Case Study: Building The Annexe Studios in Exeter

Studio Creations is a leading UK-based recording studio installation company. Here, founder Justin Spier talks us through the process of building The Annexe Studios.

Steve and Lindsey Troughton of The Annexe Studios (pictured) engaged Studio Creations and Chris Walls from Level Acoustic Design after various industry recommendations to provide a fully bespoke design, build and installation service for their commercial studio based in Exeter.

The studio comprises a large control room and live room with three adjoining isolation booths to allow the capability for full band tracking, mixing and production. The studio is housed in a purpose-built building, built to our specifications. A local contractor carried out the “shell and core” construction to our design leaving us with a set of isolation shells for our team to acoustically treat and fit out.

As with any studio build it is essential to carefully evaluate the potential issues arising from adjacency, neighbouring properties, the building’s existing structure, internal and external vibration and noise ingress and egress. There is no “one size fits all” solution to building a studio and each room has its own set of criteria with a construction designed specifically to deliver a fit for purpose facility.

As always, the design started with a series of discussions with the client to understand what facilities they needed and how they intended to use the studio. We took them to visit some previous projects and talked about existing studios they particularly like. This process really helps to clarify the operational brief. Next we carried out an evaluation of the site and its surroundings, identifying any applicable legislation or planning conditions relating to noise and any potentially problematic noise sources or adjacent noise sensitive properties. Once this was complete we specified the acoustic performance criteria required to make the studio work.

Steve and Lindsey had a clear operational requirement, they wanted a studio for tracking bands with the live room specifically designed for a great drum sound. The other main consideration was noise breakout from the studio to neighbouring properties. The local authority imposed a stringent planning condition specifying a noise limit at the property boundary, which required a very high degree of sound insulation because of the semi-rural location.

Once the design parameters were established we began the detailed design. This is when the isolation shells are designed and detailed to achieve the requisite sound and vibration isolation and the room treatments are designed to achieve a flat monitoring response or a great recording space etc., all the while trying to balance the engineering requirements with aesthetics. The details vary from project to project depending on the site and the client’s operational requirements; construction details are calculated and specified for each project.
The HVAC system was designed early on to ensure adequate space was allotted to plant, ducts and attenuation; low velocity air conditioning systems require relatively large ducts and their routing and point of entry in to the studio can be critical. Designing the studios and then trying to fit the HVAC system around it rarely works!

The studio power also required careful planning and specification. In this case a new dedicated mains supply was required. A full electrical specification was provided to ensure circuits were run as radial rather than ring mains, circuits and equipment were all properly earthed along with cable containment to the technical ground, a suitable grade of mains cable was used and lighting controllers were selected to avoid noise and RF interference. This is arguably less important for setups using balanced lines throughout but not immune given the right set of criteria which is why all studios will benefit from proper electrical system design. Lighting systems require dimmer packs to be located outside of the studios and preferably using DC dimming to ensure low levels of radiated electrical noise.

Once construction drawings and specifications were prepared, work began on site. We always maintain close contact with the team on site and visit regularly throughout construction to ensure the works follow the design, whether it is our own fit-out team or a client-appointed contractor doing the work. As and when issues arose, which they invariably do on studio projects, we worked with the site team to resolve them without compromising the end result.

The technical installation team started running cables towards the end of the fit-out works and once finishes were complete the equipment installation began in earnest. The bulk of acoustic commissioning testing was carried out at this point, checking compliance with the planning condition and the general sound insulation performance of the studio. The HVAC systems were balanced and the monitoring response fine-tuned. On completion of the technical installation, mains power quality and audio analysers are used to verify that the overall system noise floor is at an acceptable level, and free of ground loop related problems and any other distortions following which we were ready to hand over to the client and begin training.