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Howard Turner: The Studio Wizard

HOWARD TURNER: The Studio Wizard

Seven years ago, teacher, musician and engineer Howard Turner transformed himself into The Studio Wizard and placed an ad offering his services as studio troubleshooter and consultant. It worked like a charm, as Debbie Poyser & Derek Johnson find out...

For many of us, putting together a studio is a painstaking process of furious saving, deep thought, scouring ads, making lists on the backs of envelopes, frowning, adding and re‑adding budgets, then nervously venturing forth with the hard‑won cash to buy the eagerly coveted goodies in dribs and drabs. And hoping against hope that they do the job properly, fit in the space that's meant for them, and sound the business.

Having nodded sagely over the realism of the last paragraph, imagine at regular intervals being given £5,000, £10,000 or even £20,000 to take out and splurge on your choice of mics, mixers, synths and outboard, both vintage and new, all to be placed in a studio that you and a group of knowledgeable associates have fashioned for it. "Everybody likes to go shopping", says Howard Turner. "And I get to do it all the time."

SOS readers might be more familiar with Howard in his workaday guise as The Studio Wizard. He's been advertising his services for almost seven years, and an operation which started with a lone engineer, producer and qualified physics teacher making himself available as mobile troubleshooter, studio consultant and gear guru to musicians in need of help has mushroomed into SWO: the Studio Wizard Organisation. It's now a network of builders, designers, and specialists in every field related to studio construction and specification, which undertakes anything from a bit of advice on how far a limited equipment budget will stretch in a home studio, to a full design, build and kitting‑out job for a top commercial recording facility. And all shades in between.

Early Reflections

This apparently perfect career wasn't just pulled out of a hat for Mr Turner. It's the result of many years of involvement in the business, including playing in university bands, producing and engineering, and teaching summer schools at Manchester's Cutting Rooms. It was this last job that really put him on the road to where he is now — though his deep interest in how equipment and studios work provided the necessary background and helped ensure the Studio Wizard's success.

A first studio built on the University of East Anglia's Science Park in the early '80s metamorphosed into Raven, a commercial recording facility housed in a remote Norfolk farmhouse. At that stage, Howard was applying a 'suck it and see' method to finding the right premises. He had no training in acoustics or soundproofing, but he did have an abundance of common sense. "I needed somewhere with no neighbours, because I couldn't afford to soundproof, with rooms big enough to work in. I literally went around to a bunch of empty buildings and chucked a ghetto‑blaster in different rooms to see whether any would be up for being a control room. With all the hard surfaces of the desk, my reckoning was that if it sounded OK when it was empty, it would probably sound a bit better when it was full of gear."

Having found his location, Howard began choosing his weapons, using sometimes unconventional methods and relying on his talent for networking and bug‑spotting. While still in his UEA studio he had imported the UK's second ever Fostex B16, but by the time the farmhouse was ready for occupation this was showing signs of wear. While Howard was in the process of choosing his 24‑track replacement, he bumped into electronics designer Peter Keeling, who now works alongside the SWO designing studios using AutoCAD. There's the networking...

Howard was also looking for a substitute for his 52‑channel Ram desk, itself built as a favour to the man who had found his first Ram desk lacking in various departments and had personally gone round to show the company a thing or two about how he thought it should work. There's the bug‑spotting...

An ACES console was selected, but Howard wouldn't just buy it like anyone else, would he? Of course not: "I picked up a pre‑production prototype and flew it in anger with one of the main technical staff from ACES living in the studio for a fortnight, modifying circuit boards, physically making it do things that had been overlooked, that would make it more ergonomic. As far as I was concerned, I was running a studio, didn't have much money, how else was I going to get a good desk cheap?"

Made In Madchester

Raven took off, and Howard found himself working with labels like China, Fire and Creation. However, it wasn't to last: the recession at the end of the '80s brought with it some vicious label budget‑slashing and the studio became less profitable. Selling out to an investor, Howard headed for Manchester, freelance engineering and production, and those summer schools.

