Moreover, attempting to solve these problems without the experience of someone like Jochen Veith can actually make them worse. “Let’s say there is a subway going underneath, or a tram line next to it, and the building has a tendency to resonate at 35Hz. If you treat the acoustics with standard solutions, they will often also resonate around the same frequency. This can result in an amplification of the resonant frequencies, so the treatment makes it worse. The cure becomes the disease in a worst‑case scenario.
“In these cases, an early assessment of how to approach the project is utterly important. I understand that people want to do smaller projects on their own. But always consider: how much budget do I have, how much am I willing to invest? And how much am I willing to spend on securing this investment? Even if I put £5000 or £10,000 into room acoustics, I still want to spend it optimally and make sure I get the best possible result. I don’t just glue acoustic panels to the wall where they achieve very little or may even make matters worse. Just think about how much of your budget you would like to spend on having that sense of security.”
An obsessive focus on one aspect of studio design, such as acoustics, can lead to people being blindsided by other problems. “For example, I had a client once who wanted to put a large old SSL into his control room. On a console of that size, be it API, or Neve, or whatever, you spend an amount X. But what use is this great mixing desk when it is placed in a room that will overheat in no time, making it impossible to actually use it? People often forget about that; a console of that size produces a lot of heat. Then there are the computers and power supplies, they produce the same amount of heat. Suddenly you have 5.5 kilowatts in the room and another 4.5 kilowatts just outside the door — maybe even more, depending on the desk. Then remember the acoustic treatment and you basically have a Thermos. There is a world of difference between massive walls, meaning stone wall or concrete, which provide a lot of thermal storage mass, and drywall. It usually is drywall in studios, so there is no storage mass. Every degree of warmth generated in such a room will stay in it, like a Thermos. If you fail to take the heat into account, all the greatest gear is of little use.
“We work a lot with air conditioning, from consulting to conceptual development, even before the project goes to the specialist. Even specialists from the respective fields are sometimes in over their heads when they are not used to doing studio projects. It often doesn’t work the way they were expecting. In the end, everything needs to work together: room acoustics, architectural acoustics, air conditioning — it all interacts. I have had air conditioning specialists tell me they never had projects that required silencers. Our wide‑ranging expertise is a huge bonus there, of course. We can calculate those air‑conditioning routes and silencer placements. We can calculate the dimensions, at least on a conceptual level. We can participate and suggest ways and solutions. We actually often define the concepts. We say: for this project we will use concept A or concept B or C, because we know from experience that it will work. The experts then know exactly what we are talking about. This is not limited to recording studios, of course, but applies to any kind of room where acoustics are important, like home cinemas and the like.
“And there are other factors. How well do you feel, that’s the main one. Are there windows? Things like that. It’s all a part of the whole deal.”
A good example is the vocal booth. Many people feel they need to build one in order to have a ‘proper’ studio, but is it necessarily the best use of their money and space? Veith isn’t convinced. “The singers become claustrophobic and cannot deliver a convincing performance.”
Statics and air conditioning are two aspects of studio design that tend to be overlooked, then. Are there more? ”Indeed! EMC or electromagnetic compatibility. I had this one project in Switzerland which was a good example. I initially pointed out that they needed to mind EMC. They claimed they had an electrician who knew all about it and said it would be all right. So everything was installed. I was not involved with the electrical installation, and later the studio owner told me that he always has to switch off the light fuse — the fuse, not the light switch! ‑ to record electric guitars. Single‑coil guitars in particular are very susceptible to electromagnetic fields. Phase‑angle‑controlled dimmers are often a problem source in that context. LEDs can be even worse; at least, you have to be careful all the same. LED lamps can be dimmed in two ways: through the current, in which case I need to know the exact type of lamps and need a driver that will reduce the current if required. Or I use a pulse, so I switch the LEDs on and off and reduce the pulse width to make it darker. When LEDs are connected to such a driver with unshielded cables, you often encounter the aforementioned problems.
“You always have to take a close look at the situation at hand. For a start, use shielded 230V cables. I oversaw a project with Max Martin, shortly before Covid. A total of 13 control rooms, a large recording room, vocal booth and so on — a seriously big project. It included a number of production and composing studios side by side in one building by the main road. Their technical adviser and I both asked the landlord to check for EMC to see if there are any problems coming from outside — high‑frequency, like radio, and low‑frequency, like power lines. They took some measurements at various points when it was still a building site, and probably couldn’t get everywhere. They concluded that there were no problems. But once everything was done, there were problems. Turned out that a huge main power line ran under the pavement right in front of the building. It caused a lot of interference. During the measuring, they did not get close enough to that wall, so they didn’t notice. In the end, the main power line had to be moved to the centre of the road, which caused a significant amount of additional cost.”
Jochen Veith: A new piece of equipment is easily bought or borrowed, but changing the basics — that’s always tough after the fact.
Jochen Veith often gravitates towards using PMC monitors in his builds: “I do use other speakers where appropriate, but I have 17 years of experience with those systems, so there is some sort of connection. I just know the speakers very well, I can rely on them. Reliability is a major criterion for me. Those basic requirements, PMC just fulfil them. It is a tool, it needs to work. Full stop.” But he’s also aware that many recording studios are very personal spaces, which need to support the specific requirements and preferences of individual producers. “At the beginning of every project I speak with the clients to find out what their needs are. What will they do in the studio, what is important to them, how do they work? I then translate this interview into dB and numbers and geometry and room division and acoustics. Do I integrate the speakers into the wall or would free‑standing speakers suit the situation better? Stereo or multichannel? What kind of speakers is the client used to, what do they like best? All of these questions, and more, play a role.
“There is a phrase that has become something of a cliché, but it somewhat hits home: bring everything into balance! That is important to me. I know the state of the market. I know that all of this costs money. I just think it’s a problem when the balance isn’t right. Thinking that the solution is buying even more expensive gear. Always keep the balance, that is paramount. A new piece of equipment is easily bought or borrowed, but changing the basics — that’s always tough after the fact. And can be very frustrating. I know people who keep modifying, they are still not happy with the results and don’t know what to do. It’s always ‘a little here, a little there’. Add all that up and you get quite a number.
“Some people spend £50,000 on speakers, but nothing on room acoustics. Wouldn’t it be much better to say: I have a certain budget and I want to make sure that everything is in balance? The gear, the microphones, the desk, the DAW. Proper wiring. Speakers that suit my situation. Room acoustics. Is the sound isolation all right? Does the air conditioning work? Only when all of these points are taken into consideration can the result be fun. Then it becomes a true proper workplace.”