How Acoustics affect the relationship between Listener and Presenter

The studio is the seat of creation, the heart of broadcasting, the womb that lends confidence to the presenter and provides intimacy with the listener. A good studio is comfortable for the presenter and transparent to the listener, so each listener enjoys a direct relationship with their presenter(s).

There is a wide range of programme formats from talk, through news, to a wide range of music genre. The voice is important on all counts; intimacy, articulation, impact, nuance and delivery of content – brilliant content (as John Myers says) is what listener love and radio is all about listeners.

A neutral studio acoustic is wonderful; it enables microphones to flatter the voice and all the gismos to work their best to deliver the product to the listener. A studio having a harsh acoustic will negatively affect what the microphone hears and no amount of limiting or equalisation will fix the problem. The microphone is the most unflattering part of the broadcast chain, unlike our ears, it has no ability to be selective and small discrepancies appear to be amplified. We, humans, expect everything to be presented as it would in real life and the lowly microphone cannot do that, not even if we use a stereo pair – it just does not sound right and once noticed we seem to focus on the defect until it becomes annoying and then go elsewhere.

Is this a formula for a totally dead studio? NO, it would be oppressive and the off-mic effect would be more noticeable – the voice would appear to go away. To not be oppressive a studio needs reverberation and this needs to be balanced so it supports the sound of the voice when, on occasions, it moves off-mic. Unfortunately, different voices need slight differences in the reverberation and indeed the microphone to work well-this is why some studios are better for some voices than others.

To begin designing the studio acoustic, the size, shape, microphone type and position are all important – one is designing for the microphone, what and how it hears. How often has engineering swapped microphones and revelled in the improvement to the delight of all? The problem is that the result enshrines the microphone as the answer to all ills and when it does not work disappointment abound. But don’t despair, try another or (if available) try different settings.

When designing a studio, reverberation is all about room reflections. Very early reflections, <20m/s, will put an edge on the mid band and easily create the ‘bathroom’ effect off mic. Much later reflections >45m/s, create their own room colouration and will begin to give a cavernous effect to the off-mic sound. The 20m/s to 45m/s reflections with a nice smooth decay curve provide sufficient information to our ears for our brain to resolve what we hear and feel comfortable. If we then moderate the amplitude of those reflections against the voice we can produce an ever tempered studio tolerant of significant off-mic effect and fully supportive of the presenter’s voice. As with all things analogue, the art form is to get a smooth decay over the reflection band to be able to give small preferences to the early or latter reflections according to the voice so the off-mic effect is minimised and the ‘sweet-spot’ defining the distance over where the presenter can operate maximised.

The objective: happy presenters, loving and dedicated listeners, great ratings and loyal advertisers. What more could you want?