PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in August 2002, contributed by then Senior Editor Bruce Richardson. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
So, I had treated my room with an Auralex prescription, and I was loving it. After the Auralex, but before true nirvana, I ran into a bit of a snag. What good is a pristine listening environment if it’s bathed in computer noise? That might be some poindexter’s wet dream, but for me it just means noisy recordings and tired ears. Certainly you’re not going to detect any noise in your recordings if they’re competing with stacks of 7200 RPM hard drives and cooling fans.
I had a problem here, a real one. After spending a respectable chunk of change on world-class acoustics, what I heard was a perfectly imaged, perfectly tonally balanced, perfectly perfect sound. The sound of my computers. Shit. Why does the rubber always have to meet the road? Once again, I was denied my “expensive room” and reminded that I’m still not in the big boy club when I want to stay home.
I call Jeff Hedback (who now instantly recognizes my voice) and force him into overtime wailing about my situation. He cannot get a word in edgewise. When I finally stop my whining, he says, “Here, call this number.”
Turns out to be a nice gentleman named Jon Stafford, who works with a company called RaXXess. I whine again to him, and he tells me to head for my local RaXXess dealer and pick up one of their products called IsoRaxx. “Take a truck,” he says.
At this point, I’m a desperate man, so I borrow a truck and return with a box about the size (and weight) of a small refrigerator.
I wrestle this beast onto my front porch with the help of a neighbor, pop open the box, and there before me lies what I’d describe as a machine room on wheels. My salvation, I hope.
The IsoRaxx is available in fourteen or twenty rack-space configurations, and in depths ranging from 24-30 inches. I have three computers to house in this thing, so I’d opted for the biggest one which stands roughly 42 inches high. Big, yes, but not big enough to scare me. This beast was here to solve a problem, so I wheeled it into the studio and began the long process of once again unhooking and rehooking the bazillion wires standing between me and my goal.
Pop open the heavily latched front door, and you see the idea behind this monster. Stopping sound requires a heavy barrier, and the IsoRaxx is constructed of 3/4 inch MDF (doubled in some places). Heavy. I chose an attractive dark-grey fleck, to go with the foam I’d mounted, but it also comes in a nice light-wood finish. Did I mention it’s heavy? There is a large window in the front door, thick plex (actually Lexan) held in place by silicone and turnbuttons. The rack rails are screwed into rubber isolators, and the entire interior is covered with–you guessed it–Auralex foam. These guys are like the Quiet Mafia. Down below is an electrostatic-filtered, baffled air intake which gathers cool air from the floor, and on the back hinged (and lockable) panel there is a large diffuser box with four large rubber-suspended fans blowing outwards. The interior of this “boxed” area is baffled with Auralex as well, and has a large knob on the side where one can regulate the speed of the fans. Below the hinged back door is a set of three cable pass-thrus with Auralex plugs and plastic cable guides.
I suggest doing some homework to make best use of the cabinet. Take measurements, and allow for some maneuvering room within the box. I fussed around with my gear for a while before realizing I’d need some sturdy rack shelves. One of my computers is a rackmount, that’s easy…but not that easy. It’s also my gig machine, so it needs to come out fast. I opted to put it on a rack shelf, so I could just slide it out. The other two machines are tower and desktop boxes respectively, and getting all three to fit in the box was a challenge. Ultimately, I made it work. Be sure to get STURDY rack shelves. The first ones I got promptly bent in half under the weight of my computers. Returning these, I got some hardcore versions that did the trick.
Finally, the computers were in, and the case was buttoned up and rolled into the corner. I opened the front door, fired up the three machines, and holding my breath, closed and latched the door.
Can You Hear It?
I won’t pretend that total silence greeted me. RaXXess offers up a 21 dB reduction claim, and that is just about right on target. But folks, consider what 21 dB less noise really represents. It’s a quantum leap in quiet, trust me. Opening the front door of the IsoRaxx is all it takes to remind me of just how much noise 21 dB really represents in a recording environment. Imagine walking from a car mechanic’s waiting room into the shop, or the difference between driving with your windows open and shut. Between the IsoRaxx and the acoustic treatments, I can record a clean vocal track in this room. Only the very quietest whispered track might take on too much noise, but even at that, I have recorded some extremely quiet singers with success.
Interestingly, my challenge became isolating case vibrations from the rack rails. Even though they’re somewhat isolated by the little rubber grommets, obviously they can’t be THAT isolated, or you wouldn’t be able to support the weight of the gear. Here’s where I found success: I cut carpet padding to fit each rack shelf, glued it up to a double thickness with some leftover Auralex spray-glue, and presto–no more vibration. Low-tech to the rescue!!
Here’s another trick that really made a difference: Remember the Lenrd bass traps? In the “IsoRaxx corner” I extended them all the way to the floor–hence, the exhaust fans of the IsoRaxx now blow directly into a hugely absorptive chunk-o-foam. This completely killed the fan noise–the only noise I now hear from the IsoRaxx is the little bit of computer noise which escapes its walls.
Don’t interpret any of this as a disappointing result, I’m merely being direct and truthful about the outcome. To get true silence, you’d need a whole lot bigger box than this–basically one of these, INSIDE one of these. That’s how isolation works. You can only totally kill sound transfer with stiff walls, dead air, and more stiff walls. However, we must look at the practical application, and realize what this product CAN deliver. In the context of the space-limited “producer’s studio,” you won’t find a better solution for the money. A single IsoRaxx can quiet several computers enough to record vocals in the same room. That’s a heck of an outcome. In my room, recording success went from crap to great.
Now, about price. The IsoRaxx is not a cheap unit. You will pay over a grand for the big one, even at street prices. But is it worth it? Holy cow, yes. Short of building a machine room or losing a closet (neither of which fit into my floor plan), you will not get better isolation. The IsoRaxx was the icing on the cake of my studio redux, the last piece of the puzzle that finally made my home studio a classy room. My clients walk in and they KNOW I’m happening, there is no guessing it.
Back to my thesis statement, lest my wandering diatribe erase your brains: Sometimes throwing gear at a situation is not the correct answer. Mine was all about my space, and that solved, I have heard the difference in my mixes. I hear it all now, just like when I shell out bucks to record or mix in “nice” spaces. Now my space is a nice space, only in MY nice space I can work in my underwear and drink coffee that doesn’t come pre-ground. Auralex and IsoRaxx really made a difference in my work, and my clients’ impressions, for a combined cost of about what you’d pay for one nice DAW box. THAT is money well spent.