AMI hears from ADAM Audio as the company marks its 20th anniversary
Whatâ€™s new with Sound Particles 2.0
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Grammy winning engineer Emily Lazar on her recent win
Aston, Audio-Technica, Unity Audio, and more...
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11 Game Audio Creative Assembly’s audio director on creating award-winning video game scores
14 Engineer Profile Colby Ramsey sits down for a chat with mixing and mastering engineer Wes Maebe
Love Sonia How Indian sound professional Resul Pookutty created bespoke soundscapes to depict this hard-hitting tale from the makers of Slumdog
Emily Lazar AMI speaks to the first ever female mastering engineer to win a Grammy about making her mark on history
ADAM Audio Colby Ramsey speaks to the company’s CEO about how it is marking its 20th anniversary this year
26 Aston Stealth 32 Audio-Technica 3000 Series
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AMI APRIL 2019
A SPRING IN THE STEP
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Cover photo credit: ADAM Audio
Printed by Buxton Press Ltd ISSN: 2057-5165 Copyright 2019
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he days are finally starting to get longer and the weather in London is warming up, which is at least something positive to take away from the turbulent and uncertain times we’re currently witnessing in the wake of Brexit. While I’ve tried to stave off talking about it too much in AMI over the last few months, it’s undoubtedly going to pose challenges for some in the pro audio industry, especially perhaps for those working in post-production or for audio engineers and FoH mixers who need to get their gear setups shipped out to different cities and venues on the continent. Despite this sentiment, we keep calm and carry on, with Musikmesse/Prolight + Sound and the NAB Show opening their doors this month to visitors in Frankfurt and Las Vegas respectively, both promising lots of interesting technology developments to get your teeth into. Back in the big smoke however, there’s something equally as huge to look forward to – the MSG Sphere project has been given the go ahead. Initially announced last February, the sphere-shaped music venue from London’s Madison Square Gardens Company has begun
to take shape. Planning documents have now reportedly been submitted to the London Legacy Development Corporation, and have been approved by the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan. Aside from being the “largest and highest resolution LED screen in the world,” it will include an adaptive sound system that targets individual seats, and is also set to include a haptic floor system that conveys bass through the floor. A fascinating hugescale audio installation project if ever there was one – just take a look at some of the concept images and you’ll see what I mean. In this month’s issue we’re also thinking big. There’s a feature interview with Emily Lazar, who this year became the first ever female mastering engineer to win a Grammy for her work on Beck’s “Colors” album, followed by an interview with ADAM Audio’s CEO Christian Hellinger about how the company is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. “It’s going to be one big year-long party!” he tells AMI. On page 14, I speak to award-winning mixing and mastering engineer Wes Maebe about what he’s up to at the moment, and about how he’s seen the music recording industry change throughout his accomplished career. On page 22 you can find out what’s new with Sound Particles 2.0, while you’ll also find the back pages filled with some great product reviews from the likes of Aston, Audio-Technica, Unity Audio and Krotos. Enjoy the sunshine, and more importantly, enjoy the issue! ■
Colby Ramsey Editor Audio Media International
Experts in the issue
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Nuno Fonseca is the founder of Sound Particles, an immersive CGI-like application for sound designers www.biz-media.co.uk
Resul Pookutty is a sound editor and audio mixer who has worked on a number of big Indian feature films
Christian Hellinger is the CEO of ADAM Audio, a Berlin-based manufacturer of professional monitoring solutions
+44 (0)203 143 8777
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STUDIO MONITOR KH 80 DSP
The KH 80 DSP â€“ Small. Clever. Neutral. Now also available in white.
WOMEN TRIUMPH AT THE MPG AWARDS The Breakthrough Engineer of the Year category was totally dominated by women at this year’s event, which honoured a diverse selection of recording professionals who have contributed to the success of the UK music industry on the global stage...
