of a more
advanced range of monitors, and sought help from the Institute of Sound and Vibration
Research (ISVR) at Southampton University in the UK. He had come into contact with the
ISVR quite coincidentally, via flying. His aerodynamics colleagues in Southampton
University’s Department of Aeronautics and Aerospace, where he was making enquiries about
horn design with specialists in trans-sonic (i.e. through the speed of sound) wind tunnel
construction, shared a building with the ISVR. These investigations drifted him across to the
ISVR acoustics department, where he sponsored a 3-year doctoral research programme
which eventually led to Keith Holland’s AX2 horn, somewhat revolutionary in its time (1989),
and which is still used in some of the current Reflexion Arts monitor systems.
The connection with the ISVR continues, where Philip has sponsored a number of students
at undergraduate, Masters and doctoral research levels. He was once heard to say to the owner
of a school of recording engineering, who taught at the school but had never himself been
a professional recording engineer: ‘The big difference between us is that students pay you to
teach them, whereas I pay students to teach me’.
Philip Newell left Reflexion Arts in 1988, but has remained in close contact with them since the
late Alex Weeks passed the company to new owners in 1991. It now operates from Vigo,
Spain, and has clients around the world. In 1992 he moved to Spain, where he has lived since,
though he is rarely home. During one period of time, between late 1992 and early 1994, he
spent one night at home in 18 months. Philip has now worked, in one capacity or another, in 34
different countries. He is a member of the Audio Engineering Society, a Fellow of the UK
Institute of Acoustics and a member of the Seaplane Pilots Association.
His work now involves the designs of studios for music recording, film mixing, television
shooting stages, concert halls, multi-use halls, music clubs, rooms for voice recording,
discothe`ques, screening rooms, rehearsal rooms and occasionally he also gets involved in
industrial noise control. From time to time Philip still also makes recordings. He has designed
hundreds of rooms, and written around a hundred articles for magazines on the subjects of
music recording and aeronautical issues. He has also written around 30 papers which have
been presented at Audio Engineering Society (AES) and Institute of Acoustics (IOA)
conferences, and has also contributed technical works to their journals.
About the Author xxi
On occasions he is called upon to give talks at colleges, institutes, universities and learned
societies, and has done so in the UK, Holland, Spain, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine and the USA,
to students of music, recording technologies, and engineering acoustics. This is his seventh
book, following on from Studio Monitoring Design, Recording Spaces, Project Studios, the
first and second editions of this book, and Loudspeakers, co-written with Keith Holland.
On a more personal note, Philip is a member of British Mensa, and the League Against
Cruel Sports. The latter is something very dear to his heart, as cruelty of any kind, to any living
creature, is something that he abhors. He greatly dislikes ‘doing business’, and tends to
become very personally involved with his designs and constructions. Consequently, he can
sometimes be quite abrasive. He can also be volatile and highly explosive, but he tends to
cool down as quickly as he blows up. Philip has never suffered fools gladly, even if they were
his paymasters [hence not being good at business e P.N.], and it has taken him a long time
to understand that not everybody can be as totally committed to the work as he is. However,
he has always had a lot of respect for people who try hard and want to learn, whether they
succeed or not.
Dr Keith Holland; lecturer in acoustics at the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, with
whom I have worked closely for over 20 years. His work is evident throughout this book,
and he was responsible for about 150 of the measurements presented in the figures. It is an
honour to have him so deeply involved in a work such as this.
Sergio Castro MIOA, who assembled the entire artwork for the book and who was responsible
for the graphics for around 200 of the figures. He has been a close friend and colleague
ever since I designed his studio, Planta Sonica, in Vigo, Spain, in 1985.
Janet Payne, who not only provoked me into writing this book, but who undertook to put
onto a word processor literally thousands of pages of manuscript. For anybody who knows
what my handwriting is like, the enormity of the task will be self-evident.
Tim Goodyer and David Bell, for Chapter 17. It can be difficult for a person such as me
to enthuse about something to which they cannot 100% commit themselves, but it would
have been unjust to write a half-hearted chapter, or to ignore the contribution that Live-End,
Dead-End control rooms have made to the recording industry. David is a deft exponent
of the technique, and it was courageous of him to step into the lion’s den and make his
contribution. He deserves great respect as an honest, sincere and capable man.
Professor Jamie A. S. Angus of Salford University, UK, for allowing me to copy some of
the figures from her chapters in the book Acoustics and Psychoacoustics (co-written by
Professor David Howard), and for many stimulating conversations on the subject of this work.
