Rupert Neve Designs (RND), the Wimberley, Texas-based pro audio firm of truly legendary proportions, recently converted a conference room at its headquarters into an interestingly multifunctional space. As a result, critical listening and R&D work, audio production-oriented product demonstrations and, yes, conferencing can all happen within this acoustically balanced, aurally pleasing environment.
“Given the fact that Rupert Neve’s products are of the very highest audio caliber in the industry—the best of the best stuff out there—[RND] realized that they could benefit from a very high-quality critical listening room,” says Mark Genfan of Austin, Texas’ Acoustic Spaces, the acoustic design and consulting firm contracted for the job at RND. “But the only space they had available to turn into a critical listening space was a conference room. It’s not a very large conference room—with a bunch of windows on one side and sliding doors on the other side—and definitely not a great starting point for a critical listening room. After all, the windows are sound reflective and the doors don’t keep unwanted sounds in or out. To top it off, they still wanted to be able to use the room as a conference room when it wasn’t being used at a critical listening space. It was a challenge; we were essentially given one wall to make the best, most effective critical listening environment that we could and still do a bit of treatment on the rest of the room. Another factor was that the budget was limited; they didn’t want to go the route that we might go for a top music-production facility with built-in acoustics.”
Pulling from his quarter-century’s worth of studio design experience in and around Austin and, before that, years of recording classical music at Sony Music Studios in New York City, Genfan considered a range of acoustic solutions before settling on multifunctional acoustic treatment products from Atlanta’s GIK Acoustics. “Having worked with them before, I feel that their off-the-shelf products are very, very good in build quality as well as acoustic quality, with test data to support it,” Genfan says. “GIK knows what they’re doing and I feel confident spec’ing their products. So after that, it was just a question of what existing GIK products I would use to create a very good critical listening environment on one end of the conference room.”
Part of the appeal of employing GIK solutions, says Genfan, is that many of its products successfully meld absorptive and diffusive qualities within one piece. “It’s an ever-expanding range of acoustic solutions, which is a real help, knowing that I could grab an absorptive panel that has some diffusive qualities, an absorptive panel that has some low frequency control, and have it all look really good, too. Some of the manufacturers can do this fairly well, but I think GIK is the best.”
How is such a multifunctional space different from most traditional recording studio design work? According to Genfan, much of the same criteria are involved, such as early reflection points that must be softened to avoid harshness and low frequency buildup, which must be tamed. “Where the differences lie are in the multipurpose aspect of the entire room,” he continues. “If the same space was designated to be a control room only, like a typical recording studio, I would’ve been able to do more control of frequencies with bass trapping around the rear walls and off the ceilings; I had no space to do that in this limited conference room, nor did they want to eat up that much space, regardless of the function. The differences are really just the limits to the room in regards to physical space and the client’s request to keep the room functional as something else—in this case, a conference space—too.”
That, and in the case of RND, the company builds gear, so there’s no need for technical integration. “In other words, there’s no integrated console,” offers Genfan. “Even though they bring in consoles to critically listen to, we didn’t have to install one. So it involved none of the technical integration tasks that we normally have to do.”
As such, the acoustic treatment formula behind RND’s “multifunction” room is interestingly similar to the needs of an increasing number of recording digs—those of laptop-based, on-the-go, largely residential-based recordists. “Just yesterday, I visited with a musician who built one room on the side of his parents’ house,” compares Genfan. “It’s not a very large room— actually, it’s about the same size as the RND listening room—and the intention is for it to be used for full band rehearsal, tracking and mixing. [The band] is not aiming to operate a commercial recording studio, but to do all those things just to meet the band’s needs. In a generic way of looking at it, the “control room” is the room that is literally in control; acoustically, you must be sure of the accuracy of what you’re hearing in that room to make critical judgments. A tracking space should have some ambience, allowing it to make as many instruments sound as good as possible while performing and playing. So, how do you accomplish that in one fairly small room? My answer is, you strike somewhere in the middle: You don’t want to over-deaden the room, and you want to control low frequencies. You don’t want quite the low frequency reverberation time as you might have in a designated control room. You want a bit of performance ambience, but still a good critical listening environment. So yes, these sorts of multifunctional, acoustically treated spaces are definitely an increasing trend.”