FULL LIST OF WINNERS: ■ UK Producer Of The Year, sponsored by Flare Audio - James Ford ■ Recording Engineer Of The Year, sponsored by AMS Neve - Matt Wiggins ■ Mix Engineer Of The Year, sponsored by Miloco Studios - David Wrench
2019 MPG Breakthrough Engineer Of The Year Dani Bennett Spragg
■ Re-mixer Of The Year, sponsored by Synchro Arts - Shura ■ Breakthrough Producer Of The Year, sponsored by Focusrite - Dilip Harris ■ Self-Producing Artist Of The Year, sponsored by Spitfire Audio - Jon Hopkins
Damon Albarn and MPG Producer of the Year 2019 James Ford
■ Breakthrough Engineer Of The Year, sponsored by Genelec - Dani Bennett Spragg ■ International Producer Of The Year, sponsored by RME - Greg Kurstin ■ Mastering Engineer Of The Year, sponsored by Kii Audio - Mandy Parnell ■ UK Album Of The Year, sponsored by Universal Audio - Everything Everything: A Fever Dream
Jarvis Cocker and 2019 MPG Mastering Award winner Mandy Parnell
host of music industry VIPs and celebrities once again filled London’s Grosvenor House on the last day of February for the 11th Music Producers Guild Awards – recognising the creativity, skill and talent of music recording professionals. Over 350 people made it to this year’s event, which was hosted by broadcaster Shaun Keaveny. The top accolade of Producer Of The Year was won by James Ford for his work on the Arctic Monkey’s sixth studio album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, Everything Everything’s fourth studio album A Fever Dream and Gorillaz’s sixth studio album The Now Now. Female recording professionals made their presence felt at the awards for the second year in
Peter Gabriel, recipient of the 2019 MPG Award For Outstanding Contribution To UK Music Hugh Padgham, and PPL’s Peter Leathem
a row by taking home a quarter of the accolades, including Breakthrough Engineer Of The Year – a category that was completely dominated by women and was ultimately won by Dani Bennett Spragg. Other notable award winners were Skepta, who was given the MPG Inspiration Award; Hugh Padgham, who received the MPG Award For Outstanding Contribution To UK Music, and Rockfield Studios founder Kingsley Ward and his family who received a Special Recognition Award. Their contribution was marked by a unique live performance featuring a number of artists who have recorded seminal projects at Rockfield over the years, including James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers. ■
■ UK Single Song Release Of The Year, sponsored by Shure - Anna Calvi: Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy ■ The A&R Award, sponsored by DAFT Studios - Gilles Peterson ■ Studio Of The Year, sponsored by Soundgas - Strongroom ■ The MPG Inspiration Award, sponsored by Audio Note - Skepta ■ The MPG Award For Outstanding Contribution To UK Music, sponsored by PPL - Hugh Padgham ■ The Special Recognition Award, sponsored by Steinberg - The Ward Family and Rockfield Studios
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LONDON-BASED STARTUP LAUNCHES DUBLER STUDIO KIT ON KICKSTARTER ‘Revolutionary’ music tech allows musicians to translate ideas from their head directly into the production software using their voice...
he Dubler Studio Kit from Vochlea Music, a music tech startup based in South London, is a live vocal MIDI controller that allows users to hum a synth pattern, beatbox to trigger a virtual drumkit, or manipulate effects and filters with a “hmmm”, “laaaa” or “oohhh” sound. Using all of the timbral qualities of the voice, Dubler Studio Kit gives musicians the abillity to trigger samples, control synths, manipulate filters and effects, track pitch, pitch-bend and control envelopes, velocity and MIDI mapping values simultaneously, based on the way they make their unique sounds. It operates the same way as a MIDI keyboard but through software, and the company has also developed the Dubler microphone – a custom low-latency USB mic – tuned for the Dubler software. “You don’t have to be a good beatboxer to be able to lay down a good beat quite easily,” said George Wright, Vochlea Music CEO and founder. “Although what you can use it for can become more and more complex. Because it’s all MIDI, you can map it in your DAW to volume controls or triggering drums or loops etc, and in this way I can see people starting to become more experimental. You can control the effects on external instruments using the tone of voice to layer things up really quickly and do multiple things at once.
