Review: Primacoustic Broadway Professional Acoustic Solutions

Thanks to Broadway, affordable DIY acoustic treatment has never looked or sounded so pro.
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"Acoustic treatment" means something different to every audio professional. It has to, because none of us work in exactly the same manner. Personally speaking, I am a recording musician. I've worked with (and continue to work with) some mighty fine engineers and mixers. I've worked in, and for, some mighty fine studios. Thus, I generally know what acoustics in a professional audio environment should be.

L to R: two MaxTraps, stacked (one is concealed by a guitar amp); a two-inch thick, 24 X 48-inch square-edged panel; and a two-inch thick, 12 X 48-inch beveled-edged panel. A three-section Stratus Cloud hovers overhead.

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Before this review, I personally didn't enjoy such an environment. "I do need a Primacoustic Broadway panel-based acoustic solution kit," I reasoned; I had seen them at nearly every pro audio industry trade show and liked their easily demonstrate-able physical qualities (and not to mention their looks). Further, I knew of many respectable engineers who work any way — and often, anywhere — they choose who have endorsed Primacoustic products.

After much daydreaming and planning, true opportunity knocked; my office/studio — located on my home's bottom floor in approximately 225 square feet of space — was flooded via city drain water … "and for the last time," I said aloud to anyone who would listen. So, I received a chance to improve things via a small, but personally affecting "Act Of God" (says Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, who, by the way, offered no help assistance in the matter). But I digress.

Upon tearing out wall-to-wall carpet and filling in the delinquent exterior door opening with 8-inch glass block (take that, flash floods), I covered the concrete floor with textured, stone-like 12" X 12" porcelain tile, then replaced toe molding and touched up paint. While enjoyable and rewarding, I was relieved when the rather big DIY job was done (as were the relatives that helped me do it)!

L to R: Two two-inch thick, 12 X 48-inch beveled-edged panels and two MaxTraps, stacked, create the front left corner of the room, which is currently set up for live drum tracking.

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To finish this total redo of my residential audio workspace — and to balance its new form with equal functionality — I ordered a Primacoustic Broadway kit for what had become an uncontrollably loud, but attractive live/work space, ridden with standing waves and flutter echo thanks to its nearly cubic shape. Previously, this work environment was still not accurate frequency-wise, but also boring and dead sounding (apparently, thanks to all the carpet). Presently, it is an accurate yet pleasing, acoustically rich and — dare I say it — acoustically complex workspace. Best of all, it is capable and flexible, can be flooded with natural light, and my day-to-day coworkers — my family — really like it.

Features

Broadway panels are made of high-density (6 lb. per cubic foot) encapsulated fiberglass with resin-treated panel edges and covered with acoustically transparent polyester fabric. The panels have achieved the ASTM E 85-05 Class A fire rating, meaning that they are safe and legal for installation in any commercial environment. The panels are available in black, grey, and beige; according to the company, they can be covered with a second fabric to better match or to develop a unique décor.

Broadway panel measurements include 1, 2, and 3-inch depths; available dimensions for each depth are 12 X 12, 24 X 24, 12 X 48, and 24 X 48 inch panels. The 2 and 3-inch lines offer square or beveled edges.

The Stratus Cloud hangs by eight wires from ceiling-secured eyehooks mounted in drywall anchors; behind the room's mix position are 12 one-inch thick 12 X 12-inch squares for rear wall diffusion and absorption.

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The Broadway line offers a wide variety of treatment products beyond simple absorption panels, each of which features a panel fascia. Broadband absorber/bass traps such as the FullTrap (with 24 X 48 X 8-inch MDF cabinet), MaxTrap (with 24 X 48 X 19 MDF cabinet) and GoboTrap (36 X 22.75 X 12 MDF cabinet) are available alongside the Stratus Cloud Kit (an aluminum frame holding a 24 X 48 X 2 Broadway panel for ceiling mounting), the Cumulus Trap (a triangular bass trap for ceiling/wall corners), and the Razorblade quadratic diffuser (the only non-panel-based product in the line).

All Broadway panels are mounted via the simple 'Impaler' mount, a steel mounting bracket with four sharp "teeth" that sink securely into the back of the panel. Impalers come 24 to a box; larger panels require more Impalers for a secure mounting job.

A two-inch thick, 24 X 24-inch beveled-edged panel and two Cumulus mid-bass traps perform quite well in the stairwell to the room from the house's main level.

