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Last week I was broadly asked the question “Why Do Sound Diffusers Cost So Much?” Well I think, this goes without saying, but a skyline diffuser might have cost $30 in wood but I’ve built many of those and they’re the most labor-intensive diffuser that you can build. So yes, the wood costs are minimal. The wood cost on any diffuser is the smallest cost that you will ever experience with that project.

That said the wood then has to be finished, it has to be painted, it has to be stained and if it’s painted and stained it has to be sealed. There’s 7, 8, 9 labor steps involved to making the wood pretty and acceptable in most room situations and decors. Labor’s expensive. When you do it yourself it’s cheaper and that’s the reason behind our do-it-yourself series. Those people that can contribute their labor, sweat equity if you will to the project can it cheaper as the material costs are nothing really compared to the labor.

I would guess the material costs are 10 to 15 to 20 percent of the total costs of the project. You can cut 80 percent by doing it yourself which a lot of our clients do. They send us photos all the time of the finished unit. It’s the best way to go, it’s a way to get professional sound treatment technologies at your cost. Whatever the material costs in your area are and whatever you think your labor is worth. So I wish I could get people to work for free but I can’t and that’s just not something in the business scope of things. Maybe in a new world we could all do that but in capitalism unfortunately/fortunately people need to be paid for their labor.

3 QD diffusers

Ali: Well and I doubt that though, you know personally speaking you’ve got to also put in to the cost of the time and hours and wasted material that’s going along. I know if I took our build plans and tried to build my own diffuser I would end up lot like Homer Simpson building pretty much anything he’s ever built in any show. It’s not going to perform, it’s going to look awful and it’s going to have cracks everywhere. So personally speaking I’d always go for the kits and that’s because I’d rather you build it and I just put it together on the other end.

Dennis: Well and that’s fine, everyone has different skill sets, everyone has different goals but back to your example. If you built one and it was not correct. Why wouldn’t it be correct? Well you may have mismeasured.

Or some other issue but you probably could correct those mistakes with a very small amount of new material and the material’s not that expensive. I think the wood for our diffusers, I don’t know exactly, it’s 3-4 dollars a linear-foot and you might have 10 linear-feet in a diffuser so you have 30-40 dollars in materials, that’s it. You contribute the labor, you’re building a device by yourself that you will pay $900 to a $1,000 for on the internet for $30 worth of materials. There’s a big difference between 30 and 900. What’s the difference? Labor, shipping, handling, processing, overhead for the business, all those crazy things that I try to forget about every day and unfortunately I can’t.

Closing the door to the world with music

I do when I go into my room and shut the door, that’s the only time I’m ever able to forget about everything and how nice and you all can have this. How nice to have a place that you can go to, close the door, shut the world out and just enjoy music. I couldn’t live without it, I just couldn’t. I don’t know how any of you out there do and I’m sure some of you feel the same way but you’ve just got to have it. You’ve just got to have that and you can have it. You can really have that kind of room where, the minute you put something on, you have an emotional connection to it.

And when Joshua was here the other day we turned the lights off in the studio because it’s better not to have a video going when you have audio going. The human brain can’t really do both at once very well, it kind of divides its processing time up, give some percentage to your eyes and some percentage to your ears. But when you’re in a room a critical listening environment that’s set-up for listening, you shut all the lights off. We put blindfolds on people sometimes. Shut the lights off, get rid of the video and just let your brain work the audio and you’ll be amazed if your room is treated correctly how much information you’ll hear.

I was speaking to Joshua about this. I said “It must be, I’m not an audio engineer, it must be very frustrating for engineers to sit in their field and hear all these great things they put in the recording and then produce the CD and then sell the CD and then people take the CD and put it in their car. Yikes. Take the CD and they put it into a room that’s not treated. Yikes.” That engineer that created that CD, people are only hearing about 50 percent of what he put in there.

How frustrating can that be for you guys out there that are engineers?

I feel for you, I just, I don’t know how you do it, I wouldn’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t be able to create something like you guys do, put that much time and effort into it when the finished product people put it in garbage rooms or a car and they can’t hear half of what you put into it. That’s got to be incredibly frustrating. Well when you get that frustrated call me and I’ll invite you to my room. You’ll probably hear things there that you don’t want to because it’s that good and Joshua heard some things. We were talking about a note that this piano player played that was out of tune. How’s that?

Ali: Yeah, well it’s kind of like going to any art gallery and you know looking at the Mona Lisa or something with sunglasses you know, a glaze on your eyes or something.

