“The Making Of….”
Hi, and thanks for stopping by. I’m Stuart Allsop, the acoustic designer behind this studio, and this is the story of how the studio came to be. Over the next few pages, I’m going to take you on a roller coaster journey, through the process of how the Studio3 facility was designed, built, and tuned. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting.
The first time Rod and I exchanged e-mails, he told me that his goal was to have a sort of roughly OK place to make music, and that he had no delusions that Kerri Underwood or Keith Urban would ever go to his place to record. That seemed a bit negative to me, so I replied along the lines of: “Then why am I working with you? If you don’t believe in yourself and your studio, then why should I put my time into it?”. I think that opened his eyes to the immense possibilities.
Now that the studio is finished, Rod has asked me to write a few words about my own background, and also to describe how the design process went, in as much detail as I’d care to. This might be rather long, and perhaps not of interest for everyone, but for those who like to get a sneak look behind the scenes, or see what makes the clock tick, this is for you.
Many studio designers don’t like to share their “trade secrets” of how things work, or what they do to make a studio sound great, but personally, I don’t have too much of a problem with that. Everything I know about acoustics is a God-given talent anyway, not my own property to hide, so I’ll happily share what went into the making of Studio3productions.
This is how the studio “happened”.
From Ancient History to Chance Encounters:
Sound has been one of my passions for as long as I can remember. Back in the late 1960’s as a boy, one of my favorite tasks on a Sunday morning was to help my dad set up and run the sound system at the church we attended. Actually, calling it a “sound system” is a bit pretentious! The sum total of that sound system was my dad’s old valve-powered reel-to-reel tape deck (which was too heavy for me to even pick up), plus a single microphone, and a pair of grossly mismatched speakers. But I loved it, and gamely tried to tweak out the best possible sound I could, using all the controls at my disposal: one treble knob, one bass knob, and one volume control knob.
Fast-forward thirty-something years to the start of this century, and one of my favorite tasks on a Sunday morning once again became setting up and operating the sound system at the church we attend. Except that the system was rather more sophisticated, with multiple mics, multiple speakers, a fancy console, and racks of outboard gear. The previous sound operator at the church moved to another city, and the pastor unexpectedly asked me to take over. What a blessing!
I started recording the Sunday services, and remixing the songs and sermons onto cassette tape, for members to take with them and listen to again later. That rapidly blossomed into running live sound for various local, national, and international events for the denomination, as well as recording and producing for various artists and groups, and teaching seminars on sound and acoustics all across the country. It seems God wanted to rekindle my passion for sound, and gave me a wonderful range of opportunities. Over a space of just a few moths, I found myself involved in more aspects of sound than I could imagine, and at levels where I probably had no business being involved at all!
But trying to track, mix and master inside churches became frustrating: a constant battle with the generally lousy acoustics and poorly configured systems, so I felt the need to build a studio inside my garage. The number one priority was to have a place with good isolation and good acoustics. So the quest began on how to go about doing that.
In my search for information on tips and techniques for building studios, I came across the single best studio-building resource anywhere, at any price: The John Sayers “Recording Studio Design Forum”.
There simply is no better place on the Internet to find solid, sound, complete, detailed yet simple-to-understand information on how to design and build a studio. The forum is home to tens of thousands of members, with hundreds of completed projects to learn from, and a bunch of helpful people to answer questions and provide good advice, solidly based in the science and practice of acoustics, rather than the myths, misconceptions, fallacies, fables, fiction and delusions that are so common all over the Internet.
There are numerous wannabe websites and forums with woefully misinformed (and misleading) articles that often recommend plainly silly “solutions”, such as gluing carpets on the walls, nailing egg-crates on the ceiling, or “floating” a floor with a raised plywood deck on 2x4s over rubber pads. YouTube is full of shoddy videos on “How I built my studio” by overnight-experts in acoustics, showing grossly deficient and defective techniques that would never work, many of which are even unsafe or dangerous.
But I found that the John Sayers forum was a tropical island in the middle of a dangerous shark-infested ocean of stormy “experts” who will quickly sink your ship if you follow their advice. The reason is simple: the owner of the forum is a professional studio designer. He started the forum to provide free help for all those people who don’t really need (or can’t afford) to hire a full studio design service, but still want to do the best possible job of building their own studios. The advice on John’s forum comes from people who design and build studios for a living, and actually do know what they are talking about. That’s what makes it so different from most other places.
For me, the forum was a breath of fresh air. A refreshing oasis in the desert. Finally, people with real experience and real knowledge, wanting to offer advice for free! Some members were total newcomers and needed help with every aspect of acoustics and construction, while others (like me) just had a few specific questions about more advanced concepts.
