Join Bobby Owsinski for an in-depth discussion in this video Hanson Hsu, part of Hanson Hsu with Bobby Owsinski: Radically Rethinking Room Acoustics.
- Hanson Hsu is a cutting edge studio designer who's taken the art of room design and acoustics to a whole new level. His Delta H Designs company has created a new line of revolutionary acoustic panels, like we have in the back here, as well as a way to actually measure room resolution. Welcome, Hanson. - Thank you. Happy to be here. - Yeah, this is great. When you started in the business, unlike a lot of studio designers, you started in live sound, right? - Yes, actually I was doing live reinforcement sound for UCLA, for Best Audio, for Maryland Sound, for, I was freelancing as monitor and front of house.
- But even before that, you were at Cornell, was it? Did you do... - Oh, yes, right. On the east coast, I was doing live, I was doing theater sound for Cornell's theater department, and doing rock and roll around with a company called Calf Audio, live reinforcement. - I think I've heard about, of those, of Calf. - Barney Cole, Calf Audio. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, how did you get, then, from Cornell to, did you go on the road? Were you on the road doing live sound? - When I was on the east coast I was junior faculty at Cornell University teaching lights and sound, and, of course, I was in lights younger, in community theater and college, and then got into sound in college, so it kind of was shifting into sound more.
So at Cornell I was doing a lot more sound work. And then when I moved to the west coast, I did a lot of live sound reinforcement with Maryland Sound, UCLA Wadsworth Theater, Royce Hall, that sort of thing, and then started working at, around the venues here, The Whiskey, The Roxy, Irvine Meadows, that kind of stuff. - All those fun places to go, right? - Yeah, the classic LA venues, yeah. It was a trip, it was a lot of fun. - And then you wound up at Westlake. - And then, getting into the studios, kind of, all right, well, I'm doing live sound, this is cool, and my thought was, well, if I wanna stay in any sort of relationship I need to not be traveling all the time, went on tour a few times, came back, got into studio work, yeah.
And getting into Westlake Audio. - And Westlake, famous place, still is. - Huge. - But Glenn Phoenix was one of the pioneers in studio design, as well, so I'm sure he must be an influence on you. - Yes, actually, he was a huge influence on me, because pretty quickly I realized that everything made by man is more finite than everything made by nature. I man, to draw, this is a very stark statement, but in general, if mankind makes something, someone else can reverse engineer it.
Nature is the best designer there is, and it's really hard to reverse engineer nature, it's hard to emulate nature, and a lot of what we make is emulated based on nature. Architecture, art, acoustics, all these things. And I've found that my greatest inspirations in everything have, once I've actually done some research on the designer, or the writer, or the musician, I find that it all comes back to nature at some point, right? So, I thought, well, this is really fun, but the only thing in my world of acoustics besides being a musician, which I didn't have the chops for, I thought, well, what's the hardest thing? Build consoles? Build outboard gear? Build microphones? It was all fascinating.
But it all had a finite point somewhere. Whereas once I started learning about acoustics, besides the fact that everyone thought it was voodoo... - Yeah, yeah. It's cool. - Yeah, everyone still does think it's voodoo, which I don't believe, I don't believe, I believe it's just like music, it's quantifiable, it's mathematical, and it's incredibly creative. But once I got into acoustics, I was, I was just hooked. I was like, okay, there is this, like, quantum physics, there's this X factor, and we just don't know what it is.
But we can figure out everything else, but there's always this X factor. Just like the song. Why is this song better than that song? Well, I don't know, I like this song, you like this song, he doesn't like this song, she likes... There's this X factor. And that got me, 'cause everything else didn't have the X factor. - You know, that's an interesting point, though. If you compare songs, for instance, and you like one song, you like an artist, and I might not like it so much, does that happen as well in acoustics, in terms of rooms? - Absolutely, absolutely, in fact, that's an excellent point.
So, in traditional acoustics, acoustics that you and I grew up with, the trapezoidal rooms, the cool multi-shape rooms, the multi-shape surfaces, the crazy colors, like at Electric Lady with a stucco wall and the crazy painting on the walls, totally cool, right? And everything was like, oh, this room has this kind of character. Every room was like, they were like people. They were like songs. Every single room had its own character. So a recording engineer had to translate. Okay, if I'm gonna work in this room today, that room tomorrow, this room tomorrow, I'm gonna go from, you know, Abbey Road to the Village Recorders to the Hit Factory, I'm gonna bounce, east coast, west coast, I'm gonna be at Sony Music, whatever it is.
The recording engineer has to translate that color out so that when he puts out an album, the album sounds the same in your car, in the studio, at home, in the movie theater, on Mom and Dad's AM radio, on a cassette deck, on a CD player, Walkman, minidisc, hard drive, whatever. That's the trick. So when we started doing what we're doing, we originally started just doing traditional acoustics, when I started my firm. And then we soon realized that when we invented ZR Acoustics, for Mike Shipley on his original studio project, we realized that what we thought we didn't want as a industry, as a recording industry, that what we thought we didn't want, neutrality, we actually love.
