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When it comes to studio gear, acoustical treatment doesn't seem very exciting on the surface. We'll spend untold hours and thousands of dollars purchasing microphones, preamps, converters, monitors and other gear, but the actual sound of the room is often an afterthought. This seems a shame, considering that room acoustics easily dictate more of the eventual sound of our recordings and mixes than anything else we can buy. You might own a high quality microphone, but if you're recording in a bad sounding room it will only faithfully capture the room's negative qualities. And even the best monitors are still subject to the laws of physics if your room isn't accurate, you won't get an accurate mix. The reverse is also true: even less-than-stellar mics and monitors will perform better if the room's acoustics are good. So it pays to spend time and money getting the acoustics right, right?
"I can think of few products that have been so useful, produced such dramatic improvement, and have been so easy to use as the MiniTraps."
"The improvements were dramatic. The low end was more present and less muddled than has ever been possible before, and I found that I had to apply less EQ in the mix."
|But particularly for those of
us with small home studios, improving the room's acoustics seems like a futile exercise.
After all, one generally can't go back and change the shape or size of a room, which is
usually the culprit. And I've never been happy with the available options for home
acoustical treatment. Foam tends to create a sterile sounding room while doing nothing to
improve the low end. Building wood and fiberglass panel bass traps is very time consuming,
and traps that perform well are typically large, heavy structures that take up most of
your wall space and require a lot of hardware to support the weight.
Ethan Winer and his RealTraps company propose to change all that. Their MiniTraps bass traps absorb sound all the way down to 50 Hz, while remaining slightly reflective in the mid and high frequencies. Impressively, each trap measures only 2x4 feet and weighs just 18 pounds, thus making them easy to use almost anywhere. MiniTraps significantly outperform foam in their ability to absorb bass frequencies, while retaining most of the high and mid frequencies and thus avoiding a dead room. To me, this sounded like the best of all worlds. I didn't expect it to make my basement sound like Carnegie Hall, but I was anxious to discover just how much the room could be improved. Top
IN WE GO
How many MiniTraps you will need and where to place them depends on the size of your room and the existing treatment. My room is quite large for a home studio, 19x24, and it already has the advantage of an absorbent drop ceiling stuffed with insulation. So it was somewhat questionable how much benefit I would gain from the traps. The room has never sounded that bad, although it did have some definite problems in the low end, and a few flutter echoes that caused an annoying ring in the upper mids. After looking at my floor plan, RealTraps recommended that I use 12 traps, and gave me a rough idea where I should place them.
Installing MiniTraps couldn't be easier. At 18 pounds each, they can be hung with ordinary picture hangers, without any special hardware or damage to the existing walls or ceilings. Typically, one installs them in each of the room corners, with additional traps in the wall-to-ceiling corners, and some flat on the walls as well.
I did hang several traps on the walls, but wall-to-floor corners are corners just as well as floor-to-ceiling, so in several cases I simply laid one edge of a trap on the floor and leaned it against the wall. This takes up more floor space than ceiling mounting, but considering I already have an absorbent ceiling and I like having the flexibility to move the traps around (more on this later), I considered it worth the sacrifice in space.
Also, rather than permanently installing traps in each of the four room corners, I decided to mount four of the traps on mic stands (detailed instructions for doing this can be found on RealTraps web site) and place them in the corners that way. Again, this gives me the ability to move them around easily. Top
TESTING, TESTING, TESTING
Once the 12 traps were installed, it was time to put them to the test! Having been recording and rehearsing in my studio for the past four years, I'm intimately familiar with its sonic signature, and I noticed an immediate difference. When my band rehearsed for the first time after the traps were in, we all noticed how much the clarity was improved in all frequencies - the bass and kick drum were tighter and more focused as well as more pronounced, guitars were clear and ringing without any harshness, and everything just seemed to be better defined.
The first recordings I tried were with guitar amps and vocals. In both cases, I was after an up-front focused sound, so for the guitar tracks, I took four MiniTraps from their positions on the floor and simply stood them up around the amp, fashioning a makeshift booth. The traps will stand up on their own, although you can hold them together with twine if you're worried about them falling over. The result was fabulous - the track sounded up-front as desired and the amp itself had a greatly improved tone.
For vocals, I used the four traps from the corners that I'd mounted on mic stands. These were set together around the mic as a makeshift vocal booth, and again, there was a huge improvement in the sound versus the untreated room. Previously, it was hard for a vocalist to work the mic by varying the distance, because the vocal would lose definition as the room's anomalies came into play, and the voice would sound thin. With the MiniTraps, the room characteristics are much more pleasing, and also more consistent no matter where the vocalist is in relation to the mic. With the MiniTraps, I often don't use any kind of vocal booth at all now - if the room sounds good, I like hearing some ambience in the vocal as opposed to being forced to close-mic all the time. Top
Having had great results so far, it was time for the ultimate test: drum recording. Drums are one of the toughest things to record in a smaller room with poor acoustics, because it's a loud instrument that cuts across such a wide and complex frequency range. So I was most curious to see what the MiniTraps would do for drum tracks.
The improvements were dramatic. The low end was more present and less muddled than has ever been possible before, and I found that I had to apply less EQ in the mix. Also, where drums normally have a huge amount of build-up in the 250-500 Hz range in a small room, most of these bumps are now lower down, in the 150 Hz area, which sounds more flattering to the mix in many cases.
We also used the MiniTraps to vary the drum sounds for some songs. While most of the tracks were cut in the wide-open room, for songs where we wanted a particularly tight drum sound we simply surrounded the drum kit with traps on three sides, as I had for some of the guitar tracks. The snare and toms have never sounded so punchy and well defined in this room. Far more dramatic differences in the sound were achieved with the MiniTraps than we've ever managed by using different mics, preamps, or compressors. Top
AND THE WINNER IS
The small size, light weight, and portability of the MiniTraps also makes them useful for recording in less conventional spaces. We cut some drum tracks in my garage, for example, and placing the traps in front of the garage door helped tame the worst of the reflections off the steel and glass while leaving the live character of the concrete block walls intact.
Mixing accuracy, too, is greatly improved. I can now hear the low end more consistently with fewer holes due to standing waves, and the harshness in the high mids is mostly gone too.
In short, RealTraps have come up with an unqualified winner. I can think of few products that have been so useful in so many different configurations, produced such dramatic improvement, and have been so easy to use as the MiniTraps - all for the price of a single good mic or preamp. Now that I've heard what they can do, I won't be sending these back. Top
[Ed. Note: In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Ethan Winer from RealTraps is a freelance contributor to EQ and moderates our Acoustics forum at Musicplayer.com]
Reprinted with permission.
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