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If you're anything like me you spend up to 12 hours a day sitting at an audio workstation, toiling away at your craft. Very often these workstations are set up in an office-type setting, ie. desk, keyboard, monitor and mouse, which arguably is not the best setup for this sort of thing. I mean really, is the QWERTY keyboard the best input device for a sound designer?!

So, who has devised good ergonomic strategies? Who's using tablets or scroll wheels, control surfaces or touchscreens (including iPads)? How many video monitors is enough? Quickeys or other software automation packages?

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14 Answers

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Another +1 on the chair. I have an Aeron - best investment ever. I have my 2 just at eye level (would mind them being a few inches higher). My Edirol 49 key controller is directly under my monitors, and my two gear racks are off to either side. I have a small 7" monitor connected to the VO booth camera right above the right monitor. I have an L-shaped desk, which is awesome too, because I have my Mac workstation in front of me, and my laptop and PC on my side All in all, I have 7 monitors surrounding me :-).

I tend to work on different halves of the desk, so I have video on both sides - if I'm editing on my left screen, I tend to move my chair to the left so I'm more centered in front of it, and there's video just to the left of it. If I'm mixing on my right screen, I move to the right, and there's video just to the right of it.

I don't have a control surface, but I do have a Frontier Alpha Track, which give me a bit of a tactile feel to the mix. I don't use it much though. I'm most likely going to sell it and get a larger surface.

I also have a Kensington Expert Mouse track ball (has 4 macro buttons). The buttons allow me to get in and out of expose, significantly increasing my productivity and speed around the computer, and it's fairly ergonomic.

What I do want is a Wacom Cintiq to work on. I think it would be awesome to be able to use one to draw in automation and sample-level editing and all. Probably would be pretty cool for mixing and plugin editing as well (especially if you can use it without a stylus!)

I've heard the Jazz Mutant stuff is pretty sweet to use as a controller for plugins as well, but I've never been able to play with one :-(

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You have also the Euphonix MC Control to control plugins with fingers. It's cheaper. –  Benoit Tigeot Mar 16 '10 at 22:08
    
+1 for the Euphonix MC Control. I tried one out at the AES convention. It's lovely. –  Andrew Spitz Mar 16 '10 at 23:23
    
True. I used to use the System 5 MC. Loved it. The MC unit is awesome. Their "Artist" series is fairly nice as well if you can't afford the MC (which is $15,000) –  Colin Hart Mar 17 '10 at 1:00
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I get "gorilla arm" with Cintiqs, as well as my human grease all over it. They are brilliant for painting and drawing, but for occasional use for stylus-based controls, I prefer a tablet (Intuos, Bamboo, etc.) that is not also a display. A Cintiq on a swing arm is one possible approach to have it both ways. Just my own experience, though, your mileage may vary! +1 on the Euphonix Artist stuff, I visited their HQ and played with them for quite a while. Extreme deep design thought went into them, and it shows. –  NoiseJockey Mar 17 '10 at 4:05
    
+1 for the Jazz Mutant. I played with one just for a day and it changed my approach to using plugins! But its more of a creative tool than an ergonomic one –  ntkeep Jun 6 '10 at 14:30
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At work, my mix controller (D-Control) is at the proper height for standing while I work. that's eliminated 90% of all the problems I used to have. If you've got the space for it, I'd recommend getting yourself set up to stand while you work. It's a lot more comfortable. I also have a tall adjustable height chair for if my legs get tired. Sitting for 5 to 10 minutes usually takes care of it if I'm having issues. I guess I'm the opposite of most people in that respect. Instead of taking a break to walk around, mine's to sit down...lol.

At my previous job, where things were much more constrained, I wound up buying a Contour Shuttle Pro 2. That worked pretty well for me. I was developing Carpal Tunnel for a while, but it went away pretty quickly after that.

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Excellent answer, thanks Shaun! –  Jay Jennings Jul 20 '10 at 0:44
    
The first time I heard of the standing setup was when studio.jory.org was going through his build out (which he documented on his site, if you haven't seen it check it out, it's pretty cool to see the process). Thought it was a great idea for working in game audio, but how do you work it out for TV @Shaun? When we were re-doing our suites I brought it up and everybody just stared at me like I was insane. "Standing while you mix?!? Are you just going to have the clients stand for the play through too?" –  Steve Urban Jul 20 '10 at 14:25
    
Luckily, we were building a new facility, and we pushed for that from the start; although, everyone (including the architects) kept forgetting we wanted to do it. So, we had to remind people often, but the rooms were designed with that in mind. Basically, I stand in something of a pit, while the clients' desk in the back is a few inches higher. It's been working pretty well so far. –  Shaun Farley Jul 20 '10 at 14:36
    
Doesn't Walter Murch go with the standing setup? –  Miles B. Oct 5 '10 at 1:33
    
pix? I'd love to see the setup. –  Rene Jan 4 '11 at 20:52
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This is the bane of my existence! Posture Posture Posture...

I got so fed up with my bad posture that I created a solution that fit my needs. It is not ergonomics per se, but rather a piece of software I built that tracks my posture and reminds me if I am slouching. I'm planning on sharing it, I just need to find some time to make it go from 'for personal use' to 'for the public'.