'Cause our first, our very first ZR Acoustics... - We want neutrality. - We want neutrality in a room. - Okay. - Because we like neutrality in our gear, our microphones, and our artists, in the way they sing, in the way they perform, in the cable, even though we like neutrality in our gear, we always liked a little bit of color. - Yeah, yeah. - Not too much. But not too little. I mean, we've gone through this before, where you don't put things flat, you don't need cute things, things don't sound good flat. They have to have enough color, but not too much color, and where that, where that is, is the trick.
Every different artist has a different zone, every different recording has a different zone, you know. - Sure. So, it's the same thing with acoustics, then. - Same thing with acoustics. - Do you get to the, where it's neutral, and then add color? - Yes. Every time. Every time, we go, our design motif is, well, I found that iteration is key. The way my brain works, the way my staff works is that you can't start at the beginning and try to solve the whole thing at once. It's like, start.
And, I don't know if you have any, it's like writer's block. You can't just go for the whole book. Just start writing, just start writing, and then you can fix it, and you can change it, 'cause you're not gonna put the book out til it's done, right? So we just start designing, we go, okay, and then we design again, design again, we get, generally run between 23 and 35 iterations, and so, it takes awhile. I mean, for a full-blown ZR room. Not for setting up a few surface mounted devices in a room. So yeah, we do the absolute best.
We do what it would take to make a room sound basically like there was no room. Like you were outside in a free field, like there was, like we're standing outside in a field. Then, we put the music in. We put the sound in. Put a drummer here. Put a guitarist here. Put two speakers and a console here. And we always know what console and what speakers, the client gives us, like, their information, they say, I've got a Duality, I've got an Icon, they mix in the box, whatever, I've got Genelecs, I've got ATCs, I've got, whatever it is, right? And then we tweak for, a little bit for that.
But again, not too much color, but just enough color. Not sterile. - Yeah, right. - As a species, we found, we found that sociologically, we don't like sterile. - Anechoic chamber. - We don't like anechoic chambers. Yeah. We don't like anechoic, we don't like sterile people, we don't like sterile music, we like color. Whether it's dark or happy or joyous or sad, we like color. - Take me back to the ZR technology. - Yes. - So, how did that begin? Mike Shipley was your first room, was that the first, where you first did...
- That was first ZR room, yes. - And what is ZR? - ZR stands for zero reflection. So, it's the antithesis, it's literally the inverse of everything in traditional acoustics. Traditional acoustics, as you well know, if you have a room, and then you have two long walls on either side, and then, like, a W in front or a V in back, but angled walls, and maybe a cloud or two on the ceiling, is to take the sound from the speakers at the front, and we're talking, say, a music room, just left and right, to take the sound, you obviously, you have the direct sound to you, at the listening position.
And also, you only have, you start with one listening position, my listening position is one cube, it's just a square cube, you know, about a foot cube, size of your head. You go like that, you're out. Go like that, you're out, you can't sit, you can't stand up, you can't kneel down, you're out. The idea is to have the direct sound to you as the primary sound, that's your primary sound. Then first section, first, second, third, fourth reflections around the room, anywhere from, and this is, this is a designer thing, anywhere from 1.17 to 2.3 second reverberation in a nice blend, right, a nice blend of like, you know, cranberries, bananas, yogurt, whatever, but it's a blend of all, you can't have just, like, 2.4, or 1.17, or 1.5.
It's gotta be a blend of reverberation decay that comes back to you from the room... - Different frequencies, or from different places? - Different frequencies, different places, different, using the shape and geometry of the room to focus it back to that one, that one cube, where your head is, to get this warm sound that you feel the room, you hear the room. It's warm and fuzzy, but it adds to the music, adds to the color. We flipped it around exactly. The theory behind ZR Acoustics, behind zero reflections is, you only get the direct sound, and you don't have any reflections from the room.
So it was, in the beginning, of course, as most things are, it was an experiment. Mike Shipley came to us, he was going through a life change. - Mike Shipley being the famous... - Of course, I've known him, at Westlake Audio, he worked at Westlake before, we had a history, he had gone through a major life change, he was moving out of Mutt Lange Shania Twain era, he'd moved to LA, he was going away from SSLs, and he was going to, he bought, like, one of the first Icons from Rich Nevens, Rich Nevens, actually, was the one who called me about it, and said, are you willing to go out on a limb with someone who you know, you know, and I said sure, and he hooked me up with him, Mike said, I don't want this, and this, I don't want a weird shaped room, I want it to sound perfect, do what you need to, and I've got eight square feet of window in front, and I bought an Icon, and I love KRKs.
And I was like... - Some limitations there, yeah. (laughing) - I was like, okay, I'm in trouble. I took the gig, of course, I wanted to make Mike happy, but I'm like, hmm. And so, when we came up with the concept behind ZR Acoustics, I explained it to him verbally, and I said, I've done the research, according to what we can find, no one's done this before, mathematically, creatively, I'm positive it'll work, pretty positive it'll work, you'd be a guinea pig, but if you're, and he's like, I'm game. I'm totally, 'cause he, he turned his life upside-down, the only thing he kept was KRKs.