“We’ve had a lot of beatmakers who want to use it, but actually that’s just one subsection who might find it useful,” Wright added. “One of our beta testers was doing things like controlling the effects on the guitar and really experimenting by using it to mic up a guitar. I’m really interested to see what direction people take it in.” While pitch to MIDI has been around for a long time as a concept, Dubler takes so much more of the qualities of the voice and makes it more expressive. Existing pitch to MIDI tools are usually expecting very pure tones – like from a guitar or a piano – and so have traditionally not worked very well with voice: “We have to deal with the fact that people don’t hit the note straight away or they might warble or hold an inconsistent tone, so our algorithms are very much focused towards the voice,” said Wright. Vochlea Music graduated from Abbey Road Studios’ music tech incubator and also won the SXSW Pitch 2018 competition: “The Abbey Road program is so music focused, and it was just what I needed to get the ball rolling with the brand and a proper support network,” Wright explained. “It was perfect timing-wise because the technology is possible now, whereas five years ago it would’ve been a struggle to implement what we’re doing. Vocal interaction is also much more of a mainstream thing now.”
It was a great benefit for Wright – who was operating alone at that stage – because he suddenly had, by proxy, somewhat of a team who he could bounce ideas off. “They gave a lot of support during my time on the incubator, and have really continued to support me afterwards, similarly to the Royal Academy of Engineering,” he said. “You really do become part of the Abbey Road family, and they put us in touch with some of the first pre-launch testers of the kit – Mercury Music prize nominated MC and producer Novelist (pictured), and his producer and brother Prem. They were genuinely interested in the kit and we got some great reactions from those guys, which really kicked it all off.” The Dubler Studio Kit launched on Kickstarter on 12 March, and Wright carries high hopes for when its full potential is realised: “When you use headphones with the kit, it’s a real immersive experience because of course, you can’t hear your own voice,” he said. “I can just imagine people running this on their phone with headphones, walking down the street humming to themselves but hearing all this music they’re making in real-time.” Wright also thinks this could be used as a sound design tool, “although from a musician’s point of view, I don’t want to tell people how to use it – I want them to come up with something crazy,” he concluded. ■ www.vochlea.co.uk
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DEMYSTIFYING TOTAL WAR MUSIC Creative Assembly’s Audio Director Richard Beddow gives us an overview of the creative processes behind award-winning scores like those seen in the Total War video game series...
or those not familiar with the multi awardwinning Total War range of video games, Total War is a turn-based strategy game, featuring real-time battles. The music associated with the games tends to be large scale, orchestral and cinematic in nature and the planning, execution and implementation of it is a sizeable undertaking.
The Process Music plays an important part in delivering the soul of a video game. It underscores your entire experience, taking the player on an emotional journey, sensitive to the games styling while adapting itself to the dynamic and changing states of a game. How well the emotional contouring is executed, the level of creative originality, coupled with delivering the right sense of time and place is largely what will determine the success of a musical score, and it has the power to elevate a good game to a great game. The planning phase of Total War music starts with understanding the pillars of the product and the key attributes that when distilled sum up the essence of the game. For instance, on our most recent title Total War: Three Kingdoms, it’s crucial that the game feels of its time and place, while being conceptually modern with a hint of fantasy. An interesting combination you might say, and it’s true, it took some time researching music and experimenting with not only musical textures and instruments to define a music style that delivered on this concept, but also with the interactive game system in mind.
