Top brands and sound engineers help you check the right boxes. So whether you are gaming, jamming, recording, or watching a movie at home, you do it like a pro. By Mrinalini Sundar
Sound engineered hotspots like Mumbai’s 400-cover restaurant-bar Blue FROG and the 136-cover Hard Rock Cafe in Chennai, inspire the musically inclined and tech savvy to bring the experience home. While Bangalore’s house proud pay anywhere between Rs.50,000 to above Rs.2 crore to set up a top-notch sound station, in Chennai, experts say the spending goes up to Rs.80 lakhs or more. And only the industry’s best sound engineers and acoustic experts are called in to set it up. We talk a few of the experts, who bring us up to speed on the specs behind indoor and open air venues, restaurants and home theatres, and tell us why installing our own studio at home isn’t a pipe dream. With brands like RPG Acoustics and Soundcraft in demand, you will find out how to swing a budget of over Rs.15 lakhs to Rs.20 lakhs for indoor and outdoor studios respectively. Plus, international specialist Andy Munro, the man behind some of A R Rahman’s studios, talks about the importance of dynamic range and balancing frequencies.
Mike Williams, Audio Sciences
Entertainment has become really big with so many musicians and bands coming up in the city,” says Mike Williams, director, Audio Sciences, the company that provides acoustic solutions and lights for music shows with musicians and singers like Benny Dayal, Salim-Suleiman, Bombay Jayshree and Rahul Nambiar in Bangalore, Coimbatore and the city. His recent projects also boast of The Music Festival at The Museum Theatre, UK band Toccata’s show in Colombo last month, and the Paul Baloche show in the city in April, apart from college fests like IIT Madras. Williams informs that 90 decibels is the average sound level for open air music shows. Working with a budget of Rs.30,000 onward, he shares, “In a big band’s show, sometimes the audience is louder than the performer. Then we need to maintain the SPL (sound pressure level) by ensuring that the systems have enough head room and the speakers are aligned to face the audience.” But in an indoor space a low roof means the sound travels too far while with high roof the sound can even echo. According to him, Midas, soundcraft and Hamtech are the most preferred brands even by international bands like Metallica and music composers like Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Salim-Suleiman. An English literature graduate, Williams had no formal training in sound engineering. This July, he started his own training company, Corner House Productions, where he teaches sound engineering and playing musical instruments. Details:facebook.com/AudioSciences
Need to know
Ideal decibel for an outdoor event is 90 hertz and starts from Rs.30,000 for an evening. Preferred brands are Midas, Soundcraft and Hamtech.
Long before Krish Kumar saw the finished structure of the Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall in 2008 — he heard it. “I never had any challenges per se, because right from the beginning, I knew what I wanted,” says the head of operations at the auditorium. When we asked Kumar who his go-to sound experts were, he told us with a laugh, “Actually I got most of my help from Google!” While the auditorium has seen performances like BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Vir Das’s History of India — VIRitten, Kumar gives us pointers on building a high quality auditorium, “The problem tends to arise when you are trying to convert an existing space into something it is not, sort of like trying to make a kitchen a bedroom.” One of the city’s most coveted auditoriums, after eight years under construction, Kumar reveals there was still plenty to play around with for the perfect sound, “For instance, in the beginning we had the speakers up front suspended in multiple clusters and distributed through the hall. But when that wasn’t satisfactory because of lack of clarity, we decided to go old school and took them to the back of the hall — divided between left and right. They’re still suspended, but this is the way you would arrange your speakers for a basic stereo system, it’s ‘simple’ and that’s always been my mantra,” he shares.What’s the maximum wattage of the hall, we wonder? “It’s 1,600 watts RMS per side, for the tops (positioning) and 3,200 watts RMS on each side for the subs,” he responds. “But I must add, our system is not the most powerful system you can get in this city, nor is it the most expensive. For me it was never about brands, it was always about feel.”
