Listening environment treatment is no trivial matter. Even if one has perfect speakers and the best Digital to Analog converters, what is heard by the listener in a poorly treated environment can quickly render even the most discerning and experienced mixer to alter and ruin their mix because of room interference. In Cinema Sound Studio B, we’ve just completed an installation of acoustic treatments from renown acoustic treatment company Primacoustic. In this article we’ll review the Primacoustic Audio Treatment package we installed in Studio B, and see if their products are good for the independent media creative.
We’ve talked a great deal on this blog about the importance of treating your listening environment to remove reflections both
primary and secondary and insuring that nothing in your room colors the true sound of your speakers. That also includes the positioning of your speakers. Take a look at this article for positioning speakers, and this article for general ideas on room treatment.
The louder the program material must be listened to, the more critical the treatment must be. The more channels of audio there are in a listening environment (stereo vs. 11.1 for example), the more critical the treatment must be. Therefore, if you’re trying to build a Dolby Atmos system capable of mixing for cinema (with an 85 dB dialog norm), you’d better have the most top-notch treatment in your room.
For those just working in a cubicle or at a desk at home, audio treatment is no less important, although it will most likely be less involved. Why? Because in such an environment, you’re likely not mixing in surround and you’re likely not having to go above 75 dB dialog norm. With fewer channels and softer listening levels, absorption and diffusion of unwanted sound becomes a lot more simple a task. But it’s still something which must be addressed and done with aforethought and care.
“Mark, why can’t we just put up some foam and egg crates and be done?”
Well, you could do that, and it would be better than listening in a room which was filled with mirrors and reflective walls. But
it’s not going to produce the best results. There’s plenty of fly-by-night companies who will gladly sell you cheap corrugated medical foam and tell you it’ll absorb everything. And while it’ll be cheap and solve frequency issues from about 2.5 kHz and up, the vast majority of the issues which will really mess up your mixes laugh as they are completely unaffected by this kind of foam, and you’ve wasted your money and time.
An even better idea is to learn to build your own panels and treatment. Custom making your own sound treatment can not only be rewarding, but you’ll most likely find solutions for the unique problems of your situations which can be handled in a way which isn’t expensive and will create a powerful results – or both.
“But Mark, I’m not really handy with hammer and nails, and I don’t have time to build all this myself. What do I do?!?”
Exactly. I’ve gone on record declaring that in any group of men, I’m always the least handy. So the idea that I would not only have to figure out how to mount sound treatment, but also reinforce the walls and structure of the portable studio itself in order to support the weight of the treatment? It seemed daunting for our Cinema Sound Studio B, and I wanted to insure our installation was as “DIY” as possible for the purpose of education.
Fortunately, I was able to enlist the support of several general contractors I’m friends with, and they gave me great ideas as to how to inexpensively reinforce the studio structure.
But the big win came when Primacoustic came on as a sponsor for Cinema Sound – and sent a 600 lb pallet full of their Nimbus, London Panels, Flat Bass Traps, speaker mounts and necessary hardware – that we began the design process of installing these great items into the studio and figuring out where to place them and at what angles.
“I’ve Never Heard About Primacoustic. What About Auralex?”
Great question. Primacoustic has been serving the music community in a powerful way. They also have excellent treatments for
public meeting halls and theater installations. Generally, however, the independent media creation community doesn’t have knowledge of their products or their brand. That community does have a strong knowledge of their competitor, “Auralex.” A couple of things give us pause for working with them or recommending them to our Cinema Sound members. 1. Their products are quite good, but they’re also quite strongly over priced. You can get better value from Primacoustic in just about every fashion of sound treatment. 2. Dealing with Auralex was a bear. We had about 1-in-10 phone calls or e-mails returned in over a 6 month period of time. I can’t imagine trying to actually get help on a product given their inability or lack of desire to return communication. As a result, going with Primacoustic was an incredibly easy choice, because of their rapid response and high value products.
