Jake Shillingford’s Learn Digital Audio Studio Consultation


Some Background Information On Jake

You will probably know Jake from his role as the lead singer in 90’s Britpop band My Life Story. The band is still going strong, and recently played a sell out show at Shepherd’s Bush Empire celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the release of their landmark LP, ‘The Golden Mile’

Jake is also Head of Business at Brighton’s prestigious BIMM (Brighton Institute Of Modern Music) where I recently lectured on setting up a recording studio, recording and sound processing.

I was rather excited when he gave me the opportunity to come over to his new home studio and provide consultation on upgrading the acoustics, room and equipment set-up.

The Studio

Jake’s studio is situated at the top of his home in Brighton in a converted attic.

The studio is largely computer based using a Mac and Logic Audio with a good selection of outboard gear, including a much sought after Roland RE-201 Space Echo and vintage Pro-1 synthesizer.

After my initial inspection, with a cup of tea in hand, we sat down and started to chat about all the possible areas of improvement to his already excellent studio.

My first question to a client is always to ask what the main use of the studio is. This dictates where time and money should be spent in the upgrade. For Jake, the answer was recording vocals. Now we had a great starting point for looking where the main improvements could be made for him.

Priority No 1 – Speaker Placement

My first observation was that the speaker placement was far from ideal. As shown in the photo above, the speakers are located to the left of center lengthways in the room.

Speaker placement is possibly the most important decision in any home studio set-up. Symmetry with the left and right-hand walls are key to maintain the stereo balancing and imaging. Placement in relation to the wall behind will effect bass response.

Testing The Effects Of Different Speaker Placements Using Computer Analysis

I wanted to get some actual data on how Jake’s speakers would behave in different positions in the room. I confirmed that he would be willing to move them if it meant better and more accurate sound.

Jake’s main use for his studio is for vocal recording, and for that reason he is not overly concerned with very low bass. Often small studios need extensive bass trapping to bring the low end under control. His Focal speakers have a natural cut-off at about 70hz, so that makes our job a little easier.

It can be shocking to see the drastic effect on the volume of different frequencies by moving your speakers around the room. It makes the idea of paying for more hardware or software to improve your sound a bit redundant considering you could have a 20dB hole in your bass frequencies! Getting speaker placement correct should always be 1st priority.

I set-up a pink noise test using frequency analysis software for various speaker positions in the room. I also listen to some fantastic audiophile Chesky Records solo voice recordings to get a feel for how things sound.

Below is a photo of the set-up up. A VU meter is used as a calibrated measurement Mic alongside Room EQ Wizard software on the laptop to take the readings.

 

Here are some selected results:

 

 

 

Further Investigation Into The Workings Of The Studio…

Jake routes his audio directly out of his Apogee Mini-Me stereo-out through a hardware compressor to enable a headphone mix. The way it is patched means the entire audio output of the DAC passes through the compressor’s signal path before it reaches the speakers. This degrades the sound of a very high quality DAC unnecessarily. I note a new routing solution is needed, most likely the purchase of a small high quality mixer.

I check out his hardware and software and inquire as to its main uses. Its a modern computer that seems to have plenty of horsepower to run the various plug-ins required. No need to upgrade any computer hardware.

I am concerned that the RE-201 Space Echo and Pro-1 are not patched into the set-up. Sometimes not having gear permanently plugged in means it just won’t be used. When a creative burst comes on the last thing you want to be doing is crawling around the back of a computer pulling at cables. This adds to the case of the purchase of a small mixer.

Being a relatively high end set-up, the quality of the mixer is going to be vital. I think we can get away with a handful of inputs, but the signal path is going to need to be transparent at all costs. Running a mighty Pro-1 synth through a budget Behringer would be a crime against sound quality.

Final Thoughts

After speaking to Jake at length I discovered that he would really like as many options as possible at  different price points. I agreed to create a proposals documents with low/mid and high-end price point suggestions for room acoustic treatments, gear purchase and studio re-configuring and set-up time invested.

Jake has a great studio, but as with most studios, the biggest improvements are going to be with the exact way it is set-up to get the very best acoustics and use of the gear.

If you are based in or near London, and would like your studio thoroughly checked over, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line using the contact form below:

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