- Interesting. - And went from an SSL to an Icon. This is very, very early. No one was buying Icons. - Yeah, yeah. - He was like the third or fourth music guy to buy an Icon. - Especially a mixer who's so into that... - So into SSLs. His sound was an SSL sound. You can listen to it again, I was, you can listen to different albums and go, oh, that was mixed on a 4K, that was mixed on a 9K, his was like, the 4K sound, the G plus sound. And so when he turned his life, I just happened to meet him at the right moment, when he was taking all these risks, you know, he got divorced, he got a new girlfriend, everything was changing.
And he was like, go for it. Totally go for it. And he was very happy. The iteration, the design behind it was just a reversal of thoughts, we thought, well, what if we didn't wanna hear all this. What if I wanted to hear that pair of speakers as if it was like a pair of headphones. Without the issues of headphones. Eradicating the room, metaphorically, so that I could hear my speakers, but only my speakers. A, would we like it? Don't know, luckily I had Mike to be the golden ears. Would other people like it? Don't know.
Does it need to be the same every time, or do we need to have it like a Rubik's Cube combination lock where we can change it, have a different color for every room for every different artist, different every engineer. And would we be able to hear it, would it be dramatic enough? And would we dig hearing only speakers, and then the big question later became, what do speakers sound like now? - Yeah. - Because speakers are designed in anechoic chambers, and then they never, ever, ever see that kind of environment again unless the come into a ZR room, which is not anechoic, but it's so well controlled that you actually get to hear the speakers exactly as they designed them.
- It sounds like a lot of what you're doing with the, with the ZR room, ZR concept, is it based on live end, dead end, of... - Not at all. - You know, technique of the 70s, there? - Take everything in traditional acoustics, most everything besides basic physics, and throw it away. Chord away theory, live end, dead end, frequency dependent, Helmholtz resonator, base traps, resonant frequencies, comb filtering, just move it over there and say, okay, instead of having...
- Those are all the basics of room design. - Yes. Not the basics of physics, and not the basics of sound, but of room design. So, take the old mono-hull sailboat and put the phenomenal keel on it that changed the America's Cup forever. Take my two-wheel drive car that did the Baja Racer, the Formula One, and put a quatro system on it that changes everything forever. You know, just, take the steel engines of cars and turn them into aluminum, an Acura SX.
Changes everything forever. Our concept is, instead of dealing with frequencies, well, let me back up. In our research, everything we see about traditional room acoustics is, here are the inherent, almost genetic, issues with all rooms. Comb filtering, resonant frequencies, you know, blah blah blah, just runs down this whole list, you know, you need bass traps in the corners, and we're like, why? And to my, to this day, I haven't found that answer as to, it's kinda like saying, every single person is going to be born with cancer.
- Well, it's like saying... - No one's asking, why are we getting cancer? - This is the way we've always done it. - Right, exactly. It's like, well, we all have cancer, here's a bottle of aspirin. I'm like, yeah, but I have cancer. I wanna, I don't wanna have cancer. So how do I avoid that? Let me, let me live healthy, and let me not smoke, let me not drink, let me find out what my genetic predisposition is, so we did that question in acoustics. So, if room modes, if comb filtering, if resonant frequencies, if bass build up, if those are the cancer of acoustics, what we did is, if that starts here, let's, let's start here.
Let's go ahead of the problem, of the beginning of the beginning of the problem, start there. And then everything we design from there on in, and I won't say it was like, easy. I mean, it was, for me, that was everything I'd learned, everything I'd been taught, every studio I've been, every phenomenal, fantastic album I've ever grown up on, and ever heard since, has been recorded largely in those rooms. So to me, it was literally having to almost turn off a part of my brain, and I just start again.
And think, okay, just, it's almost like learning a new language. It's like, I learned English as my first language, and I'm the son of immigrants, but they said, no, no, no, no, you're gonna learn English. So when I go to learn their language, my parents' language, it's hard. 'Cause I have to ignore English, and learn a whole different language. And so, it was like that. So, live end, dead end, no. Frequency dependent, absolutely not. We deal with all bands of frequency. All of the, one hertz to 160 kilohertz, there's no live or dead end, the entire room is a sweet spot, you can sit on the floor, you can stand on a chair, you can stand, you can sit, you can sit on the couch, front, back, middle, side to side, corner, corner, doesn't matter, you get the same imaging and the same natural, neutral frequency response everywhere.
So the paradigm is different. From the very, very postulate level. - Now, a lot of it has to do with the fact that traditionally, the materials that are used in studio design have limited bandwidth, so you have to mix and match the materials in order to cover, you know, a wider bandwidth. So, you've, you've cracked the DNA on that, huh? - Yes, because it boils down to, what is the question? If the question is, if there was an assumption, number one, that all rooms of any kind of shape that is, when you're inside, any room when you're on the inside of it, the interior of any room inherently has problems.
