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Get In Tune!

It's time to give your editing suite a "tune-up" By Douglas Spotted Eagle


This weekend, I visited a friend's office and video editing studio.

I was appalled.

He had spent literally thousands of dollars on a Mackie 626 system with a subwoofer, similar to the one we use in the Sundance A Room. It didn't sound remotely close to ours, and he was thinking it was defective. He'd been very unhappy with a set of reasonably nice Yamaha monitors in his studio, but the NS10's just weren't cutting it, or so he thought.

Truth was, he'd put a silver saddle on a jackass.

His room wasn't tuned. Not in any sense. His room had zero acoustical treatment in it, and the room was a squared front end, with a semi-circular back wall, with the room dimensions at 14 wide, 19 deep, and a 10 foot ceiling. Very sexy looking room with dark grey, flat paint on the sheetrock walls, sconce and indirect lighting, nice couch for clients to sit on, everything you could want except great sound.

"How could this be?" I asked. "How could you spend so much cash on a system only to not have the room be ready for it?" I mean, colors of the room, furniture, lighting, editing desk, carpet, even networking, plasma screen for the client, everything had been thought of.

Oh yeah...the architect of the room didn't consider sound. At all.

So, I ran to Performance Audio, borrowed a couple sheets of Auralex panels they had in the back, and grabbed some moving blankets while I was out running around. (Did you know Uhaul charges rent on those things?) I also grabbed some thumbtacks and headed back to my buddies place.

By putting Auralex panels behind his speakers, hanging some blankets from the ceiling, and putting panels at key points on his very nice semi-circular sheetrock wall, we had his room sounding 200% better in less than 30 minutes.


Because we sat down to tune the room.

You see, ALL rooms have reflections of some sort. Even anechoic chambers. (big rooms that have no reflected sound at a specific point, used for testing frequency response, cell phones, and any number of other frequency related items)

Only anechoic chambers have perfectly balanced acoustics. Do you edit in an anechoic chamber?

And these reflections create havoc if they're not tamed.

Imagine a bullet ricocheting off of the walls of an all-steel room, unable to penetrate or be absorbed by the walls. Or imagine a pool ball bouncing off the sides of a pool table. However, these are not quite the same as sound. Imagine the bullet or ball being able to split different pieces off at various velocities depending on their mass. This is what audio does. It reflects differently at various frequencies.

In addition to this reflection phenomena, there are other issues at play too. The predominant issue is that of where reflections meet themselves as a positive and negative wave. In other words, sound coming FROM the audio speaker is positive energy, while sound reflecting off of a wall is negative energy. At one point or another, they will collide with each other. These out-of-phase energies (waves) called a "node." Nodes are no big deal, and are part of any room/speaker combination. It's WHERE the nodes occur that can be a problem. Nodes occur from the width, height, and depth of a room.

In addition to all of this, the room will have spaces that are louder and softer at various frequencies around the room. For example, a room might be really bright and contain little bass, or a room might be more muddy as it doesn't reflect the high frequencies as well, or perhaps the room simply amplifies the bass and midrange frequencies. There is virtually no such thing as a "flat" room, or a room that is balanced across the entire frequency spectrum, excluding test facilities and special designs.

Bass frequencies are the toughest to deal with. They create an entirely different treatment method than do higher frequencies. Low frequencies will mess with the overall perceived frequency response in a room, where higher frequencies are somewhat compensated for in the ear.

Does this frighten you? Are you now afraid that you're sending out horrible audio to your clients or to the broadcast house?

It shouldn't. First, you likely didn't record anything except a dialog track if even that. The music in your production likely came from the client, a CD, or a buyout library. Sound FX likely came from the same place. And if you are doing your own Foley, then this article isn't for you anyway.

But what this DOES mean, is that you are not hearing your mixes, dialog, FX, or whatever else you've got in the audio tracks in an accurate setting. And while the differences are minute, so is the difference between 235 and 255 in the color spectrum, right? And as minute as it is, you're probably painfully aware already of seeing all this on the external monitor you edit with.

How can you affordably make your room sound better and more accurate?

There are several methods ranging from expensive to virtually free. Of course, you can always call in an acoustical consultant, but for most rooms, I'd not recommend it. There is no mystery in this approach, you just need to be somewhat conscious of what you're doing.


Monitors that are too close to the wall cause early reflections that can muddy up the mix. Particularly if they are against a typical indoor studded wall on 16" centers, with no insulation in the wall. If the wall is insulated, bully for you. If the wall is brick, bully for you too, except that the harder wall with low absorption still presents problems.

Next, get them out of your cabinet if you have one.

I've seen these corner office units that have really nice little cubbies designed to put CD's and other small items in. Often they become receptacles for audio monitors since they're not usable for much else in a video suite. Boxing your monitors into the cubby only causes the cubby and the rest of the desk to become resonant contributors to audio, creating peak points in your audio so that the resonance of the wood plays a huge part in what audio you hear. Not a good thing.