As a teacher, he likes nothing better than educating the listener, and when his pupils showed an interest in the nitty‑gritty of studio building, he saw an opportunity: "From the first summer school I ran, I was bombarded with construction questions during the day and would say 'let's do a session tonight about building a studio — the pure practicalities of it.' Everybody turned back up again, and this kept happening.

Partly what people are paying me to do is act a bit like an independent financial adviser; go and sniff out the products that perhaps are not as well marketed as others but do the jobjust as well or possibly better.

"I thought, these people are acquiring a lot of knowledge about how to build a studio, and they only need to know how to do it once. Hang on a minute, this is rather inefficient! Wouldn't it be better for them to spend more time learning about recording and let somebody like me help them to build?

Two of the substantial private facilities the SWO has worked on, one in Berkshire (left), and one in the Channel Islands.Two of the substantial private facilities the SWO has worked on, one in Berkshire (left), and one in the Channel Islands. HOWARD TURNER: The Studio Wizard"I ended up, from that first summer school, riding shotgun on quite a few studio build projects. So come that autumn I needed to find a way of marketing it. I'd been reading too many Terry Pratchett books at the time, and half a bottle of wine later I thought, yes — The Studio Wizard. I knocked together the ad and stuck it in to see what happened. I thought I'd end up being some sort of jumped‑up consultant‑cum‑troubleshooter to start with. And we sort of got inundated. Very rapidly, people began asking for studios to be built from start to finish, and I was saying 'That's not what I do'. But then I realised that at that time you either did it yourself, or you went all the way up to the existing studio design talent, whose entire business ethic was designed to interface with industry professionals, and who wanted a fee to do the drawings before you could even present them to a builder to tell you how much it would cost to build. There was nothing in between."

Hooking up with Peter Keeling, Howard began seeking out good people to work with, feeling that a co‑ordinated network of discrete companies would be the best way to work."I thought that if the Wizard thing grew into some huge corporation it would become too expensive for people to afford, so we set up a network of small companies, individual freelancers, who can liaise with each other so that the customer doesn't have to do the liaising. The customer knows that if they speak to one of us the information will get around the network. The number of building teams we're running at one time varies, but it can be up to five. Some of those chaps have been building studios since the early '70s.

"Quite often the need for a new facility is driven by the fact that the customer wants to make a major step up in terms of equipment. I'll frequently get called in and the initial request is to do with expanding the equipment, but you soon realise that people have already accepted the fact that something has to be done to the room. They're just not sure how much, and always the assumption is that it will be too expensive. But the gear never costs as much as they think it will — certainly not when you can do a certain amount of re‑specifying. Partly what people are paying me to do is act a bit like an independent financial adviser; go and sniff out the products that perhaps are not as well marketed as others but do the job just as well or possibly better."

Innocence & Experience

Since his early days of slinging a ghetto‑blaster into a room to assess its suitability as a studio, Howard's formal construction and acoustics skills have moved on. "My approach to what a control room should sound like started from working in them, knowing which ones I liked, and trying to analyse what people had done to make a certain room sound the way it sounded. Making a room sound good is very easy and very cheap. It's when you soundproof it and then try and make it sound good that it gets difficult."

Anyone who hasn't had to build their own studio might wonder why this is. Howard elaborates:

"Because the biggest absorber in the world is the rest of the world. If you've got a thin window, you might as well have a hole, as far as everything below 500Hz is concerned. Most rooms that we live in are nicely bass‑trapped, if not over bass‑trapped, by flexible membranes called ceilings and floors and windows, with big openings where everything gets out. If it's not rattling around inside, you don't have to bother dealing with it, but once you've trapped it in and it's all just banging around the room, you're in trouble, and that's when you have to start getting clever."

This partly explains Howard's early decision to look for premises so remote that they wouldn't need soundproofing. And if that's what you've got, there are significantly fewer problems when it comes to acoustics.

"You first need to deal with what is called the Haas Effect [the difficulty in determining a sound's location when the brain perceives two or more reflections, especially ones occurring at almost the same time as the direct signal], and get rid of early reflections between the speakers and your ears. You might have some flutter echoes, if it's a square room, that you need to break up with a bit of diffusion, and you might want to run some analysis and see whether you need to bass‑trap. You may not need to: the flexible windows may be trapping for you perfectly happily.