The studio design bug bit me, and acoustics became my new passion. I soon realized that I already knew how to answer many of the questions being asked by forum members, since I had years of experience in all sorts of acoustic spaces, as well as sound engineering, so I starting chipping in when I could, giving back a bit of what I had been given. After a few months, John noticed, and made me a moderator of the forum.
Forum members started contacting me off-line, offering to pay for help with their projects when they felt overwhelmed by the complexity of acoustics and studio design, and John himself even referred some of his own customers to me, when he was too busy. Shortly afterward, John made me forum administrator, and suddenly I found myself with a steady trickle of forum members wanting to hire me to design their studios. Enough that I could switch over from studio design as a hobby, to studio design as a part-time job, then later to full-time dedication.
Fast forward to the next decade, and the project of one new forum member caught my eye. Clearly, a lot of work had gone into the studio already, it was a very nice size, the workmanship was great, but there were several places where the owner was struggling with layouts and acoustic concepts.
The studio was Studio3productions. And the owner: Rod DeMoss.
Rod initially only wanted advice on how to soffit mount his main speakers in the control room (“soffit mounting” is embedding the speakers flush inside angled sections of the front wall, which has many acoustic benefits, but isn’t as easy as it looks). I started helping him do that in the public forum. Then John put us in contact privately, and Rod asked for more detailed help “just with the front six feet of the control room”. After taking a close look at the photos and diagrams he sent me, I saw that the room was not going to work well the way it was originally laid out, so I encouraged him to let me re-do the room completely, in a different orientation.
I started by re-arranging the room into a “reflection free zone” style, and designing soffits to hold the speakers at the right locations and angles.
Rod hated the first design I sent him!
Quote: “Truthfully I’m not 100% fond of it. Looks pretty common. … It just doesn¹t have that "pop" factor....”. So I did the modifications that he asked for, to make it more like he wanted it, then a couple of weeks later… Quote: “[How about] If we go back to your original idea…?” then two days later: “After this time to absorb all the info, I actually think I liked the angle you had before, I know it's strange but...”.
Followed a week later by “I am really liking your ‘eagle’ look.” then “Looking real good. Can't wait to start constructing. We all like the design.” I guess the original design sort of grew on him as he kept looking at it, and as we did some minor things to improve it. The final outcome is actually not much different from the original design.
I completed the design for the soffits, sent him all the dimensions and construction details, and thought my work with Rod was done: the “front six feet” were now a reality. But Rod had other ideas. He wanted me to do the rest of the room as well.
Tuning, tuning, and more tuning.
Designing and tuning a studio is mostly science, but also partly art. However, the starting point is always the same: understanding the room, and understanding how it is responding acoustically in it’s natural state. So that’s what I needed next: an acoustic “picture” of the room.
I walked Rod through installing and calibrating the REW acoustic software package, then using it to run some tests on his completed but absolutely empty control room, and he sent me the raw data files by e-mail. It looked pretty bad! You can see some of those initial acoustic readings here on the website. It looked like the ragged mountains of some alien planet! But that was to be expected, as the room was nothing more than an empty shell at this stage, with no treatment at all. All we had to do now, was put “stuff” inside it, to make it sound good. It would take us three years to do it!
As with most rooms, the biggest issue evident in the data was the low-frequency response: it was disgusting. The entire room was full of boomy, throbbing, muddy, roaring, bellowing bass, with several gross modal problems clearly evident (due to natural resonant modes of the room itself). Bass trapping was needed. Lots of it. Huge amounts of it. Rod couldn’t believe the massive quantities of insulation that I wanted him to install, and questioned my numbers and instructions (and probably my sanity, too!) . Hundreds of square feet of bass trapping material went into the space above the “front six feet” soffits, and into the area above where the ceiling cloud would be. Most of it in the form of numerous full rolls of ordinary “pink fluffy” fiberglass insulation. When Rod did the next test with REW, he saw and heard the immense difference in the bass response, and understood why he had spent several days hauling all that insulation out of his truck and up the ladders.
But it still wasn’t enough bass trapping for what I had in mind.
Then came “superchunk” bass traps in the corners along the tops of the side walls, where they meet the ceiling, and also in the rear corners of the room, where the side walls meet the angled back walls. This time, I decided on OC-703, a semi-rigid fiberglass panel with excellent acoustic properties. You can see those “superchunk” traps in some of the photos of the room: they are behind the diagonal fabric front across the room corners.
Once again, the improvement in the bass response was massively obvious, and Rod suddenly realized that his room could be really, really good.
