Concepts, Schematics and Construction of a Listening Room
The concept plan adds the basic acoustical treatment into the room. This calls out all the surface treatments, floor type, ceiling construction, absorption, diffusion, and trapping within the room. It will also give a good idea of what the room will look like from a 2-D plan view. In addition, the concept plan is a good time to be considering budgets as well as aesthetics. Different treatments have different building costs associated with them, and while we can not know precisely what a contractor might charge, we do know how to trim costs. The caveat is that it is usually at the expense of either aesthetics or sonic benefits of the room. Once this phase is approved, we move to the schematic phase.
Keep in mind the three aspects I mentioned earlier in this phase: budget, sonic benefit, and aesthetics. You should have some sort of handle on these during this phase, though don't ask the designer/engineer specifically what it will cost. They are not builders and should not be expected to give you estimates. Your builder will have to do that. But the designer can design in certain ways that can be expected to reduce costs.
I use an analogy with many of my clients of a kitchen. Imagine the A/V components are your appliances. You need cabinets and countertops and floors. You can have granite countertops, natural cherry cabinets, and beautiful stone tile flooring. It will be expensive, but look great. Or you can have formica cabinets and countertops, with a vinyl floor. It will function fine but won't look like the previous kitchen. You'll have a lot of extra money to spend on software (or fine wine) too. So you need to decide what's important to you. We often ask clients to look through magazines and tear out pictures of rooms they find appealing. Acoustics don't have to look like anything in particular. A creative designer can integrate them into almost any decor. We often use coffered ceilings, columns, and bookcases, as a way of integrating the acoustical needs of a room.
Some designers even provide 3-D pictures of what the room will look like. This is a nice added touch if aesthetics are very important to you and you have trouble visualizing what things might look like. However, these 3-D renderings are generally not cheap. Also, if they are going to this extent, the design is likely complex and thus relatively expensive to build.
Like the previous 2 two phases, don't be afraid to ask questions and even offer suggestions of what you might like to see. This is really the last phase that the client will have input on, so it's important that you are really happy with the results at this point.
The schematics have floor plans, together with all the details and assembly drawings, and often elevations where applicable. These are the details required to build the room. Also during the schematic process we verify the preliminary work done in the concept phase, and insure that we have the right amount of absorption, diffusion, and trapping, so there are likely some small modifications made from the concept plan, but they are relatively insignificant to the client.
The schematics complete the design phase. These can be given to a contractor(s) to bid on the project. Most contractors have never seen an acoustically engineered room before. That's okay-don't panic (yet). If your contractor doesn't ask, and doesn't call the engineer and designer to inquire, about some aspects of the design, you're in trouble. Don't hire that contractor, pick a different one. Then call the designer and get his opinion on the questions that were asked. Were they good questions? Did the contractor seem to have the right idea and perspective on the project? Your designer can be very important here because he will likely be communicating with your builder during the construction phase. Listen to him, and don't necessarily pick the lowest bid.
Well, it's all coming together here. Think you're through once this has begun? Not even close. This phase is extremely important, because the finest designs with poor execution will lead to poor results. Excellent communication between builder and designer are a must because these types of designs are probably foreign to most builders. Often a builder comes to us with questions that, had they gone off and done what they proposed, would have completely ruined the design. For example, in a room that was completely isolated, the builder said, "the clients want recessed can lighting, is that okay?" We had specified track lighting and did it for the simple reason that cans would put a big hole in our sound isolation barrier. We of course told the contractor, "No, you cannot use recessed cans", and explained why. He was grateful for our explanation and that he had had the foresight to call. In other cases, we've had the opposite experience occur where a contractor thought of a different way to build an acoustic device, or suggested a different building material that was acceptable and less expensive, or easier to construct. In those cases, we've often incorporated their ideas into our future designs. So designers can often learn from builders-if they are willing to listen. It's a two way street here and the most important thing is communication.
The Overall Process
In working with Rives Audio, one very important aspect to understand about this process is that once a particular phase is completed and approved by the client, and we move to the next phase, we can not go backwards to a prior phase and change things without additional charges. This is one of the ways we keep our costs down and are able to provide our services and very reasonable fees. Whether you are working with our company or another design/engineering firm, keep this in mind. They need firm decisions from you that they can count on as they work through the design process. A client who keeps changing his or her mind can be extremely frustrating and inefficient for the designer. A situation such as this can lead to less than optimum results.
As you go through the process, don't be afraid to ask questions, of your acoustical engineer, architect, and builder. Don't expect them to educate you on every aspect of what they do, but they should provide you with ample information so that you can make informed decisions along the way. Also, try to enjoy the process. Don't get caught up on fabric colors when you are still trying to figure out the dimensions of the room. Take it a step at a time and a good engineer will walk you right through the process.