Air/isolation is good for your speaker. If there was a way to shock mount your speaker monitors to hang from the ceiling like you've shockmounted mics on a boom pole in your productions, that would be a good, if not impractical thing. Next best thing in my opinion, is the Auralex MoPad. These extremely dense foam stands for your monitor speakers are worth every penny, and it doesn't take many pennies. These alone will make a tremendous difference.

MoPads are cheap, but are very valuable in the editing suite.

Next, kill the bounce from your walls behind the speakers. Get a sheet of Sonex, Auralex Pyramids (2" or so) and put a block on your wall directly behind the speaker. This will help keep the wall from bouncing your sound around inside the wall, and kill some of the reflections coming off the wall from the back of the speaker. This is particularly important if you have a speaker ported to the back like the M-Audio BX series monitors.

Put your monitors so your tweeters (the high frequency speaker part that sounds a little like sizzling bacon when turned really loud) so that they are approximately at ear level. Speaker stands help a lot if you can't get them this high. Frankly, having your monitors on a different platform than your editing system is a really good thing, because then the speakers don't resonate the cabinet, as mentioned above. The speaker stands you can buy from Circuit City or Best Buy are usually just fine. You don't need the high end sand filled or water filled units that we use in the better recording studios.

Set your speakers so the distance between the speakers is equal to the distance from the tweeters to your earlobes. In other words, a perfect triangle.

Make sure your monitors are equidistant from each other, and from your ears.

Depending on distance, it's a good idea to have something on the back wall that is absorptive. Heavy drapes, Auralex Tru-Traps, or other absorptive and/or diffusive devices are going to help tremendously, as they absorb and deflect/diffuse frequencies that are coming back at your ears from that back wall.

See, the goal is to push the node points and null points as far away from the main listening position as possible. This will make a huge difference in what you hear. You'll still likely have some bass issues if you're in a typical editing room converted from a bedroom or office space. Usually, if you find yourself missing some bottom end/bass, consider NOT boosting the bass around 80Hz. This is the approximate frequency that most smaller rooms have a deep hole. This hole will change somewhat, depending on how far away you are from the rear wall.

Next, you've got to match the bass/subwoofer (if you have one) to the monitoring position. Don't worry about anywhere else in the room.

The best way to do this is to find a music piece that you are very familiar with, that sounds good in the car, good in the living room, and good on the iPod. Use this as a reference point to get it sounding good in your room. I don't recommend anything that is deliberatly bass-heavy. Consider any modern symphonic movement, or a pop song mixed by a master. "Money for Nothing" from Dire Straights has been my go-to for this sort of listening and tuning experience.

If you follow these small points, you'll have a MUCH sweeter sounding room, and at most, it cost you less than a couple hundred bucks. A nice side effect to this process is that your ears will likely get less fatigued in long editing sessions. You painted muted colors in your editing room so that your eyes don't get overly strained; consider this treatment as "audio painting" so that your ears don't get fatigued.

Auralex's Tru-Traps may as well have been designed for the video editor, as they are quite useful. They come in nice colors, too.
If you'd like to be more specific with what you're doing, you can download a free room calculation from the Auralex site, http://www.auralex.com/aoc/aoc_data.aspx will get you there. These guys are really great at helping. I didn't win my Grammy's and Emmy's for having a badly tuned room, and these guys helped me tune it quickly, and reasonably inexpensively.

Tuning a video suite should only take half a day or so if you somewhat plan out what you want to do. But it's well worth the cost and time, as not only will your audio come out better because you can hear it more accurately, but your ears will be capable of staying fresh for much longer periods of time. Who knows, you might start hearing noise that wasn't audible before, or you might start hearing a wider stereo field, allowing you to place audio segments with more accuracy. You've worked hard to be a great video editor, now start creating equally great audio.

Til next time, happy editing.


Douglas Spotted Eagle is a recording artist/producer, having recorded 14 solo recordings for Virgin/Higher Octave, Windham Hill, and SOAR Records, in addition to producing more than 300 recording and video projects. He has been part of several Grammy-winning recordings, received one of his own in 2001, and has received several Emmy's in addition to being part of a number of Oscar nominated films. He's currently at work on his yard inbetween editing sessions. Read more from "Spot" here on the DMN or on the www.vasst.com/login.htm site.

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DOUGLAS SPOTTED EAGLE, Managing Producer Douglas Spotted Eagle is an audio and video pro. He is a Grammy recipient with DuPont, Peabody, and Telly awards lining his studio; he is also a participant/producer in multiple Emmy Award winning productions.

Douglas is the Managing Producer for Sundance Media Group, Inc. and VASST, authoring several books and DVDs and serving as a trainer and consultant for videographers, software manufacturers and broadcasters. He is the author or co-author of several digital media titles including Digital Video Basics (VASST), The FullHD (VASST), and Vegas Editing Workshop (Focal Press) among many others.

Douglas is an accomplished aerial photographer who thrives in the adrenaline-filled world of fast-action videography. He remains active as a multimedia producer, trainer, and presenter, utilizing the latest technology as part of his workflow.

Related Keywords:Audio, video, Auralex, mixing, monitor, multimedia, spotted eagle

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