With the miniaturization of professional quality recording gear comes the miniaturization of recording spaces. The prohibitive costs associated with building a studio from the ground up combined with smaller space requirements have led many to utilize existing - and typically rectangular - rooms for project and professional studios.

Unfortunately, typical home and office rooms are not ideally suited for professional audio purposes. Worse, many people pour all their resources into accumulating equipment and give acoustic matters little or no regard.

Primacoustic, a decade-old architectural and industrial acoustics design group based in Vancouver, has responded with a range of affordable acoustic treatment systems targeted towards existing-room situations.

Features

Primacoustic has designed its Primakit acoustic treatment systems to tackle the most predictable problems associated with rectangular rooms. Primakits include a collection of absorptive and diffusive products specified to provide basic broadband acoustic treatment. Although they do not address other serious acoustic issues like structural isolation, kits such as these ensure greater potential for acoustic accuracy over haphazardly applying foam everywhere - a common practice that can actually make the room's acoustics worse.

Primacoustic makes several exotically named Primakits (Rio, London, New York, Montreal) geared towards specific-use rooms including control rooms, voice over booths and video post suites.

The London Primakit systems are specifically designed for use in control rooms and single-room project studios. Four different London models are available to treat a range of approximate room sizes: London-12 for 12-foot x 9-foot rooms ($450); London-14 for 14-foot x 10-foot rooms ($600); London-15 for 15-foot x 12-foot rooms ($700); and London-16 for 16-foot x 12-foot rooms ($875).

The London systems are comprised of four separate high-density, open-cell foam elements, each treating a different acoustical condition. The kits are based on the tried-and-true live-end/dead-end (LEDE) theory of studio acoustics which provides for a neutral balance of live reflective ambience and broadband absorption.

The first element in the London system, the Europa Flutter Wall, is mounted behind the speakers, forming the "dead end" of the studio. Comprised of varying foam shapes and thickness, the Europa is stated to evenly absorb frequencies 400 Hz and above and aid in reducing standing waves, slap echo and back reflections from the monitors.

The second element is the Orientique Washboard. These angled foam panels are mounted on the side walls opposite each other and are designed to reduce side-to-side flutter and "smear" as well as absorb primary reflections.

Next are the Scandia Scatter Blocks, comprised of smaller blocks of the same angled high-density foam. Intended as the "live end," the blocks are mounted in a spaced-apart fashion on the rear wall to diffuse direct reflections and standing waves.

Last are the Australis Corner Traps. These large wedges provide solid mass for bass absorption to a stated frequency of 45 Hz.

In use

For review I was sent the London-16 kit, the largest of the London series. The kit arrived in seven UPS-shipable cartons and came complete with Liquid Nails adhesive for mounting the foam.

Included in the London-16 are six Australis Corner Traps, a Europa 83 Flutter Wall (8-foot x 3-foot) for the front, four Orientique Washboards and Scandia 85 Scatter Blocks (8-foot x 5-foot) for the back wall.

The target install room was 19-foot x 11-foot and has several windows. Primacoustic notes that if your room size does not quite match the specified kit sizes, additional elements can be purchased individually.

I chose to mount most of the foam on foam core poster board and then mount the completed element on the walls using mirror channel strips. This worked well, allowing flexibility in fine tuning the room and portability should I have to move the studio.

One of the coolest features of the Primakits is its modularity. The Europa Flutter Wall, for instance, is made up of several sizes and shapes of foam strips and blocks that can be arranged in a variety of patterns.

The foam can also be lightly sprayed with latex paint to fit the decor, as I did in this installation. This worked well, but care must be taken to ensure an even look. On one wall that has a painted mural on it, the Orientique Washboards and Australis traps were painted into the design (see photo).

After installing the London kit, the acoustics of the room improved measurably. Compared to the untreated room, one of the biggest gains was a large reduction of corner bass build up. This alone served to improve clarity and imaging by eliminating low and low-mid anomalies and masking.

Another obvious improvement was the general reduction of quick reflections that cause wash, distraction and listening fatigue; a more pleasurable listening experience in general.

I found the rear "live end" Scandia Scatter Blocks, comprised of intermittent angled foam blocks and bare wall, to be less effective in reflecting/diffusing sound than I hoped. Instead, it seems the foam absorbed more than it diffused, which is not unlikely, give it is the exact same foam used in the absorptive walls. The high frequency diffusion was significantly improved when I thickly painted the face of the individual blocks (which also helped with the bass/low-mid build up along the rear wall by adding mass and retaining the larger waveforms).

Summary

There's no substituting the results of a professionally designed and constructed studio with something that comes in a kit. Likewise, there is no comparison between an untreated home or office room (or an improperly treated room), and one that has been treated with a broadband acoustic system such as Primacoustic's Primakits. The London system installed easily, looks professional and successfully improved the existing poor acoustics of the test room.

Stephen Murphy, contributing studio editor for PAR, has recorded over 300 vinyl and CD releases, including a Grammy Award-winning and a Platinum-selling album. Steve can be reached at smurph@smurphco.com.

REVIEW SETUP

Westlake 8.1 and Mackie HR824 studio monitors; Hafler H3000 power amplifier; Digidesign Pro Tools MixPlus workstation; Zaolla Silverline analog and digital cables.

Contact: Primacoustic at 604-942-1001, Web Site