That was, I don't know how long ago it was, but that assumption has been given for decades. Call it a hundred years. Number two, there's an assumption, whether it was an assumption or a scientific deduction at the time, also very old, at least 60 years, that all materials have a certain relationship to acoustics. And that it was the material, and it wasn't anything else. If I put more of this material, I should get a linear or logarithmic response using this material. So we asked a different question.
We said, is it material? Is it resolution? Is it geometry? Is it shape? Is it size? Is it mass? Traditional acoustics says it's mass, and then a certain amount of geometry. No one ever asked about resolution. No one gave acoustics a quantifiable measure of good acoustics, I mean, that's, it's a very broad term, it's the shotgun in the barn door, of course, right? There's a lot of math behind traditional acoustics. But it's all based around a certain trapezoidal shape, and, again, the concept of trying to bring a certain amount of the sound from the room back to the listening position to warm up the direct sound.
So you got your direct sound and your indirect sound that comes back to listening position, and that's, that's hard. There's a lot of math behind that. We said, we just wanna hear this. I just wanna hear the two speakers, and the rest of it can go away. Then the question became, not, how do I take it and bring it back to me, the question became, how do I take it and make it all go away? Which is a different question, and, in itself, a complicated question. So, materials, we were trying to be, of course, there's certain materials we prefer, but they're nothing unusual, you know.
Drywall. Wood. Steel studs. Wood studs. Drywall fasteners, some sort of absorption. Our ethos was to try and design something that looked absolutely beautiful, that sounded absolutely phenomenal, but neutral, or invisible, transparent, and that used ubiquitous materials so it wouldn't be inaccessible to everyone. - Now, there has to be some reflections. - There are, okay, yes. - Because if there weren't, it would feel uncomfortable. - Yes, yes and no.
So, yes to the first part, no to the second part. We designed it to not feel uncomfortable. I'll take the second part first. One being a tile bathroom, where everything's super, super loud, and super reflective, and ten being a fully dead, anechoic chamber, right? We were shooting for like a five to seven, and we landed right about six. We need the rooms to be controlled enough that, an echo being only one of many characteristics, so, anechoic, meaning, without echo. Echo being only one of many characteristics that we deemed important for clarity.
What we wanted was, is if you could just sit and listen to something in one of our ZR rooms and without even closing your eyes, to have to turn off your visual cortex, you would just be like, wow, I feel like I'm sitting in front of Led Zeppelin, playing in the tracking room, or playing in, like, this circumstance that we're sitting in vanishes. And you hear so clearly in a ZR room that it's like you're transported into that circumstance. That's the goal of recording. That's, I mean, an artist can be dead 100 years, but if you can listen to a phenomenal recording of them, and you're there, that's every single storyteller, every writer, every screenwriter, every musician, they're telling a story.
What they want you to do is they want you to feel the story the way that they are expressing it. That's art, and so what we wanna do is make the tools vanish, you know. Like, we're sitting here talking, but people are gonna watch this, they're not gonna see that camera. You don't want them to see the camera, you know, you don't want them to see the microphones, it's like, you don't want 'em to see it. We don't want you to hear the room. We want you to hear the music. The story, the artist, and all that. So, what we did was, we took the room, we flipped it around, we took the room away, we wanted to use ubiquitous materials to make it as least expensive as possible, the design would be extravagant and complicated, as most really good designs are, but it, the product would look simple.
Or look like nothing. It would look like nothing. - Well, let's talk about your panels, for instance. Your panels are behind us, and we've been using 'em, to great effect, actually. So, yeah. Give us a rundown. - Well, these four panels here, two top one, top and bottom there and top and bottom here, are called an SR eight bit plus, for short, we call 'em SR8+'s. - And why eight bit? - Eight bit, it's a joke, so the SR eight bit technology is not featured here today, but it looks similar to this in a larger, 20 inch by 40 inch format.
They're cut emulating an analogous sine wave, a little, a shape, a topology that we wanna emulate, and they're cut in little stair-steps. So they're like sample rates. - Oh, I see. - We originally started with, and they're cut with an eighth inch drill bit. So it's an audio joke. It was the second product we made, and I was designing the micros, these, and over the weekend I thought, hmm. I really want one that's, that's like acoustical art. That, A, is extremely effective, B, you know, eye catching and beautiful, that it has an architectural aesthetic value, C, that it would be so hard to copy that no one would just, like, scan it and make one, right, I'm like, well, how could I do this? So I started taking our technology and looking at other mathematics that we could imbue into it, and one of my favorite mathematics, everything, again, back to nature, everything evolves from nature, so I took Fibonacci mathematics, took a certain portion of that mathematics, and I embedded it into these panels.