Dennis: Yeah and ear plugs in your ears. You know, sometimes certain art forms require a hundred and ten percent of our attention to appreciate because the genius behind them almost deserves that respect I think. I’m not saying I’m a genius but I’m saying that music created by artists and created by engineers has a purpose and the purpose is emotional connectivity. They’re trying to communicate with you, the engineer’s trying to communicate with you, the artist is trying to communicate with the engineer.

There’s a whole series of communication processes going on. Some are extraneous some are external but they’re communicating at some level and form. Then the final product, which is a combination of the artist and the engineer working together to create it, is then taken and played in bathrooms and cars and rooms that aren’t treated correctly. It’s just, it’s a double-edged sword. I know it’s great that music is heard by many people and bought by many people and that supports the artist and the engineer, I get that. But why are we only hearing about 50 percent of their efforts and that’s what always drove me to create something that would get the room out of the way.

I wish I could take my room with me everywhere.

I don’t know how to do that yet but I wish I could physically bring it with me everywhere I go, to any recording studio, to anybody’s house, to anybody’s room, business and put them in the chair right there at the location and I know they would say “I want this sound.” Okay here’s what we have to do to get it. I need to figure out a way to communicate that quality of sound in our room to more people and that’s what you and I Ali, struggle with every day. Like I said I wish I could bring you all here, I wish I could afford to send everybody that sends me an email, forget the email, I’m just going to send you a plane ticket, you’re going to come here and you’re going to spend the day listening and all your questions will be answered.

Ali: Yeah well but it’s nice that people are doing it. I tell you this much, if I can fly from London and Barcelona for that experience, people in the states, you should just make it an aim to do it. I said it to all my friends after my first experience in the studio to “Start saving some money on your next holiday vacation you have to go to Phoenix” because you know any of my friends that are dedicated to music, to me it was just the ultimate experience. So I tell people and you know nobody’s going to believe until they experience it but I guess that’s like anything in life anyway.

Dennis: That’s very true but like Joshua told me, he said to me as he was leaving the other day, he says “My listening threshold, my sound quality thresholds that I always held true no longer exists after being in your room. I now have a new reference to use for quality sound” and until you hear it you can tell people all day long how good it is but it’s all a matter of degrees and perception. I guess when it’s vocal, when it’s a spoken word but when you sit in the chair, press the play button and reality appears, your life changes. Joshua told me he said “My sound-life and working with music will never be the same; I have a new threshold a new standard if you will to go by”

Ali: Yeah, absolutely okay well this is a closing thing. Obviously we’re just talking about great artists engineers but you’re speaking to a wonderful one this coming Sunday, the engineer on ‘We are the World’, worked with Michael Jackson, Prince and all those great guys. Looking forward to it?

Dennis: Absolutely, I’ve been watching some of the videos that Khaliq has put together about how he thinks about sound. He’s an engineer so he moves sound through wires and circuits and he tries to achieve a certain kind of sound. I do the same thing only with the sound in a room, I don’t use wires and equipment that much. I normally use just the room itself but he thinks the same way about sound that I do. So I will be looking forward to speaking to him because it’s nice to meet an engineer that understands the importance of room acoustics and I meet a lot of them that don’t.

And it’s great to meet someone that knows that he’s part of a chain of events that must occur in order for the quality of music to be heard. The artist must communicate with him but he must communicate with the room which the music is played in. So I’m really looking forward to talking with him about his philosophy about certain things in the mix and how that correlates to my philosophy with sounds in a room, it’ll be a great discussion.

Ali: Dennis any final thought so you’re good to go?

Dennis: Just I see a lot this week, I see a lot of misunderstanding applying the correct technologies to room acoustic problems. Just remember it’s not that hard. Two main areas: pressure and reflections. When you understand pressure and reflections, think of pressure as your room being filled with water as we introduce sponges or sound-absorbing device system to minimize the pressure in the room, the water level drops.

Our goal is to get the water level below our ears, so we can just have our ears hearing freely. I see a lot of people using the wrong things, using diffusion when they should be using absorption, using absorption for pressure when it should be for reverberation and reflection management. So I see a lot of confusion. I see people out there that are using the right terms, they’ve identified the problem in their room but they’re not thinking through the solution and then they’re going on the internet and they’re looking at the marketing of some companies who’re going to tell you that “Yup, their foam can stop that 30-cycle wave that’s 37-foot long”.

Well just use your common sense and say “Well, wait a minute, how can that be?” the only answer is ‘it can’t’ so always try to match the proper technology with the right problem or you’re just spending money and you’re wasting it and there’s no need for that because it’s hard to make money’, you know, we all have to make money. So try to match the right technology and there’s only two, I don’t care what problem you have in your room, there’s only two solutions. But two made solutions, there’s infinite number of products available within those two solutions but selecting the right one to solve the problem, I see a lot of confusion.

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.

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