Garnish Music Production School in London

Standing waves and home studio acoustic treatment

Standing waves and home studio acoustic treatment:

With technology advancements and computer processing power as it is now, the whole process of making hit records can be done in home studios, unless of course, you require a real orchestra!

People with home studios often do not realise just how important the acoustic environment is. We tend to get a lot more excited about spending a few hundred quid on a shiny new synth than home studio acoustically treating a rooms walls, ceilings and floors for standing waves. There is also the issue of aesthetics.

My lecture on acoustics can be six hours long and sometimes it can be difficult keeping some of the more musical and less scientific of students interested, specially when I start on standing waves. If we are in a room small enough (a control room or classroom and not lecture hall), a good way of vibing things up is to measure the distance between two parallel solid walls and try and generate a standing wave. You can determine what is the frequency of the standing wave for your room with this simple formula: V / 2d=f

  • V = Velocity of sound (343m/sec)
  • d = Room dimension in meters (length, width, or height)
  • f = Frequency of the standing wave

Other standing waves occur at harmonics of the frequency that is 2, 3, and 4 times the fundamental but obviously, the higher the frequency, the less noticeable they become.

Why not try it yourself. Grab a tape measure and use the oscillator in your DAW. You need to have solid parallel walls in your space. Standing waves are the reason you never see parallel solid walls in a professionally treated recording studio control room.

Neil Johnston from Focusrite showed me the KRK ERGO. Wow, what a little box this is (if it does what they say it does of course). KRK make fantastic nearfield monitors and I would say are a company to be trusted. The first time I listened to a pair of KRK monitors was when I was assisting Mark ‘Spike’ Stent mixing Madonna at Olympic. The article the link goes to was written a few years after. Seems ancient now when he talks about Zip and Jaz drives! He had a pair of KRK 9000’s which sounded fabulous. Back then pretty much all monitors were passive and so were the 9000’s. It seemed crazy to me but a lot of freelance mixers karted around their monitors of choice from one studio to the next but just used whatever amp that was in the studio. Active monitors solved that one.

I’ve always had a problem with bass in my studio. I am lucky to have very high ceilings but unfortunately I think most of my bass gets lost up there in the chandelier. I do get a bit of bottom end but much further back from my seated position in front of the monitors. I have treated my room behind my monitors and I have some bookshelves at the back with act as nice diffusers for the mid frequencies. I could’ve of course have lost the chandelier and replaced it with a huge bass trap but I don’t think my girlfriend at the time would have been feelin’ that! And quite frankly, I like my chandelier, my high ceilings and the position of the studio so I make do for now by sticking my head in certain spots just before any waves get diffused by my bookshelves to check the bottom end. Also, I check in the car which is only on the driveway. It’s inconvenient, but I know the curves so well now in the space, I can make it work.

So maybe the KRK ERGO will be a much more convenient solution for me. It works like those Bose hifi systems by chucking out a load of test tones (all frequencies at the same time interestingly), monitoring them with a microphone and feeding back the data to the software (Mac AND PC btw). The box will then tweak your curve and theoretically, you will get a much ‘truer’ curve where you position the microphone. Gav said he would be able to get one for me to try. I will get back to you with my thoughts i’m sure.

If it is as good as they say, they will sell bucket loads. Given Bose have been doing something similar for the consumer market for years, I wonder why no one thought of doing this ages ago especially now with so many more records being made in home studios. I also wonder if the technology is any better than Bose’s or if there’s any patent. If no, I reckon KRK won’t be the only people making these boxes in 2010. I wonder if it can do anything about standing waves. I didn’t think at the time to ask Neil. Oh, that thought is what got me on standing waves here in the first place!

I do cover standing waves in my acoustics lectures at music production schools, colleges and universities and also in my music production courses in London.

Comments: 6
  • Tim Blair
    January 31, 2010 12:05 am

    Hi Dave

    Very interesting stuff indeed. Can you tell me how you can tell if you have a standing wave?

  • admin
    January 31, 2010 1:07 am

    Hi Tim,

    A standing wave would be much louder so move your head around the control room and in certain spots the oscillator will be louder. If you think you have found one then check the same spot again using a frequency just either side of the standing wave frequency. If it’s not louder in that spot then you know what you heard before was a standing wave!

  • Car Hire Alicante
    November 4, 2010 5:15 pm

    I am doing research for my college paper, thanks for your great points, now I am acting on a sudden impulse.

    – Lora

    • Garnish
      November 6, 2010 6:51 pm

      Comments like this are very pleasing so thanks. I was brought up in Javea – maybe one day I should open a campus on the Costa Blanca!

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