Each project is different, from concepts, locations and points of history, through to features and new directions of gameplay, but ultimately, we apply the same spotting process to each and break down the product into its constituent areas and supporting music. For instance, land battles might consist of a linear opening cut-scene followed by a reveal, threat, march and action music, book ended with results screen music. A typical project can consist of three to four hours of custom written music, the scope of which is extrapolated to determine a composing, recording and implementation schedule which will be aligned with our budgets and fit the design of our music system. Our music systems have evolved over time, from simplistic designs to those that contain multiple interactive structures. As the complexities of the projects have increased so have our desires to push what we want or need the music to be able to do, alongside the incorporation of different technologies for the playback and manipulation of the music in the game. The music system supports many differing areas, often having unique requirements of their own, whether that’s creating seamless transitions between the music tracks as a battle unfolds across threat and action game states, dynamically switching action music through a playlist of music cues in response to the unfolding battle or adapting a tracks mix balance based on some game condition. The extent of the music system has a direct impact on how we will go about authoring and recording our music, and therefore must be considered at the earliest stage.
Before the composing process begins, we will have defined all the game areas that require music and worked out how it will systematically fit together and adapt to the varying needs of the game. This results in a large spreadsheet of compositions to produce along with associated attributes such as details about the game area it belongs, length, key, tempo, if it loops, whether it will be live and with what instrumentation and so on. To conform to our music system requirements there may be certain conditions that the music tracks need to meet. As the score begins to take shape, we will start to get a clearer picture as to the final line-up of both ensemble and solo musicians we will need to record. Much of the recording for the soloists will be handled directly by our team, recorded at our studio. However, ensemble sessions, whether that’s orchestral sections or choir will be recorded in the necessary location to achieve the best possible result, and the Pro Tools projects remotely delivered. Our Pro Tools projects are vast behemoths, containing all the electronic and live elements of the score, all recorded in a format that will enable us to easily create multiple mix versions of a composition or re-arrangements and other required edits that our interactive system may require. The compositions in any given game are all assembled using a consistent Pro Tools template which makes navigating each, working with the edits and mixes much easier and quicker. From here, we will export the stems and/or other building blocks, loading in to Wwise to start populating our music structures ready to hear live in the game and begin mixing and testing functionality. n
Richard Beddow is the audio director at British video game developer Creative Assembly. www.creative-assembly.com
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TIP OF THE NEEDLE AMI hears from Ryan Shaw, the founder of UK-based vinyl accessory manufacturer MasterSounds... How did MasterSounds come to be? I started MasterSounds approximately ten years ago. I was DJ’ing worldwide and had noticed that venues were caring less and less about turntables, and there was a shift within the DJ community as DJs who used to play vinyl began to adopt digital formats. I wanted to address the balance and provide premium quality audiophile products for analogue DJs. My first product concept was a turntable weight. I knew weights were commonly used for audiophile purposes and sound improvements, so I decided to make some at my family engineering company where I was a director at the time. I then started selling them to friends who had the same predicament but unlike an audiophile weight, I wanted to make a product which DJs could use. From there, I began producing limited edition turntable weights for the likes of R&S records and Fabric London, and began expanding production and working on new products. Over the years, the business has grown and we now sell a range of premium hand-built DJ mixers, FX units, power accessories, turntable isolation solutions and upgraded Technics SL-1200 turntables. With which companies/designers do you collaborate? I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with the
world’s finest audio companies, DJs, artists and record labels. This includes Union Audio, TPI Sound, Trojan Records, Fabric London, R&S Records, Ninja Tune, Transmat Records Detroit, Discogs, Dekmantel and many more including the world-renowned abstract artist, Nicolas Dixon. What products does MasterSounds manufacture? We manufacture our range of boutique hand-built DJ mixers, plus an FX unit and power accessories, in collaboration with Union Audio. The Cornwall-based company is owned by Andy Rigby-Jones, the analogue audio pioneer and ex-head of the Xone range for Allen & Heath. Our Radius 2 and 4 DJ mixers received excellent reviews, and our new range of valve-based 4 channel DJ mixers is receiving plaudits from all corners of the world. I also work with Leicester-based TPI Sound, which produces loudspeakers for not only the finest studios in the world – including Warner Brothers – but also exquisitely designed PA systems which are revered globally. We have created the definitive reference in turntable vibration isolation, the TRBxM, and we have a loudspeaker, power module and subwoofer system launching soon, named Clarity. We also manufacture our turntable weights, FlipMats and hand build our
homage to the legendary Technics SL turntable – the MasterSounds SL – using a plethora of upgraded hi-fi components, including upgraded tonearms, adding our LinearPOWER external power supply and upgrading to a range of high fidelity cartridges. To top it off, I have designed a custom box for the SL, ensuring worldwide shipping isn’t an issue. Can you name any renowned establishments or DJ/ producers who are using your kit? I am proud to say that we have a long list of DJs who use our products, from DJ Harvey to Gilles Peterson to BICEP and Kolsch, and we are very proud to work with each and every one of them. Tell us about your new studio space. We have recently moved into the MasterSounds Creative Hub, a place to work, be creative and let customers pop by for a demo on our range of equipment. The space is an old leather tannery with triple aspect windows and exposed brickwork reminiscent of a New York loft space, and I feel it’s the perfect home for MasterSounds. ■
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IN THE MIX
Colby Ramsey speaks to award-winning mixing and mastering engineer Wes Maebe about his gear, workflow and the changes heâ€™s seen in the music recording industry...
