I needed an electrician to install a 240v line to the other side of my house but after he installed the breaker box, I felt competent enough to completely wire the studio on my own. I wanted commercial 20 amp circuits throughout so that meant 14-gauge wiring, industrial receptacles, 20 amp switches and GFCIs on every circuit. 14-guage is not the easiest stuff to work with because it’s so stiff, but I wanted rock-solid power for my system. I opted for a second breaker box because I didn’t want any line noise if someone in the house turned on the blender.
Jeff Barnett advised me not to set the dimensions for my rooms until I called Auralex. That was great advice. They offer a free consultation service that utilizes computer modeling to predict the acoustical properties of various room dimensions. Their models impacted my design in ways I would never have considered. Specifically, they recommended making my control room large and deep, while making the live room smaller. I would have done the opposite if not for their guidance and explanation. I must say, I am very happy with the result. Both rooms sound spectacular.
After you figure out some room dimensions that make sense acoustically, you will need to frame it all in. I chose to build my frame with 2x6s, 12” apart, because such heavy-duty construction was more acoustically “dead”, and because I knew how much weight it would eventually carry. I decided to place all receptacles on switched circuits so I could turn everything on at once. Each room has its own power switch. The only exception was for the circuit running the computer. I wanted to be sure that no one could accidentally turn off the computer without a proper shutdown.
The easiest and cheapest way to run power for your studio is with conduit mounted right onto the walls. It isn’t pretty, but it offers excellent shielding and does not create big sound leaks in your walls. If you care a lot about creating a finished look to your rooms, you can use my invented installation method. I call it, “second level sound proofing.” Behind each flush-mounted wall receptacle, I built a box 12”x12”x4” and lined it with Sheetblock. I ran my 14-gauge wire into the box through a very small hole and then plugged the hole with Great Stuff plumber’s foam. Any sound leaking into this box through the receptacles gets no further. Likewise, outside noise cannot invade the room through the receptacle’s secondary level of soundproofing. After your electrical installation is complete, you can fill the second level or outer box with plumber’s foam. Just punch out one of the wire holes in your electrical box and squirt the foam in. Try not to overfill, but if you do squirt a little too much, wait for the foam to dry completely before removing any excess. I must point out that this is extremely tedious and painstaking work to build all these boxes, line them with Sheetblock, backfill with foam, etc. It seemed to take forever while I was doing it. However, the finished look and functionality of totally soundproofed flush mounted wall receptacles was my reward.
I should take a moment to recommend a handful of products that will make your job easier. These are all available at Home Depot:
Carlon single gang adjustable wall boxes - Home Depot SKU 208-653. This amazing little box sells for $2.00, but it will save you hours of measuring and adjusting switch and receptacle boxes to match thick studio walls. You just mount the box on the stud, put up the wall (make sure the box hole is cut out of the wall), then spin a screw mounted inside the Carlon box to advance it right out to the thickness of your wall! This is painless and simple compared to fixed-depth boxes which you have to measure and place at exactly the right depth before installing the wall. Carlon two gang adjustable wall boxes – Home Depot SKU 208-684. About $3.50 each.
Super-Thoroseal waterproofer – Home Depot SKU 929-996. Costs $26.00 / 5 gal. Before you start building anything over concrete, it’s a good idea to waterproof. Use Thoroseal on cement block walls or concrete floors. It comes as a powder; you just add water. When mixed properly this product is very thick, so you will need a long stirring tool you can run off your electric drill. I just took a steel dowel, bent the end into a triangle and made my own stirring tool. Once we had that, it all went smoothly. Don’t try to stir it by hand. I doubt it’s even possible. Apply with thick rollers and whitewash brushes. It tends to spatter on your clothes much more than paint so wear something expendable. Two coats will do it. Water is never going to get past this tough stuff!
Tongue in groove knotty pine - Home Depot SKU 430-869. This is how we created a beautiful finish for the walls and ceilings. Quality control is always an issue with finish pine. Make sure you inspect every board carefully because they are delicate and easily damaged. Laying tongue in groove is an art form requiring great skill and years of practice, especially if you want the wood running on 45-degree slopes. I left it entirely to my carpenter and he didn’t let me down!
After you frame everything in and completely wire it, insulation is next. If you choose to mount the studs on 12” centers as I did, you will probably have to cut down your insulation. I couldn’t find any reasonably priced 12” wide insulation. Be sure to wear a filter mask.
Wall and ceiling construction was extremely difficult. Everything had to be built four times. We first brought our tongue-in-groove knotty pine into the house to acclimate for a month. Then we stained each board separately.
While the wood was acclimating, we installed the first layer of 5/8 drywall and sealed the seams. Then it was time to hang Sheetblock. I can’t overstate how hard this is. Sheetblock is 1/8’ thick heavy vinyl specially designed to block and absorb sound. Although it cuts very easily with a standard utility knife, hanging it on the wall is a quite a job. Weighing 1 lb. per square foot, it requires several mechanical fasteners per sheet to secure it. We were able to buy thin aluminum disks from our local lumber company and shoot carpet staples through them to hold it. After all the Sheetblock was in place, we put on another layer of 5/8’ inch drywall and sealed the seams. Our final layer was the beautiful tongue in groove knotty pine.
I discovered later that Auralex also makes Sheetblock Plus, which comes with its own adhesive. You just peel the backing paper away and place it on the wall or ceiling. Wow. Sheetblock Plus costs quite a bit more, but it is probably cheaper than what you will pay in labor to hang regular Sheetblock. If you are thinking you can hang this stuff by yourself, or even with a buddy, think again. You will need some professional help either during the process, or afterwards if you try to do it alone.
