RhythmArt Blog

A day in the life of a percussionist

RhythmArt Blog

De-Coupling

March 23rd, 2010 · No Comments · gear, recording

If you get into recording at all, at some point you’re going to have to learn a bit about acoustics. Now Acoustics, like music, is an art as well as a science, and you could spend the rest of your life (as well as thousands of dollars) studying it and still just barely scratch the surface. to get started, though, I highly recommend checking out Acoustics 101, from Auralex Acoustics. This guide will get you going on the whats, whys, and hows of acoustically treating your recording room.

One of the areas I had never delved into too much is the idea of decoupling, or isolating,  an instrument from the floor. In my main recording room, my drumset is set up on a riser made of 2×4’s and MDF board. I did this because this room also happens to hold the hot water heater, and I thought that if there was ever a problem there, at least the drumset would be off the floor enough to minimize damage. Having read Acoustics 101, I knew that this setup was asking for trouble acoustically, as the space under the riser would be eating up sonic energy that could be going into the room. In my feeble attempt to alleviate the problem, I stuffed the spaces between the joists with regular fiberglass insulation (because it was cheap and easy to get).

The results were less than stellar! The main problem I was noticing was that when the mics were on the riser, I could hear “phantom” sounds in the mic. Basically what was happening was that the physical shock of hitting the drums was going into the space under the riser, vibrating around, and turning the floor of the riser into a big speaker panel. This sound/energy wave then traveled up the mic stand into the microphone itself. So basically, every time I hit a drum, I was hitting the mic. Not a good sound. The fact that I use a rack for my drums probably made it worse, as every drum/cymbal/effect has 4 points of contact with the floor.

So, what to do? It’s too late to pack the riser with proper mineral fiber insulation, as I’d have to tear the whole thing out and start over (not gonna do it). So, I started looking at isolation panels. Auralex has one made for drums (called a “hover deck,” which is cool just for the name), but it costs around $600 (a bit much for the starving artists’ salary, especially since I’m saving up for new vibes, and H&M has decided to open a store in Raleigh). So, off to Wal-Mart I go.

dense-foam floring from wal-Mart

dense-foam flooring from wal-Mart

In the exercise equipment section at Wal-Mart, they have thick foam pads which are designed to protect your floor under your exercise equipment. They come in packs of six 2×2 squares with jigsaw edges to lock in together. They cost about $20. Now I know that $20 worth of foam from Wally-World isn’t going to compete on any level with the quality and performance of what specialty manufacturers like Auralex make, but that wasn’t really the point. What I really wanted to find out was, was it worth the $20 investment?

Concrete floor, MDF riser, Foam padding, carpet

Concrete floor, MDF riser, Foam padding, carpet

Short answer, yes it was! I got the panels arranged under the kit, making sure that anything touching the floor was on foam. I actually had to make a weird shape to fit into my space and get everything covered, but I got it to work using just 5 of the six panels. I had just made a recording of some drum grooves for a workshop I was leading, so all my mixer settings were still where I had left them. The mics had to move in order to get the panels in, but I was able to get them very close to the same position (I always set them up the same anyway, so give or take a couple inches, they’re always the same). Even without the A/B recording comparison, I could tell an immediate difference of the sound of the drums in the room. Basically, everything sounded “fuller.” More low end, more sustain (without getting dirty), and each drum had a more complete “pocket” of sound – like using a notch EQ to define a sonic space for each drum, but naturally.

Looking at the recorded wave forms isn’t as dramatic as hearing it in person, but the difference is clearly visible. And, to cover my initial problem, the mic-stand vibration is gone (especially when I make sure to get each mic stand on the foam as well). All in all, I’d say the Wally-foam is a good problem solver for those on a tight budget. Who knows, having a better recorded sound may lead to more recording gigs, and that will lead to being able to afford the good stuff. If so, I’ll make sure to A/B the two and see if the 300% price difference yields a 300% sonic difference, as well! Till then, it’s nice to have options!

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