Home Studio Design Example

Designing a Home Based Recording Studio

Mark Coghlan





My project is based on setting up a working recording studio, that will also serve as a “jam” space for  myself and my band in Lions Bay.  At the heart of the project will be a 36 channel, 8 bus Tascam console, an A.R.T. Tubefire 8 audio interface running via firewire to a MacBook Pro, (Which incidentally doesn’t have a fan port, instead using the aluminum unibody to dissipate heat. Thus creating little to no fan noise.) running Protools 9. I plan on “mixing in the box”, however my intention is to connect in such a way as to facilitate mixing that way or across the board.

Basic Needs:

The band consists of 5 members. Drums, (an electric kit, and a traditional one) Bass, Electric Guitar, Keyboards and Acoustic Guitar. For the most part there will be 3 mics needing to be live, and two additional guitar set ups for “guest artists”.

My plan is to have the ability of  running everything through the board. In this way it is my hope that when we jam/practice as we do weekly, we can use the electric drum kit and run the entire sound-scape through an AUX send to headphones and be quiet as church mice. Then when we record, or have jam/parties as we often do, than we could run the VOX through separately to floor based monitors facing each “quadrant”, (more on this later) with guitars and such running through just their individual amps, or the console.

The two drum kits are on a riser, (concrete skim coat on wood) and when recording or playing live with the traditional kit, there will be a need to isolate them somewhat. To this end, and to create an isolation booth for separating VOX etc., I have decided to  create a hybrid of the isolation panels and Gobos referenced in the Studio Design Handout.

   I liked the idea of articulation in the middle. If I were to use a two way hinge system, I could fold them both ways. That way I could have one side reflective and one side absorptive, flipping around, mixing and matching as needed. They would need to be large enough to surround the drum riser, so I’m planning on a long horizontal rectangle shape, (as opposed to vertical in the picture) still articulating horizontally as in the picture, but with a heartier support frame made of tube steel, bolts and wing-nuts. Sitting on casters welded to the frame, they still would be heavy and unruly, I plan on addressing the need for weight mitigation by creating them of a hollow skeletal structure made of 1X2 cedar, (light wood) filled with a sound dampening fibreglass insulation. On one side covering them with 1/2” plywood and horizontal cedar slatting, and the other a foam based acoustical tile treatment.


The basic room dimensions are:

We are in a residential area, and noise pollution is primary in our considerations. All effort is being taken to mitigate this. The studio is built on top of a concrete garage structure, The walls are made of concrete and 2X6 Hemlock/Fir studs. The floor and ceiling joists are made of a new material called T.J.I.’s. Basically they are an I beam made of  chip board and pressed wood fibre, measuring 11”5/8 from top to bottom and stretching the entire span of the room without the need for blocking. On top of this will be 3/4” T&G plywood sub-floors. On top of the studio will be an expansive deck, most of which will be on the exterior of the main house structure. The treatment will be for 1/2” plywood with drainage purlins, (creating an air space) with an additional 3/4” plywood layer on top. Covering this is three layers of a roofing membrane and a layer of concrete. The ceiling, floors and walls will all be filled with a high density blown insulation, and covered with a vapour barrier. The floor of the studio will be concrete, (with hardwood or carpets on top. This decision hasn’t been made as of yet.) and along the round wall will be a rock in mortar feature consisting of irregularly placed field stones. The door is of a solid core design facing an interior garage area and the windows are triple pane, argon gas filled. In short, every effort is being made to mitigate sound leakage.
We are fortunate to be building the house this studio is going into from scratch, and I tried to have it so the console was in a separate room, but space warranted that they be together.

Room Set Up:

Logically speaking we would move to electrical at this point, but I wanted to show the basic layout first as it is a bit different than what is usually seen.

It has always been challenging for us when addressing layout. Where to place speakers, where to stand, how not to trip over the multitude of cords….

We have a need to have visual communication in our group. It’s the way we began. I tend to lead tempo, starts and stops etc. not the drummer. It has evolved into a placement of players into a round configuration. Setting speakers so everyone hears well is a constant problem. Having a good sounding mix when it’s  players standing directly in front of their amps VS listeners/other band members on the other side of the room is another. There is a need to keep cords tidy, and directing the output in just the right direction to mitigate any number of sound pressure challenges such as comb filtering, feedback and overly loud drums and bass has always been daunting.

To this end I’ve taken a page from the construction industry.

When you have a small kitchen say, and there is a need for more counter space offset by a need for room flow, egress, view etc. One common solution is to take out a non-load bearing wall and create an island. This is what I plan for this project.