We went to cut them, we started with a 1/16 inch drill bit, 'cause, of course, I wanted a, you know, sample rate 16 bit, or a sample rate 24 bit. Well, we vaporized a panel. No, that's not true. We vaporized many panels, we went through several kinds of wood, basically put a whole panel on the CNC machine, put the 1/16 inch drill bit, put in the program, and ended up with just, nothing. It just vaporized the wood. It was gone. There was nothing left. So I'm like, well, maybe use a harder wood. It vaporized that wood. Long story short, we realized that we had to use, strangely, a larger bit, and use a fraction of the bit, so we weren't using the tinier bit, spinning a higher speed, we had to use a bit wider and use an edge of the bit, if that makes sense.
And it's a long story, but, basically it's an audio joke. So, it's sample rate, so, the shapes are designed around, analogous to smooth forms, and also around an eight bit drill bit. So these are sample rate eight bit pluses, it's this technology embedded into a two foot by four foot tileable format with added sabine coefficients, so they have a little bit more absorption, but they have that same technology of them, they're ultra-thin, they're, you know, 1 1/2 inches thick. - Wow. - Very thin.
- Are they broadband? - One hertz to 160 kilohertz. - Wow! - We have test data on these, which are the micros, these are only an inch and a quarter thick, again, wrapped in textile, this is called, what we call the micro-technology, and the wood ones in these four are called sample rate technology. Sample rate technology because of the stair-stepping. Micro-technology is a different technology, it's original, it's the original ZR Acoustics design that you've experienced at Universal Mastering Studios, miniaturized, so, we could call it a mini, but we're just gonna get killed by Cooper, you know, so I left that alone.
So we call that a micro, and then this is all sample rate technology. The micros are two by two, inch and a quarter thick, with high resolution, and basically everything's designed around a certain level of acoustic resolution, and then a balance of aesthetics and tileable features, so these are 12 inches by 12 inches, all four of these, different designs, those are tecantes, sunspots, another tecante, and another tecante. Tecante means diagonal in Italian, so that's a tecante up right, that's a tecante up left, and that's a tecante down right.
The micros in the center are the micro-technology two foot by four foot, these are in response to the fact that architecturally, a lot of people wanted, like this wall, orthogonal tileable systems. Not necessarily for best acoustics, but because somewhere between acoustics, aesthetics and architecture is where our worlds meet. An unexpected effect of what we did was, once we design anything that just looks fantastic, people became obsessed with the look.
We have clients who want to buy them just by the sample rate technology, just because they look great. We have a client who says, I have this entire marble room, and I love it, but I can't hear a thing. 'Cause it's all marble, it's just, the sound's bouncing everywhere, it's all hard surfaces, so he calls up, he's like, I just wanna buy some of these 'cause they'll obviously work, but I just need to deaden the marble sound, and they're beautiful. So, he wants some just because of the look. But then they have the added acoustic plan. - Well, if someone wanted to buy these, then, is there a particular number that you would use, or placement where, how you'd use them, or, how would that work, if, for instance, I had a room, and I had, my bedroom.
I wanna change my bedroom into a studio. Then, what would I do? Would I buy four of them, put two on each side around...? - So, to answer your question, yes, and yes. Because the, this is a miniaturized version of an entire room. So, the, envelope... - Would that be the ultimate, then, if you just put this through your whole room? - Yes. The ultimate would be to take, the ultimate, you know, cost no object, would be to line every square inch of a room with these. A, it would be impossible 'cause no room's gonna fit exactly in one foot squares or two foot squares.
- Yeah. - B, it would be costly, but it would be a lot less expensive than building a room. If you actually covered all the surfaces, all four walls and the ceilings of this room, and we put screens on the windows, ZR screens on the windows, you would actually have a higher acoustic resolution, and therefore a higher performance, than Universal Mastering. Reasoning being is that, as these were miniaturized from the same technology that we use in our full construction, or our pre-fab systems, when you purpose-built a room, when you do ground up construction, I got a slab, I got a piece of dirt, we're gonna build it up, right? Those rooms, because they're an envelope, they're a sealed envelope, four walls and a ceiling, they have a different performance value.
Versus, this room is built here, we didn't put in the air conditioner, I don't know what kind of glass it is in the windows, we miniaturized it, but then we cranked up the resolution. So, to jump into resolution for a minute, we coined a phrase called "non-parallel surfaces." So it's well known in acoustics, like with a tuning fork, if you have two parallel surfaces, you have a resonance, that's just physics, right? That's nature. So, if you have two parallel walls in a room, that creates a problem, hence why traditional acoustics always angle the walls. Put a V, W in the front, V in the back, angle the cloud, you don't want this and this parallel, you don't want this and this parallel.
So we coined, the "acoustic resolution" is non-parallel surfaces per square foot. So in 12 square inches, in the space of that one SR12 panel, how many non-parallel surfaces do you have? So, we found that that is the most quantifiable and almost, also the most critical element of acoustics. In traditional studios, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve.
Then you add up all the surface area and you divide it by 12, you get an average of 0.01, it's not, it doesn't sound very big, because it's not. An average ZR studio, you know, Universal Mastering? 0.56, it's 56 times the acoustic resolution. Take 44.1 16 bit CDs. Multiply that sample rate by 56 times. Right now we're at 96, most people are at 96k 24 bit. So, let's start with 48k, right, double that, that's at 96k.
