Recording Studio Design
Welcome to Recording Studio Design, below I will give a detailed explanation into the basics of how to design and build a recording studio.
- Recording Studio Location
- Sound surveys
- Planning permission – Change of Use
- Local Council – Building Control
- Required soundproofing
- Required acoustic treatment
- Recording studio layout
- Infrastructure including audio tie lines, madi and sdi links
- Studio decor and final finishes
Recording Studio Location
The best recording studios are always built on the ground floor or concrete mezzanine floors. However this does not mean it’s impossible to build a studio on a timber floor. It is possible, it’s just not as simple.
When you position your recording studio within you property, you need to not only consider sound entering your studio but also leaving your studio. So you need to be as far aware from road and train noise as possible while also far away from adjoining properties as well. It’s a fine balance, but it is possible.
Don’t just thing about sound travel horizontally also consider vertical sound travel, like through timber roofs and through underground service pipes like waste pipes. This would be a good time to gain access to council street plans of any services. The last thing you want is for your next door neighbour to be able to hear your studio while on the toilet.
When choosing your recording studio, the main element that will restrict the size of your recording studio design will be the height of the space you are planning on building your studio. If like us you use calculations to ascertain the correct ratio to use for your studio, this will always be restricted to the amount of height you have left once you remove soundproofing from the floor and ceiling.
So you have found your recording studio location, the next thing you need to figure out is how much soundproofing you require to provide sound isolation. Its important to note here that you are not just trying to prevent sound from getting into your studio, you are also trying to prevent sound from leaving your studio, especially if you are building near residential properties. This is why when carrying out your recording studio design, you carry out a sound survey to ascertain the correct level or minimum level of soundproofing your will require before you work on the acoustic response you would actually like in your recording studio.
The level of soundproofing you require depends on four things, firstly the different sources of sound you plan on using and the distance to the nearest property and thirdly, the ambient sound level around your property. The current inherent soundproofing properties of the current building you plan on building your recording studio within (if it already exists).
To give a basic example, if you plan on simply having a control room on the ground floor of your property and you live in the city with neighbours each side of your property, the following would apply:-
- The sound source would be from your near and far field monitors and the average sound level in a control room is usually around 85dba.
- The nearest neighbour is 3ft away from your control room.
- The average external ambient noise level during the day is 55dba and 40dba at night. The average internal ambient noise level during the day is 40dba and 30dba at night.
- The existing building has inherent soundproofing isolation of 45dba to the outside at it’s weakest point and 45dba to within the neighbours property.
So using the information from the example above, we can work out that we will need at least 40db of soundproofing to bring the level of sound within the control room down to the lowest ambient noise level of 40dba outside. We also know that the building already has it’s own inherent soundproofing reduction level of 45db, so we are almost there. However to satisfy any issues you have with noise complaints, you also need to ensure you are at least 10dba below the ambient noise level externally, so you will need to calculate for at least 10db of soundproofing within your control room to bring the level down to 10dba below your external ambient of 40dba at night. However we will need at least 55db of soundproofing within the control room to bring the sound level down to the internal ambient sound level within your neighbours property at night. Your building already takes care of 45db of the soundproofing, so you minimum level of soundproofing would be 10db and again to satisfy any issues with noise complaints, you also need to ensure you are at lease 10dba below the ambient noise level internally within your neighbours property at night. This would mean you would need to install a minimum of 20db of soundproofing to ensure the sound level within your neighbours property was 10db below ambient at night.
Planning permission – Change of Use
Most recording studios do not require change of use, you could simply build a recording studio within in your bedroom if you wanted. Generally building a recording studio within any property that is residential does not require change of use or planning permission. Also building a recording studio within a commercial space that has permission for offices also should not require change of us or specific planning permission.
In general, you can have a recording studio in your residential property if its for home use. You can build a studio in commercial properties if it has been registered for B1 use (office and studio use). However if you plan on using your recording studio as a band rehearsal space you would need B2 (music rehearsal and recording studio). Most commercial properties at already B1, so if you need B2, you will need to apply for change of use.
If you need to apply for change of use, a standard sound survey of your property will not be sufficient to satisfy the requirements of the change of use application. You will need to carry out a full noise impact survey. This is allot more complicated to carry out.