Next up: the “cloud”. That’s the angled structure that hangs over the front part of the room. I designed that in several pieces, each of which needed to be hung at a precise location and angle. The cloud has several acoustic purposes at once: it is a bass trap (lots of acoustic absorption on top). It helps to break up room modes in the vertical direction to a certain extent. It helps to create the reflection free zone around the mix position. And it provides some of the mid-range acoustic absorption and diffusion that the room needs. The improvement in the acoustic response was once again quite dramatic.
With the front and top of the room done, we had to set out sights way down low for the next bit: the floor. Rod wanted a raised floor at the rear of the room, for the client couch. The danger with a raised floor in a control room is that the air cavity inside it can have nasty resonant characteristics that damage the overall room response, as well as the isolation. So I took great pains to design the floor so it would work in harmony with the room, instead of fighting against it. The framing under the floor is carefully spaced so that no two cavities have the same acoustic response, yet all of the responses are at frequencies that make sense for the room. Rod had to drill numerous holes in the framing members, to allow the necessary acoustic coupling, then fill the floor with yet more “pink fluffy” insulation, and put the triple-layer deck on top. One more time, REW testing confirmed that the floor was doing its job.
There were still several problems in the room that I wasn’t happy with, and needed specific treatment, so I designed a series of panels for the side walls. Each panel has several functions, some of them rather subtle, some more blatant. Some required precision drilling of numerous holes of various exact sizes, and in very specific patterns, while others needed several layers of different materials of specific depths, and all of them had to be sealed airtight at the back and sides. I’m sure Rod thought I was raving mad with some of the designs I threw at him, but he built them all anyway, then beautifully finished the panels with fabric.
And suddenly, the room had clarity. The “sound stage” between the speakers, and the stereo imaging became clear and tight, as more and more of the acoustic issues were flattened out and brought under control.
But still not enough. The front wall needed to attention too.
I felt that this room could become something more than a typical studio, something beyond merely “good”. Call it divine inspiration if you will, but on several occasions ideas suddenly came to me on what needed to be done, even though it wasn’t the conventional way of doing things. That’s what happened with the front wall. I generally don’t use tuned treatment at the front of the room, since it can potentially affect what the engineer hears at the mix position, by “coloring” the sound in some way. So the original plan had been for a flat, solid, rigid front wall, but in a spurt of “silliness” I decided to do that differently, and added some tuned elements to parts of the front wall, especially the wing sections, out beyond the speaker soffits. And a few more acoustic problems disappeared…
But the biggest issue in the room, was the back wall. Rod had originally envisioned the room oriented the other way around, and had built a glass window in what is now the rear wall, for visual sight lines with the medium tracking room (now called the “vari-acoustic” room). When I came on board, I realized that the original layout just wouldn’t work, which is why I flipped it to face the way it is now. But it was way too late to change the shape of the room: the rest of the facility had already been built, and it was impossible to take that all down and start again.
That left us with a highly problematic rear wall.
The reflection free zone concept on which Rod’s control room is based, calls for deep absorption and diffusion on the rear wall, but it was impossible to do that with the window there, and the overall strange shape at the back, so I settled on doing as much as possible above and below the window, with some acoustic devices designed specifically to treat some of the rather nasty issues that were associated with that rear wall. The last touch in that area was a series of six QRD diffusers on the angled walls at the back of the room, above the doors, to smooth out some issues that were still evident in the data from REW.
Around this time, one of the main speakers started sounding strange, and Rod made the decision to upgrade to something more suitable. We looked around at several possibilities, but my first choice wasn’t available for delivery anytime soon (manufacturing delays). So I investigated other alternatives, and became more and more drawn towards a relatively unknown manufacturer, Eve Audio, in Germany. I felt that their SC-407 would be the ideal speaker for Rod. But I had some reservations about the way I wanted to mount it, since it wasn’t designed to be used like that. They are supposed to be used horizontally, placed on stands away from the wall, but I wanted to soffit-mount them flush with the front wall, and oriented vertically. That’s a very different loading situation for the speaker, and I wasn’t convinced that this model could handle it. I contacted the USA distributor, and he put me in touch with the chief engineer at the Eve design center. I explained what I wanted to do, and he gave it his blessing, saying that even though they didn’t advertise it like that, what I wanted to do would be fine. He also gave me some information on dealing with the rear bass reflex ports on the speaker (as they would now be inside the soffit).
So based on that, Rod ordered a pair of Eve SC-4070s, and I designed a new system for mounting them so that they would be entirely decoupled from the room: they actually “float” on a carefully tuned suspension system inside the soffit, so that they cannot transfer any vibrations to the structure or front panels of the soffits. This keeps the direct sound from the speakers as clean and pure as possible.
