Have you ever had to consider your weight when evaluating your VO career? No, I’m not talking about exercise, and fitness…though, I guess that could play a part.
Recently, I started looking at upgrading my booth. If you follow my podcast The VO Meter, https:/www.vometer.com you know this has been an ongoing issue for me. I currently work in a 4×4 Standard Whisper Room. It has served me well, nearly perfectly. The problem is, I keep it sounding great, partially with smoke and mirrors. You see I use a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface. It has the ability to run processing live, while recording. It accomplishes this through the use of plugins that are enabled in “Unison” mode. This allows the Apollo to do some really cool and unique things. The way I use it is to run a channel strip in virtual mode. Due to the Unison mode, I can emulate what a large (and expensive) channel strip would do, all through the plugin on the interface! My primary use of the channel strip is the expander. I use it to filter out a large amount of low frequency rumble that bleeds into my house from the highway DIRECTLY IN my back yard. I know, I know, you should record Raw, you say. Producers always want Raw audio you say. That is all true, but in my case, the results would be unacceptable without the use of this expansion.
Trouble is, sometimes the expansion is a little aggressive. I had fine tuned it for my voice. Okay, that’s a lie, the incomparable George Whittam did. At any rate, almost never did I notice any ill effects on my voice from the expander.
I recently started recording another author in my space. I used the same setup at first, and noticed that for his voice, lots of the ends of phrases were being cut off, a hallmark of an expander being too aggressive. So, I dialed the expander on the channel strip back. Wouldn’t you know it, some more highway rumble started to leak in. I was at a crossroad, leave the rumble in, or throttle up the expander again and risk losing some detail in the recording. Neither was really a good option.
Ebay to the rescue (sort of). I started to look at upgrading my booth. As luck would have it, I found a listing for a 3.5 x 5 Enhanced Whisper Room (double walled) in Beaverton, Oregon. The price was insane, so I bought it. Paid for it, even. I contacted the seller and told him I’d arrange shipping soon.
That’s where the issues started to crop up. Do you know how HEAVY an enhanced Whisper Room is? I’ll tell you, 1300 lbs! That was over double what my current booth is. That makes sense when you think about it, it’s essentially double the mass of the one I have. Probably something I should have considered BEFORE paying for it? At any rate, this was an issue for me. You see my current Whisper Room sits on my 2nd floor. I do have a basement, but based on previous research, I know that the 2nd floor, (rumble and all) is a better choice for my recording environment. Between my 3 kids, the dog, my wife and any other friends/soccer teams/play dates we have going on, the impact traffic on the lower floor above the basement is much more of an problem.
Back to the issue at hand, the weight. I started to worry. Could my 2nd floor handle 1300 lbs of dead weight? I asked some contractor friends, other voiceover professionals, and even read the US building code, which is a might confusing if you are not familiar with it. You can see the full text here if you like https://www.huduser.gov/Publications/pdf/res2000_2.pdf
The short of it is, the amount to be considered safe load on a 2nd floor is either 40 pounds per square foot (psf) or 30 psf, depending on the state. Some quick math (okay not so quick maybe) helped me figure out that the max load for a booth that is 3.5 x 5 is really only 700 lbs. So, the new booth would be 600 lbs over the max limit! That’s even on the conservative side at 40 psf. My state of Maryland, last check, actually recommends the 30 psf standard. I was stuck.
So, what did I do? I contacted my good friend Sean Daeley, who in Washington, was not that far away from the eBay purchased booth. “Sean, good buddy”, I said, “want a great deal on a Whisper Room?” He considered it. Went through all the same thoughts. Even posted a question on facebook you may have seen (yes that was my fault). There were lots of opinions, that ranged from “NO WAY”, to “Mine is on the 2nd floor and I don’t have any issues” to “You’ll probably be fine, after all, if you have 10 friends over you don’t expect your kitchen to fall through”.
The thing is, we are talking about a 1300 pound behemoth, sitting in one spot on the floor, 24 hours a day 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I wasn’t willing to risk that being over the heads of my family at times. Ultimately, Sean wasn’t either. As he is fond of saying, “Remember people, you’re talking about installing a small room in your house”
So, the morale of the story is, when shopping for or deciding to build a vocal booth, keep in mind all the factors. These are materials, acoustics, space, and now you know…weight.