Ergonomics & Room Layouts
TAXI is the leading independent A&R company helping unsigned bands, artists and songwriters get record deals, publishing deals and placement in films and TV shows. WSDG is creating a series of articles on small listening / production room design and acoustics.
Article 5: "Ergonomics & Room Layouts"
The past few articles have dealt primarily with both theory and practical applications towards design solutions that will affect the audio production rooms you work in. This article will specifically discuss the ergonomics of these rooms. Ergonomics is how we arrange the equipment, furniture and any other element in our rooms and how these elements affect the usefulness and comfort of the room. Basically - "where do we put everything in the room?"
What makes this subject particularly interesting for audio productions rooms is how all of this affects and is affected by acoustics. Remember, our goal is to have the most accurate acoustic response possible in our listening and production location.
There are a number of factors that will contribute to an optimal room layout. Organizing the decision making progress for dealing with these factors is not linear -- in other words there is no easy list of factors to deal with in order. Often one decision will affect another Having said that, let's try to list a few:
1. Quick Review of Acoustic Performance
(go to the past few TAXI articles) Acoustic performance in an audio production environment is typically most affected by the following:
- room dimensions - this affects the low frequency modal build-ups (often referred to as standing waves)
- surface geometry (angles) and treatments - mostly affecting mid and high frequency reflection control with the effect of eliminating comb filters and other harsh reflections.
- relationship of speaker vs. listener position - again this mostly affects low frequency modal response in the room.
2. Ergonomics and Equipment Configurations
As important as the acoustic performance of the room is, equipment layout, general comfort, workability, and the ergonomics of the room come first. Acoustic design is then applied to accommodate these requirements. To quote one of the 20th century's most famous architectural anthems "÷form follows function÷". I believe this to be true almost all the time.
For project studios (the audio production rooms that TAXI drivers are working in) we could categorize room layouts as follows:
a. cockpit style - symmetrical arrangement
b. cockpit style - asymmetrical arrangement
c. railroad layout - symmetrical
d. railroad layout - asymmetrical
We of course, add to all of these layout configurations the issues of speaker configuration - basically either stereo or 5.1 surround, while using near fields, mid fields, and large format / tracking monitors. Most TAXI rooms will not be using large format tracking monitors, due to the relatively small size of our rooms (under 350 s.f.).
a. Cockpit Style - Symmetrical Arrangement.
This is probably the most common layout we have experienced. If post-production (mixing) is taking place, the room's acoustic centerline (axis between primary stereo mixing speakers) will be centered on a mixing console or workstation. There is really no reason for this not to happen. All other equipment, processing devices, composing gear (ie. keyboard) will be arranged on either side of this position, as symmetrical as possible. The acoustic advantage of this layout is that the equipment and furniture are not in conflict with the speaker reflection patterns. On more than one occasion we have seen a perfectly well designed room be acoustically compromised by one large piece of equipment (ie. tall equipment rack) which would then create a comb filter or harsh reflection for one speaker that would be quite different than the other (see figure 1).
Room layouts and photos - Cockpit / Symmetrical Configuration
1a Mi Casa Studios, Hollywood, California
1b Proposed Studio - Paul Winter
1c Music Makers, New York City
b. Cockpit Style - Asymmetrical Arrangement.
This type of room arrangement is often not that different than type a, but has the characteristic of one side of the room (again centered around a stereo speaker acoustic centerline axis) creating a non-symmetrical equipment configuration. Often this is required due to a door location or window placement or the need for a large rack or piece of furniture. In general I would try to not create this configuration, but often it has to be. Try to not have one side of the acoustic centerline be that different (physically) than the other one - at least in the front portion of the sound field. Ultimately a simple ray trace pattern will reveal whether there will be an acoustic conflict in the primary listening position. Sometimes a slight re-positioning of a rack will solve what could be a reflection control problem (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Room layouts and photos - Cockpit - Asymmetrical Configuration
c. and d. "Railroad Style" Versions of the Above.
Almost every other type of audio production environment can be classified as a version of the types a and b but with some sort of additional equipment / furniture element to the rear of the listening position. There are many reasons why this happens. Some of these might include:
a. need for visitors and other production team members
b. preferred location for rack equipment (immediately to the rear of console position)
c. keyboard composing position
When possible, it is always better to have all, or as much of the rear room furniture and equipment as symmetrical to the room centerline as possible. When not possible, try not to have any large elements taller than about 36". This will assist to ensure that they are not in conflict with primary reflection pathways (see figures 3 and 4).
Room layouts and photos - "Railroad Style - Symmetrical Configuration
3a Che Labs, Zurich, Switzerland - private basement studio - floor plan
3b Che Labs, Zurich, Switzerland - photos
3c Echo Beach Studios, Jupiter Beach, Florida
Figure 4: Room layouts and photos - Railroad Style - Asymmetrical Configurations
4a Superdupe Studios, New York City
4b Crescendo Studios, San Francisco, California
There is no one perfect way to organize equipment and furniture in the room. As we have discussed, these layout varieties depend on the room's exact use, room size, budget, final use, etc. When ergonomic and function uses have been solved, use the basic acoustic principals of comb filter prevention and reflection control to assist in effectively organizing these elements. Again a reminder, this article, more than any other article, is best viewed on the web page so that you can refer to the drawings and pictures.
Good luck, Have fun.