That's fantastic compared to what we were 48 or 44.1. It's only double. Multiply it by 56 times and see how it's gonna sound. Multiply 24 bit by 56 times. It's gonna sound amazing. So, we took traditional acoustics and multiplied it by 56 times. Then we miniaturized it. So that panel has an acoustic resolution of over 140 non-parallel surfaces per square foot. That's over 14,000 times the acoustic resolution of every traditional studio ever built.
Every great rock and roll album you and I have ever heard can now sound 14,000 times better. When we go from like, 0.01 to 140, then we go from 140 non-parallel surfaces to over 450. So this is 45,000 times the acoustic resolution of a traditional studio. Actually, yeah, no, sorry, this panel is 300, it's only 30,000 times. (laughing) You get the point. - Yeah, so, that means then, you've eliminated bass traps.
- No need for bass traps. - No need for bass traps. Diffusers? - No need for diffusion. - You've eliminated most of the traditional techniques and tools. - It's not that we've eliminated it, diffusion still does what diffusion does, absorption still does what absorption does, but after a lot of experimentation, a lot of research, and the kindness of many strangers and some very, very smart colleagues of ours who are physicists, we've discovered that to make sound the best, if I, hmm, instead of controlling one frequency, if I have a room that's X by Y by Z, and I look at X and I determine the resonant frequency of X, so I wanna deal with that frequency.
Let's say you have 20,000 ping pong balls. 20k, 20 kilohertz, right? 20,000 ping pong balls. And there's 60 of them that are red, and you gotta go find 'em all, but the whole room's shaking and they're all bouncing, you gotta run around and chase 60 different red, we're like, well, I'm gonna go unplug the motor that makes the room shake. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. - I'm not gonna deal with all the individual, I'm gonna deal with the whole thing. So, like radio, so radio has a carrier wave, and then the actual sound on top of it.
- Sure. - If you kill the carrier wave, there's, you can't hear the sound. - Yeah. - Sound impulse energy is just energy, sound as we know it is energy, but it rides on air, so here's the sound, and here's the air, just air molecules. What we're breathing. So instead of controlling this frequency, that frequency, 16k, 8k, 2k, 4k, 1.5k, we're like, I'm gonna control the air. If we control the air, all the sound follows. And actually, we actually get into the EM band, 'cause sound is below the electromagnetic band.
It's actually, it's like the bastard stepchild of the EM band, it doesn't even count, right? Or like, zero hertz to the bottom of the EM band, not even the bottom of the EM band. So if we control from 0 hertz to the bottom of the EM band by controlling the medium by which sound requires, it has to have air. You control the air, you control all of the sound. So we didn't get rid of anything, everything in traditional acoustics still exists, people buy it, use it all the time. But we just gave a different option.
If we quantize all the air, the air wants to bounce off that wall, carry sound along with it, it's like a rider and a horse. If I control the horse, the rider goes where the horse goes. If that sound wants to bounce off that wall and come back to me and make a resonance, well, I'm gonna tell that piece of sound to go that way. But I'm also gonna chop it into little pieces, I'm gonna quantize the air molecule so it basically wants to be in two places at once, this one molecule wants to be in two places at once. Like Schrödinger's cat, right? And then all of a sudden, that molecule has a problem, sound goes away.
It gets trasduced into heat, some of it gets, some, sure, a little bit of it gets diffused, a little bit gets absorbed, but, when you knock the horse down, the rider goes somewhere, but he's not going forward anymore. He's not going after the fox, or he's not going home, or he's not gonna win the race. The rider goes where the horse goes. The sound goes where the air goes. We control the air, we control all the sound. Diffusers, Helmholtz resonators, bass traps, absorption, all frequency-based solutions. - Okay, so...
- Ours is a medium-based. - Yes, I get that. How much are these panels? - The sample rate eight bit pluses are $800 a piece for the tier one cloth. This is actually a very high tier cloth. I forget which, I think it's tier three cloth. We offer a variety of cloth. - And what's the difference in the tiers? - Our tiers are just, there's different patterns of cloth, so obviously as you get into the more expensive textiles, the cloth gets more expensive. - Got it. - But the micros are 599, they're basically 600 bucks a piece.
The SR 12s are only $100 a piece. And then we have a variety of other products, we have the SR 12s as an SR 24, so, same thing, same designs, 24 inches square, those are 250 a piece. And then we have the original SR eight bit, which is just under 20 inches by 40 inches, so it's like a 16 by 9 photograph, and those are, hold on, 299 a piece, 300 a piece. - Very reasonable. Okay, I have a bedroom, and I wanna make it sound better than it is now.
