Imperative Audio - PVB Review
How the IA Portable Booth helped us up our game...
In 2012, we invested in a shipping container studio, its a great way to add a more affordable working space to your life, and has continued to pay us back many times over. I remember the year well, because in 2012, the radio show I was listening too while I worked away on fixing it up, was counting down to the end of the world, and I was making up fixtures for acoustic treatment. I waited in anticipation as the final 10 seconds of existence diminished, wondering if all this hard work would be in vein. Turns out it was just another extinction event that was to pass by without effect and I was to live at least long enough to tell you about a more recent development for the studio, February 2021 to be precise.
The acoustic treatment I installed has worked extremely well, our container was once/still is of the anti-vandal type, designed to be an office that could be left on a low security building site. This makes it ideal for securing a recording studio, if not ideal for mixing or recording. However, the 2 x 4 panels and ceiling clouds I somehow managed to install on my own were doing a good job of removing the vast majority of the problems one would associate with a steel box, a thin wrap of insulation and ply board. The moment you walk into the control room, you get a sense that the environment is suitably professional.
However, over the years I became frustrated by some of the vocal recordings I was getting, not that we couldn't get commercial grade vocals, but rather it took a lot of work to achieve, was unpredictable and ultimately, we couldn't push past the limitations of the environment, I'll explain in a bit about that, but first I initially consulted a professional acoustics company and asked what it would cost to fix the problems I described.
Lets just say...alot. Because materials for dampening down resonant frequencies and then attempting to silence external noise to that of Abbey Road is an exercise in the law of diminishing returns, the numbers sounded terrifying enough just for one wall, but then this would be applied to 3 x more plus the floor and the ceiling to stand a chance at all of working properly, plus specialist air conditioning would be required and the space of the live room eaten up by the extra infrastructure. No go.
Life continued on and instead I continued to try and find other ways to get round the room problems, inevitably alot of rock wool and anything that could conceivably absorb unwanted frequencies were tried and successful to some degree, but still unsatisfactory, unpredictable and quite honestly, not always professional looking, at one point a sleeping bag, two mic stands and some clips from a set of jump leads, were a low point.
Not much less expensive were professional recording booths, heavy, demanding coffins that not only induced claustraphobia, they tend to sound bad due to corner frequency build ups and make everything sound like you had indeed recorded in a coffin. I simply could not fathom ever wanting to spend so much money on something so restrictive and disappointing, both in terms of sound quality, perhaps more so square footage. The USP of a fixed booth is sound isolation, with frequency control second, our recording room is generally quiet, investing so much in isolation was a lower priority.
Again, time passed and no matter what I looked at, every solution was either far too expensive, too demanding or else in the case of products like reflection filters...useless.
My problem, I promised to expand earlier on, was that while the room sounded ok at normal levels, singers passionately belting a line would set off a string of complex harmonic interactions, featuring harsh resonances, phase cancellation, ringing and various contributions from the low grade ply board the container was constructed from. Not too noticable until you used compression, or attempted to EQ the vocal. Stray frequencies that were more than passable at the recording stage were creating havoc when it came to getting the vocal loud, indeed, loudness was being dictated too by how intrusive these sonic blighters became.
It was obvious, we had to invest in a product that would make these problems go away. I was very close to purchasing - unenthusiastically - a perspex booth, which was the best of the solutions following a ton of research I could find. It was only by chance that StudioSpares mentioned I might be interested in a development from a company called Imperative Audio, who were to release a new product in February 2021.
I viewed the pre-release images and instantly recognised who this was aimed at...me.
Not only does it make perfect sense, it looks great and has the added advantage of being portable.
I think it is fair to say it takes its design lead from the fashion for reflexion filters and attempts to make the booth concept a more attractive option once again.
Ah! But arn't booths bad? you remind me, yes - but because of the the cylindrical design and cut off below the waist of the singer, the frequency build up is impossible to really get going. Unlike a reflexion filter you are more or less encased so you get the benefit of control without the negative side effects of a booth. Additionally, it certainly improves isolation, a funfair arrived this weekend and as is the way we've been entertained every night with various night club degrees of pounding of 80s hit songs, which I was convinced would make it on to vocal recordings...not a thing though. In combination with our quiet location and already treated rooms, the extra isolation of the PVB was a suprising and very welcome bonus.
The IA PVB, has essentially mopped up alot of our issues in a convenient and efficient way. While well-meaning members of audio forums warned against the sound quality and advised investing in audio treatment, I personally didn't feel convinced in my ability to get the cabin to a standard I was after, besides I honestly couldn't be bothered - I don't want to add acoustician to my already long list of duties I already hack my way through.
No, the IA PVB just did what we needed it to do.
The PVB won't transform your studio into Ocean Ways tracking room, I was never expecting it too, but it does remove the chaotic and complex acoustics of our shipping container studio, it provides a clean corner to do commercial work and since then, I have been on a journey of re-discovery with many of my plugins and processing chains that I could not get to sound the way I wanted them to.
Recordings in the booth, are predictable and noticably free of any number of peculiar artefacts I didn't fully realise I had been at war with.
There are a couple of niggles that probably come with a first version of any design. It may not matter to the sound quality that you can see daylight through the panels - even though they are tightly assembled, but I would have liked the additional confidence that seeing no light might bring, some strips to cover the gaps would have felt like it had been finished off properly. Secondly, I suppose more of a request, that these panels could be modified or maybe an additional component purchased, that might allow the booth to be opened out flat, or possibly split into two separate self standing units. I think there is potentially a great other use these could be effective for, namely, to sit behind the mixing chair and help to manage rear reflections, or for some smaller control rooms, even act as a rear wall.
Overall, some 6 months later, the booth is going great and I don't think about the room sound as I once did. Of course, I still find other ways to aggravate over my vocal sound, but I don't worry that it is the environment letting me down. I have noticed that not only are the vocals noticably cleaner, they are consistently better and my mix time has more than halved.
Its a great win for the studio, a highly recommended solution that has exponentially improved the studio environment and added another degree of professionalism and quality that our clients can benefit from.