Building a Recording Studio — Part 4

Part 4: A Place for my Stuff

Now that we’ve figured out the shape of the studio, I need to figure out what will go where in the room. This decision has a lot of downstream impact since the position of speakers, furniture and instruments will impact where I need power outlets and cable runs, lighting, acoustic treatments, network connections and lots of other things. Looking back to the Why of building the studio, I want to do a few things in this space.

  1. Record, mix and master music
  2. Play music live with people (as soon as that is possible again)
  3. Have a place where I can do my software development work

The primary function of this space is for recording, mixing and mastering so that is where we start. We have a room size that helps to minimize room modes (the points where the sound waves either re-enforce or cancel each other out, both are bad) which is a good start. Ideally, the listening or mixing orientation for recording along the longest axis of the room. This gives you the most space possible before the sound hits the back wall and reflects back to the listening position. Longer distance reduces the energy that will reflect back. Secondly, I’d like that position to be as far from the doors and road as possible to minimize any noise that still might make it through. The best location for the mixing position is at the “top” of the room.

First Position

The playing position addresses the second priority and works well at the bottom of the room because it is closer to the doors to bring any other equipment in and out.

The last priority is the simplest — I just need a desk with space for a big monitor and a good network connection. It can go almost anywhere, but it needs to not interfere with the first two items. This decision will be made once the room is more ready and I can see how the other things fit. It could go between the mixing position and the playing position, or along a side wall. To be safe, I’ll just add a lot of network wiring ports around the room.

Whither the Wires?

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to handle cable routing and mixing for these two very different needs. I could have a mixing console in the mixing position and run everything from the playing position through it but that leads to a lot of issues. First, my recording will all be happening in a computer using the Logic Pro X DAW. Given the first priority is recording, I want to optimize signal flow for recording and overdubbing a few tracks at a time, and the cleanest mixing signal path which generally means staying completely in the digital world once the initial A/D conversion has taken place. I don’t need that many inputs but I may have a LOT of channels in my mix.

For the live performance side, I need a lot of inputs. My drum setup requires 12 inputs. Add in some guitars, mics, bass, etc and it easily exceeds 20 inputs on a mixer. I also probably want the output of that mix to go to some PA speakers closer to the instruments rather than the studio monitors at the other end of the room.

Running all of those inputs to an audio interface on the other side of the room would require a lot of cables and very expensive wiring. I could go with a networked stage box solution and do that over the ethernet network but then that pushes me towards a mixer that is more oriented towards live music and less optimal for working with Logic Pro X.

I spent a few weeks trying to find the perfect solution that had the best recording signal quality and live sound flexibility without costing too much. In that process, I learned a ton about how this technology has advanced over the past 10 years. Both live sound and recording are all digital now but they are different scenarios and while there is a lot of overlap, every solution leans towards one or the other.

The Engineer’s Way: Make a list

So I made a list of what is most important for each end of the room. As it turns out, my needs for these two places that are only a few feet from each other are very different.

Mixing Position

  • Studio professional quality audio interface and end-to-end signal quality
  • Optimize mixing for control of Logic Pro X
  • Everything needed in arms-length reach from mixing position
  • Lowest latency for overdubs
  • Mostly need 2–4 concurrent audio inputs, max 8
  • Primary output to studio monitors

Playing Position

  • “Rehearsal” quality audio interfaces and effects
  • Reasonably compact to keep that end feeling open
  • Easy to tweak mix from anywhere in the room
  • Avoid cables crossing the room and making tripping hazard
  • Need up to 30 inputs
  • Primary output to PA speakers and headphone mixer
  • Potentially portable for live performances

My Choice: I Chose Not to Decide

Looking at this list, the solution is clear. I decided that to make both spaces workable, I actually didn’t need to figure out how to get to a single solution. Optimizing for each end separately is a much simpler design and and actually costs a lot less.

The Mixing Position will be focused around a desk with a DAW automation controller like the Avid S1 allowing me tactile control of Logic Pro X. Audio inputs will be via very nice audio interfaces with up to 8 inputs like the UAD Apollo x8. I may need a couple of analog channel strips to get the perfect input quality but really no more than a couple.

The Playing Position can get by with a rack mounted digital mixer like the X32 Rack. I can handle extra inputs with stage boxes routed on the ethernet network to avoid lots of cables crossing the room and the built in effects are fine. If I want to access some of my existing outboard effects, I don’t mind the extra transition to and from analog. Since that mixer can be controlled from any iOS device or Mac, I can edit the mix from anywhere in the room (including the monitor at the mixing position). If I ever need to take that setup outside for a performance, it’s as easy as moving a single rack of gear and the speakers.

Running just a single USB cable between the two location allows the output of the studio mix to get to the PA or for the output of the rack mixer to get to the studio monitors if needed or to capture the live performances in Logic Pro X but I would not want to count on a mixer like the X32 for regular studio recording.

Construction Update

As this is all going on, the construction continues. Initial framing is complete and we are figuring out the specifics on how the sheetrock will work to make the outer ceiling which is complicated by the network of rafters. Also, we’ve decided that one of the windows that we were just going to cover (right side in the image below) needs to go since there isn’t enough room to get the right mass and insulation in behind it.

I heard we should avoid straight walls. These look nice and curvy.

Then it’s on to the electrical phase which is why the discussion of what goes where is so important. With the design for the mixing and playing positions I can get by with lots of A/C outlets and pairs of ethernet jacks nearby. Those ethernet jacks can be for regular network or for AES50 stagebox connections or for personal monitoring devices.

Before I can lock on the electrical layout, though, I need to figure out one more thing. I need to make sure that I know where the overhead acoustical treatments go so that they don’t block the lights.

So next up… initial acoustic treatment design.

Did you miss earlier parts?

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Chris Evans - Audiogust

Chris Evans - Audiogust

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Engineer (Software and Audio), Musician, Producer, Island Dweller