What would I buy? - You could do two panels, or you could do 100 panels. It's just, literally, how much better do you want it to sound. You can buy a Chinese knockoff of a Takamine, you can buy a Takamine, or you can buy a Gretsch. Same guitar. You could put strings from wherever, down the street, you know, or you could get really good strings. So, I would recommend, if you were to do a starter package, at least buy one each of the eight bit plus panels. This is our latest technology, it combines the look, the aesthetic, the tileability for architecture, a large amount of square footage, it's eight square feet per panel, two by four, right, do them, if your speakers are horizontal or short, you could put one panel like this and put the speaker centered on it, or if your speakers are vertical, say you have standing speakers, you could orient this vertically and put it on the ground so it's behind it...
- I see, yeah, yeah. - Put them right up against the front wall, put your speakers right up against them, then you control the first priority, the first reflection, which is always the most, major issue. So, force the first reflection to be the front wall, wall, panel, speaker. Boom, boom, boom. Like this, right up against it. - When you go into a, a room, you're hired to build a new studio, or to fix something that's existing, what's the typical problem that you find? - Well, there's two major problems that occur in almost every room.
One is uncontrolled reflections. And that leads to comb filtering, that leads to bass buildup, what it all ends up being is a lack of clarity. Lack of imaging. And it's kind of like something, if you've never experienced true clarity of imaging, you don't even know that you're missing it sometimes. People call me and say, I've got too much bass buildup, or I've got a little slap over here, I've got a little resonance here, and we can bring two panels and stick 'em behind their speakers and they're like, wow, I had no idea it could sound like this, so three dimensional.
So lifelike, that my aural image could suddenly be like, it almost expands their visual cortex, they go together. Better visuals make the sound better, better sound makes the visuals better, right? Everybody knows this, right? So, what people typically say is, I have too much low end, or I have too much, it's too live, or sometimes, rarely, it's too dead. But they're, again, they're speaking in frequencies, which is funny 'cause a lot of them are musicians or composers, instead of speaking in like, tambour. - Yeah, oh, yeah, right.
- It's very rare that someone calls me up and goes, it's too skinny, or it's too fat. They always say it's too much low end, or... Once in awhile we get a musician who'll call us and go, it just doesn't sound right. I got the wrong feel. I got the wrong feel, I'm like, okay. So, play me some music. Because they we have to really, they'll be like, oh, here, see, when I play this, right here, when I hit this, we do have one client who would like, something's wrong, I'm like, what is it, I don't know, here, he pulls out his bass, he starts playing his bass, and he does some scales and he hits this one note, he's like, see, hear that? Hear that? I'm like, oh, yeah.
Didn't speak in frequencies, he just hit this note. He composes on a bass. Everything he composes on a bass. - Wow. - So, typically, reverberation, low end, isolation, you know. - Well, let's speak about isolation for a second. Isolation has traditionally been brute force. - Traditionally. - Have you discovered something? - Absolutely, absolutely. - Lay it on me. - So, the two critical elements that help us quantize sound, the two most important elements of ZR Acoustics and quantum acoustics is that you need resolution and geometry.
They go hand in hand. You can achieve resolution, you can control particles, with a high degree of magnetism. Kind of like the Halon Collider, right? No one's touching anything, they're not putting, they're not slamming an electron into something, they're slamming electrons into other electrons. They're, sorry, subatomic particles. Subatomic particles smashing into each other. But the only way to control that, something that small without pushing it like a car, which is ridiculous, is with magnetism.
Now, we're trying to go with passive materials, or rather, we do only use passive materials, ubiquitous materials, so we're looking at only when a sound wave hits the physical object that we design. So the physical object is everything, so in that physical object, we require two things, geometry and resolution, which go hand in hand. As you can't do resolution without using magnetism, if we're just using physical object, we need a physical geometry to create that resolution, hence the non-parallel surfaces per square foot.
In order to do that, we have to have a very, very specific design, and we wanna have fin. These panels, we have data on these that show that they can affect amplitude, frequency, sorry, amplitude and phase. - Okay. - From one hertz, one hertz, up to 160 kilohertz. Meaning that quarter wave theory is, that is dead, we've eradicated quarter wave theory. Not that it doesn't work to a degree, to a degree.
But if we can, in a one and a quarter inch panel, control one hertz, than quarter wave theory has been usurped, shall we say. - Is it the same amount though, at, across the bandwidth? - More. It's, oh, across the bandwidth? - Yeah, and so, in other words, your... - It's specifically designed to be neutral. We're not going for a smiley face EQ curve, or a frowny face EQ curve, we're going for the most neutral, but organic, frequency response possible.
And that being said, we don't actually shoot for a frequency response, we go for neutrality. It's very scientific, but also very subjective. - How would you define neutrality? - I would ask you, how do you define neutrality? You wanna hear, what's your, well, I don't wanna get you in trouble, but what's your, name a band, a song, that you love. A fabulous, the song off the top of your head that you go, wow, I love this song. - Well, okay, let's... - You want that song to sound just like it was recorded. That's neutrality. I wanna play pink noise, and I want it to sound exactly like pink noise.