"Once you get into these things, you start to reinforce your theories with hard numbers and pre‑existing knowledge. But it has to be said that the existing books are incredibly dry. a lot of stuff is written by people who are highly knowledgeable about acoustics, but who probably haven't actually done it themselves that often, or been around a lot of guys banging bits of wood, laying concrete and seeing the problems in the real world and how the guys have to work around them.

Howard Turner: I have a lot of clients who are just as knowledgeable as me when it comes to theory. What they don't know is exactly how to do it. And also, if you're on a budget, just how far can you down‑spec and get away with it?

"I have a lot of clients who are just as knowledgeable as me when it comes to theory. What they don't know is exactly how to do it. And also, if you're on a budget, just how far can you down‑spec and get away with it? What is the cheapest material I can use for that job? How much worse is it going to make it?

"There are some things people just don't think twice about. 'Oh, it's a studio, I'm going to do it with studwork [2x4 timber framing with plasterboard nailed over the top].' Wrong! If you've got a concrete floor, build the walls from concrete block. It goes up in half the time, it's much more rigid, and inch for inch gives about twice as much sound isolation. It's just that taking it down again involves getting in hairy‑arsed builders with big hammers. And you can't do it upstairs unless you want to end up downstairs in a hurry.

"So when people phone up saying they want to convert a garage, I'll ask if it's got a concrete base. If it has, how thick is the base? (I'm thinking, do they need to dig a foundation?) Stiff blockwork is much, much easier. If you're building in studwork, because you've got a timber floor, maybe there's a basement underneath, or you're building on a first floor, it's much harder to get right, because the construction has got to be heavy, dense, rigid and airtight. And that's before you even begin to think about what it's going to sound like inside.

"People typically do certain things: they build studwork walls with standard plasterboard and timber and fill them with standard rockwool. What you have just built is a huge bass trap! a few years ago I visited a client who had built his own studio in a workshop on a farm. He had a pretty big pair of main monitors, and when he switched them on they sounded like Auratones [ie. no bass at all]! To save money, he'd placed the wall studs further apart, and the thin plasterboard in between was pistoning, so it was letting the low frequencies through — this is just how a membrane bass trap works — and behind it was rockwool to absorb them. And he was asking 'Do I need to put a graphic on the monitors?' No, you need to rebuild your walls!

"Many people who do a self‑build are afraid of bricks and mortar in a way that they're not afraid of a couple of bits of 2x2 from Homebase. If they're serious, it's time to get the spade out."

Money Magic

Years of hands‑on experience have taught Howard how to make the most of a given space at minimum cost: "There are many things we've learned from hard experimentation. We've learned how to do doors properly, but not by buying £800 acoustic doors — by doing it with what you can get from standard building materials suppliers.

Malta's Temple Studios, where Howard is teaching a summer school this August.Malta's Temple Studios, where Howard is teaching a summer school this August."A long time ago we gave up shipping specialist materials to building sites because it was too complex logistically. So we thought: let's see if we can do it with what's easily available. And the answer is: yes, you can. Your logistics are then down to just making sure your building team has a current account with the local builder's merchant.

"So you try out the standard fire‑doors and find out which is the best. And then try all the standard door frames and find out what you have to do to modify them, and what you can modify them with. Half‑hour and one‑hour fire doors with a four‑sided frame, intumescent strips and an added rubber compression seal are very nearly as good as proprietary studio acoustic doors. If you have two on each barrier entrance (as an isolation corridor will require) you can't spot the difference in the real world between these and the old (expensive) way. You try out the readily available lower‑density grades of rockwool, and find out which one's best. What sort of rubber matting is available? What sort of concrete blocks are better than others?

"The other thing is air‑conditioning silencers. There's one company which charges £40,000 for a two‑studio air‑conditioning system — that's crazy! The unit itself probably does cost £3000 or £4000, and air conditioning will always put several thousand pounds on a build cost, but it doesn't need to be that much.

