Noise. It’s all around us. Probably more than one aspiring producer got discouraged by the thought that soundproofing a bedroom is cost-prohibitive. Many people are under the impression that what sets home and pro studios apart is soundproofing. Completely sealing a room against outside noise is expensive and difficult. It’s also unnecessary. What is important, pro studio or home studio, is isolation.
Isolation is what the Primacoustic VoxGuard VU Recording Mic Ambient Noise Attenuator provides, with a couple neat twists that I haven’t seen in similar products. Wait, some of you might say, isn’t soundproofing the same as isolation? Well, sort of, I tell you in a tremulous voice. Soundproofing does provide isolation, but not all isolation is soundproofing.
Those of you who regularly visit Hear the Music may have read of the importance of the inverse square law. I won’t get into it in detail here again, but for those who have forgotten or missed that lesson, it’s simply a characteristic of radiating energy that basically amounts to the fact that doubling the distance from a sound source reduces sound energy by a factor of four. If you think of a sound source as a point, energy radiates from it like an expanding round balloon. The surface area of the balloon represents the power of sound energy, which expands in the same way.
The surface of the balloon expands the farther it gets from that central point. To throw another analogy at you, energy is like a fixed amount of jelly on an expanding piece of toast. There’s only so much jelly to go around, so eventually it’s too thin to taste.
Of course, though, sound isn’t a point. When you’re in a bedroom studio, sound is coming from the voice you’re recording, for example. It’s also coming from your computer fan, the fire truck going by, the neighbor yelling at their kids to stop drowning the cat, from the… well, you get the idea, and you’re probably thinking soundproofing would be nice about now. However, you can help your microphone soundproof itself by moving as close to your singer as possible. Cut the distance in half and you quadruple the sound energy of the voice, placing it way louder than the wet cat and its tormentors.
Other sounds you block are room reflections. In the home studio, walls, ceilings and floors conspire to make your bedroom studio sound like a bedroom. Every room has its own sound, influenced by shape, size and furnishings. An open mic in the middle of the room will capture that sound along with the voice or instrument. Use an omnidirectional mic and all the room sound gets captured from every direction. That’s why cardioid mics prove popular. They’re sensitive in one direction. Sounds and reflections from behind the mic are electronically rejected. The cardioid mic is just not sensitive behind. A wailing cat would still be heard, most likely, but at a much quieter level.
That mic still has sensitivity at the sides, though. Probably you see where this is going. The Primacoustic VoxGuard forms a semicircle around your mic. The foam facing the mic and singer serves a dual function. First, it absorbs middle and upper frequencies coming from the singer. If their voice doesn’t get to a wall on which it will reflect, then there’s not going to be energy bouncing back to the mic. Any sound that does then has to go through the VoxGuard again and it’s further abated.
The back of the VoxGuard is harder — an ABS plastic shell — thus it bounces sound energy away from the mic. Those slots allow low frequencies to pass, since foam has less effect on them.
Without those slots, the VoxGuard would bounce low frequencies back to the mic, muddying up the sound of the voice.
Using the VoxGuard is simple. It comes with a mic stand adapter, typically fitting under the mic mount itself. That’s it. You’re done and ready to capture sounds in a bedroom studio that don’t sound like they were recorded in a bedroom studio.
Feature #1 that differs from similar products is the slot along the lower back edge. If you’re using a typical hand-held style mic, such as a Shure SM58, the barrel of the mic can protrude out the back of the VoxGuard, along with its XLR cable. Both mic and singer can tuck into the panel quite tightly.
Feature #2 is a plexiglas screen so the singer is only isolated acoustically, and can still see the engineer, other musicians or the now-soaking wet cat in the yard next door. While the plexiglas panel reflects sound, its size and location minimize its effect. In fact, it may add a little brightness that isn’t a problem at all.
Back in the 1980s, we got a little carried away with the whole soundproofing thing. Not only did we block out external sounds, but so many internal studio surfaces were absorptive that some studios seemed as though they sucked sound into the walls. High frequencies are particularly sensitive to this. So while the soundproofed and sound absorbent room controlled extraneous noise, it also ate up brightness. Killed it dead. A company named Aphex created an effect that added high frequency overtones back into an audio signal to compensate. It was called the Aural Exciter, and it was the Autotune of its day, being the go-to effect used by everybody because… well, because it was used by everybody.
Once we came to our senses and stopped overdoing it with the sound deadening, the Aural Exciter moved to the field of special effect, where it belongs. Today, you’ll find a mix of reflected and absorbent surfaces in most studios. And if the plexiglas screen on the VoxGuard bumps a little bit of sparkle back toward the mic, it’s probably not a bad thing.
What happens to the sound of the main signal, be it voice or instrument, is that the effects of reflected sounds are minimized. Room echo is gone. Comb filtering is a phenomenon that happens when reflected and original audio combine to cancel some frequencies and enhance others. The name sounds cool. The effect usually doesn’t. Reducing reflections reduces comb filtering too.
Unless you’re planning on a very intimate, dry sound, reverb and other time-based effects need to be introduced to the recorded signal to create a sense of space. However, with a plethora of plugins, that’s not an issue. Even open source DAW software such as Audacity comes with reverb and echo applications.
Voiceover artists are often asked for ambient-free recordings. The VoxGuard is an essential product to deliver a clean, room-free sound in the less-than-perfect acoustic conditions most of us work in.
The Primacoustic VoxGuard is large and light. The stand adapter works well and despite the size of the device, it remains balanced on the stand. It’s one of the more affordable isolating panels on the market, yet the inclusion of the window gives it a premium look compared to other units at twice the price.
Sometimes reading user reviews really shakes my faith in humanity, which of course presumes I have some left.
There are a bunch of reviews commenting on how wobbly the device is. I don’t know if there’s been an update to the mount or if some reviews for the wrong product got mixed in. All I know is that on both a regular stage stand and a studio boom stand I had no problems at all. The VoxGuard mounted securely with no top-heaviness, balance or wobble issues. In fact, the bottom slot allowed me to mount the VoxGuard upside down on the studio boom and the end result looked as though that was the intended design from the start.
The reviews to pay attention to are those telling of the improvement to the quality of recorded vocals. They’ll tell you what I’ve already told you, over and over again. This thing works. And don’t limit it to vocals. Setting it up in front of a guitar amp, for example, both removes room sound and attenuates some of the amp volume into the rest of the room, assuming a small amp whose grille is about the same size as the VoxGuard.
Anyone recording lots of vocals needs this or a similar product, unless their recording room takes care of reflections and associated problems. In my opinion, the the Primacoustic VoxGuard VU Recording Mic Ambient Noise Attenuator provides the best price/performance ratio. It’s a hundred dollar product that adds thousands to the sound of your recordings.