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Interview with Sam Boumoujahed from Studio 2020, Chicago

Dennis Foley January 21, 2017 No Comments
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Dennis: Hi everyone, I’m Dennis Foley from Acoustic Fields, we have the great pleasure of being in studio 2020 in the windy city Chicago, Illinois. I grew up in Illinois, so it’s good to be back and we’re in Sam’s studio.

Sam’s going to talk to us a little bit about a before and after situation, what his room sounded like before our products and what his room sounded like after our products. Let’s talk a little bit about products right now; we’ve got 3, 4, 8 of our ACDA units, 8 of our carbon units in the room and then diffusors on the rear wall. And studio that’s been around 25 years, you’ve been here?

Sam: 25 years. A little bit more than 25 years in the same location. That’s a long time.

Dennis: Ah, yes. It sure is. So tell us a little bit about your background and your experience here in the studio? What we were up against?

Sam: Well, you know…

Dennis: Tell them all you called me.

Sam: I called you because I had a problem. You know, before, like I said, I’ve been here 25 years, so before there was no internet so you could not reach out to somebody like you. All you had like the big guys, I mean a couple of guys I would say like in New York, they come to design a big studio, you spend a 100,000 bucks and whatever, you know? That was not an option.

And I knew I had a problem in this room from mixing and cover like everybody does, and to the boom box and this and that. So even before I had – I did my own analysis like I would have assigned a range and I would test the 50 to 60, so whatever. And I knew in some spots I had like 10 – 12 degrees of difference.

So I tried to the old trick of putting an equalizer between the speakers to kind of offset the room modes, that did not really work out very well. And to make a long story short, 6 to 8 months ago my business partner, he has a rock and roll band now and he’s doing his CD, The Social Act and he said “you want to make sure that everything is coming exactly how we want it.” And so we went and I did some research and I found out that some people, some people, some mastering houses, they use the GINA. It’s a hybrid software.

Dennis: Electronic room correction, right.

Sam: Right, exactly. And I got it; I worked on it for like a month and a half. And I tried all kinds of situations. It was sounding good here, but it was not accurate outside, you know. Like the curve we showed you, there was improvement and this and that. And every time I do a different reading, the sound changes. So it was not really working. Like I think this room had a bigger problem than something to be fixed after the effect.

I didn’t want to fix it like in technical terms; post. I wanted – I thought the right way to do is to fix it pre. Fix the cause of the problem instead of trying to neuter the effect of the problem. So you know, I did my research, went on YouTube, university. I did all the research, there is a lot of people that they say they do things like you do, you know?

And a lot of them after some research was not really any good. And I started watching your videos, and testimonials, what people are saying and after talking to you and emailing and everything, I had a ton to do, I think I did 7 to 8 emails and I don’t know how many phone calls but Dennis was very gracious. So he was always helpful.

And that’s how it started. And you had a problem, I wanted to fix the problem and I wanted to fix the problem the right way. I wanted to go to the source of the problem. Because all these room corrections, software, gadgets, what have you; these are, they’re trying to deal with the problem like having a fire. They’re trying to put the fire out. Instead of trying to put the fire out, make sure you don’t have a fire.

And that’s this technology; make sure that you don’t get to that point that before you have the problem it fixes the problem so you don’t have to deal with the problem. And later I would say, like the whole process for example, this room was very bass heavy. What I mean by bass heavy means it sounds good in here but when you go out there’s too much bass. Even walking around from side to side, it will change. Like you know, the phasing was going on, and we have a couch in the back, if you sit on the couch and it’s too much bass.

That’s why a lot of the times I would mix by myself. Because people are not even [inaudible 05:35]. And then I used to have two mixes. One mix for the room and one mix for outside. It’s double work for half the money, you know?

Dennis: Yes.

Sam: So that’s how it started, to contact you. And I’m telling you know, that’s the best thing you can do for your business. If you are in this business, this is more important than your speaker, your microphone, your preamp, your mix symbol, whatever it is. If you are working in an environment, if you are working in a room, your listening environment, your mixing room, control room – not just I mean for recording of course, but for mixing. If your room is not right, you are making critical decisions based on false assumptions. You are making – you are taking decisions that really don’t matter too much because the equation you are given is not the right equation.