Julius Newell MIOA, MInstSCE, for the hard work involved in making the measurements for
Figures 19.15 to 19.17, and for countless hours of discussion.
Melanie Holdaway, Janet Payne’s sister, for handling the overloads when the typing schedules
became excessively pressurised.
Beth Howard, at Focal Press, for keeping faith as this book grew and grew.
Catharine Steers, for asking for the second and third editions.
Alan Perkins, for a thorough reading of the proofs.
Eliana Valdigem AMIOA, for her help with many experiments and measurements, and also for
her general support and encouragement.
And finally, to all the people who have worked so hard on the construction of my designs,
without whose diligence and effort the end results would not have achieved their success.
My sincerest thanks to all of them.
The intention of this book is to make accessible to many people involved in the daily use of
recording studios information which is locked away in many textbooks. The majority of
people working in modern music recording studios have not had the necessary formal
education in mathematics, acoustics and electronics to make the textbooks appear as anything
other than cold print. Largely, also, the days are gone when the majority of studio staff
received formal training in the studios themselves, spending years learning under the watchful
eyes of previous generations of recording engineers.
This book is not intended to replace the textbooks, but to accompany them, in order to put
many of the principles which they define into the context of modern recording studios, in a way
which may help to give more meaning to the bare facts. The practical examples given
cannot cover the almost infinite range of possible combinations of techniques, but if the
examples can be well understood, then they should help the reader to interpolate the data
sufficiently to have a reasonable ability to determine for themselves the likely outcome of other
approaches. Inevitably, in a book of this size, there will be a certain amount of overlap and
repetition. However, where this occurs, it has been left in for reasons of clarity, emphasis of
importance, or for the ability of a chapter to stand alone, without the need for unnecessary
cross-referencing. Whilst the language used is as plain as possible, there is an extensive
glossary at the end of the book to help to explain any unfamiliar terms, and whilst only
a minimum of simple mathematics is involved, nevertheless the contents of the book are
intended to be as rigorously factual as possible.
Philip R. Newell
Moan˜a, Spain, 2003
Preface to Second Edition
When this book was originally being discussed with the publisher, a book of about 80,000
words was proposed. However, once work began, it soon became apparent that in order to deal
with the concepts to a depth which most previous books on the subject had not achieved,
the original estimate for the size of the book had been greatly misjudged. The book grew and
grew, up to a point where the then commissioning editor had to decide whether the original
marketing proposals would still be valid, and whether a book of such a size was still viable.
Fortunately, she kept her faith in the idea, but a halt was called when the word count was
Once the book was released it was generally very well received, but numerous readers
commented on certain omissions of details that they would have found useful, such as how to
make sound isolating doors, as one example. The book was reprinted in 2004, and then in
2005, and even twice more in 2006. In fact, sales had been continuing at a steady pace since the
first publication. Focal Press suggested that perhaps the book could stand an enlargement
sufficient to incorporate the items that some readers had requested, and also to cover the
subjects of more research and developments that had taken place in the four years since the first
In this Second Edition, apart from more on the subject of doors, more material has been
added on floated floors, as well as on air-conditioning and climate control. New work has been
incorporated on the strengths and weaknesses of digital signal processing as a means of
room correction, and more has been added on the use of multiple sub-woofers for room mode
cancellation. New sections have also been added on the design of rooms for cinema
soundtrack mixing, along with more on the perception of frequency responses in rooms of
different sizes and modal activity. Again, in response to reader’s requests, sections have been
added on rooms for the recording of the spoken voice, and rooms for sound effects. Finally,
three entire chapters have been added to the end of the book, dealing with foldback, electrical
supplies and analogue interfacing. It is hoped that these new additions will substantially
augment the usefulness of the book as a work of reference.
Moan˜a, Spain, 2007
Preface to Third Edition
Four more years have now passed, and changes in the industry have taken place at an alarming
rate. CDs are no longer the general reference, and high fidelity, uncompressed surround
formats have almost disappeared. Further comments have also arrived from readers, and the
cinema industry is moving from film to digital formats. A considerable number of updates and
additions have therefore been made for this Third Edition. More information has been added on
floated isolation systems, and the discussion about film studios, in Chapter 21, has been
significantly expanded, including a more thorough assessment of the limitations of ‘room’
equalisation, which in fact applies to all rooms. New data has also been included on wide-band
absorber systems in Appendix 1, along with many other expansions and clarifications
throughout the book.