Rod and I then devised a method using lasers to locate and aim the speakers very precisely, while still ensuring that they “float” on their suspension.
With the new speakers installed, and the room treated every which way possible, and with practically all of the acoustic issues under control, the last step was to adjust the response of the sound system digitally, by applying a series of precision filters at specific frequencies.
Many people try this in untreated rooms, but that never works. Electronic correction can only work if the room is already as neutral as possible, acoustically. There are certain technical considerations regarding acoustic phasing that must be met before it is possible to apply this type of electronic correction. In most rooms, those conditions only occur for a small range of frequencies, but for some incredible and divinely appointed reasons, practically the entire spectrum of Rod’s control room was open for this method. A very unexpected blessing.
Over a period of several weeks, whenever our schedules meshed, Rod and I spent many, many hours carefully tweaking the digital filters, and the room treatment, by email. He would do a test with REW, send me the data file, then he’d sit back and sip his coffee (or take a nap, which was probably more useful), while I analyzed the data, tweaked a filter here or there just a tiny fraction, and sent him back the instructions on what to change.
Sometimes that also involved physical changes to the room (we ended up strewing some rather unusual things around in rather unusual places!), and sometimes it was just a slight change in one parameter of one specific filter. Then we’d repeat the whole process. Occasionally we’d go through a dozen test/tweak cycles in a single evening, but occasionally days passed while Rod built something new, or modified something already built.
Slowly but surely, the graphs and curves in REW got flatter and smoother, cleaner and tighter. First they started approaching the most stringent international specifications for critical listening rooms, then meeting them, then eventually exceeding them in almost every aspect.
It was a rather boring time for Rod, with long hours of testing, waiting, testing, waiting, just sitting around in his almost-complete studio, wondering if I’d ever finish with the interminable squeaks and warbles of my weird test tones… interspersed with a few setbacks and disappointments as we uncovered issues with some of his gear that needed fixing, or tried solutions that turned out to not work the way we wanted and had to be abandoned.
So every now and then, I’d send Rod a sample graph and some encouraging words to keep his spirits up, and his enthusiasm burning. Strong black coffee alone isn’t much help with that!
Along the way, our friendship also grew, as well as our spiritual bond. We both come from strong Christian backgrounds, and we both firmly believe that the incredible results we are seeing in this studio are not due to our own efforts, but rather to divine intervention guiding us towards a purpose which we don’t yet fully comprehend. We have merely stepped out in faith, doing what we felt led to do, even when it seemed strange. The result is what you see. And hear.
I’d even go so far as to say, this studio perhaps is as close to acoustic perfection as you can get, this side of heaven.
I’ve done the best I can to make this studio the best it can be: now it’s up to you to use it!
When you arrive at the Studio3 facility for your recording session, ask Rod to let you sit at the mix position in the control room, and spend a few minutes listening to some of your favorite music. You will, without any doubt, notice many surprising details that you have never head before in that music. The crystalline clarity, extreme sound-stage precision, perfect stereo imaging, and pure frequency response of Studio Three, bring out every last tiny detail that would be hidden in the mud and the mist of any other acoustic environment. This is absolute truth, and absolute clarity.
It doesn’t get better any than this.
But one word of warning: it takes some getting used to, when hearing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Some people find it disconcerting, some just find it “character-less”. If you expect to be blown away by deep booming bass and hissing highs, you will probably be slightly disappointed. Pure flat response does not sound like that. That’s not the purpose of a room tuned to be perfectly neutral. The purpose is to allow the engineer to hear all the “ugliness” in the mix, in every last intricate detail, so he can fix it. Once the mix sounds flat and clean in Studio3, you can bet it will sound astoundingly spectacular in any other place on earth.
Of course, if you really want to be blown away by deep booming bass and hissing highs like you never heard before, I’m sure Rod will be happy to make a couple of quick adjustments, and you can enjoy that aspect too. Because this control room and this sound system can do pretty much anything you ask them to.
There is so much more that could be said, but I’ve probably already bored you to tears, so I’ll stop here. Designing and tuning Studio3 has been an amazing ride, and I can't wait to see it unfold. But that depends on YOU.
I can’t wait to see what you will do with it! Have a look around, ask a lot of questions, and then make the most of it to create your next musical dream. May God bless your time at Studio3, and may you feel His presence and peace as you work there. I hope you find working there as immensely satisfying as I found designing it.
( If you need any acoustic design work or consulting you can reach me at: email@example.com