So all the answers you’re coming up with are not the right answers. So before you invest in a microphone, in a preamp and this and that; your room. Because to me if you have a right-sounding room, and a more accurate kind of room, I don’t care what speaker I have, what preamp I have, what microphone, I can make it work.

But if I have a false room and I have whatever I have, it’s not going to work out. It’s going to be back and forth, back and forth and it’s not going to be what it’s supposed to be.

Dennis: So you – before and correct me if I’m wrong – before when you were doing certain music and certain tracks, you would be “oh, I don’t want to do this. It’s going to be hard. I have to…”

Sam: No, like before…

Dennis: Because I’m fighting my room. Now when you walk in the door, it’s fun, it’s pleasurable again.

Sam: It’s fun. It’s fun plus on top of everything, mixes that used to take 5 hours take 2 hours. Because now it’s so distilled, it’s so spread, so you can hear everything. It’s much easier top place instruments and to make tweaks, you know. And plus from the – let’s not even talk about mixing, like say you’re running a session. I see running a session is like having like your own stage. You have bands, everybody is here, you know, whatever. So if you come in and then it doesn’t sound right, people are not into the music.

But once after this, I’m running sessions people they come in, it sounds right, everybody is happy, everybody is excited, they go in there, they perform better, everything is up and up. But when one comes in and especially with vocals. I don’t need to EQ. I used to EQ so much, now the vocals, they do the work, almost ready to go. I don’t have to be [inaudible 08:29]. Just the compression coming in, not you know, EQ just to make whatever. But I could go without EQ-ing. So beside the – it’s not fatiguing to mix.

Like for example I used to do a lot of Mexican music, [Spanish 08:47]. And [Spanish 08:47] you have the big tambora they call it. Tomboraso which is – and then the bass, it’s a keyboard bass that comes from the X7’s. So it’s so hard to separate your stuff. And if you have a room that has problems that’s even much harder.

So now I listen to mixes I did before, you know back with the headphones, whatever, now I can hear much more separation. So if I had this technology before, my job would have been so much easier. And the stuff would have sounded so much better and mixes that took 5 hours could have taken me 2 hours or, you know. Beside the idea that you are working and you are putting everything into it and then when it doesn’t sound right, you get kind of discouraged, you kind of lose interest yourself, too.

Like I do this and this and this and then I listen outside, it’s, you know. And then for it to sound good outside by the time I bring it in here, it’s so weak. It’s, you know. So I think this is the best thing I have done.

I mean I have been in business for 25 years. This has made – I wish I had this thing years ago. I would have been a rich man.

Dennis: Let’s talk a little bit about vocals, what are you hearing different in your vocals? You mentioned you don’t add a lot of signal processing to the vocals. Let’s walk through that a little bit.

Sam: Yes, you know – and you know, I’m cutting – we’re cutting vocals in the live room. And the live room is not as good as this room. If we were cutting vocals in this room, that would be something else. But now for example in tracking vocals, once we get the mic in the right spot, it depends on the genre, whether it’s hip-hop or if you have a little bit more compression. You don’t have to EQ.

And I have people that come in and then do like spoken word, or poetry, special stuff like this, there is no music under it to hide anything. And they’re amazed, it’s like here, like you were saying on your videos, like the person is right here, you know?

So – and even like now, moving the mic I can track – and moving the mics just a little bit you can hear the difference. And voices and the drums, and yeah, I mean it’s – everything is so much easier. Like you were saying, this, your technology takes the room out of the equation.

Now I’m not worried about how it’s going to sound outside. So since I’m not worried how it’s going to sound outside, now I have the freedom to push the envelope a little bit. To go and you know try – instead of always playing it safe, because I don’t know how it’s going to be outside, now I don’t have to play it safe, now I can expand and try to take it to the next level. But you know, because – if it’s like a visual thing now, I know this is the line. I know where the line is. Before I didn’t know where the line was.

What I thought was the line, maybe I’m so far away from the line. Or maybe I’m going to drop, I’m going to fall down. Now I know exactly where the line is. I mean almost where the line is. So I am more – I can take more chances with things.

And yeah man, that’s how – another thing, I am going to tell you about some experiences I had with a lot of my clients.

Dennis: Please.

