We were happy to hear that SIA Acoustics has received a nomination this year for a NAMM TEC Award for their design of our Takoma Park studio’s new recording room, Allyworld. This expansion represents a major increase in the capabilities of the studio. As we did when we built our original Takoma Park facility, a lot of attention was paid to choosing the right room shape, finish materials, and construction details to optimize the acoustic properties of our rooms. Chief engineer Charlie Pilzer worked with acoustic designer and longstanding collaborator in Airshow studio designs Sam Berkow and his team at SIA Acoustics to design the best plan, with the goal of achieving tonally balanced sound within Allyworld.
Over the course of several months, Charlie and SIA’s staff took measurements, ran calculations, drew up designs in conjunction with the general contractor and architect, and communicated with various vendors in order to secure the best treatment options for Allyworld.
One of the most critical decisions involved the selection and location of diffusion panels within the space. When sound waves travel away from a source, they can be reflected, absorbed, or scattered (scattering surfaces are said to diffuse sound.) The goal for Allyworld was to create a room where sound spreads evenly throughout the space, maintaining its essential acoustic characteristics as evenly as possible. “Diffusion helps the room preserve and control sound energy, which is very important in a studio where live music is being performed,” commented Charlie. “We wanted the energy of music to be apparent, so we spent a lot of time choosing and placing our diffusers in Allyworld.” (When I spoke with Sam he told me that this particular field of acoustic research is based largely on the work of the German physicist and Bell Labs Fellow Manfred R. Schroeder who pioneered the design of quadratic residue diffusers in the 1970s.)
Sam and SIA selected several high-quality diffusers manufactured by RealAcoustix. The different diffusers were selected based on the scattering bandwidths and sizes of each product. One of the first things one notices when stepping into Allyworld is the smooth reflection-free sound in the space and the striking visual appearance of the wooden RealAcoustix GuD and FlutterX panels that line the walls and the RealDiff HV panels on the ceiling.
When it functions as a studio, musicians and instruments may occupy any part of the nearly 800-square feet of space in the room, even regrouping or moving around from session to session. Additionally, Allyworld’s design includes a fixed configuration for live music in front of an audience. (Allyworld has a truss-hung sound system as well as temporary stage.) With this in mind, SIA had to contend with a slightly challenging structural column near the stage left side of the room. Tests showed the column enabled high-frequency off-axis reflections, which would have affected the sound both for the musicians on-stage as well as the audience members in the immediate area. GuD panels were too large for the column, so another product, RealAcoustix’s FlutterX treatments, provided a more appropriate solution.
Behind the stage area in Allyworld is a large diffuser known as RealDiff HD. As with the similar panels on the ceiling, this kind of diffuser is a two-dimensional model, meaning that it spreads sounds both vertically and horizontally. The stonework in this area, in addition to simply helping the room look great, adds a bit of natural diffusion, too.
One interesting note about the use of the RealDiff HV diffusers on the ceiling was the need for symmetry. When the plans for Allyworld were first developed, the existing product line only offered products in one particular orientation, which would have made for some aural (and visual) asymmetry when applied to the ceiling. SIA spoke with RealAcoustix’s founder and owner Richard Lenz and the company was able to construct a second version with an opposite configuration. The results of using substantial amounts of diffusion is a major reason Allyworld provides a live yet tonally balanced and reflection-free environment for both studio and live event use.
Allyworld has hosted a small number of concerts to date, and served as a tracking room for nearly thirty recording sessions. Results – from scientific measurements, artist feedback, audience response, and critical listening in the recording control room – strongly suggest that SIA and RealAcoustix have teamed to create an exceptionally well-performing room whether configured as studio or venue.
All photos by Michael G. Stewart. Special thanks to SIA Acoustics’ Jeffrey Friedlander for his help with this post.