Trevor Parscal's Studio

Building a recording studio in New Hampshire


It’s been a couple of months now and we are about to start construction. Lining everything up has been a bit of a waiting game, so in the meantime I’ve been working on the design of the interior.

After many revisions, I’ve come to what I believe is a design that balances form, function and cost. Optimal room ratios will help the rooms sound good, sight-lines between rooms will make it easy to communicate and double wall construction will improve isolation.

I expect to make more revisions before beginning construction on the interior of the building, but the design likely won’t change dramatically between now and then. I have optimized the design for four considerations: isolation, sound, cost and simplicity.

Isolation is critical to a studio. With the exterior, keeping sound from getting into the building as the wind rips through the trees making an ambient roar is just as important as keeping the pounding of a drum set from disturbing my neighbors as they sleep. Also, isolation between rooms makes it possible to record multiple musicians simultaneously without unwanted sound bleeding in through microphones.

Sound quality is important to ensure accurate monitoring and recording. A great sounding room will make working in a space inspiring and fun. There are basic steps I’m taking now to ensure I’m off to a good start, but a lot of work will have to be done later on to manage low frequencies, control reverb times and diffuse sounds across the spectrum.

Cost is also a major factor, as this is not a commercial studio, and will thus never pay for itself. The construction techniques I’m choosing are a balance between performance and cost. From what I’ve learned so far by reading up on the subject, there’s power-law at play here. If you know what you are doing, 80% of performance can be gained with 20% of investment. The final 20% of performance requires the other 80% of investment. The trick, of course, is knowing which things to invest in to achieve that.

Finally, simplicity is important because I’ve never built something like this before. The simpler I can design it, the more likely I will succeed. I’ve skipped splaying walls in the control room, because the chance of that technique improving the sound is likely lower than the chance of me doing it wrong and making the sound worse. By reducing the number of risks, I’m able to increase the chance of success.

As with any functional design, there are some compromises that must be made.

Some benefits:

  • HVAC equipment and ducting can go above the small rooms.
  • Double airlock entry helps reduce heat loss when coming and going.
  • Electrical closet doesn’t compromise isolation from the exterior.
  • Airlocks increase isolation between rooms.

Some drawbacks:

  • You must look behind you to see the tracking room from the mixing desk.
  • No sight-lines from the control room to the broadcast room.
  • Airlocks cut into floor space in the tracking room.

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