Category Archives: Building My Sound Booth

Logic Pro X Filters

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As a last comment on building our sound booth and recording as well as editing the sound track, I wish to share our settings.  After much experimentation, we have settled on a simple set of three audio filters using Apple Logic Pro X software.

When we started, I had an idea that our narrator’s voice should change dramatically between characters she is portraying, and I made a concerted effort to find plug-ins which could handle the task.  I used both Antares and Flux, both highly rated, for voice modification.  You see, I wanted to create a male voice or a youthful voice, or even separate female voices.  Much like hiring different actors for the various parts.

It didn’t work.  Even though these add-on filters are excellent and expansive (yes, a bit expensive also), they create a strange voice instead of a natural one.  Try as I might, I could not achieve the effect I desired, and we went back to the tried and true method of voice control by the narrator.

Noise Gate

A major goal is to eliminate any unwanted sounds as  we discussed previously, and it comes down to careful editing and noise control inside the booth.  There are sounds, though, which creep into the highest and the lowest frequencies no matter how careful you are. These can be controlled with the right settings on your filters.

Channel Equalizer

Another issue is the dynamic range of the narrator.  In our case, Janel can become hyper-charged during reading of an exciting section, and the result is a very wide range of dynamics captured faithfully by the mike. Again, this is managed by the appropriate settings of the software.

DeEsser

Some speakers, particularly female ones, tend to emphasize the “S” sounds of words.  Good, clear speaking demands that it be so.  But, it can be too obvious and a distraction as well.  We use a nice little de-esser which diminishes the pop of an “S” sound without removing it.  Less is better than more in this case.

For our needs, the three filters produce a clear sound which converts to a high quality MP3 and is easy on the ear as well.

To be clear, we record the narration on a track without filters and do the editing and post-processing later, outside of the studio.

Good luck on your own efforts, and I hope this series has been helpful.

Alexander Francis

The Learning Curve

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Equipment

 

I promised that I would discuss equipment we are using for recording our narrator’s voice, and this is the correct time to do that. After completion of the audio version of Geminknot, we have learned a few things that I want to pass along.

First of all, the size and design of the sound booth is perfect for our needs. It is both pleasant, attractive as well as functional. As I’ve said previously, you must consider how much time your narrator will spend in a small enclosure and how important it is to provide an environment conducive to good work.

We are using a professional microphone by Shure (model # SM7B) which is widely respected and for good reason.  We have found that it will pick up vocal sounds in a way that enriches a voice but will also faithfully pick up unwanted sounds,  the kind you will hear during the editing process. I want to give you a heads-up regarding several of them. We earlier identified chair squeaks during body motion and by experimentation find that most of the time we can’t do anything about it.  Our solution has been for the narrator to move in the chair as little as possible during active sessions.

Another interesting sound occurs during  touchpad use on the Apple laptop, either during  ending the recording session or during pauses. Even though this sound might be missed by the intended audience, we choose to edit them out. Speaking of the computer, we have discovered that during a long session, the computer’s ventilation fan is activated and can easily be heard in the recording. Solution: place the computer on a cool object (we use gel-based cold packs).

Unfortunately, various  human sounds, those that originate within the digestive system, are part of the listening experience and are exceptionally hard to eliminate short of starting over.

A word about our equipment, but I want to emphasize that many other systems will work as well as ours and that we make no claim to have a superior system.  I have already mentioned the mike, and you can see the wrap around sound absorber behind it.  An interface is required to input the recording into our computer (which is visible on the right side).  We are using a Track 16, which we also use for music session recordings.  It is a very high quality unit and easy to use.  Our narrator wears a pair of Shure headphones during the recording (SRH 840) which enables her to use playback to edit or continue the session.  The computer is running Logic Pro X which inputs and records the session.  The file is stored on our iCloud  and is therefore protected from loss and easily retrieved later for editing and conversion to an MP3.

To insure that there is no paper rattling, we use an Apple iPad to display the text for narration.

The results speak for themselves,  and our sample recordings will soon be updated with the latest version.  Currently we are creating music to be overlaid and blended with the narration.

Next time,  I will disclose our settings and filters for Logic Pro which have allowed us to modulate and improve what was already an excellent recording.

Alexander Francis

 

 

Annoying Trifles

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Before I complete this series on setting up your sound booth, I should describe the ‘other’ important issues you will discover using your booth.  Some of these you can expect, the others will sneak up on you and manifest themselves by surprise in your finished work.