However, in order to avoid confusion between the various editions when referring to the books,
the changes have been made in such a way as to preserve as far as possible the same section and
figure numbers from the previous editions.
Moan˜a, Spain, 2011
The development of sound recording studios advanced steadily from the 1920s to the 1980s
almost entirely in the hands of trained professionals. By the mid-1980s the professional
studios had achieved a high degree of sophistication, financed by a recording industry which
drew its money principally from the record, film and advertising industries. These client
industries were themselves mainly professional industries, and were accustomed to paying
professional prices for professional services.
By the late 1980s, much less expensive recording equipment of ‘acceptable’ quality (at least
on the face of it) became available on an increasing scale, and the imminent arrival of
domestic/semi-professional digital recording systems was soon to lead to an ‘explosion’. This
saw the sound recording studio industry fragment into a myriad of small facilities, which
severely damaged the commercial viability of many of the larger studios. It broke up huge
numbers of experienced teams of recording personnel, and consequently much of the
generation-to-generation know-how which resided in many of the large professional studio
complexes was lost.
This boom in the number of small studios spawned a worldwide industry supplying the
necessary technology and equipment, but the whole recording studio industry has since
become ever more dependent upon (and subject to the wishes of) the manufacturers supplying
its equipment. It has largely become an industry of recording equipment operation rather
than one based on the skills and knowledge of traditional recording engineering. So much
recording is now software-based, and so many people in the modern industry are now largely
self-taught, that only a relatively few people out of the total number involved in music
recording have, or will ever have, experienced the benefits that a really well-designed studio
Clearly, things will never be as they were in the past, but although many great advances are
taking place in recording technology, some of the basic principles are just as relevant now
as ever they were. Good recording spaces, good monitoring conditions, good sound isolation
and a good working environment are still basic requirements for any recordings involving
the use of non-electronic instruments, which means most recordings, because voices also come
under the ‘non-electronic instruments’ heading.
The general tendency nowadays is to think of the equipment first. Many so-called recording
studios are in fact no more than several piles of rather sophisticated equipment set up in
any reasonable room that will house them. Many owners realise all too soon after the
inauguration of their ‘studios’ that there is more to recording studios than they first thought.
The real needs become all too obvious, which then often leads to some trial and error, and
sometimes very wildly misguided attempts to convert their already-purchased, unsuitable
space into what they think that they really need.
The sad fact is that there are now enormous numbers of bad studios producing recordings of
very arbitrary quality. As this situation spreads with the growth of the less professional
industry, many standards are being eroded. The norms of the industry are being set by the mass
market, and no longer so much by the skilled professionals with their valuable knowledge
of what can be achieved, which seems to be a pity.
It is all the more a pity because modern technology and the knowledge passed down through
the generations can together reach previously unattainable levels of excellence. What is
more, the cost is not necessarily prohibitive. Rather it is ignorance which is the enemy, because
the cost of doing things badly is often no more than the cost of doing things well. People
waste an incredible amount of money by their errors, and lose much valuable income by not
being able to offer the first class results which they should be able to achieve from their
When The Townhouse studios were completed in London in 1978, the two studios had cost
around one million pounds sterling (about 1.4 million euros) and were staffed by two recording
engineers, five assistants and five qualified maintenance engineers. The cost of each studio
per hour was around £85, which probably relates to something more like £300 (V400) in 2011
money. Few sane people would now spend such a sum of money (inflation adjusted, of
course) on a comparable facility. Almost nowhere in the world would it be possible to charge
such an hourly rate for music-only recording. We therefore need to be realistic in our
approach to modern day designs. Nevertheless, the good news is that with the developments in
the recording equipment, the advanced nature of new acoustic materials and techniques,
and a much greater understanding of psychoacoustics compared with what was known 30 years
ago, we can now achieve comparable, and in many ways superior results to those which
were achieved in the original incarnation of the classic Townhouse, and for much less money
than ever before.
