Art's Blog: AttackWall – History

The development of the ASC AttackWall took place in two different parts of the country, by two different people, each working alone on two different but related problems at the same time, back in the mid-1980’s. Art Noxon had invented a unique bass trap in his basement in 1983 and by 1985 it had become the TubeTrap, a well-known acoustic device used to dial-in the precision sound environments of both HiFi and recording studios.

By the mid 80’s Art was working on an unusual application of TubeTraps. Instead of adding a standard sound reflecting horn, a megaphone of sorts, to more efficiently couple loudspeakers to the air in the bass range he was experimenting with making acoustical horns out of TubeTraps. Because the TubeTrap is impedance matched to sound in air, they did not color the sound like hard surfaced horns did. Still, they blocked the kinetic energy expansion of sound around the back of the box while absorbing the excess pressure buildup. It was a way to horn load loudspeakers without adding the intonation, the coloration of a hard surfaced megaphone.

About this same time a talented and successful recording engineer in the Chicago scene learned about this new acoustic widget, the TubeTrap, thanks to the extensive marketing efforts by Noel Lee of MonsterCable, the original distributor of TubeTraps. Sam Lynn, like many other recording engineers in those early days, bought some TubeTraps to experiment within his studio to find out what they were good for. And like the other engineers, he liked the sound he could get by using them as building blocks to create complicated acoustic spaces. And like the other engineers Sam called into ASC to report his early findings. And he kept on ordering TubeTraps, slowly building up his inventory.

Sam had a particular problem and he hoped TubeTraps could help him. It was the sound of his low ceiling recording studio in the basement of his home in Glenn View, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Most important was the performance of his very small 7’ cube-shaped concrete control room in which was a pair of Urei 813’s, his favorite speaker. He always said: “It takes big boxes to make big records” but his room was so small and hard walled that he couldn’t get that big sound he wanted.

Sam discovered that the more TubeTraps he added to his control room the better it sounded. He pretty much covered the interior of his room with TubeTraps. True to his hopes, they absorbed off-axis sonic energy without weakening the spectral power balance in the direct signal. He got his small control room to perform as well as, in fact, better than the large studio control rooms he had previously worked in and owned.

Sam checked in regularly with Art, discussing the fine points of acoustics. He became a Midwest factory rep for ASC TubeTraps and they worked on numerous projects together and along with the other factory reps met and hung out together at AES shows.

One time Art got a strange call from Sam to drop everything and fly out to Chicago where he would pick me up and show me something, a secret that he just had to share. He showed me what he had done to his tiny all-concrete control room in his basement and then he showed me his secret, photos of what he’s been doing with TubeTraps, setting up similar versions of what he did in his own room, essentially soffit loading big boxes with TubeTraps.

Then Art shared his work with Sam, the horn loading version of speakers. These two systems were combined into what has since become the ASC AttackWall. They compared notes and joined forces, which included naturally a payment scheme for Sam’s contribution. Sam was never one to be taken advantage of, it was his Chicago nature to make sure of that. Sam was paid in full for his contribution to the AttackWall: a lifetime supply of standard and custom-made TubeTraps, as many as he wanted for life. In addition, Sam wanted to be acknowledged as the co-developer of the AttackWall.

In the early days, Sam had coined the acronym ATTAC, All TubeTrap Acoustic Control. Art kept pushing to add the K, for Kit and recording engineers who mixed on these early systems always referred to it as the “wall”. Finally, as it is in all good partnerships, compromises are made and new ideas are included. The complete name evolved to ASC AttackWall which often gets shortened to the Awall.

There is a big difference between Sam’s early ATTAC setups and todays AttackWall system. This difference reflects the two different developments, one from Sam and the other from Art that were merged into what we now know as the ASC AttackWall. Sam’s original design came from his work in his basement studio, where the speakers were tight against the two front corners of his room or tight against the front wall of the room, near the corners.

This early version was essentially a pair of soffit loaded speakers where the front and side walls and ceiling above the speakers of the small room were lined with TubeTraps, as well as the back wall. This soffit loaded studio wall design was how Sam made his first ATTAC studio projects. This design was discarded as it created an acoustic space that was dead, and too expensive as it required many TubeTraps to control the bass.

Today’s Awall design evolved from wall mounted soffits made out of stacking TubeTraps into a free-standing workstation where the TubeTraps stand a few feet away from the studio walls, and not pressed tightly against the walls. It is the setback distance and the height of the Awall and the orientation of the treble diffusing side of the traps that creates the time delayed diffusive backfill, which was missing in the early ATTAC version of the design, and completes the LEDE requirement for recording studio acoustic signature.

Many tricks were introduced into today’s Awall. Sam loved to vent bass and bass venting is still incorporated into today’s Awall along with standard bass trapping to get asymmetry between the floor and ceiling bounce and get the bass tumbling out of the Awall into the room.

Back in the early days, almost no one wanted anything but a standard contractor build studio. Almost no one had a home studio (except Sam) and real studios didn’t need an AttackWall because they already had a working control room. Very few people needed the AttackWall. Over time the nature of recording changed, mainly due to the advent of computers. Most of the studios that used to exist are all gone. Now, much of the recording work is done in the home or garage or barn environment, where the AttackWall for mixing and Quick Sound Field for recording are providing great service to the industry.

Sam and Art both kept their ends of the bargain and although Sam passed in 2013, his pioneering spirit lives on in the ASC AttackWall. One other promise was made between Art and Sam and never broken, which was that ASC would never forsake the AttackWall. Through thick and thin, the AttackWall continued to be promoted and used. Sam got to join Art as a staffer for his hero, Bruce Swedien, in many mentoring classes. Sam lived to see a real pro dealer, pick up and promote the AttackWall as never before, RSPE is a high-end pro studio dealer in N Hollywood. Sam used to try to console their unrewarded efforts in launching the Awall the early years by noting that “The Awall was born before it’s time, but that its time was coming soon”.

And so it has.

Art Noxon is a fully accredited Acoustical Engineer with Master of Science degrees in Mechanical Engineering/Acoustics and Physics. A Professional Engineer since 1982, he is licensed in Oregon to practice engineering in the public domain with the specialty area of acoustics. A prolific inventor, he developed and patented the iconic TubeTrap, the original corner-loaded bass trap/treble diffuser, 150 other acoustic devices, and counting. Lecturer, writer, and teacher of acoustics, he has presented 7 AES papers, numerous magazine articles, white papers and blogs. He is president of Acoustic Sciences Corporation, the company he founded in 1984.

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