Need to know
With up to 3,200 watts RMS available, setting up sound systems at a concert hall can cost from Rs.75
Though Chennai-based Richard Meyne has been working in the marketing team of Toyota for several years, he also moonlights setting up high-end sound systems for homes, cars and restaurants. “I generally work with Pioneer speakers and amplifiers, but when it comes to cabinets and boxes, I make them myself. I work on the cross over designs and base straps myself. I also like the brand Peerless — it’s a Danish company,” says Meyne, who collaborates with architects like Sunil Silva, owner of Vivendi Ventures, for the interiors of the space. Meyne’s last project was a home theatre at Tummy Tucker, Pallava Beach. According to him, brands like Marantz and Boston offer high end products and the latest trend would be the in-built WiFi, enabling easy access to Android and Apple devices. But while designing the sound system in a house, Meyne says, “How the room is set up is very important. For a home theatre with acoustic set up, it needs to be at least a rectangular 16×10 ft room or more. And if you set up a 5.1 system (five speakers and one sub woofer) in a closed area, the voice might not travel far, thus you will have to go for a higher system like 7.2 (seven speakers and two sub woofers).’’ The minimum budget required for such a setup with sound proofing and equipments would be Rs.4.5 lakh.
Need to know
For a bar or a disco setup in a restaurant, the ideal decibel level is 200-400 RMS per channel and would cost at least Rs.1 lakh and above to set upManoj
Having worked with studio owners, music composers, singers, audiophiles and home theatre owners, Manoj Kumar tells us about the two things to keep in mind when designing your studio. “Soundproofing and acoustic treatment are of utmost importance. While soundproofing deals with noise management issues, the latter is about treating the inner walls with different acoustic materials so sound reflects better,” he begins. As for equipment available in the market, Kumar suggests brands like RPG Acoustics, Real Traps and Auralex. Having said that, Kumar shares, “Treatment will vary based on room dimensions and type. For example, a studio near a busy area will require a high level of soundproofing.” In case of a ready-made room, one needs to deal with sound frequency related issues, like ‘standing waves’ (sound that resonates in the room) will blur other frequencies thus affecting the sound. “Low frequency issues are always a common problem in small rooms. You even have solutions like resonators and diaphragmatic absorbers to manage sound levels and 85DB is the perfect sound level at which you can record and mix in a studio,” he says. On design parameters used for different kind of rooms, Kumar says, “In a recording studio, a control room will have speakers and so will have to deal with a lot of sound pressure levels than a live room, which is meant for musicians playing instruments. A home theatre will have multi channel audio playback, including sub woofers. In all these cases the objective is to mange the reflections and achieve right amount of reverberation times.” Kumar, who is currently working on one of the many studios of A R Rahman, points out that the studio is a production facility for movie sound. He has also worked for singer Unnikrishnan’s studio. Kannada music director Gurukiran in Bangalore, music director Deepak Dev in Kochi, Aura studio in T-Nagar, Mickey J Mayors studio in Hyderabad, are all his clients. Apart from these, he has also worked on over 25 studios in and around Chennai.
Need to know
Ideal sound level is 85DB for a studio and the brands to look for are RPG Acoustics and Real Traps
Music composer and producer, Prithvi Chandrashekhar is busy working on a music album in collaboration with actress Andrea Jeremiah at his Krimson Avenue Studios on Nelson Manickam Road. Chandrashekhar, 30, has designed his own recording studio. “When I returned from Boston after finishing my honors graduate from Berkeley College of Music, I decided that I will need a space of my own. So I started doing my own research and built this studio in 2006,” he shares. Equipped with high-end systems that cost over `1 crore from the US (brands like Avalon, Symphony, Manley Voxbox), Chandra-shekhar says opting for a premiere system depends on a lot of factors. “By setting up five speakers and an amplifier one cannot get a home theatre,” he says. A former teacher at the KM Music Conservatory, Chandra-shekhar tells us that brands like Monitor Audio, QSC Audio products, Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) and Bang & Olufsen (B&O) have some of the best speakers, amplifiers and more. As for challenges, he says space is the one major concern, “you cannot get very creative with an already built studio. For example, my studio has been treated with an extra six inch wall so the studio is isolated and sound proof. After space, the next big hurdle is the budget. “For a 15×15 room, soundproofing would cost from `8 lakhs onwards. Then comes the interiors and equipment and the design can cost from Rs.10 lakh onwards.” Ask him about a superior sound experience and Chandrashekhar says, “Blade’s state-of-the-art studio in Texas is out of the world. You can find a video online where Russ Berger, the man who designed the studio, will take you on a virtual tour of the place. It’s fantastic,” he exclaims.