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Based on each customer's unique room measurements, Primacoustic configures various Broadway components to build a complete acoustic solution for nearly any audio workspace to absorb primary reflections, flutter echo, and the control of excessive bass. (See sidebar for more information on the room acoustic design process by Primacoustic.)

In Use

In a review of an acoustic treatment system, an "In Use" report must include the installation process; after all, the physicality of assembling and mounting such a kit as the Broadway system is where the real work resides; what's left is simply using, listening to, and enjoying the altered environment.

For the entire install, the only tools that were required were measuring tape, a power drill, and patience, the latter of which was only because I wanted the install to look as proportional, professional, and attractive as possible. In other words, I worked slow and deliberately.

A bass trap/absorption tower consisting of two MaxTraps

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For the initial configuration, I received multiple boxes of beige Broadway components based upon Primacoustic's recommendations for my room. These included twelve 12 X 12-inch square-edged panels at a one-inch thickness, two 24 X 48-inch square-edged panels and eight 12 X 48-inch beveled-edged panels at a two-inch thickness, and four MaxTraps (see the PDF layout of the room's design). This selection of panels is based on the Primacoustic Broadway London 12A room kit, which follows the live-end/dead-end acoustic design concept. I also ordered a 24 X 24-inch beveled-edged panel for the ceiling of the room's stairwell from the house's main floor.

At the time of the original consultation with Primacoustic, the room was still carpeted and included an exterior door. Upon the room's change to porcelain tile floors and glass block in the place of the door, two other major components were added to the mix: a three-panel Stratus Cloud and four Cumulus traps. As the floor became a reflective surface (parallel to the eight-foot ceiling), the two additional Broadway component categories became worthwhile additions to the mix.

Hanging each panel was a breeze. With detailed installation manuals provided for each category, I was able to place each panel rather easily by first drilling appropriate holes for sheetrock or masonry screw anchors and screws per Impaler panel. I mounted all 12 X 12-inch panels with only one Impaler, the 12 X 48-inch panels with two Impalers, and the 24 X 48-inch panels with four Impalers in the time of one full workday. Next, with the help of a handy friend, I constructed the four MaxTraps with ease thanks to explicit directions provided with each kit; this took us less than 30 minutes per MaxTrap. The Cumulus corner traps were easily arranged and hung by myself; the innovative spring-based mounting system made this easy, as only one screw anchor and screw was required per trap.

Fast Facts Applications
Tracking, mixing, and mastering studios; audio broadcast facilities; home/project studios; home theater/audiophile environments

Features
A complete line of acoustic treatment components based fire-rated 6lb.-per-cubic-foot high-density encapsulated fiberglass panels and black MDF cabinets/enclosures; fabric coverings in black, grey, and beige; easy-to-use Impaler panel mounts (no glues or adhesives); professional, "non-foam" look; Broadway system acoustic design (with provided room measurements) and consultation by a Primacoustic acoustic engineer is included

Prices
$599.99 (London 12a room kit with anchors, screws, and drill bit); $399.99 each (MaxTrap); $119.99 per pair (Cumulus); $199.99 (Stratus, per 24"x48" panel)

Contact
Primacoustic | 604-942-1001 | www.primacoustic.com

Finally, hanging the three-piece, 6-foot long Stratus cloud over my room's mix position was the biggest task. Although it was quite simple in concept, the cloud was screwed together on the floor, then raised to be hung via eight wires attached to holes in the cloud's aluminum frame and eye-screws in screw anchors in the ceiling.

While the suggested components were based solidly on the mathematics of acoustics, the installation incorporated a good deal of creativity. After the install, I wanted to be able to personalize the room with artwork and other personal items; the Broadway components certainly left room for that and — as directly compared to competing, largely foam-based products — looked refreshingly "acoustician-designed and installed," too.