I plan on an round “island” of sorts for the middle of the room. On top will be a station for headphones, hooks all around for storage of these and cords when not in use and the headphone power amp and distribution boxes on top. The middle tier will be an XLR plug bay, and below will be floor based room monitors. The basic set up looks like this:

I’m planning on four monitors facing the four basic quadrants of the room.. All the cords leading to the Tascam are through a conduit, (snake) in the floor. At first it was discussed having outlets on the wall behind the players individually, housing both XLR and TRS connections so we could go straight from microphone or amplifier straight into the wall. Than have them routed through the studs like electrical wiring and coming out behind the console. This however was an expensive and unruly, (in the walls anyway) proposition, so instead I’ve decided to run a snake in one central conduit from the centre of the room under the island through the floor joists to pop up behind the console. The cords can do a short run to the middle hub from the places of the players in the room.I am planning on using 4” PVC tubing and 4 X 22.5 degree elbows for this.

Electrical / Chords:

Once again, building from scratch is fortuitous. We have decided to have a separate electrical panel dedicated to this room. There is a two car garage directly below, and the plan is to put it there. We are also planning on a separate ground as well. Stretching under a small expanse of driveway and placed in a wall of rock beyond.

Electrical power has always been a problem in the past, so for this project we are planning on overkill. Basically the idea is a 4banger behind every player, and another four on the middle hub, with all being a GFI plug as in a kitchen or bathroom. There is a need for more than four sockets at the console, so we’ll double them up there. The intention is to do away with power bars etc.

Lighting will be a combination of pots and tracks. Pots where possible, as we are planning on acoustical treatments on the ceiling, and a 4 light track spanning across the console area and acoustical guitar, (my) area for reading sheet music etc. All lighting will be on dimmers.

As I mentioned, all cords will flow from the console through a conduit to the main hub in the middle of the room. At the hub, I plan on a box end housing 16 XLR inputs, modelled on the box end of a typical snake and running to the first 16 channels of the console. From here all XLR cables can be inserted. This includes the mic XLR cables and the DI box XLR cables.

In regards to this, I plan on using the splitter in the DI boxes to run the signal to the two different places, (as well as using them to eliminate any ground loop problems).

A typical set up might look like this:

Guitar – 1/4” unbalanced cable – DI box – XLR cable – Main hub – XLR cable – Console  with  1/4” unbalanced cable – Amplifier.

Also it could be switched to put the amp first should this be desirable. So:

Guitar – 1/4” unbalanced cable -Amplifier -1/4” unbalanced cable – DI box – XLR cable – Main hub -XLR cable – Console.

In this way it is my vision to give the freedom of movement to microphone placement.

The only deviation from this is to run the cords from the electric drums straight across the back wall as they are right beside the console.

In regards to the headphones, we would have an AUX send, (one of four on the Tascam) connected via TRS cable through the conduit and to a headphone amp on the main hub.

Acoustical Treatment:

Firstly, there is a round wall. Covering it in rocks as is the plan will add an interesting acoustical ambience. I’m leery about this, but the wall is already built, The homeowner, (Kelly the drummer) wants the look of rock, and that’s that. Furthermore he wishes to have no further acoustical treatment in the way of traps etc. on the wall so it will be what it is. I’ve done some research into what this might sound like, and the prognosis is not bad… As we discussed in class, it would be better than a flat wall with two 90 degree corners, but even though the rock will dissipate the sound somewhat efficiently, the bass and electric guitar sit right across from it and I worry about standing waves,brightness etc.

In the corners we will have triangular bass traps. They will be slightly different than discussed in class however. In a way they will be something of a Helmholtz resonator. Basically the plan is to take Sono – tubes, (large round tubes of hard density cardboard used for pouring concrete forms that come in  different diameters, but for our purposes 24” by 8′ 8” high.) cut in holes of different diameters, (say 2” to 12” scattered) and fill the tubes with un-packed chunks of high density foam. Placing these snugly in the corners, we will than build simple 1” X 2” frames with cloth pulled across that measure 8′ 8” high, (the ceiling height) by whatever is required to span in front to give the illusion of a finished wall.

As mentioned earlier, there is a lot of exterior layers on the ceiling package. People walking around outside etc. simply won’t be a problem. Another selling point of the T.J.I.’s for the floor and ceiling joists are that they remove floor creaking completely. Indeed, as stated on their literature, it is one of their main selling points.

Our primary concern is lower frequencies inside the studio. This will be the second studio I will have helped to build in Lions Bay, and on the first one we took a simple box structure, measuring 12” down by whatever span was necessary and again filled it with loose chunks of irregularly shaped high density foam. It worked quite well, but for this build I would like to create a standing wave dissipater more as outlined in the class handout.

On the roof, over the drum and bass area, and measuring 8′ by 12′ I plan to build a box made of 2” X 6” Hem/Fir ripped down to 4 & 1/2”. Originally I was planning on topping it with 3/4” plywood, but there has now been talk of covering the ceiling in 5/8” T&G pine or cedar, (my vote is for cedar) so I’ll just use that. Additionally on the wall behind the chesterfield, between the two windows, and the console wall starting at the drum riser and going to the door wall jog, with a measurement of 60 percent of the total surface, I will build the same structures. Again with Hem/Fir ripped to 4 & 1/2”, and again with a 3/4” plywood top if not covered in pine or cedar.