"If you're trapping all the noise and all the air in, people are going to run out of oxygen pretty soon. An air‑conditioning system pumps air in and out, but that's a path to the outside world for noise, and a path into the studio for the noise of the air conditioner. So we came up with some designs for silencers and refined them along the way. We make them out of chipboard, and it's very easy. You have those on the inlets and the exit. If it's a fan (rather than an air conditioning) system and you've built it right, you're blowing the air in and it has to go out of the other hole, so you don't need two fans, you only need one. Or you might choose to suck it out, which is less likely to introduce fan noise, and let it vent in by natural pressure."

Howard (right) and client Michael Cook, in Michael's M62 Studios, another SWO assignment.Howard (right) and client Michael Cook, in Michael's M62 Studios, another SWO assignment.

Sound Sorcery

We've established that ideally a studio would be in an isolated location, where you could crank the amp to 11 and not worry about the neighbours. If this isn't feasible, with the right approach soundproofing shouldn't cost an arm and a leg. But now there's the thorny problem of acoustics. What if all the sound is trapped inside the airtight studio and banging around with nowhere to go?

"To trap the bottom end using rockwool, you'd need between 11 and 20 feet of rockwool in the walls — a single cycle of 100Hz audio is 11 feet of dry air! Needless to say, that solution isn't exactly ideal, especially in a 12‑foot by 12‑foot room! The solution is to use a tuned trap. We build various types, and for a self‑build job, our recommendations would depend on the abilities of the builder: the simplest is a moving membrane. a membrane is like a passive bass speaker in reverse, and it dissipates the bass end. The combination of a membrane's mass, additional damping and air gap determines its frequency of absorption — a trap working at 100Hz requires a space of just a few inches rather than 11 feet.

"When the bass end is dealt with, you have to put in some top‑end trapping. Even in a room like this [the sitting room in Howard's home] the top end's rattling around a fair bit. The only thing that's absorbing it is carpet and furnishings, and it rolls off a bit every time it hits the walls. When you build a studio, the furniture is usually all hard, so you basically have to stick your sofas on the wall.

"You also need to make the room non‑reflective between the speakers and the engineer's ears, to improve stereo imaging, but that would tend to make that end of the room anechoic, unless you can find some way of making it more live. We've found a few ways around the problem. Basically, we have to put in some hard surfaces at that end that, if you ray‑trace from the tweeter, are not going to reflect down to the engineer.

Making a room sound good is very easy and very cheap. It's when you soundproof it and then try and make it sound good that it gets difficult.

"In the designs that Peter came up with, even from day one, we tended to use a very heavily sloped timber ceiling over the top of the desk, and that allowed us to get a complete surface at the front that's reflective, but without creating any downward reflections coming back on the engineer. It's in this position that most designers will put a big, heavily trapped area. But if you pitch the ceiling at a steep enough angle, none of the sound will reflect down on the listening position. This requires the ceiling behind the desk to be very low.

"In an old‑fashioned studio, the desk was always sort of central. There's never space to do that in a small room, so you always end up pushing the desk closer against a wall. The main speakers tend to be going into a mid‑field position. If that's the case, and nobody's going to be walking behind the desk, why do you need the ceiling height? Let's crank that ceiling down, then get the ceiling from front to back going up/down\up/down\, so that there are four surfaces — hard‑soft‑hard‑soft — starting with the hard surface over the desk. This allows us to get some liveness at that end of the room, so that it doesn't sound artificially dead. You're basically working with a straightforward live‑end/dead‑end [LEDE] room.

"Some designers use sound scattering rather than absorption in an attempt to mask the reflections. I'm dubious about the advantages of doing that. It's got to go somewhere..."

The Wizard Goes Shopping

The same concern for value for money which informs the SWO's construction operations also governs Howard's equipment choices for his clients. Even though he may be supplying some of the equipment himself (the SWO can advise, or advise and supply) his aim is to act as the voice of reason, especially where new commercial studios are concerned.

"If it's a commercial facility, you've got to look at what it can earn and spend an appropriate amount. There's no point spending £100,000 on a facility if it's only ever going to get a tenner an hour. There are times when people get wrapped up in this sort of thing, and some shops are more than willing to egg them on. I go in and try to be the voice of reason to stop a facility's bill from going completely haywire. Sometimes I find I'm supplying the gear but I'm arguing down a specification, because I'm looking at what they're going to do and not seeing it make sense, having spent time myself actually running a facility and making the books balance. People say 'Yes, it'll work; if we have 80 percent bookings it'll be wonderful.' And I have to say that it's more likely to be between 20 and 35 percent, actually; will it work then?"