Each component category installed from the Broadway series did something acoustically significant and necessary for the room; I listened to familiar material as I went along and could hear the room gradually become focused and "tight." The flat panels did a great job of controlling the room's out-of-control reverberation, which was especially harsh considering its nearly cube-like measurement with nothing but hard surfaces virtually everywhere (two sheetrock walls, two concrete on cement block walls, a sheetrock ceiling, and a tile floor). Behind mix position, the "checker-boarded" 1-inch squares absorbed and scattered higher frequencies (starting significantly at around 500Hz) coming directly from my monitors. Around the room, the various-sized 2-inch panels tamed the high-end liveness (starting significantly at around 400Hz) to a point where the room was nearly usable as a "verby" tracking space. Next and most significantly, the MaxTrap and Cumulus Trap bass traps equalized the room significantly in the low end; with those in place, you could finally walk around the perimeter of the room and hear equal frequency response throughout the room. From 80Hz, the sound absorption coefficient of the MaxTrap is within a smooth 1.0 to 1.3 range; four MaxTraps arranged in two-and-two tower configuration finally allowed me to trust the low-end response of the space. Just because of their unassuming size, I expected less from the Cumulus Traps, yet they provided a most appropriate the 'final touch' in the rear corners of the room; other than working well as a rear corner bass trap, they also removed some remaining 'spring' from their respective areas.

Even before hanging the Stratus Cloud, I was happy with the sound and frequency response of the room. However, to serve as a dual-purpose tracking and mixing/critical listening space, the cloud was a necessity that truly was the final touch. I chose a 15-degree angle for my cloud (facing mix position); I found this to be a happy medium between the other two recommended angles, 10 and 20 degrees.

The Primacoustic Process According to Primacoustic Product Manager Jay Porter, the design process of each Broadway system is simple, yet custom and detailed in its conception. Here, Porter reveals the process in three straightforward steps between customer and company.

"First, the customer provides a simple floor plan showing accurate dimensions, windows, doors, anything else that cannot be moved. Here, customers should also indicate wall, ceiling and flooring materials. Photos are also extremely helpful to create an accurate plan. Next, we input dimensions into our Room Calculator, designed in-house to quickly determine the square footage of panels required (usually around 20 to 30 percent of wall surface areas). Our philosophy is to start on the light side of absorption, as more panels can always be added later if needed. Then room modes are calculated to estimate the type of bass trapping that is needed. Once we determine all suitable materials, we then use a graphics program to draw a mock-up of the room. Being studio engineers, we use our experience to place panels in suitable locations to create a functional and aesthetically pleasing space."

To be honest, I could have probably done without it if I had carpet on the floor. The same room with wall-to-wall carpet and a cloud would be entirely too dead, in my opinion; now, I can have a bit of life in the room and, if necessary, I can drop area rugs in strategic places, if desired. Another nice benefit of the angled cloud was its treatment of acoustics at higher altitudes; from a bit higher than the top of my head while standing (at around 5-feet, 10-inches) to the ceiling (slightly over 8 feet high), this cloud offered a bit more absorption thanks to its exposed back side made of the same material as its front (albeit not covered by fabric.) Thus, the room tightened a bit more just slightly, and I noticed that virtually any trace of displeasing springiness at overhead microphone height, etc., was nowhere to be found.

Upon hanging this monstrous three-section panel (a two-person job for sure), I truly did have the best of both worlds in the same room: under the cloud, a tight, trustworthy sonic oasis, and everywhere else, a small-mid room's natural reverb with a warmth and balance that now serves all tracking purposes from live drum kit to vocals to loud guitar amps.

I have no criticisms of the Broadway system. However, I do have one small complaint regarding the system's packaging. In shipping, a MaxTrap package corner was ripped; apparently, the bag containing all its assembly components fell out, so I had to call the company and wait for its replacement before putting together the last trap. Thus, I would recommend that Primacoustic securely tape the plastic component bag to a larger component rather than have it bounce freely around in the box. Considering how shipping companies regularly treat cargo in cardboard boxes, I can't imagine that this is the first time such a small hardware bag has fallen out of a MaxTrap box.

Summary

Audio production is based on art; acoustics is based on science. With correct formulas and measurements and testable, provable acoustic theories, Primacoustic has made the application of proven audio science easy for audio folks who choose a Broadway-based acoustics solution … easy, that is, beyond the simple physicality of a Broadway system installation. However, Primacoustic's thoughtful help via phone and website make the Broadway installation process a breeze, and each installation manual per component is incredibly well explained and detailed.

Broadway is proof-positive that a significant acoustics improvement can be fun and easy — even with only novice-level construction skills and a little help from your friends. Finally, Broadway is a bargain for what it is and does; it feels, looks and performs "professionally." In other words, your peers may take one look at your studio and think that you spent a small fortune on your acoustics overhaul, yet — if you did your own labor — you didn't.

With Broadway, my audio workspace sounds like I never imagined it could. As a result, my work has never been better or more satisfying. Without a doubt, the Primacoustic Broadway system is the most significant pro audio investment I have ever made.