I want the song that I recorded with Led Zeppelin, with The Police, with The Beatles, I want it to sound exactly like it was when they were in that room. - But is it true, though, that you don't know what that sound is unless you have a reference point of something that's great. - Of course. But no, at the same time. I can walk, you could play me a, a recording off your iPhone of this room, and you talking in this room. And if there is a resonant frequency in it, even though I've never stepped foot in this room before, even though I've never seen the room, I can hear the resonant frequency in the room.
It pops out. Any good recording engineer can tell you, they'll, when they're working, they're like, oh, here, certain notes stand out. And they stand out because when you're playing a scale, the scale, you train your ears. You know what stands out. So on the one hand, to a micron level, to 1/100 of a dB, can I tell you exactly what a 1964 recording of The Beatles sounded like, no. But can I tell you if there was like, an A flat standing out, and that was probably the room, or it might have been, they didn't tune the guitar? You can statistically figure out that they probably tuned the guitar.
So if I got a 6 dB bump at A flat, it's probably the room. Or the speakers, or something. But I shouldn't have a 6 dB or 12 dB or 9 dB bump at one frequency, one note, that's probably a resonant frequency. Especially if I have it at the octave, the half octave, I have my nice little pyramid of resonances, where I have the fundamental, and then the octave, and the octave, and the octave, and the octave, all dropping off, then I know that's obviously resonance. - But that seems to happen in so many rooms, where you have that, small rooms especially, where you have that one frequency that jumps out.
- Except for in ZR rooms. Doesn't happen ever. - But most people, again, are in their bedrooms, their garages, or whatever, and I'm just saying, you know, in general, if you're talking about pros, pros are gonna go to this is in a second and say, okay, I get this. - Right. - Where you're gonna have a whole line of people that could actually afford this, because this is affordable, this is within their grasp, if they know about it, and, but the whole thing is, it's like, they have to understand that, okay, this is what I need in order to really make a big improvement in my room...
- Right. - And do it in such a way that doesn't break my bank. - Yeah, exactly. Well, one of the reasons why our product came out was because one of our clients had a huge fight with their landlord, right in the middle of our project, so it was a two phase project, build the first room out of four, move in, get it up and running, and then once we get up and running, build the other three rooms. And then his huge fallout with the client, they said, we're not sinking another dime into this building, I want something I can take away. And you've been, they said to us, you've been talking about product for awhile, put it together.
I'm like, that's an idea, so we whipped together the first two products, the micro and the sample rate eight bit, which is not viewed here, that technology, in like, three months, we whipped it together. It was a crazy time, and then it did really well. So yeah, you could basically take two of these, one for left and one for right, put it behind your speakers, that'd be a dramatic change. - No kidding. - If you walked back, you know, it's an interesting phenomenon. We have a listening room down at the marina, where, it's about 10 grand on the wall, of this kind of product.
If you've got the speakers on, you don't notice the reverberation in the room, it's just steel studs and drywall. It's a rental. If you clap your hands when there's no speakers on, you hear the back wall, you hear the refrigerator, you hear the stainless steel sink, you hear it all. Clang, bing, bong, you know, it's like the ping pong ball bouncing around the room. Turn the speakers, it vanishes. Because the point source from the speakers, which is controlled by the front wall ZR system becomes your priority. It's masking. - Okay, so you're saying, take the speakers, and put it right up against the ZR panel.
- Yeah, take this panel, put it right up against your front wall, and then put the speaker right up, with your XLR cable and your power cable, right up against it, 90 degrees. - 'Cause, traditionally, you're gonna pull it back from the wall. - Yeah, nothing we do is traditional. We just started again. The guys who found the Higgs boson particle, everybody thought they were crazy til they found it. You know? The Wright brothers. Perfect example. You guys are nuts, what, do you wanna fly around in the air? And we do it all the time now. The car, it's like, we're, we get a lot of flack for going in the face of traditional acoustics, but we just love music, and we love beauty and art, and we want things to sound fantastic, and we can repeat it over and over again.
And all we keep doing is making it smaller, and smaller, and smaller, I mean, we're right here and here right now. One and a half, one and a quarter, and three quarters of an inch. I'm working on a panel that's half inch, and we're doing research on nanotechnology to be able to take your shirt, and turn it into a ZR cloak, or curtain. So basically, I wouldn't be able to hear you. But, no, but you could do something as thin as a millimeter, and you could roll it down over your window, and it would basically cloak all the noise coming into it. - Wow. - That's a little ways off, but, it's totally possible, this technology.
- State of the art, this is great. - Yeah, it's fun! It's fun. - Thank you, Hanson, this is terrific. - Thank you, Bobby, thank you.
As a young man, Hanson had his heart set on hard science, but ended up falling in love with acoustics: achieving epic sounds in both production studios and live performance spaces. In an effort to marry his technical and creative passions, he founded Delta H Design studio. At DHD, Hanson creates groundbreaking technologies that are redefining the acoustics industry—and what it means to acoustically treat a music studio. In this interview, Bobby and Hanson chat about Hanson's career, influences, and the inspirations for his world-class studio designs.