The issue our studio “B” has is primarily dealing with reflections and a strong lack of absorption from the speakers because of
the small size of the studio: 8’ X 10’. The ceiling of the studio is 1’ from the actual ceiling which allows for sound from the “outside world” to leak in. We have little need to isolate the studio from the rest of the world, because 95% of the work we do there is mixing or creating sound design or music. Plus, we wanted to build a temporary studio – not a permanent one – so the treatment needed to be able to be easily removed and re-installed for quick tear down, moving, and reinstalling.
Although we have a room which has no parallel walls, and although the walls are made from fibre board and have 1/2” carpet across their surface, the kind of absorption/reflection occurring in that environment was way below what we were willing to put up with. We also had the issue of dealing with the fan and hard drive noise of the main computer. Although we put all of that apparatus outside the studio and ran leads into the studio, the fibre board doesn’t reject much sound from “the outside world,” and we were only able to reduce the computer noise a few decibels. Overall, the basic construction of the room (which we’ll talk about in another article) didn’t do the trick we wished it would have in terms of creating a good listening environment for mixing. It certainly was terrible at isolating the mixing environment from any sound happening outside its walls.
We needed an acoustic treatment which would significantly deaden the reflections in the studio, as well as manage the bass frequencies which were congregating in corners, assist with overhead reflections and lessen outside bleed through the open ceiling, and be aesthetically pleasing and reasonably easy to install. Oh. And it needed to be affordable. It was a super tall order, and from our research, we found companies which were both cheap and expensive (Auralex), but nothing fit the bill. Well, with the exception of one company whose treatment panels had no custom installation hardware, and the user would have to be relied upon to figure out how to mount the panels and treatments onto walls and ceiling. No. Thanks.
Primacoustic Acoustic Treatment
For us, Primacoustic has a perfect blend of all of our needs: Aesthetically pleasing to look at, dead-as-a-tomb absorption of
wide-band frequency spectra in both its Nimbus and London Panel lines, wildly successful bass management with the Fulltrap bBass traps, and the best acoustic decoupling solution of speakers from their infernal stands we’ve ever seen.
You can find out more about the Nimbus, the Broadway Panels, the Bass Traps, printable panels, and the Recoil Stabilizers at those links. We have an article on the Recoil Stabilizers here, since they were the first – and easiest – things to go into the studio.
Because we knew our studio “B” was to be used for 5.1 mixing at levels upward of 80 dB, we knew that the reflections in the room needed to be kept to a strict minimum. The folks at Primacoustic noted this as well. They made the excellent suggestion of adding 4 Broadway panels, 6 Nimbus Panels, 4 Fulltrap bass traps, and 6 printable absorptive panels. We also asked them for Recoil Stabilizers for the speakers. In a Room which is 8X10’, that’s a lot of sound absorption power, but it was necessary. I show you how we altered the installation from factory spec in this article, and I should you how we altered our physical studio build to support the weight of the treatment here.
Once these elements were installed, we noticed the hiss from the JBL 6328P speakers in the studio for the first time – and it annoyed us – not because they are noisy, but because the studio is so quiet now. The speaker noise is around 30 db at the listening position. That’s Really low. But before the Primacoustic treatment, we never heard it. Also, reflections are nearly gone. Sound coming from the speakers is wonderfully absorbed into the Nimbus, Broadway and Fulltrap devices with ease. High frequency reflections are deflected and absorbed by the printable panels all around the studio.
Installation was relatively easy, and if we had been able to do a “normal” installation as per Primacoustic instructions, we could
have easily gotten all of the panels up in a day.
We’re super happy with how they look, how they sound, and how they installed. We give our Primacoustic sound treatment
package a 115 CS Rating whereas the “fidelity” rating is to mean how well it “treats” the sound. The Form of the treatments is solid and “feels” professional. It also allows for the impaler clips to be easily installed thus having wall mounting achieved with ease. The value is high for all Primacoustic products, although there are other products available for far less expense. Still, trying to save a few dollars in order to have your studio not sound as good as it could, or have a company which has lousy customer service, or have treatment which is impossible to install – these are all symptoms of “False Economy” and should be avoided. Primacoustic products bring a strong amount of value from a strictly acoustic treatment standpoint and an immeasurable value when it comes to what their products can do for your listening environment and your mixes.
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