The financial pressure on recording studios is great. Competition is fierce, and what was once
seen as a genuine industry is now often seen more as a glorified hobby. Where banks used
to finance many studio projects, large and small, they are becoming unwilling to do so in the
twenty-first century. The recording industry is often seen to be unstable, with ill-conceived
ideas and a poor track record of adequate professionalism. Banks may still finance the
purchase of buildings, which they can sell if the studio fails commercially. Leasing companies
may be interested in supplying recording equipment, which they will continue to be the true
owners of until such time that the lease is paid in full. However, few organisations will risk
the financing of the acoustic control structures that actually define a professional studio. This is
simply because if the studio does fail commercially, the labour costs involved in the
construction are lost. Furthermore, most of the materials used will not be recoverable in
any way that would enable them to have any resale value, and the demolition costs of the heavy,
space-consuming acoustic work can be considerable if the next occupiers of the building
require it in its ‘unmodified’ state. The lack of available financing for the acoustic work is one
reason why it is often now not afforded its rightful attention. Somewhat unfortunately, the
neglect of this one critical aspect of the studios can be a prime reason for their failures to
perform, either musically or commercially. Many studio owners and operators are beginning to
see this, and it is being realised that much of what was once considered an essential part of
all serious studios is still an essential part of all serious studios.
What this book will now discuss are the fundamentals of good studio acoustics and monitoring,
in a language that will hopefully be recognisable and accessible to the people who may
well need the information that it contains. It will deal with the basic principles, their
application in practical circumstances, and the reasons for their importance to the daily success
of recording studios. Because of the importance of good acoustics to the success of most
studios, and because of the financial burden which failure may impose, getting things right first
time is essential. This applies equally to studios large and small.
It is being presumed that the majority of readers will be more interested in how these things
affect their daily lives rather than wishing to make an in-depth study of pure acoustics.
Bibliographies at the end of most of the chapters will point interested readers to other
publications which may treat the specific subjects more formally, but inevitably we will have to
begin with a couple of chapters which set out a minimum of the fundamental principles
involved, in order that we can proceed with at least some of the basic concepts firmly in mind.
General Requirements and
This chapter lays out the fundamental requirements of premises for professional recording
purposes, including: common underestimation of need for good isolation; avoidance of
disturbance from plant and equipment noises; influence of location on isolation requirements;
consideration of artistic needs; control room monitoring basics; types of buildings to avoid; and
the need for adequate space and building strength.
1.1 The General Requirements
Some of the things that set a professional recording studio apart from a personal studio are
1. The ability to work during the chosen hours of use (in many cases 24 hours per day)
without disturbing, or being disturbed by, anything or anybody in the local community.
2. The studio should be able to record musicians without delays or impediments to the needs
of the musical performance.
3. Studios should inspire confidence in all the personnel involved in any recording.
4. The achievable quality of recording should not be limited by the inadequacy of the studio
design or installation. Even a modest studio performing optimally may well outperform
a much more elaborate one that has been poorly conceived and installed.
5. The studio should always provide an adequate supply of clean, fresh air, in a temperature
and humidity-controlled environment. (See Chapter 9.)
So now, let us look at these points in some more detail.
1.2 Sound Isolation and Background Noise Levels
In the enthusiasm that often accompanies the idea to build a recording studio, the lack of
experience of the people involved often leads to a tendency to fail to realise the need for
good sound isolation. In far too many cases, people believe that they can work around most of
the restrictions which poor isolation imposes. This is a dangerous attitude, because once it
Recording Studio Design. DOI: 10.1016/B978-0-240-52240-1.00001-6
Copyright Ó 2012 Philip Newell. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
is realised that the compromises severely restrict the success of the studio it is often too late
or too financially burdening to make the necessary changes. The result is often either
a ceiling placed on the ability of the studio to develop, or financial ruin. In 2001, European
banks reported bad debts on over 20,000 studio project loans, and this has made things
difficult ever since. Optimism must be tempered by reality.
Isolation is a two-way problem. The most obvious need for isolation is to prevent sound
escaping from the studio and disturbing any noise-sensitive neighbours. Almost everybody
realises that repeated disturbance of neighbours is probably going to lead to complaints and, if
nothing is done about it, cause the closure of the studio. Conversely, noises from the local
community activity entering the studio can disrupt recordings and disturb the creative flow
of the artistic performances. Sound isolation also sets the dynamic range limit for a studio.
This latter point is very important in a professional recording situation, but it is often
1.2.1 From the Inside Out
If a studio only has an effective isolation of 40 dB, then any sounds above 75 dBA in the studio
will risk annoying neighbours. The resulting 35 dBA reaching them would certainly be
considered a potential noise nuisance, at least if the studio were to be used after 10 pm and
was sited in a residential area. For example, one cannot turn down the volume of a drum
kit. Playing quietly is no solution, because it produces an entirely different tone quality to
playing loud. Realistic drum levels are more in the order of 110 dBA, so 75 dB of isolation
(the 110 dBA SPL [Sound Pressure Level] of the drums minus the 35 dBA acceptable to
the neighbours) would be a basic requirement, though this could be reduced at low
frequencies, as will be discussed in Chapter 2.
