Set up your space so that your computer, keyboards, control surfaces, and other often-used devices are within arm's reach. Avoid placing a mouse or trackball where you have to stretch to reach it, and keep the computer screen near eye height so you don't have to hunch over to see it. Even your work chair requires some thought: pro studios have comfortable chairs with wheels so engineers can shift location easily and work long periods without fatigue. Repetitive strain injuries are a danger with computer music work, so take regular stretch breaks. Many online workplace health resources can help ensure that your setup won't result in injury . Regular exercises like those at MyDailyYoga.com (www.mydailyyoga.com/yoga/rsi.html) can help you stay loose during extended work sessions.
Everything within reach: Arrange your workspace for efficiency; for instance, a pegboard fitted with hooks is perfect for keeping cables de-tangled, visible, and available.
Major recording studios aren't valuable just because they have a lot of cool audio toys: their major edge is that professional engineers designed and built them to sound good, making adjustments to the physical space to prevent any sound contamination. Sound isolation is the separation of the audio you want to record from outside influences. Specifically , sound treatments are materials that are added to a space to improve acoustic perception, including the use of consumer products like acoustic foam. This includes several related techniques:
Soundproofing reduces sound leakage through walls, windows , and doors in your work environment. Soundproofing generally adds mass at these weak points to reduce the amount of sound that can get in and out. If you can't afford to rebuild walls, keep in mind that the goal of all soundproofing is never perfect sound isolation. You can at least consider the weakest points of your studio, like windows and doors.
Absorption and diffusion treatments help avoid the slap and echo and unevenness that can be caused by walls or irregularities in a room ( Figure 3.1 ).
Bass traps are designed specifically to control bass frequencies in locations like corners.
Of course, even the addition of carpeting to the floor can make a big impact on the sound, replacing the hollow, characteristic sound of a room with the warmer, more appealing sound you'd expect from a professional recording studio. A few hundred dollars' investment could be a wise choice for recording work; cheap microphones in a well-treated space often sound better than expensive microphones in an untreated space. See the sidebar "Sound Treatment Resources" for some suggestions on where to start.
Recording booth on the cheap: Do you need to record vocals in a hurry and can't install sound treatment products or build a booth? Remember, your main enemy is reflections from walls and corners. Set up a couple of wardrobe frames , and hang blankets on them on three sides. Have your vocalist enter from the back and record inside the "booth" for isolation. Similar tricks can work in a hotel room. Just don't start hanging cardboard egg cartons around your apartmentpros agree they're not effective.
Like real estate, speaker placement has three rules: location, location, location. Speakers are affected by proximity to other objects, like walls or your desk, and proximity to your ears. To get the best sound, follow these principles:
Keep your setup symmetrical: Place each monitor at an equal distance from other objects to maintain even sound throughout the room. Move furniture if you have to.
Don't put speakers in a corner or against a wall: Walls artificially enhance bass; put a little bit of space between your speakers and the walls.
Mind your ears: Generally, speakers should be approximately at ear level, and far enough apart from each other and your ears that you achieve correct stereo separation ( Figure 3.2 ). Surround sound requires additional adjustment to create the proper surround field.
Consider a stand: Placing a speaker directly on a shelf or desk creates two problems: frequencies are transmitted through the surface and reflect off it, impacting the sound, and the height of the speaker may be incorrect. A speaker stand can resolve both these issues.
Experiment: No rules can completely describe the many minute details of your personal audio space. Try moving speakers and other objects to different locations, and see how changes impact the sound.
Better sound from monitors : One of the cheapest, easiest ways to improve sound in your studio is to add acoustic foam beneath your monitors. These isolate your monitors, so that sound doesn't travel into your desk, shelf, or stand. Auralex's (www.auralex.com) MoPADs, or Monitor Isolation Pads, cost about $30 a pair and can be configured to tilt your monitors up or down if needed ( Figure 3.3 ). Even if you're using a stand, isolation pads can be a worthwhile investment.
Figure 3.3. Auralex MoPAD monitor isolation pads. (Photo courtesy Auralex Acoustics)