A firm believer in going second‑hand for certain key pieces of equipment, Howard has a particular soft spot for quality second‑hand consoles. "You've got to look at what you can get, for what you'd pay for a new desk. a big old desk is often a great investment for a studio. I had a client lately in a studio being used for a lot of jazz work, and we picked up a second‑hand Soundcraft for him. It was £50,000 10 years ago, with automation and dual inputs, so he can run 32 channels of hard disk and 24 tracks of analogue simultaneously, and it cost well under £10,000. It's one of the old Soundcraft TS24s, that work like SSLs: full logic status switching, built‑in Bantam patchbay... That's two grand's worth of wiring he doesn't have to do because the patchbay is built in.

One of the major hidden costs in building a studio is the patchbay.

"One of the major hidden costs in building a studio is the patchbay, and mixer manufacturers realised that once one company stopped putting patchbays on their desks, people didn't perceive how much it was worth. They just saw desk with patchbay, X‑thousand pounds; desk without patchbay, Y‑thousand pounds less."

Older desks above a certain price have another advantage many people don't think about until it's too late: they're usually modular. Howard explains why this is important in reducing studio down‑time: "The studio will not function without its desk, and if that desk is made with a single board inside it, it's not maintainable without taking it apart. Faders get crackly, and it's easy to change a fader or anything on a modular desk, but have you tried to get one of these one‑board desks apart to do it? It's not easy. They're designed to be built, not to be maintained. It's a major issue shipping any reasonable‑sized desk and it's going to be a minimum of two weeks away, even if you send it to a specialist who's going to concentrate on it, to repair a crackly pot or a dodgy switch. This covers many modern desks. The new Allen & Heath 3300, which is modular, is an exception. If you're going to base a commercial facility around a single‑board mid‑priced desk, you either need to have a spare one in a dry, warm room, or you're going to put up with the fact that sometimes it will be out of action."

Where it suits the client and the application, however, Howard will specify new desks, including digital: "Digital desks are fine if you're working with sound‑to‑picture and a client comes back and says they want exactly the same mix as last time, but they want something replaced, the vocal changed, whatever. You can pull up the whole lot, instantly, on the desk. That's got to be the right way for people in that situation to work."

Convenience aside, though, Howard observes that in many ways digital desks can't adequately replace analogue: "One of my clients, Rob Playford, has an Allen & Heath Saber. He likes the sound it makes when he cranks it up and distorts it. Desk distortion is part of his sound for all his stuff with Goldie. It's his Marshall stack, if you will. I have yet to hear anybody talk about the beneficial characteristics of digital distortion!"

Older desks above a certain price have another advantage many people don't think about until it's too late: they're usually modular.

And there are other issues: "Firstly, digital desks haven't been around long enough, and secondly, they're not going to maintain their value anything like the analogue desks — because there's a built‑in obsolescence and upgrade path, like a computer. Analogue gear, on the other hand, can be an appreciating asset. a second‑hand MCI 24‑track recorder now costs twice as much as it did in 1992."

Mixers are not the only digital technology that Howard has doubts about. Digital tape‑based multitrack formats don't meet with his approval either. "Digital is just lots of high‑frequency information. And the thing that tape is worst at is storing high‑frequency information. It's great at storing low‑frequency information, but this rather archaic mechanical arrangement does not lend itself to digital. There are more stable ways of storing digital information.

"I told my clients for years to hang on until hard disk systems finally came of age at a price people could afford. The digital systems I most often put in are Fostex, Otari RADARs and a few Akais [DR4/8/16]. I've done two studios with 32‑track Fostex D160 systems. They're not amazing, but they do the job in a workmanlike fashion. The converters aren't rubbish. They haven't got enough locate points, but as a replacement for a tape machine they work."

This Charming Man...