I’m largely speaking  about extraneous, unwanted sounds which creep into all our works. For instance, squeaks of the narrator’s or singer’s chair.  You know, the comfortable, heavy and expensive one you installed, foreseeing years of constant use.  Pay attention early or regret it later.  It will squeak, or worse, clunk at critical times, producing sounds which are hard to erase.  Tightening up may help but most important is to have your narrator recognize body changes which cause noise. And that also goes for static produced by some clothing. Soft cotton is best.

It took a long time, but I finally found the source of a small, audible voltage spike which was bedeviling me. Don’t put your cell phone on a charger inside the booth.  Best to turn the little devil off completely.

You wouldn’t expect it, but I’ve found that stomach gurgling can easily be heard on the recording and is hard to eliminate (excuse the pun).  I don’t have an answer for that problem.  You are on your own.

Fixing distance from the mike and setting any volume controls prior to each recording session is a must.  Even so, the time of day, your narrators state of energy and mind, and who knows…phases of the moon, have input.  Some things you can’t fight. Another obvious and mood changing dynamic is an upper respiratory infection, however mild, which will morph your narrator or singer into another person.

Be careful to avoid any page turning.  We  use an iPad which is noiseless and handy and can be prepped with emphasis, if needed.

However good your booth is, outside noise is hard to eliminate.  One of my own problems has come from remote fan noise from an air conditioner or furnace.  It was startling the first time I was able to compare two tracks, one with the noise and one without.  Yes, I was able to nearly eliminate this low frequency noise with the DAW software, but my opinion is that something in her voice is lost in the process.

In our set up, Janel uses the mouse to start and stop her recordings.  Needless to say, I usually have to edit out the soft mouse clicks later.  I could probably ignore them but I am cursed with a perfectionist nature. I may switch over to a input pad for her,  which should be noiseless.

The point of all the above is that you should listen carefully and intently to your recordings for errors such as the ones I mentioned so that your sessions will continue to improve.  After all, we should strive for perfection even if it is impossible to achieve.

 

Alexander Francis

Absorbing Unwanted Sound

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The addition of sound absorbent panels, especially in areas of high reflection, is a long understood concept. There is no reason that your panels should not also be attractive. You may read that the ideal surface to prevent unwanted sound reflection should be matt or rough. Likely true enough. However, a gay, bright, cheerful panel will enliven an otherwise dark and drab interior and the loss of absorbent power is minimal, plus a smooth surface will not attract dust.

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To built a moveable, yet efficient panel is simple. Start by constructing a frame of 1 x 4 (nominal) pine, braced at the corners and held together with glue and 2” staples. Your piece of insulating fiber should be a tight, close fit all around. I added a simple piece of blue board in the center to prevent bowing inward. Place this assembly on your chosen fabric and staple the edges accordingly. I hung mine using simple, heavy duty picture frame hangers.

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For the panel needed to cover the ventilation fan, you should notice that the frame is deeper on three sides, allowing air to move under the assembly from the bottom up. An effective but simple trick.

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Once all the panels are hung, you will notice a dramatic change in the room sound reflection.

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Don’t forget the door, which badly needs some acoustic deadening, Also, you should be meticulous with the weather stripping around it from top to bottom. No light should be seen around the door when it is closed. If you can see light, you can hear sound. I covered the door with foam panels, attached by spray-on adhesive.

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And of course the ceiling. I used a thick, drop-in style of acoustical tile (which has high ratings for sound absorption), used contact adhesive to mount them, and trimmed out with stained pine. Above and behind the tile is additional sound absorbent insulation.

 

Next up will be finishing touches.
Alexander Francis

Completing the Walls

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Once the frame was up, I elected to sheath the interior with perforated pegboard prior to any wall finish or insulation. Peg board is inexpensive and there are plausible arguments around which give an edge to a perforated surface because it breaks sound waves differently than a flat surface. The door was inexpensive but solid, not hollow. A hollow door will act as a drum surface and amplify sound

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Some finishing touches were added at this time, such as a threshold and the electrical. I chose LED recessed lights because of their lack of additional heat buildup in our enclosed structure. One reason for the choice of a below ground level location was the cooling effect of the surrounding concrete, avoiding the necessity of any active cooling other than a fan.