Local Council – Building Control
So you are slow moving down the list of recording studio design. You know you need to install soundproofing which usually requires you to create an air tight room. This is where your local councils building control come in. If your going to operate commercially, usually your council will want to check fire safety and air supply safety and emergency lighting. If you are simply building the studio for your own use, building control are usually not interested, however you should still following these guild lines to keep you safe from fire and from suffocating from lack of oxygen and be able to see where they are going in the event of a power cut.
Fire regulations for commercial properties when considering recording studio design are the same as for any commercial properties. You need half hour fire doors on all rooms and a save way of existing the building. You are best to speak to your local council as some councils have different views than others. In general, fire doors need to be incorporated into your recording studio design and intermittent strips with smoke seals along with door closers and fire door hinges need to be used.
Active ventilation regulations for commercial properties when considering recording studio design are also the same as for any commercial properties. You need to allow for at least 5 cubic litres of air per second person. So if you have an average of 3 people in your control room, you need to allow for 15 cubic litres of air per second. There are some situations where if you have either a very large space or there is reason for the doors to be opened and closed lots throughout the day, some councils may remove the requirement for ventilation. However given the average use of a recording studio even a large complex, as this type of use is rare, when it comes to preserving life, its always best to have active ventilation to ensure no one dies!
As most recording studios cannot afford the luxury of external windows and most studios cannot guarantee the window is right next to a street light, you will need to provide emergency lighting with considering your recording studio design. This is one aspect of your visual design that needs to be considered carefully as most emergency lights are ugly and stand out like a saw thumb with with their green charging light. But don’t panic, if you really don’t think you can cope with a standard emergency light, there are alternatives out there, you can easily integrate emergency lighting into most down lights, the cost is more considerable, however this will bring peace to most producers out there.
Using the example above in Sound Surveys, we can see that the control room within the residential property requires at least 20db of soundproofing. However when calculation the amount of soundproofing your will need for your recording studio design, you cannot use a linear scale to simply calculate the amount of soundproofing required. Soundproofing is calculated using a logarithmic scale, basically a sound source that is 10db louder than another source is in actually TWICE as loud. Similarly a sound source that is 15db louder is in fact THREE times as loud.
So using the above, you will see that you cannot simply add 20db of soundproofing to the walls of your control room if the current walls are providing 45db of soundproofing. This is where you use the sound reduction index (SRI) and the clever use of air gaps come into play and also as important where your studios size is reduced to accommodate these air gaps.
The sound reduction index is a guide that states that a certain mass per meter squared will reduce the sound passing through it within a certain frequency range (100z to 3khz). For example a single sheet of plasterboard has a mass per meter squared of around 7kg which will give it a sound reduction level of 21db, however two sheets of plasterboard with a total mass of 14kg only have a reduction level of 28db which is an increase of 7db even though the mass has doubled. I won’t go into to much detail here, but as the mass increases the gap between the level of reduction drastically decreased. For example, the difference between between 30kgm2 and 60kgm2 is only 3db. This is where air gaps become extremely useful.
I would at this point like to point out that the use of different materials with different densities is also important, like using MDF mixed with plasterboard. The reason this is important is that the different properties within the materials effect different materials.
Air gaps are basically free insulation if used correctly, however that are at the same time big wastes of space. So it’s a fine balance between soundproofing and usable space especially when space is a premium in built up city locations. Air gaps are basically physical gaps between two isolated structures (between peaces of glass or between walls or doors). The more effective the air gap, the more effective the sound reduction. However in order to create an effective air gap, the two structures need to be decoupled from each other physically to prevent the sound from transferring. For example, if you build a room within a room type soundproof structure but fix both the inner and outer walls to the same floor, the sound frequencies with the most energy (mid and low frequencies) can travel from the inner room walls to the floor and back up the outer room walls effectively reducing the efficiency of the isolation between the two walls even though you have an air gap between the two walls. However if you build the inner room on a floating floor, the inner room becomes decoupled from the floor that the outer walls are connected to, reducing the amount of frequencies that can then get through the outer wall. In general the smallest air gap you should consider between walls is around 100mm, basically this is because more noticeable frequencies are able to jump across gaps smaller than 100mm. If you want to find out why, check out some calculations that shows you the actual length of a given frequency in millimetres.
Required acoustic treatment
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Recording studio layout
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Infrastructure including audio tie lines, madi and sdi links
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Studio decor and final finishes
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