On the hardware side, equipment that has helped me has been:

  • A good chair
  • A table at the right height
  • DAW control surface and Mixer
  • A nice mouse
  • Monitors (video) placed straight a head or even a bit higher to force me to look up
  • regular breaks (not quite hardware)
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I could totally use some anti-slouching software. –  Miles B. Oct 5 '10 at 1:32
    
@Miles soundplusdesign.com/?p=3548 please let me know how it works for you :-) –  Andrew Spitz Oct 5 '10 at 4:42
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+1 on a good chair. Spending $600-$900 for an Aeron may seem like a big investment, but consider that you're living in it 12 plus hours a day. You definitely need something that can give you good lumbar support and sit your arm comfortably level with your keyboard and mouse or else you'll suffer shoulder/wrist problems.

As for the QWERTY keyboard, no, it's probably not the most appropriate interface for sound design, but if you know your keyboard shortcuts well, you can zip around your DAW lightning quick.

I use two monitors side by side and a TV above for video ref. Working in the box, I use a tailored Kensington mouse for quick tool switching - probably not the best for my right hand, but it gets the job done.

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if someone have advices to found Aeron Chair at good price in europe... –  Benoit Tigeot Mar 17 '10 at 12:08
    
Aerons are indeed great. Humanscale chairs are different but fit some people better (remember, too, that Aerons come in different sizes). Pricey chairs are ABSOLUTELY worth every penny. –  NoiseJockey May 7 '10 at 1:15
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Someone at work just got one of the new Wacom Bamboo tablets; while small, you can get one that acts both as a stylus input device and a multi-touch input device, like a MacBook Pro touchpad.

They're REALLY goofy-lookin', but the joystick-form-factor mice (mouses?) have their adherents too, because of the neutral wrist position they encourage. I never got used to them, but it really clicks for some people.

Your health is far more important than any job you will ever have. Always remember that!

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Thanks, NJ. This is the type of response I was looking for (something outside of the typical trackball/keyboard config). –  Jay Jennings May 7 '10 at 18:09
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Jog Wheel is my trick. I stay away from my mouse a much as I can. In fact the majority of my mixing is in a Fairlight System so I have no mouse. Just to the right of the console I have a series of keyboards attached to protools where I will do the creative sound design. So ergonomically I am sitting in front of faders the whole time with minimal use of a mouse. It just seems to get me closer to the sound when I can jog through it and really use my ears to edit or mix.

The Aeron chairs are a major help. After a long day I will start to kneel on the chair almost like a catcher in baseball would. The back really low and my knees in my chest. Socks off and almost on top of the console. Its amazing what we do for comfort when we are in the thick of a 14 hour day!

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@spencer, thanks for the response, and welcome to SSD! –  Jay Jennings Jan 4 '11 at 17:09
    
FAIRLIGHT!! Yeah man! I haven't used one of those in years. –  Shaun Farley Jan 4 '11 at 22:45
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For screens I'd recommend you: Two monitors + TV (centered for video playback).

For control there are a lot of control surfaces such as Mackie Control, Digi 003, Command8, C24, MC Control, MC Mix, BCF2000, Lemur + Dexter App, etc... We always need to feel the faders! :)

There are also smaller and useful controllers such as ShuttlePro, AlphaTrack, FaderPort, MCS Panner, FaderMaster 4/100, Nocturn, etc... An Expert Mouse is also a really nice gadget to implement!

Don't forget about your chair. You could have killer faders but if your chair isn't comfortable, everything will be crazy there :P

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I am a huge fan of the pen and tablet. Have been using a Wacom for about 5 years now and love it. I have a scroll mouse for my other hand if scrolling through PT Workspace as I find holding a pen down and scrolling down the tablet for prolonged periods can get pretty painful. The pen positioning allows for your hand and wrist to be in a more neutral (drop your arm down by your side when standing and see the natural position your hand and wrist fall into - I guarantee it's not one in which you could use a mouse) and sustainable position.

For a chair I always use a Gregory chair with the dual density foam in the seat to keep your bum from shifting forward. I get the chair without arms otherwise it encourages me to lean. It doesn't matter how good your chair is though pay $$$$$$ and still slouch it won't matter.

Yet to find a mixer/control surface that is great ergonomically, you are always reaching over them in weird sustained positions just to get that EQ right.

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+1 on the tablet. been using a wacom bamboo for a while. some plugins will behave in an awkward way (because of the tablet's drivers mainly) with the pen, but apart from that i'm pretty happy. plus, automation becomes art in case you have to draw. –  georgi Mar 23 '10 at 14:51
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I try to move around a lot as sitting still for long periods isn't good for me.

The only things I've bought are a mouse mat with a wrist rest and the flat metal keyboard by Apple when it came out. I find I don't need a wrist rest for it as it's so flat.

