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RE/P Files: Studio Design And Construction

A wealth of knowledge on live-end/dead-end acoustics from the June 1982 archives of the late, great Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine.

By Paul D. Lehrman July 8, 2019

The Acid Test

“I’m not sure certification is absolutely necessary,” says Greene, “but if you’re going to go to all that trouble to build it, you might as well go all the way.”

Designer Dan Zellman spent a good day checking out the room, and gave it excellent marks. “He checks the sound coming from the speakers, the acoustical coupling with the room, the anechoic ‘hole’ following the initial blast, then the first reflection and the diffusion.”

“Obviously you can’t get rid of all of the uncontrolled sound, but the concept is valid as long as it’s within certain specs, which are pretty stringent,” says Greene.

In spite of the good evaluation, Greene noticed there were problems with the finished room. “It was a little short on the low-end. The kick drum wasn’t reaching out well.”

“On a hunch, I removed the drivers from the UREI 813A’s we had put in, and replaced them with our old Altec 604-8G’s. Even though they were out of time-sync, it cleared up the problem immediately.

“I was actually pretty upset. I had ordered 813’s, which use essentially the same drivers as our old Altecs, but by the time we took delivery, UREI had stopped shipping them and sent us 813A’s instead. The difference is that the new speakers use ceramic magnets.”

“They’re always talking about how great they are, but the real reason is that AlNiCo, which they used to use, got too expensive.”

“But the ceramic magnets have poor low-end response, and they sound harsh and strident. The speakers measure out the same, but they sound totally different.”

“I had to take the horns off the Altecs and put the little blue UREI horns on them, and I had to buy different crossovers, because the ceramic magnets are shorter, and therefore use a shorter delay. Now they sound great. They’re about 2 dB less efficient, but I can deal with that.*”

As one might expect, Greene is very happy with his new room, and knows why. “It doesn’t wear me out nearly as much — I can work for a long time now,” he offers.

“Since the speakers and the room are all phase coherent, I don’t have to listen to phase distortion, which is very fatiguing. I’m also working 7 or 8 dB softer. I can hear things more clearly at lower levels, which also helps to make it sound better on the street.

“I realized that the other room tended to ‘smear’ the image, which had to do with reflections off the ceiling. It was tough to hear small panpot adjustments.”

“Also, now that I have the new speakers, the room sounds pretty much the same over a wide range of seating positions. Of course, you’re limited by the on-axis response of the tweeters, but I think the room even compensates for that a little.”

“I always tend to listen on headphones before 1 let anything out, and LEDE and cans aren’t really too far away from each other. You can’t really get a good idea of bass on phones, however, and there’s no ambience. So this is the best of headphone-type listening, yet without the drawbacks.”

The new room has changed some of Greene’s work habits. “Things that sound really bad will drive you out of your mind, he concedes. “For example, piano miking that used to sound fine now sounds as if the piano is inside out. You become hyper-aware of phase anomalies.”

“I find that I’m using a lot more coincident-mike placements, and paying a lot more attention to phase coherency. I’m also taking more care with mid-range EC). I can hear the subtleties better; of course, that has a lot to do with the speakers as well as the room. I’m mixing wetter, and I’m using the wall monitors a little more than I used to.”

“The room makes very little difference when you’re near-field monitoring — the primary reflection there is still off the console itself — but I never liked small console speakers anyway. They’re only really effective in the mid- range, and I have three different sets that sound completely different.”

The new room has also necessitated changes in monitor amplification. Because of the reduced efficiency, the old Spectro Acoustics 125 watt per channel power amps were replaced with a Mcintosh Model 2500. An intermediate setup used UREI power amps, but Greene found them short on headroom, and the damping factor to be too high for his speakers.

“The Altec-type woofers are made to move around, and the UREI held the cones too tightly,” he says. “The Mac is transformer-coupled, and although it has a high damping factor for that type of amp, it’s a lot lower than a direct- coupled amp. It’s much nicer to listen to.”

Reaction from Clients

Of course, the most important thing in any studio improvement is how it affects business, which is largely determined by artists’ and producers’ reaction to the change.

“Billy Cobham’s not the kind of guy who gets impressed with engineering concepts like LEDE, but if he takes the tape home and likes the way it sounds, that’s cool,” says Greene.

“If he doesn’t like it, it’s not cool. All the rest of the hype doesn’t matter to him. But most of our clients are long-term, and they’re saying that our mixes are much better. The new clients all like it too, even though they don’t have our old room to compare it to. But they do compare it, very favorably, to other rooms they’ve been in.

“The LEDE concept is so new that even a lot of people in the engineering end of the business aren’t that aware of it, so you can’t expect the creative people to concern themselves with it for some time yet. I think though, that artists and producers will care more in the future, and it will become a major issue.”

And at the bottom line, business for Normandy is up. It will be a while before the magic of a Billy Cobham record or two will draw clients to the studio, and a lot of the increased business was booked before the control-room conversion. But, as Greene says, “they won’t hurt.”

Greene figures that things will get even better, and puts it in this perspective: “With the current economic climate, people want state-of-the-art equipment with good personnel and service that will cost them in the $100 to $125 an hour range, which is where we are.

Fancy rooms will only be for established superstars with huge recording budgets. Otherwise, the record companies don’t want to hear about paying $165 to $200 an hour.

“Our equipment is not vast and awe- inspiring, but it all works, and you can make records in the place. I think that is what’s going to make us successful.”

*Garry Margolis, Sales Director of UREI, comments as follows:

“We noted Mr. Green’s comments on old versus new 813’s with interest. There are a number of objective and subjective differences between the old and new coaxial drivers. The older AlNiCo magnet was subject to partial demagnetization when hit by very heavy transients reproduced by a large power amplifier.”

“This demagnetization lowers the mid-range response of the driver, and, therefore, apparently increases the bass response. The newer ceramic magnet will not be demagnetized in heavy use, and will retain its sound character.”

“The new drivers have a crisper, tighter low-end, which may seem light to someone accustomed to a demagnetized AlNiCo driver. The mid- range response of the new driver has been considerably smoothed, and dis-persion broadened, when compared to the original system.”

“The new horn design uses slots to minimize the shad-owing of mid-band response from the cone, and utilizes a new diffraction buffer and padding in the horn to reduce reflections, improve dispersion, impedance matching, and smooth the out-of- band response.”

“We are soliciting user opinions regarding further improvements to our monitors, and we appreciate Mr. Green’s comments.”

Editor’s Note: This is a series of articles from Recording Engineer/Producer (RE/P) magazine, which began publishing in 1970 under the direction of Publisher/Editor Martin Gallay. After a great run, RE/P ceased publishing in the early 1990s, yet its content is still much revered in the professional audio community. RE/P also published the first issues of Live Sound International magazine as a quarterly supplement, beginning in the late 1980s, and LSI has grown to a monthly publication that continues to thrive to this day.

Our sincere thanks to Mark Gander of JBL Professional for his considerable support on this archive project.

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