The Studio Wizard is one of those people who seems to have at least three times more energy than everyone else — either that, or he's made a little deal with the devil over extending the length of his days beyond the statutory 24 hours. He's even finding the time to go back to his teaching roots this August, with a summer school at the SWO‑built Temple Studio complex on Malta.

Of course, for every glamorous continental studio job, there's one that brings a person right back down to earth: ever considered fitting a studio in your shoe closet? Howard has: "We really did do the cupboard‑under‑the‑stairs thing. It was like a sensory‑deprivation pod crossed with a very small starship — gear sweeping up overhead. I don't vouch for the perfect acoustics, but it worked!"

Mastering Advice

Howard Turner spends much of his working life creating and specifying studios which will enable his clients to do what they once could only have done in expensive commercial facilities. However, he really believes that there's at least one job that's best left to the dedicated professional: mastering.

"Anybody who thinks that mastering a record is just a matter of taking what's on your DAT and sticking it onto CD is in for a very rude awakening. If you've got an album, take it down to a real professional mastering house, such as Porky's Mastering on Shaftesbury Avenue (not the CD room, but the big old vinyl room) and pay for a cut. You can stick it through a pair of valve Fairchilds or a pair of Ureis, through a proper, multi‑band paragraphic EQ, trim the tracks and make them sit next to each other, do any de‑noising and de‑clicking, load it into Sonic Solutions and bolt it together, and on the way band‑split compress it using a TC Electronic M5000. The A/B difference is so dramatic that it's like somebody's pulled the cotton wool out of your ears. My recommendation is to go to Paul Solomons at Porky's. His favourite saying is 'You've cut some tracks. Now let's go and make a record.' Mastering's a very precise art. People might say 'where do I buy the stuff to do this?'. You don't buy it. You can't buy the ears."

Wizard Ware: a Few Recommendations

  • VOCAL MICS: "The Russian Oktavas are great: just keep them in your airing cupboard, because they don't like damp. But then neither do Neumanns.

    "It's always worth having one Beyer M201. You can cut a live vocal with the singer in the room with the band and you wouldn't get any more bleed off it than off a loud pair of headphones. It's so so directional. It also makes a very useful acoustic guitar sound, and it's my third choice for miking up a guitar cab, after the Shure 57 and the Oktava 219."
  • DRUM MICS: "For drum overheads, Audio Technica 4033as, although they're electret, are pretty cool. Oktava's 012s are brilliant, but they used to come with three capsules, making them very expensive. They now do a package with the single cardioid capsule and that's very much a good idea.

    "On kick drum I still use old D12s, because they sound better. AKG's D112 egg was designed in the early '80s when everyone thought a Simmons kick drum was a good idea, and it makes everything sound like that. So if that's what you want, buy one. If not, buy an Audio Technica ATM25, which is about as close to a D12 as you can actually buy.

    "For toms, anything you can afford a bunch of! I use Audio Technica 63HEs and another ATM25 on floor tom. The 63HEs are great on certain female vocals. Very breathy. They're also the best feedback‑rejecting live mic you'll get, though they tend to pop the 'P's a bit."
  • LEXICON ALEX & LXP1: "The LXP1 was noisy, and it distorted easily, but like the old Microverb, you chose your basic algorithm, and then you had just two knobs. It took two seconds to sort out, and gave everybody the chance to get a really decent 480L‑type vocal reverb for £300. Alexes are similar and do more or less the same job with up/down buttons; get one while they're hot."
  • JOE MEEK SC2: "There are two items I bought for myself in the last couple of years, which, having used them, I knew I couldn't live without. One was a Joe Meek SC2 compressor, which gets used on vocals and main mix mastering, for its 'bloody obvious' factor."
  • MONITORING: "There are two choices as far as I can see for nearfield at the moment. The cheap one is Tannoy Reveals. They're brilliant, and unless you're going to spend four times more there's no point in spending any more. If you can afford to spend around a grand, a pair of Genelec 1030s (my other purchase) are more portable than the pair of 1029s and the sub‑bass unit (which tends to sound the same). If you can't afford the Genelecs, get the Reveals. They might well be three‑quarters of the quality for one quarter of the money."

Magic Numbers: The Bottom Line

For anyone champing at the bit to build a super new studio with the SWO's help, what are the various budget levels?