Need to know
Interiors cost above Rs.12 lakhs and preferred brands like Bowers &Wilkins (B&W), Bang & Olufsen (B&O) and soundproofing, cost up to Rs.10 lakhs
Well-known for designing the acoustics of theatre halls in Chennai like SPI Cinemas and Ega, Jal Mistry tells us about the brands that provide excellent sound quality. “Harmen is a good brand that I work with, so is JBL. When a place is already constructed and you have to work there, you cannot do much. Like for example, I worked on the convention centre of Infosys in Chennai, but I could only make corrections like increase the thickness of the walls or reconstruct the roofs,” he shares. According to the acoustic expert, who has designed concert halls in Mumbai, Dolby Atmos is the best when it comes to superior audio experience in theatres, “movie watching should be interactive. You cannot have a man on screen who sounds like a mouse. So the quality has to be good and the movie watching experience should be enhanced,” he concludes. The Dolby Atmos technology for a theatre costs more than 80 lakhs.
The laws of acoustics haven’t changed and our hearing is as amazing as ever. Just that now it’s all about dynamic range and the balance between frequencies
For people in the music business, Andy Munro needs no introduction. The acoustic designer, who began his career touring with biggies like Bruce Springsteen and The Rolling Stones — putting together sound systems for their stage performances — is now the go-to man for high-end studios. After four decades in the industry, he says not too much has changed. “The laws of acoustics haven’t changed and our hearing is as amazing as ever. Just that now it’s all about dynamic range and the balance between frequencies — both direct from instruments and reflected around the room,” says the 63-year-old, who first came to India in 1992, when he helped with the setting up of Famous Studios in Mumbai. Today, some of the country’s biggest sound spaces have his expertise behind them. “The most challenging were probably Sony International and Prime Focus in Mumbai, where we had to build many studios into limited spaces, while maintaining good sound separation and accurate acoustics for 5.1 mixing and voice recording. But my favourite would have to be Studio Nyssa, our first large-scale project (in Mumbai), where we used our own customised monitor systems, and, of course, Blue FROG,” says the designer who is currently working on several projects, including a project for Dolby in their new Mumbai headquarters, and Blue FROG’s new club in Bangalore. Munro is also working on new speaker designs and a range of acoustic panels, which can be used in both home and commercial environments. “They will look very distinctive and tick many boxes for convenience,” says the designer, an avid guitarist, who loves to kick back in his own studio, strumming his favourite Martin acoustic, when he has the time.
A quick check on global trends has him admitting that “strangely, most of the trends are negative — with spaces becoming noisier and more uncomfortable on the ears.” But he is glad that architects and designers are beginning to employ acoustic consultants right from the get-go. As for those looking to create a good sound space in their homes, “My advice is to walk the room with your ears. Put bass absorbers where the notes are strong and soft things where the sound bounces off the wall,” says Munro, adding that ideally you should hire an acoustic consultant during the construction stage. “Many people believe that if they increase their walls’ thickness, it will improve acoustic isolation. But that’s not true,” he concludes.
Cover inputs: Surya Praphulla Kumar, Sharmistha Maji and Sonali Shenoy