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Book Review:

Sound Recording Advice
For the Home Recording Studio
by John J. Volanski

Reviewed by
James A. Putnam
Dennis L. Trunk

Sound Recording Advice

Not surprisingly, musicians ask a lot of questions about setting up home studios: what basic equipment do you need, what's the best and cheapest to buy, how do you connect equipment, how do you modify it, how do you soundproof a room, how do you sync signals, how do you clean up a muddy mix, and so on. The questions are endless, because the technology and the choices are complex and getting more so everyday. For beginners, in particular, as well as for those with a tight budget, the complexity is daunting. So, when someone comes up with a book that sorts it all out, handles the subject with an informed, do-it-yourself, hands-on mentality, covers all of the main bases with loads of tips and detail thrown in, and emphasizes getting the biggest bang for your buck - well, we can only applaud.

Volanski's credentials are solid. He's an audio and electrical engineer, and he has operated his own home recording studio for over 20 years. Although he obviously researched a great deal of the material for the book, much of his advice reflects knowledge which can be gained only through accumulated experience. As a result, his delivery emphasizes the practical more than the theoretical or the heavily technical. There's just enough of theory and technical basics to get by. For that reason, although much of the material can benefit anyone who wants a smoothly running studio, the beginner and the do-it-yourselfer will benefit the most.

The book is divided into five major sections. The first section, Electronic Studio Equipment, covers the required basics, such as what a studio is in terms of the various functions, layout and equipment. In addition, it offers extensive and very specific advice on what equipment to buy, ranging from computers, to mixers, to headphones, and everything between. That includes suggestions about buying used equipment, such as where to look for it and how to judge its condition. But many readers may be most interested in the discussion on how to set up a studio configuration that fits within budget limits. It includes seven basic recommended systems which range from under $500 to over $5000.

The next section, Studio Layout and Furniture, discusses some of the most annoying and difficult to solve problems in a home studio: acoustics, noise and interference. These problems are common. After all, a bedroom or a garage isn't built to meet even the most basic needs for a studio. The acoustics are usually lousy. Noise comes in from other rooms and from outdoors. Noise goes out to the rest of the household and to neighbors. And it's the same with electromagnetic interference. Short of very expensive construction solutions, there are no panaceas. But the assorted tips and advice in this section can greatly help to create an acoustically neutral room and to remove the causes of every kind of noise, including ground loops, computer noise, flourescent lights, CRTs, transformers, relays, mic popping, and much more.

The third section, Modifying Your Equipment, is a set of easy to moderately easy do-it-yourself projects for musicians who like to tinker (that would be most) and for those with limited budgets. The projects include adding a remote control to a tape deck, adding a power switch to equipment which has none, adding a headphone jack to an audio device, adding master faders to a mixer, and making a simple passive audio mixer for $5.

Section four, Capturing Sound Recordings, provides what may be the most theoretical and difficult to understand technical matter for a beginner: a brief introduction to the physics of sound, the nature of subjective sound, and ways to measure sound intensity. But it's followed by extensive practical instructions on the recording basics: how to do high-quality miking and tracking of vocals, as well as of various acoustic and electric instruments (including piano and drums), and how to do mixing and mastering that will create a professional sounding finished product.

The last section, Tools, Advice and Miscellaneous, is a grab bag of important tips and information for solving problems in the studio and keeping it as trouble-free as possible. These include dozens of topics ranging from studio security and insurance, to correcting voice pitch, to shielding monitors, to putting together a low-cost, lightweight portable recording system for recording outside the studio.

As you might guess, this book is densely packed with information. And if you want more, Volanski lists a large number of other sources, especially Web sites carefully selected for quality content, to supplement the text and even provide an occasional free download.

But, as with any book of this nature, not every topic is covered, or covered in detail. You won't find very much discussion, for example, about music software, except for a brief discussion of the nature of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). And, even though the emphasis of the book is on hardware, you won't find a great deal of information about analog tape recording, because it has been largely superseded by digital recording techniques. Moreover, although the sections which discuss specific makes and models of current equipment will help many musicians sort out their options, the selection is necessarily highly limited and will become outmoded in a few years as new models come out. (Of course, with music technology changing so rapidly, it's hard to say what won't be outmoded in a few years.) But these are relatively minor considerations.

Overall, this book succeeds in doing what the author set out to do. It is a highly useful guide and reference for studio setup, designed to be easily understood even by beginners and those without a technical background. It will get you off to a solid start in setting up your studio (or improving your current setup), and it can prevent you from investing a lot of time and money in the wrong equipment and in creating technically bad recordings. Those savings alone are worth far more than the price of the book.

Pacific Beach Publishing, softback, 336 pages
ISBN: 0-972138-0-7

Price: $19.95, plus shipping (and tax for California residents).

Ordering information is available at the author's Web site, Sound Recording Advice.

Reviewed in September 2002.

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