When asked about the most important features of their recording spaces, most studio owners will likely list a number of items before getting on to their choice of acoustic treatment.
The majority would probably prioritise their microphone selection, console or monitors over those strange panels that, although not always the most visually appealing, are thought to be essential for a great-sounding room.
And they really are essential, according to Vicoustic CEO Cesar Carapinha, who has seen countless cases of individuals or companies spending a fortune on flashy gear and equipment, but very little, or even nothing at all, on proper treatment.
"Many people buy expensive speakers and use them in very bad acoustic conditions. They think having all this gear will solve all their problems, but sound quality is about the environment where we are," he said. "Vicoustic offers products for all budgets and highly specialised staff to help you create your ideal listening room."
It's not the easiest subject to get your head around, but when you really see (or hear) what good quality acoustic treatment can do, then it becomes much more clear. And that's just what we got the chance to do recently when we were invited by Audio-Technica, Vicoustic's new UK distributor, to check out the company's new R&D centre in Paços de Ferreira, near Porto, Portugal, and we were ensured the trip would be a real eye-opener.
Audio-Technica certainly delivered on its promise. Not only was it genuinely fascinating to hear how just a basic arrangement of absorption panels, diffusers and/or bass traps can completely change a room's sound characteristics; the facility is home to a truly unique adaptive volume chamber that anyone – audio nerd or not – would find pretty remarkable.
The room is able to transform from an anechoic to a reverberant chamber or low frequency resinate chamber thanks to a four-ton movable mechanical wall (pictured, left), which also allows the team to completely change the size of the space and carry out a wide variety of acoustical tests, all in the same place.
The four installed subwoofers and single B&K omnidirectional loudspeaker can generate specific sound waves, allowing any product sample to be studied at precise frequencies once the wall is locked in the desired position.
All very impressive then, but is it completely necessary? Carapinha thinks so: "One great advantage is that we have our own lab. Other companies don't have this privilege, which lets us test our product to exhaustion," he explained. "We don't have that problem of 'we only have one hour to test everything' and then you do it in a rush, maybe it doesn't work, you have to change something, need another hour and then it gets very expensive and takes a lot of time, which is why we have invested in having our own facilities."
Vicoustic's R&D man, Pedro Meireles is also understandably pleased with the one-of-a-kind new feature: "When it's a reverberant chamber we can run absorption tests and low frequency tests and when it's an anechoic chamber we can also do diffusion tests," he added.
"For me, as the head of R&D, I am really happy with it as it gives me the chance to really test the product and it gives us confidence in the results that we're presenting. Many of the other companies that do diffusion products can only run simulations, which just isn't the same."
Another clever multifunctional listening room at the centre is equipped with magnetic walls, enabling the team to assemble various panel arrangements in a matter of seconds – another great time-saving idea that is apparently being copied in testing locations all over the world.
Vicoustic divides its product offering into three categories: Music & Broadcast, Hi-Fi & Home CInema and Building & Construction, with its bestselling line being Wavewood, a range of panels made from a combination of foam and wood that can act as both an absorber and diffuser. As you would imagine, these can be used to dramatically improve a room's versatility.
"One of the problems with recording studios is that you often have to build two rooms – one that is very dry to record voice, but is awful for acoustic guitar, for example, and another that is bright with a lot more reflections," states Carapinha. "So with this product you only need to build one room because by removing the wood from the panel you completely change the acoustics."
Further highlights of the range include the MD55 absorption/diffusion combo; Flexi Pol A50, which is particularly useful for treating first reflections; and Multifuser Wood – ideal for both concert halls and recording studios. But there's too much to list here – to see Vicoustic's extensive offering in full, check out the website.
Acoustics is a topic that can confuse even the savviest of audio professionals, which is why Vicoustic also aims to provide as much useful information as possible for its existing and potential customers. This includes web-based acoustic/isolation simulators and even an online Project Request feature, which lets the user input the details of their room, who then receives a detailed breakdown of all the treatment products needed.
"On our website we have an acoustic calculator where you put in the measurements of your room and it will give you the results, which solves 90 per cent of the problems," Carapinha continued. "The other ten per cent are the hardest ones, which is why we also have a team of acousticians in Lisbon doing projects around the world."
It's this level of support – not just the amount of money that's clearly been invested in Research & Development – that has seen Vicoustic's reputation continue to grow among users from a number of sectors, from home studio enthusiasts to companies responsible for huge install projects in challenging venues.
The plan is now for the company to continue its global growth, and Carapinha and co can certainly look to the future with a great deal of confidence. And with Audio-Technica now on board, UK audio professionals can expect to see much more of the brand in the very near future.