Sam: I had to, you know, before I had these, the Adams, they are 2 6 inches. And I still have the KRK, it’s a guided room correction thing, the ERGO. I gave it a little bit more bass, and I never really listened to them. I listened to my JBL’s, the 44,000, they have 12 inch woofers. So I was working with these guys and the guy was always saying, he is a hip-hop, RnB producer. He was saying “Sam I cannot hear the anchor weight. I cannot hear any low end out of these speakers? You need a sub.” And I never liked subs. I have bad experience. He came in I told him come check out the room and that’s when I just – I had not really been in the room yet – I just didn’t even know the right sound of it yet, you know.

So he came in and we were listening to the Adams, not to JBL’s. And right away he was telling me “Sam, man I can hear the anchor weight.” Before we could not hear it on the 12’s. Now we can hear it on the 6. And whatever people – I never, when I had people I had many of my friends / clients, they come and they listen. I never told them what to expect. I didn’t want to pre – I don’t want to distort their judgment, I don’t want to tell them what they should think.

And everybody pretty much said the same thing. “Wow, this stereo is so – the diffuser is so optimal and the depth we could hear, we could see those, you could hear the depth and despite of the instruments” and you can locate instruments much better. Even mixes that I didn’t – most of the mixes I did before, when I listened back to them I’m like wow, a lot of them sounded good – didn’t sound so good. But sometimes it was good because now I can hear better and like I said, if I had this before, it would have been so much better and a shorter time to get there.

Dennis: Yes, yes, well that’s the foam technology for the voice. Like I said when we were talking before, it took 8 years for me to create this technology and the curves in our foam are very unique. How did I do it?

I didn’t have music rooms to work in. I had corporate board rooms back in the eighties. Corporate board rooms back then were dominated by males. It was men running corporations. I used to tell my friends that – my girlfriends would say well men own everything. And I’d say well that’s the way it goes.

But things are changing but back then we had male corporate people and they were always in really narrow rooms. So we had 100 cycles, 125, 150 cycles for the low end of the male voice in really narrow rooms that were 8, 9 foot. So we don’t even have enough room for 100 cycle wave to fully expand. So I had to figure out in the foam I had to change the curves so it became more natural and that’s what took so long to develop.

But I have never – and of course I’m biased, it’s my technology, but I have never heard a foam technology that’s just smooth as coherent and so easy to work with. Just sitting here talking. You know, it’s almost like you make a conscious effort not to raise your voice.

You really make a conscious effort not to because I’m thinking in my head let’s keep the response curve smooth. And back to the response curve, when we were talking today in another studio, in Doug’s studio, he’s got a bump here, he’s got a bump there. So he’s got a bump and he’s got a dip.

So here’s a way for all of you out there to think about low frequency bumps. If you bring the bump down, the nulls will come up. Because this is the harmonic of this. An 80 cycle and a 160, you know the 160 is the harmonic and the 80 is the fundamental. So if you get the 80 under control, the fundamental will follow.

So we think of our snakes with its peaks and its troughs, we push the humps down but you’ve got to have a technology that’s linear. You have to have a technology that’s predictable and consistent. And that’s what we have with the foam and the carbon.

Sam: You know it’s funny what you were saying because that was my experience with the [inaudible 07:06]. Like with the dips and the peaks, so whenever I was trying to bring one, let’s say the 80 down, then the 160 would go higher than I wanted and then it was always this game of back and forth and it was never working.

Dennis: It was never natural.

Sam: It was never natural.

Dennis: I always frown at those room correction software. They were good below 100 cycles. Because you know less energy below 100 cycles is always welcome almost in any room. But I never liked what they did to the mid-range and I never liked what they did to the sound stage. They seemed to kind of push everything together and it was too crowded, you couldn’t separate.

Sam: Right, right, right. Right.

Dennis: So I have a bias against them I guess, I haven’t heard any new ones lately so I don’t know what the situation is but the process that I went through with Sam, just so those of you out there know, I have a database of 128 rooms now that I’ve built and measured. Now back in the eighties when we did our acoustical measurements I had 18 microphones in a room. And they were spaced every 3 or 4 foot apart. And we had slow computer speeds and you’d have to get all the data in and push the button and then go to lunch. And wait for the computer to work and process all this stuff. Now we have speed and stuff so we don’t have to do that but so when Sam called me I took the dimensions of his room, put it in our database and I knew within 5% how much square footage of low frequency absorption did he need. And I think we hit it pretty close. We hit it right on the head.