We do not believe we have a need to dissipate sound leaving through the windows. If however there is a brightness issue from the glass, the plan is to create simple box constructs made from cedar or another light wood. They would measure the exact inside measurements of the window frame and would be solid wood surrounding a solid piece of high density foam with a pleasing enough fabric wrapped around the lot. A handle or pull tab would be affixed to the top and bottom to place and remove it.

The basic acoustical set up looks like this:

Conclusions, Costs, Etc.:

There were a few points on the Project sheet that have me stumped. A lot of what was asked for seemed to be for setting up a new studio, from scratch, with new equipment and for a paying clientele. This studio is personal. The boys and I have been at this for quite a few years now, and I’m not really sure how to deal with costs. Most of the equipment has been purchased a long, long time ago. We have cords etc. already coming out our proverbial yin-yangs that we have accumulated throughout the years, and what costs are involved with construction can and are absorbed by the larger costs of the new 6000 square foot house around it. The costs for that project are so heavily skewed toward other areas, ($300.000.00 in concrete forms as an example) as to really have no bearing on the build cost of this room, and frankly that cost is none of my business.

What I can offer you is some rough estimates toward build costs, and some general ball park figures for cords and such. There are a couple of new additions however, and I’ll list them below.

If one were to build this room from scratch, it’s a safe assumption that it wouldn’t be in a small stand alone house or shed. The costs associated with walls, flooring, joists ceilings etc. could immediately be taken out of the equation. What’s left are the costs of lumber for traps and risers, fabric, foam, possibly some upgrades in doors and windows and finishes such as paint. Nothing in this list, save for the doors and windows, (if bought new) is particularly expensive, so a room this size could easily be done for under $500.00. More expensive is the cost of labour. Generally around $25.00 / hour. This means a $200.00 per day/per man bill. Let’s assume one worker. Factoring in the cost of  demolition, (one day), finishing, (one day) and construction, (three days) the total labour conservatively comes to $1000.00, but that’s not the most expensive thing. Electricians can cost anywhere between $45.00 and $75.00 an hour depending on their journeyman status. If one were to try and save money by hiring a cheaper electrician, the cost savings would more than be eaten up in extra labourer costs to fix the “Bull in a China Shop” philosophy inexperienced tradesmen have. It may seem like a petty point, but I’ve seen it way too many times not to mention. Let’s assume another $1000.00 for electrical. In total the Rough build cost is somewhere between $2500.00 and $3000.00.

None of our equipment is semi-pro, and I do mean none. There have been times when we’ve held off in the past on buying things to be able to afford what we needed. There are no RCA cables to be found, and all of our speaker cords are 14 gauge. As far as cabling is concerned, there are some new additions to facilitate the Central hub in shorter  XLRs and unbalanced 1/4”. I plan on making most of them myself with materials bought from Lee’s Electronic. I’ll estimate the cost at $500.00.

The console is in the same room as the talent, so there is no need for a talkback feature.

Finally, here is a list of the new equipment:

As I mentioned, I am planning on 8 headphones, all with separate volume controls. There are quite a few reasonably priced units on the market, and a typical example might be :

Behringer – HA8000 – 8 Channel Headphone Amp

   Basically it’s one stop shopping for $164.00. I know Behringer is frowned upon, so there are several others at this price point to consider as well.

We already have two monitors, but we would need two more I’m thinking:

Yorkville Sound – YX12M – 200-Watt Stage Monitor

   2 of them at $215.00 a piece.

Next we would have to upgrade our Power amp. I’m thinking of something resembling the following, (Again with Behringer, I know. Bear in mind that none of this equipment has been purchased, and this is simply for giving an example of what we need. We in the band are all Scottish by nature, and chances are that we’ll be buying  better quality, but used.)

Behringer – EP4000 – 2 x 2000 Watts Power Amp

   One unit at a cost of $425.00 should do the trick.

Lastly, we’ll need DI boxes. These have everything we want as far as conversion, ground lift and split-ability to both console and amplifier:

ART Pro Audio – Dual Passive Direct Box

Just to be safe, I’m thinking 6 units at a cost of $58.99 each.

So the final cost breakdown for all the new equipment is as follows:

Cords, (various XLR to speaker) –  $500.00

Headphone amp – $164.00

Monitors, (2 X $215.00) – $430.00

Power amp – $425.00

DI Boxes, (6 X 58.99) – $353.94

Total – $1872.94

Tax – $224.75

Grand Total – $2097.69

Cost with construction expenses – $5097.69

One response

  1. Ronnie Anidi

    RCA cables are quie useful if you want to connect different audio and video cables. :

    <a href="Brand new write-up on our blog site

    November 20, 2012 at 5:20 pm

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