Many people decide that they can mix in the control room at night in rooms with reduced
isolation, in the belief that they can work with the monitor volume controls reduced below their
daytime levels. It soon becomes apparent that if the studio is to be used commercially, it is
usually the clients, not the studio owners, who decide at what level they wish to monitor. If
they cannot work in the way that they wish or need to work, they will perhaps look
elsewhere when planning their next recordings. In addition, when the ability to monitor at
higher levels is denied, low level noises or distortions may go unnoticed, only to be heard
at a later date. This may result in either the work having to be done again or the bill for the
wasted session going unpaid.
Even more disturbing (see next chapter and Figure 2.1 for reasons), mixing at
a relatively quiet SPL of 75 dB is at the lower end of the preferred range for music
mixing, because it is already descending into a region where the ear is less sensitive to
the upper, and especially the lower, frequency ranges. Mixes done at or below this
General Requirements and Common Errors 3
level may tend to sound excessive in bass when reproduced elsewhere at higher SPLs,
as would often be the case. Therefore, mixing at a low level so as not to annoy the
neighbours is not really a professional option.
It is true that for a voice studio for publicity or radio recording (and especially when
the end-product is not likely to be listened to from an audiophile perspective), 40 or
50 dBA of isolation and a 75 dB maximum operating level may suffice, but such
conditions would certainly not be suitable for music recording. In conditions of poor
isolation, frustrating moments of lost artistic inspiration can be frequent, such as when
a good take is ruined by an external noise, or when operating level restrictions deny
the opportunity to do what is needed when the moment is ‘hot’. Professional studios
should be ready for whatever the musicians reasonably require, because capturing the
artistic performance is the prime reason for their existence.
1.2.2 From the Outside In
Background noise levels of below 20 dBA (or NR20 or NC20 as variously used) were the
norm for professional studios. In recent years, cost constraints on air-conditioning
systems, together with the appearance of ever more computer disc drives in the control
rooms, have pushed these levels higher. These problems will also be discussed in later
chapters, but background noise levels above 25 or 30 dBA in either the studio rooms
or the control rooms seriously begin to encroach on the recording operation. Twenty
dBA is still optimal.
Most musical instruments have been designed to have sufficient loudness to be heard
clearly over the murmur of a quiet audience, but if the background noises in a recording
room exceed around 30 dBA there will be a tendency for the extraneous noises to enter the
microphones with sufficient level to degrade the clarity of some recordings. Much
important low-level information in the tone of an instrument or voice may then be masked
by the noise. In the control rooms, we should reasonably expect a background noise level
at least as low as that of the recordings. Otherwise, when monitoring at life-like levels
similar to those produced by the instruments in the studio, one could not monitor the
background noise level on the recording because it would tend to be masked by the higher
background noise level in the control room. The number of so-called recording studios
which now have 50 dBA or more of hard disc and cooling fan noise in the control room,
with monitoring limits of only 90 dB SPL, is now reaching alarming proportions. That
represents a monitoring signal-to-noise ratio of only 40 dB. It is absurd that many such
studios are promoting their new, advanced, 24-bit/96 K recording systems as part of
a super-low-noise/high-quality facility, when the 100 dB þ signal-to-noise ratio which they
offer cannot even remotely be monitored. One cannot trust to luck and call oneself
1.2.3 Realistic Goals
The previous two subsections have outlined the basic reasons why good sound isolation is
required in recording studios. The inside-to-outside isolation is usually dominant, as few
studios are sited next to neighbours producing upwards of 110 dBA. As the 30 dBA region is
reasonably close to the limit for tolerance of background noise by either the neighbours or the
studio, it is principally the 110 dBA or so produced in the studio that dictates the isolation
Of course, a well-judged choice of location can make life easier. Siting the studio in the
middle of nowhere would seem to be one way of reducing the need for so much isolation.
However, the owners must ask themselves if their clients are likely to travel to such
a remote location in commercially viable numbers. Furthermore, one should be wary of
other likely problems. One expensive studio was located in a place with little sound isolation
because it was so remote from any neighbours. Three months of unseasonably strong winds
and heavy rain almost drove them to ruin because of the weather-related noise entering the
studio. At great cost, improved sound isolation had to be added after the studio had been
completed, which proved to be far more expensive than it would have been had it been
incorporated during the initial construction of the studio.
