Ahh November. It's not a month I usually look forward to as it’s my birthday and whenever I have a birthday I think of all the things I was supposed to have achieved by my next birthday! But this year was a little different, pandemic aside. Firstly I had my busiest ever day as a working professional voice over right on the day of my birthday! A welcome distraction. Then the very next day I took delivery of a professional vocal booth from the guys at Session Booth.
After years of recording in random cupboards & pillow forts, under blankets and at my parent’s house I finally have a professional, purpose-built space I can be proud of. Though my previous space sounded okay, it wasn’t sound proof and over lockdown noise levels of neighbours and building work started to become a source of stress that I just didn’t need. In fact it sometimes made me ‘dread’ having to record, especially if it was a live directed session and I had no control over extraneous noise. As any performer knows, you need to be relaxed and comfortable to deliver a good performance. So that’s really what made me decide to take the plunge and make the investment.
I thought I’d go over my decision-making process and what I was looking for in a vocal booth.
Good acoustics are a given. You want a nice ‘dead’ sounding space with no echoes or reflections
Somewhere comfortable to record with adequate lighting and ventilation (booths can get very hot with all that acoustic treatment)
Ideally room for a desk and chair, screen, microphone (obvs), audio interface, music stand or tablet.
I wanted a power supply inside the booth and a cable management port so I could extend cables to my laptop and desk outside. (Make sure you have cables of at least 2m or more or an active USB extension if you want them to stretch far enough. Though some people use Macs or surface pros and have everything inside the booth with them, I prefer to edit on a dedicated laptop outside)
Plenty of booths on the market do all these things but I found many of them were either very expensive or very heavy. Because my booth was going on the second floor on suspended floorboards I wasn’t comfortable putting over half a tonne of weight in one area. And I actually own my own home so I imagine it’s even more of an issue if you rent.
I did explore building something myself and there are plans you can buy online and various other resources….but generally I find any DIY job is always more complicated than you initially think. By the time I’d researched and purchased all the materials and gathered the right tools, the guys at Session Booth could have installed 50 booths! I also have limited space with which to work here. Sometimes it’s better to let someone else go up/down that learning curve for you! Your time is valuable and could probably be better spend doing other things!
When it comes to a booth, yes you are essentially creating a giant, insulated box (or if you are really posh, a diamond shaped construction with perpendicular walls) but not all materials are created equal. Just substituting one material for another might vastly alter the acoustics or noise floor. Just like buying acoustic panels from wish.com is going to sound different than if you bought them from a specialist in acoustic treatment. So that was the rational for not doing it myself. I also liked the fact that Session Booths are modular so you can take them apart with just a screwdriver and reinstall them in a new space if you ever move house. You’ve got this baby for life!
I went with a 1.2 x 1.2 double walled space (though you will need slightly more space than this to accommodate the ventilation system and obviously make sure you have room to open and close the door as it opens outwards). I was wondering if I should have gone bigger but actually seeing it and recording in it I’m glad I didn’t as this would have been overkill. Space is always at a premium in my house (I had to get rid of a lot of stuff and move a lot of furniture around to create room). Unless you are a double bass player, all you really need is room to sit and or gesticulate wildly for those crazy animated characters!
When it comes to technology I am not someone that impulse buys. I like to research every aspect of a big purchase and I ask a lot of questions. Session Booth were very patient with me and answered them all, providing me with technical information about noise floor, audio samples and even putting me in touch with a previous client so I could get an impartial review. Obviously when someone has spent 4 figures on something they will usually tell you it is the best thing ever so I also got some advice from several sound engineers who's opinion I respect before proceeding.
The installation process took only a couple of hours as the walls are prefabricated in their UK workshop. A lot of other booths are manufactured abroad or imported which is one reason why they cost more. I even took a little time lapse video of the installation (excuse all my random fitness equipment and clutter in the foreground). You can tell it isn’t their first rodeo, it was so quick and they cleared up after themselves too!
After the guys had gone I still couldn’t quite believe I had my own recording space. It’s a big thing for me. Like going from living in a tent to a mansion! There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working out of improvised spaces and we’ve all had to adapt to the whole working from home thing, but I never felt good recording in my old cupboard. In fact over the summer when we had a heatwave it was pretty unbearable in there! Sometimes I felt like an imposter pretending to be a voice over and constantly worried the acoustics weren’t right or someone was going to start up a leaf blower during my live session. Providing a consistent and professional service to my clients is my number one priority. Now I can go inside, shut the door and forget about the outside world for a bit. I don’t have to schedule my recordings around neighbours or worry about disturbing them or feeling self-conscious when I need to record crazy screams or battle cries! Is the booth completely sound proof? No. It would probably need to be made of concreate and take up my whole room to do that. But can it cope with the typical noises you want to drown out like building work, lawn mowers and crap drum and bass music? Yes. In fact I ran a little test using my phone below (as I hadn’t set the studio mic up yet) so you can hear that even loud music played right outside does almost disappear when you enter the booth.
So yeah that’s my studio diary! I’m very pleased with my space and the acoustics and looking forward to recording many wonderful jobs inside. Like anything in your Voice Over business, it’s an investment and you must choose which areas to prioritise. But in general the recording environment is the hardest and most important area to get right. A £1000 microphone will sound rubbish in a poorly treated space. In fact it will probably sound WORSE than a cheap one because it will pick up an ant fart from a mile away.
For those interested here’s my setup:
INSIDE THE BOOTH
SE Electronics 2200a II Condenser Microphone
Audient ID14 interface
Lenovo Screen (which mirrors my laptop screen outside the booth)
Surface Pro Tablet (in case I need multiple screens for dubbing or timesync)
Audio Technica ATH-M40X headphones
TP Link Wifi extender (so I have wired internet access for IPDTL & Source Connect)
OUTSIDE THE BOOTH
ASUS TUF Gaming Laptop (AMD Ryzen 7 3750H / 2.3 GHz (4 GHz) / 4 MB Cache 16 GB RAM - 256 GB SSD + 1 TB HDD. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Ti / AMD Radeon RX Vega 10)
Spare pair of Audio Technica headphones (so I don’t have to keep unplugging them)
Prenonus Eris 4.5 Studio Monitors
DAW: Acoustica Mixcraft 9 Pro Studio (the best DAW you’ve never heard of)