Studio doors are expensive. The latching mechanisms for doors 4-6” thick start at around $400. My solution was to buy exterior doors, line the frame with closed cell foam tape, and line both sides of the doors with Sheetblock Plus. I also squirted plumber’s foam into all the spaces around the frame, sealing it completely to the surrounding wall. You can paint Sheetblock with a latex paint on a roller and the result is quite good. The finishing touch was acoustical foam and diffusers mounted on the inside of the door.
This might come as a surprise but one of the biggest problems I faced was ventilation. Think about it… how do you get a large volume of air to move into and out of a room in total silence and without letting in outside noise? This was a tough one. I spent a lot of money on this and my design worked, but now that I’ve done it once, I know how I could do it a lot cheaper. Maybe I can help you avoid spending more than you need.
The secret to easy, inexpensive, soundproof ventilation is to use long runs of insulated flexible duct. Studio electronics tend to heat up a room, so your air outtakes should probably be mounted in the ceiling where they will remove heat. Run insulated flexible duct as far away from your studio as you can, then attach them to two-speed inline duct fans suspended on shock cords. Make sure your fans are pointing away from the source duct, so they will draw the air out of your studio. Use the low-speed hook-ups and run them to switches in your control room. Your studio’s air intakes should be near the floor far from the outtakes so the air will circulate well. Run flexible insulated duct again as far as possible. You might want to run it up and down between the studs inside the wall a couple times before leading it to the source of fresh air. You shouldn’t need a fan to drive the intakes because they will draw silently when the outtake fans are engaged. I had my carpenter build some small baffle boxes with standard furnace filters over the intakes as an extra precaution against noise and dust. If you find you don’t have enough ventilation, you can always add inline duct fans on the intakes later to push air into the room. My room didn’t require them. The outtake fans do the job. Add as much insulation as you can around the insulated flexible duct before you seal it all up in the walls and ceilings. There, now you know the secret! Do you wonder what I did so wrong? I made a lot of work for myself and spent a lot of money building rigid, insulated, fully sound-isolated channels under the ceiling and between the studs in the walls. It was all for naught. When I mounted the inline duct fans into my special channels the fan vibration was transmitted through the wood. That’s when I thought of isolating the fans by mounting them on rubber shock cords and connecting them to my channels with insulated flexible duct. Within seconds of turning them on I realized that was all I needed in the first place.
Of course, if you are building in a freestanding garage or other separate structure, you will need some kind of climate control beyond mere ventilation. The guiding principal in designing your system is to move large air masses slowly, and use long runs of insulated flexible duct to isolate your studio from the noise of furnaces, blowers and fans.
Flooring is the last step of room construction. You might think carpet is the answer but acoustically, it isn’t the best choice. Carpet absorbs high frequencies, but leaves the lows to roll around and cause problems in your room. Wood is the choice of nearly all professional studio designers. Hardwood floors can be costly, but there are several good tongue-in-groove wood laminate floor products that reflect sound exactly like an old-fashioned hardwood floor. Don’t believe any sales pitch about this being a one-man job. It takes two people to work these pieces together seamlessly, but it isn’t out of reach for the average physically fit couple and it’s even cheaper than carpet.
The couch in a studio is a huge deal. Everyone wants the couch. I chose one with all the colors of my room – reds, golds and browns, running in stripes on deep, plush pillows. Clients race to the couch!
My local computer guy, Bo McCurdy, relished the challenge of building the ultimate audio computer. After much research, we opted for a dual processor server motherboard powered by 2.4 GHz. Athlons. A Matrox video card renders dual monitors — one displays the project window, the other shows the mixer. Two 240-gig RAID arrays provide a total of 480 gigs of hard drive capacity. The first RAID is for executables; the second RAID is strictly for audio data. Everything is water-cooled and the radiator is removed to the adjoining room via clear plastic tubing tightly fitted through the wall. Meticulous soundproofing in the wall around the tubing insures against sound leakage. There are no fans except for the special low-noise power supply. Newer power supplies are now available (from Sharka) with no fans at all,but mine is quiet. Most people can’t even hear it running. Bo did an incredible job. The heart of this studio is fast, reliable and quiet.
I utilize a variety of mics and preamps to get the right tonal colors for any given situation. After the preamps, the signal goes to Apogee converters.
The Apogees came ready for S/MUXing (sample multiplexing – a process that permits recording at high sample rates), but to turn on S/MUX, you had to move tiny dipswitches on the rear panel. I thought maybe I would just de-solder the dipswitches, run wires to the front of the unit and install micro switches on the front panel instead. I called the factory and asked them if they were willing to honor the warranty if I went ahead with my modification. They said not only would they honor my modification, they were planning something similar for their new models. As I understand it, the new 16 channel Apogees now keep it all on the front panel. Good for them!
From the converters, ADAT optical cables deliver the data stream to twin RME 9652 HDSP digital I/O cards. All converters and I/O cards are synced with an AardSync II wordclock.
Zero-latency monitoring is a feature of the RME cards. One good solution is to route the outputs to a monitor mixer. I route my monitor signals into C-Control, a neat little box especially designed to provide a variety of monitor solutions for computer based studios. Any gadget that saves work is great. I just love my C-Control.
Finally, Steinberg’s Nuendo, paired with a generous helping of software processors from Waves, makes for stunning power and flexibility.
Airworthy Sound Studio
Shortly after completion, word got around and I started doing work for paying clients again. If you would like to record, mix or master at Airworthy Sound Studio, please call 231-876-3474, or send me an email: airworthy