It is client convenience which often drives studio owners to locations in city centres or
apartment buildings. Convenient for the clients they may be, but high property prices and/or
high isolation costs often cause the owners to look for premises which are too small. Often there
is simply no room for adequate isolation in their chosen spaces, even when very expensive
techniques are employed. This subject will be dealt with in greater depth in Chapter 2.
1.2.4 Isolation versus Artistry
Artistic performance can be a fragile thing. Curfews on what can be done in the studio and
during which hours can be a source of great problems. No matter how clearly it is stressed
that the working hours are 10 am to 10 pm, for example, the situation will always arise
when things are going very well or very badly, where a few extra hours of work after the
pre-set deadline will make a good recording great or perhaps save a disaster. In either case,
using a studio where this flexibility is allowable is a great comfort to musicians and
producers alike, and may be very much taken into account when the decision is made
about which studio to use for a recording.
1.3 Confidence in the System
A professional studio should be able to operate efficiently and smoothly. Not only should the
equipment be reliable and well maintained, but also all doubts should be removed as far as
General Requirements and Common Errors 5
possible from the whole recording process. This means that a professional studio needs
recording rooms with adequately controlled acoustics and a monitoring situation which allows
a reliable assessment to be made of the sounds entering the microphones. This latter
requirement means reasonably flat monitoring systems are needed, in control rooms that
allow the flat response to reach the mixing position and any other designated listening
regions of the room. The monitoring systems should also have good transparency and
resolution of fine detail, uncoloured by the rooms in which they are placed or by the
disturbances caused by the installed recording equipment. Where doubt exists about the
monitored sound, musicians may become insecure and downhearted, and hence will be
unlikely to either feel comfortable or perform at their best.
The decay time of the control room monitoring response should be shorter than that of any
of the main recording rooms (dead isolation booths may be an exception), otherwise the
recording personnel may not know whether the decay that they are hearing is a part of the
recording or a result of the monitoring environment. This subject can arouse many strongly
opinionated comments from advocates of some older control room design philosophies,
but the fact remains that adequate quality control monitoring can be difficult to perform in
rooms with typically domestic decay times.
When recording personnel and musicians realise that they can trust that what they are hearing
is what the audiophiles will hear in good conditions, it tends to give them more confidence.
Despite the fact that very many people now listen to downloaded, data-reduced music via
mobile telephones and ear-buds, the majority of musicians still want their recordings to sound
good on top quality systems. It is a question of artistic and professional satisfaction.
Confidence is often lacking in an insecure artistic world, so anything which can boost it is
much to be valued. Small loudspeakers are effectively de rigueur in all studios these days,
both as a mixing tool and as a more domestic reference. This is a very necessary
requirement, as one obviously wants to know what the likely result of a mix will be in 95%
of the record buyers’ homes. Nevertheless, it still seems to be incumbent on a professional
studio to be able to provide the means to monitor the full range of a recording. Those paying
fortunes for their super hi-fi systems will not then be disappointed, as they would be when
buying poorly monitored recordings that could have been so much better if only the recording
studio had had better monitoring. The large monitors are also necessary for a good, full
frequency range, quality control assessment of the basic recordings, even if they are not to
be used at the mixing stage, but this will be dealt with in much more detail in Chapter 19. If
there is any one thing that disgraces so much of the ‘less than professional’ part of the
recording industry it is the widespread use of appalling monitoring conditions.
A further point for consideration, although a detailed discussion is outside of the scope of
this book, is that it should still not go without mention that nothing really inspires more confidence
in a recording process than the participation of an experienced and knowledgeable staff.
Author Philip Newell Isbn 9780240522401 File size 47 Mb Year 2011 Pages 832 Language English File format PDF Category Design Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare Using straight-forward language and practical examples, Philip Newell covers the key principles of making a successful studio construction. In this third edition of Recording Studio Design, he gives you the skills you need to avoid disaster and create an efficient and effective acoustical environment to record and produce the fineset audio. Learn from Newell’s years of experience as he provides great detail on the practical recording application in various acoustic environments, and explores complex issues, providing real-world solutions. This new edition expands and develops on the topics from the previous editions, updating it for the digital age, so you have all the current information you need to build, adapt or update your recording studio. Download (47 Mb) Recording Studio Design, Second Edition Design Elements: Understanding The Rules And Knowing When To Break Them Adobe Premiere Pro Studio Techniques Digital Photographers Handbook, 4th Edition Audition Ignite! Load more posts