So we have our ACDA10 units here, which takes up a certain amount of square feet and then back with our diffusers, in the bases of our diffusers we also have the carbon technology. And it’s all about square footage out there.

Think of your room as a glass of water. And you’ve got too much water in your room so we have to bring the water level down. So we’re going to drop sponges in the glass to lower the water level. How many sponges, where to put them and stuff, that’s all data that I have in my database. So we really don’t need to spend a lot of time in measurements and stuff because I have already done that. Now are we going to hit it right away first time? Most of the time we get pretty close. It might be a one or two unit difference but that’s fixable and we can fix that.

So it’s a nice, convenient way to do it and I was in Los Angeles, you were in Chicago and now I’m back in Chicago listening to the results of our fix and it’s incredible.

And Sam’s very happy with the low end in his room and his wife’s happy.

Sam: Yes, I’m very happy and I am very happy with the response, whenever I called you, you were always there to… Because I mean you know, I’m in Chicago or somebody else is in New York, you’re in Los Angeles, if you make an investment; you’re not going to just give your money away. You’re going to make sure that it’s a – you’re going to get what you’re asking for and the person on the other line is going to support the project and Dennis got paid a while back so he doesn’t have to be doing this.

And he’s here and then he was supportive after the fact – and there i s some places, some people, after they get paid, they don’t return your phone call and you know, but my experience was very good, I’m very happy with the experience and very happy with the results.

And I mean even talking here, I like the sound of my voice now, you know?

Dennis: It’s effortless.

Sam: Yeah.

Dennis: I like to talk aloud, I have a real boom voice but I find myself in my rooms with foam that I keep things a lot smoother. Had you had diffusion on your rear wall before?

Sam: We had – no. I had what I’d call positive diffusion; just 2 pieces of wood on an angle and some foam behind it. But it was mainly like a bass trap. And the bass trap that was – some time like I said I used to have like two mixes. And sometimes I was thinking of doing like 3 mixes. One just for people sitting there so if I had a show and people were sitting there, I would fire up that, like that mix, so it was not so much bass. It’s like chasing your tail.

Dennis: Yes.

Sam: And you don’t want to be chasing your tail because you don’t get paid for chasing your tail.

Dennis: Yes.

Dennis: Alright, I want to talk a little bit more about diffusion on the rear wall in control rooms because if you’re going to treat any surface and alert diffusion is expensive, I get it. I built this stuff, there are a lot of parts, there’s a lot of labor that goes into it. The materials are not too bad but the labor is expensive. There is a lot of pieces. But that rear wall can contribute so much to your – so many issues to your mix that you’ve got to treat it.

Now what are our options? We have two; absorption and diffusion. That’s the only two technologies I’m kind of sad to say that we have, we don’t really have any other. The laws of physics only give us those two choices.

So Sam had some bass trapping and stuff that he did on his own and then we did our quadratic diffusion sequence, that’s the prime seventeen sequence and we have bases on it and you can go to our website and see this where we also added the carbon to the base but you can see that this whole rear wall now is diffusion and let’s talk about a little before and after. What were you hearing before and what were you hearing after?

Sam: Well, like I said, before if you walk around, like say behind this rack, you would look East and West, like the sound changes as you go, right? And then if you go further back, you hear a lot more bass, I mean a lot more bass. Now you can sit, you could be right next to the diffusor in the back and the sound is more even. And beside that it sounds great, it looks great. And then the craftsmanship is so solid. It’s so, you know you can put them there for 20 years and they’re going to – nothing is going to happen. They’re not some kind of – you put them together after they start shipping or whatever…

Dennis: Yeah.

Sam: So they look beautiful, and they sound great, and like you were saying probably one of the biggest problems is the side walls from the mixing wall and the back wall because the bass is going to keep coming back at you and then back and the cancellations, what have you. So I am very happy, now I finally mix in here – and another thing I forgot to say is before you know, every studio was called the sweet spot. The sweet spot was like here. You know right between the speakers. Now the sweet spot is almost around…

Dennis: This whole area here.