Ian

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+1 on the flat Apple Keyboard. The low profile works well in front of my control surface, which I have flush mounted to the desk. I don't have to reach up and over the keyboard to get to the transport controls. I also have an Apple Mighty Mouse which, like Colin's Kensington above, get's me in and out of Exposé quickly. –  Steve Urban Jun 25 '10 at 13:44
    
Mine is flush with my ProControl and I agree it's great not having to lean over the keyboard to get to useful things like faders. I really want the new magic mouse but sadly the bluetooth wont reach the machine room from my studio. The ball on the Mighty Mouse is superb until it clogs up. –  ianjpalmer Jun 25 '10 at 14:38
    
That damn Mighty Mouse ball... I'm two years in on my second Mighty Mouse at this point. I've found that if I just keep on it every week. I give it a good jeans cleaning: unplug it, turn it upside down on my jeans and just scrub the hell out of it. Of course, clean jeans help with that. And clean hands too. The mouse gets exponentially as nasty as your hands do. So, clean hands, relatively clean trackball. –  Steve Urban Jul 1 '10 at 14:15
    
I do a similar thing Steve. It's a worry when you use someone elses studio and the ball doesn't work. Ew! How do you carry around a box of wet tissue things without people getting offended? LOL –  ianjpalmer Jul 1 '10 at 16:14
    
@ianjpalmer Wow. I still use my Macally Pro Tools keyboard (oldschool one) because I can't stand typing or editing on flat keys - my hands are so used to the tall keys that when I try to go fast I slip all over the place on the flat ones. –  Utopia Jul 20 '10 at 2:57
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Although the Control24 has edit buttons I don´t use them because it is faster for to use the keyboard. It is not an very comfortable position for the left hand and after long periods of time it can be a pain. There are some peripherals made for gamers that I feel would work well in our enviroments:

http://www.belkin.com/iwcatproductpage.process?product_id=390404

http://www.cybersnipa.com/us/gaming-keyboards/gamepad.php

alt text alt text

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Thanks for the link, inigo! Crazy lookin' gadgets…ever used one? –  Jay Jennings Jun 7 '10 at 5:58
    
@birdhousesound Hah! I bought one of these Belkin keypads but never used it. It's still sitting in my tech room. I am curious to buy a Razer mouse, though. Anyone use one? –  Utopia Jul 20 '10 at 2:55
    
i used one a while back. they're pretty cool, though quickkeys can do most of what you ask these things to do, and the builds tend to be distinctly consumer grade. –  Rene Jan 4 '11 at 20:56
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Right now, after hours of editing, my neck really hurts, so I clearly need to start taking some of this advice.

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I think monitor arms are a must. Looking straight ahead rather than slightly down makes all the difference to me. And 2 computer monitors minimum, three if you don't have an external video screen (TV, projector).

I have a Command 8 for home and use a D-Command at work. If I had waited, I'd probably have gotten the MC Command as opposed to the Command 8, just for it's ability to program macros and expandability. The D-Command is great with it's ability to dive into plug-ins, and have pretty much any control at my fingertips. On my most recent show I abandoned the mouse (almost unplugged it) just to see if I could get by without it. Not only was I faster using keyboard shortcuts and the control surface, but that annoying pain in my right shoulder decreased significantly!

While I am looking at getting a new chair in the next month (at the recommendation of my chiropractor) my favorite ergonomic tool has been a stability ball. You simply can't slouch. I only bring it out once or twice a week, just to kinda readjust. But after a long day at the console, it's great for a stretch. And an added bonus, it has a nice deep ring to it when bounced off walls.


UPDATE:

Just stumbled across this workspace planner. Enter your height and it'll spit out the correct heights and distances for your chair, keyboard, & screens whether sitting or standing.

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I would advise against prolonged use of the ball as it requires your back muscles to work permanently and might trigger further problems. A good chair with adapted lombar support does it for me! –  Justin Huss Jun 25 '10 at 16:39
    
Actually, the ball keeps your entire core active, not just your back. Thus strengthening all of your muscles that are required for proper upright sitting. But like I said, I only use it occasionally. At this point I'm just waiting for my next paycheck to cover the cost of my new Humanscale Freedom chair. Can't wait to have a chair that actually fits me! –  Steve Urban Jul 1 '10 at 14:10
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Control Surface - I swear by the Euphonix MC/MC Pro. Ergonomically well designed, padded wrist rest, fully programmable/customizable soft switches, and layouts for most every app we would need to use. If there isn't a keyset, you can create one for however you like to work.
Expensive, but I find very much worth it.

The Artist Series is very nice too, but I find I would need them mounted inside my console in order for them to feel natural.

Re: chairs - I used to be an Aeron guy. Still slouched in them, and arm rests got in my way. Went out to Skywalker and sat in a HÅG Capisco - loved it, bought one, and have not looked back since. Started with just the stool (no back), but upgraded to one with the back included. http://www.haginc.com/products/hag-capisco/

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As I am very very very old, :O) and as I wear glasses with progressive lenses I had to lower my 27 "iMac about 3 inches from the top of my desk. Then, I was able to put another video monitor above my computer which greatly improves my potition ergonomic. I use QuicKeys for drag&drop bunch of samples and repetitive tasks and it is much appreciated. I also use the magic trackpad ... I can not live without it! as my glasses !

Cheers

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