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You can see that we have added a window, positioned just in front of the microphone location. A window allows communication with the occupant of the studio but also can add a significant visual interest, as you will see later. Any sound escaping past the absorbent barrier behind the microphone will be reflected toward the rear and absorbed by large panels on the rear wall. Yes, a better design is to avoid any flat reflective surfaces such as are found in a rectangular design like this one. However, this design is easier to construct, cheaper and works very well as it is. The next step is to provide an absorbent but attractive interior. Tile squares are inexpensive and may be mounted by contact adhesive. Some cutting is required but the work goes quickly.

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The next step is to isolate the booth by using sound absorbent insulation on the walls, placed from the outside. I chose Roxul Safe’n Sound in 2’x4’ by 3”. Four bags were enough to insulate all the external walls and to construct several interior sound absorbent panels, to be described in another blog.

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More later,

Alexander Francis

Beginning

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I started my project with an idea to build a small studio just large enough to accommodate a seated narrator or singer but also to allow a standing musician, two, or even an assistant. I’ve had as many as five people at one time in this small space, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Given my criteria, I gauged that a 5’ by 7’ floor plan would suffice. The height would be as close to room size as I could allow. I was fortunate that my allocated area had rather high ceilings. A trip to a big box lumber and hardware store, and I had my start.

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I decided on a plywood sandwich for the floor using inexpensive 1/2” underlayment with insulating blue board in-between, supported by a 2 by 4 frame.

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Later, the floor will be covered by a thick carpet pad under a plush carpet. Once the floor assembly was completed, I added heavy duty castors. One mistake I made was to not use three castors on the long sides, an error I eventually corrected.

Next, I assembled the frame using standard construction techniques, as seen in the following photograph.

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One area deserving mention is the ventilation fan. I obtained a multi-speed, ultra-quiet fan and mounted it on the rear wall. As you shall see, the fan will be covered by a thick, sound deadening unit absorbing any sound from the fan or the exterior of the sound booth but allowing ventilation to flow under the sound barrier via a slot in its lower board.

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More to follow.
Alexander Francis

Building Your Own Sound Booth

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Building your own sound booth is possible. I make that statement after recently creating one. My goals were to have a convenient, high quality and attractive booth for narration of my novels. Other uses have happily emerged, such as recording a singer’s voice over a provided melody, to be modified later in a digital audio workstation where additional tracks are created and modified. It turns out that this little studio is nearly perfect for both tasks. In this multi-part blog, we will focus on the narration.

A narrator will spend many hours in the booth you create. I have seen, as I’m sure you also have, the use of closet space, complete with hanging clothes to deaden sound. Or the opposite: a full room of foam, walls and ceiling, where no reflected sound is possible. Between those two extremes seems to be an area of compromise where a quality sound can be recorded in a pleasant and suitably sized package.

Mood is important…and happiness is reflected in a recording booth the same as sound waves. Where possible, we need to make the narrator (or singer) feel surrounded by the energy of comfort, visually and otherwise. It will surely pay dividends in what is laid down on the track.

My situation might be somewhat unique in that I chose to build a moveable booth in a corner of a semi-industrial facility. My booth can be moved accordingly, if necessary. However, there was no compromise in making it both attractive and remarkably dead to outside sounds, as long as no active work was taking place outside of the booth at the time of recording.

This little booth has good ventilation, good lighting and a little trick of my own design to make it seem that the narrator is someplace other than a concrete walled enclosure.

To start, I dedicated myself to an extensive search of the Internet regarding construction of a sound booth. The results were a vast array of differing opinions and techniques. One concept that I came away with was that the recording studio should not be dead flat. Every echo, every live sound, should not be removed. To do so is both expensive and unnecessary. Aren’t our ears used to hearing some sound along with the human voice? Is it necessary to have the perception that the speaker is someplace in outer space? I say no…and so do others. Therefore, some items in your booth can reflect sound and still the recording will be successful. You can’t, however, avoid controlling unwanted echoes which will bounce around in an unpredictable manner unless you take the necessary steps to absorb those reflections.

I am going to discuss the construction of this booth from the ground up, or at least from the floor up. Following blogs will discuss my selection of recording equipment.  There is no unique, perfect solution and many combinations of hardware and software will do as well if not better than the ones I selected.  But I must say that my choices work well for me and I am very happy thus far. At some future date I will include a discussion about the DAW (Logic Pro X) I use.  I don’t claim to be a sound engineer or even a moderate expert, but I will share what I have learned.

Alexander  Francis