Sam: Yeah. And now when you’re listening here and you’re sitting and working here, if you go further, it doesn’t sit. The change is minimal. So you’re still – even when you’re there, you still can make decisions about the mix. So now when I’m mixing with people, I can – we’re listening pretty much all to the same thing instead of before we were almost like in two different mixing rooms.

Dennis: How about the mids and highs?

Sam: The mids…

Dennis: What do you notice the difference there?

Sam: The mids and highs, like when I was analyzing this room I knew I had two main problems – it was I think between the 35 to 55 kind of. That’s where the presence of the instrument or the voice is. And I had a dip and it had another dip in the 11K up 10 to like 13 and up let’s say.

And so when we have this kind of problems, you compensate. So I would make it sound in here, I would have it sounding nice and pleasant in here, and it has some error on top on the material, on the music. But then when you are tight, it’s harsh because you overdid it because what you could not hear, you compensate for, now you have a bit too much of. And when you put too much from 10 and up, you’re not having error anymore. You have sibilance and you have that kind of – it takes away from the body of the music or the instruments, you know?

So now I think that it’s pretty good even from listening to like CD’s by other people, like we just listened to Stain, and you can tell it sounds very good because I’m sure it sounds very good. So if I bring it in my room, if the CD and the sound doesn’t sound that good and I know it’s not Stain’s mistake. It’s this room has a problem, like the production obviously.

So like I said, now for example I opened up some mixes I did before, the first thing I did I just started taking plugins off. I just took stuff off.

Dennis: Nice.

Sam: Because I don’t need it. 5 – 6 plugins you don’t need, you just take them off was I was making decisions on false assumptions, you know? I was – and the other thing you, when you are not listening properly, you are going around looking for something that might be already there, you just don’t hear it so you keep trying to get there and you are already there. It’s like you know where is – you’re at the church, where is the church? You’re at the church. You just don’t know it, you know.

Dennis: Yes, yes.

Sam: So yeah that’s what I did.

Dennis: And don’t be afraid of diffusion. Those of you out there in the music business. It’s not that complicated, it’s all about distance and dimension. So distances are critical because we have to have enough distance for the energy. A diffuser is like a speaker. We don’t plug it in, but we do put energy in it from our monitors. So when the energy goes in, it comes back out. So we have to have enough distance for the wave forms to completely form. And there is little ways that we can adjust for that also. So don’t worry about your studio and trying to figure out what works best for yours. I think when we first started, we were doing a 13.

Sam: Right.

Dennis: And then we said wait a minute, I think we’ve got enough room for a 17 because we get more frequencies. Diffusers are just like a speaker, they have a frequency response. So we have to put the right speaker in the right control room.

Sam: And you know the other thing we start with the 13. And then we made the deal on the 13, if you remember. And then you told me it’s too bad because the 17 would give you 25% more.

Better results.

Dennis: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: So actually I knocked down the wall. We took the whole wall to make room for the 17. So if you’re in the sound business, you’ve got to do what it takes to make room for the sound. We’re not in the let’s see what we have so we can fix stuff. And the sound has to be the main driver. Not because I have this space I have to fit whatever, you know? If you’re going to get 25% better results, it makes sense to knock a wall down, right? I would think.

Dennis: Yes.

Sam: Than to compromise.

Dennis: Yeah, they sound really good, they’re really nice and smooth. Well, great, this has been wonderful. I’m glad you’re happy. I’m glad we got you fixed up.

Sam: Yes you did.

Dennis: You have a new room to work in.

Sam: Yes and the pleasure to work.

Dennis: How nice after 25 years.

Sam: Yes, yes.

Dennis: A new room and you didn’t have to move.

Sam: Right.

Dennis: So we’re going to have, for those of you out there in the Chicago area, we’re going to have some [inaudible 07:53] units available the next 2 or 3 months. And we’re more than happy to bring them to your studio and let you try them out for a while and be exposed to our technology both our carbon and our foams.

So what a pleasure, Sam.

Sam: Thank you.

Dennis: Thank you very much.

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Dennis Foley

I am an acoustic engineer with over 30 years’ experience in the business. My technology has been used in Electric Lady Land Studios, Sony Music of New York, Cello Music and Films founded by Mark Levinson, and Saltmines Studios in Mesa, Arizona, along with hundreds of others.Connect with me on Google+

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