RealTraps - MiniTraps Review

From ProRec.com, January 2005

..RealTraps Review..

 

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Rip Rowan's studio. Click the image for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Once we got a few of the traps up, we immediately started hearing a difference in the room."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"The change was so substantial that it took me a while to get used to the improvement."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"This control room - which had been almost unusable - is now a good sounding room producing great mixes, and I'm a happy camper."

By Rip Rowan

In my last studio, I was fortunate to have a great sounding control room. I can't take any credit for this; it was sheer luck-of-the-draw. Some interplanetary alignment of room dimensions, carpeting type, and speaker placement converged to give me a near-perfect listening environment. There was no need for any kind of special room treatment. The mids were smooth and offered precise imaging, and the bass response was very flat down to a solid 30 Hz.

I got a little spoiled.

However I got the opportunity to relocate the studio to a new location with a larger and much better sounding tracking room, and had to take the offer. In most ways the new studio is superior to the old one - all except for the control room. The new studio's control room is a too-small 8 by 13 foot operation, with a roof that's just a little too low, and severe bass response issues.

After a few weeks of working in the new control room I had started to adapt to the room's anomalies by trusting my gut (instead of my ears) about the bass response, but was increasingly frustrated by the inability to truly hear precisely what was happening in the lowest octaves of my mixes.

We considered one of the many foam-based solutions, but with the room's small size, I was very concerned about making the room too dead-sounding overall. I have worked in too-dead control rooms before, and the experience is very disconcerting. For me to get a good mix, the room should sound like, well ... a room.

Enter Ethan Winer. For years, Ethan has been evangelizing the virtues of broadband bass absorption. Ethan has offered do-it-yourself bass trap designs on his personal web site and many happy readers of his site have built these traps with great results.

Finally sensing the opportunity to add a unique value to the market, Ethan created a startup company called RealTraps to make broadband panel absorbers. RealTraps' product line includes five products: MiniTraps, MiniTraps HF, MicroTraps, MondoTraps, and SoffitTraps. After some conversation with Ethan about the best application of his product in my studio, I purchased a set of MiniTraps for the control room.

MiniTraps are broadband panel absorbers. They are constructed in a metal frame with semi-rigid fiberglass panels, with an integral membrane, and covered in a white or off-white fabric. Since the absorb sound from the front, back, and sides, they offer the best bass abosorption when they are placed away from the walls by at least a few inches.

MiniTraps absorb mostly bass and midbass, some mids, and a little high end. This means that they do not overly color the sound of the room like some absorption material (particularly foam) which tend to absorb more high frequency content. Thanks to this smooth bass-centered absorption characteristic, you can safely add a lot of MiniTraps to a room without darkening the sound or making the room sound like a vocal booth.

I had a very limited set of placement options. The back wall of our control room has a low ceiling, so I couldn't place any MiniTraps on the back ceiling; and we have seating along that wall, so I couldn't place any MiniTraps on the back wall itself. In the end we were only able to treat the front wall and ceiling corners. I placed a 2x4 MiniTrap on the wall immediately facing the engineer, two 2x4 traps on the front ceiling corner, a 2x2 trap in each of the front corners, and a 2x4 trap along each of the side walls near the corners.

Installation was a mixed bag. The two traps that were installed hanging on the back walls were no-brainers. They literally hang up just like large framed pictures.

But the ceiling and corner installations were a different story. The traps are not lightweight, and in our small room, they were somewhat difficult to install in the corners. To truly give them the "floating" look it is necessary to hide the mounting bolt behind the trap and then bring the trap up to the bolt. It is difficult to describe the mounting process, but suffice to say it was not simple to make them hang just the way we wanted, and there was a little touch-up paint required on the walls when we were done. Since the front and back of the panels are made of semi-rigid fiberglass you must be careful when installing them so as not to dent or tear the fabric. In the end, there was a minor injury to one of our panels when we poked it with a screwdriver.

Once we got a few of the traps up, we immediately started hearing a difference in the room. The reflectivity dropped, but the room didn't sound dark or colored. It just seemed to lose a little excess decay time. Probably the greatest single change came from the two 2x2 traps we installed in the corners. Corner traps have the greatest impact on bass response, and since we were able to drop the traps so that they straddled the corners they really ate up a lot of irresponsible bass.

The change was so substantial that it took me a while to get used to the improvement. Overall bass response was increased slightly. Reflectivity was lowered perfectly - the room still sounds live, but it sounds "quiet". The environment isn't annoyingly clinical, but is quiet and tamed enough to allow me to really zero in on sonic detail.

But of course, the key benefit isn't more bass, it's smoother bass, and the MiniTraps delivered in spades. The bass response, which had been very uneven and unpredictable, was now remarkably smooth and balanced. I could start to trust my ears again. The disconcertingly extreme peaks and dips in the bass and midbass range were much smoother. And the bottom octave from 30 Hz to 60 Hz showed back up, enabling me to dial in the correct level of low-end oomph in kick drum and bass guitar submixes.

The bass response isn't perfect, of course. No bass trap can completely solve all bass response problems. But the improvement has been nothing short of phenomenal. This control room - which had been almost unusable - is now a good sounding room producing great mixes, and I'm a happy camper.

I was so excited by the MiniTraps that I got a couple of MondoTraps for my home studio workroom. I was really surprised by the effect of adding even two of these traps into the room. They ate up some of the room's reflections, and tightened up the bass noticeably.

Since installing my MiniTraps, RealTraps has introduced a new product called SoffitTraps. SoffitTraps are made-to-order bass-absorbing soffits that can be installed so that they truly blend into the look of the room, and offer even more bass absorption than the MiniTraps. When I first saw the SoffitTraps, my first reaction was, "Brilliant!" I have yet to hear the SoffitTraps but I can well imagine that they are even better than the MiniTraps or MondoTraps. Unfortunately, because my control room has an irregular ceiling, SoffitTraps would not be a feasible choice for me.

Don't think that these traps are only useful for control room applications. Because they have such balanced absorption, they are excellent to use in a tracking room. In fact you almost couldn't use too many MiniTraps in a tracking room. MiniTraps can also be stacked to create a bass-absorbing gobo or placed on stands around a performer for extra isolation. Their absorption properties are so euphonic that there is almost no sound source that they cannot improve.

RealTraps has a great product with the MiniTraps. They are simply the ideal bass treatment for most every studio application. If you want to improve the bass response of your system, before you invest in a new pair of speakers, take the time and effort to improve the bass response of your room with broadband bass absorption from RealTraps.

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