"Enquiries tend to demarcate into either advice or the full monty. The typical opening gambit seems to be 'this is probably too small for you', because everybody thinks you'll only be interested in the really big jobs. Consultancy work, where somebody is doing a self‑build, would involve one or two site visits, calculating off‑site for the bass traps and so on, and laying the room out (no design stuff at this stage, but we'd provide the wherewithal to do it — what materials to use, the principles of putting a room together, maybe even design the wiring if they were going to solder it). For a job like that, if all the hard work is being done by them, the fee is a few hundred pounds.

"Then there's an option of doing drawings for the client's builder. That's the old way it used to be done, but it's the least likely these days. If people are going to supervise the work themselves, they need enough knowledge to make sure the builders don't screw up. You build a studio with very ordinary building techniques, but you have to warp them slightly to make them work, and it's so against the grain for builders that they'll tend to do it their way anyway, because they think you're mad. So the client needs to know when to argue a case, and if you've educated them that much about a project, they probably don't need the drawings!

"The next size up is building a room. Nothing really gets built for less than about £10,000. That's if you're going to do the full isolated shell. Not everybody requires full isolation. But if you're going to do it properly — good ventilation system, perhaps a basic air‑conditioning system — it's going to cost that much.

"Your average garage conversion is around £20‑30,000, on the same basis. But we've done commercial facilities where about £5000 was spent on a couple of rooms, where the isolation might not be superb, where there are compromises on the acoustics, but it's still infinitely better than it would have been if they'd just knocked up some office partitioning."

Build It Yourself

Antoine Olivier in the fully soundproofed studio he built for his Headware record label.Antoine Olivier in the fully soundproofed studio he built for his Headware record label.Brixton‑based Antoine Olivier recently built a studio for his drum 'n' bass label Headware. In summer 1997, Antoine was looking for help; he spotted Studio Wizard's ad in SOS, checked out the web site, and sent an email. "I knew what I needed: a fully soundproofed studio. But I didn't know how to go about it." The budget was just £2000 — not a lot for what Antoine required. "Howard came down, checked the room, and told me there were two ways to do it: one, SWO builds it, which would cost £6‑7000, or I do it myself, with Howard acting as a consultant."

With his budget in mind, Antoine chose the latter option. "Howard laid out every detail. He specified everything, down to the screws, the glue, the shape of the floating room. He did drawings, and explained them. You still need to be a good builder to do it, but I have a friend who's a builder. I got him to meet Howard one day, and I think I asked a couple of questions via email or phone. But really it was 90 percent there. It took a couple of months to build."

The studio is in a downstairs room (originally 4x5 metres) of a terraced house, with a sloping ceiling. "It was really tricky to build the floating room, because none of the walls are facing each other, they're all at angles so sound doesn't bounce around. I guess the hardest part was the ceiling, which had to be fitted in three panels."

Antoine is very happy with his studio, which even came in on budget: "For the price it's really state of the art, it sounds great, and the soundproofing is very good. We've never had one complaint from the neighbours."

Two views of Paul Smith's self‑ built studio, located in the garage that adjoins his house.Two views of Paul Smith's self‑ built studio, located in the garage that adjoins his house.

HOWARD TURNER: The Studio WizardPrivate studio owner Paul Smith went to Howard for advice on converting a small garage. "Howard came down for a couple of hours, drew a few diagrams, and made many valuable suggestions, such as painting the inside of the garage with tar to prevent damp, bricking up the garage door, and building a sort of corridor wall in the garage. He told me what materials to use, and put me in contact with trade suppliers." a professional did the brickwork, but the studwork was Paul's.

Soundproofing wasn't an issue — no immediate neighbours and no contact with the house: "Howard said 'If we build a floating room in here, you'll basically have a shoebox!' We lined the walls with rockwool and hessian, and the ceiling is packed with rockwool, and covered with gyproc and tongue‑and‑groove board. To be honest, the roof is like an acoustic sponge; most of the sound goes straight up! I don't record loud drum kits or stuff like that, though, so it's not a problem." Paul spent around £2500 on his self‑build, with the SWO advice costing a small fraction of that.