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ENGINEER PROFILE was mixed by Bob Clearmountain, with the next track mixed by Glyn Johns, so I was in great company there.” Maebe also has lots going on in terms of current projects. He is working with a London-based heavy rock band called Hadrian, and is also in the middle of finishing three "massive" piano pieces that he recorded at NAMM: “We’ve just finished the editing and now I just need to mix it all together – it’s kind of experimental classical music by composer Morton Feldman, while the musician is Tania Chen, who is a really cool piano player,” he says. “I’m also finishing a record with an artist called Raie, which is lovely. She’s a vocal coach teaching at Goldsmiths who wanted to make her own record, so we put a whole album together, put some really cool musicians on it, and I also managed to write a song for her – that’s going to come out soon.”
Getting it Right
orn and raised in Belgium, Wes “Wesonator” Maebe moved to London to study audio technology in 1998, returning to live here in 2003. Initially dividing his time between being a visiting lecturer in Audio Technology at the City of Westminster College and building a client base for freelance recording, mixing, mastering and live work, Maebe moved to full-time engineering in 2006. He is now based out of his mix room in Shepherd’s Bush in West London, while also working as an in-house engineer at RAK Studios. It was a busy start to 2019 for Maebe, as he explains: “I went out to NAMM a little bit earlier this year and we went to a beautiful studio in the San Francisco Bay Area called Laughing Tiger. We spent two days recording there on jetlag! “It was a pretty productive show for me,” he adds. “I did my usual solo spot and was then part of a panel with Michael Beinhorn talking about pre-production, and about how to get the best out of a band or artist. On the last day I had a software demo for Wholegrain which was also really cool – just hanging out and seeing what’s new is always good.”
Best Practice Like most engineers, Maebe’s workflow and setup often depends on the situation. When it comes to drum mics, he usually goes for quite a classic setup – vintage AKG D12 in the port and an NS-10 on the kick drum: “If it’s something a bit rocky or metally that needs a bit more click, I’ll put a Shure Beta 91A inside, just to
get the hammer from that,” he explains. “My recent favourite top snare mic is the Sennheiser MD 441-U, because it really gives that lovely 70s low end thud like what you hear on Eagles records. “I usually combine that with a small diaphragm condenser, and then use an SM57 on the bottom, with an AKG C451 on the high hats. For toms, I’ve been using the old Neumann KMS 86 a lot, just because they were hanging around at RAK and no one seemed to be using them. I thought I’d give them a try and they’re really cool!” Meanwhile, Maebe’s go-to speakers are his old trusty Genelec 1031As, and his PSI Audio A17-Ms. Hardware wise, he is a big fan of anything from API: “I suppose I’ve got a lot of reliable stuff that’s been around for a while!” he adds. “I’d say I generally look for that vintage sound, although I do cover many different genres, from pure classical to heavy metal with a lot in between – pop, reggae, jazz. It’s quite varied which is really fun, because you get to use tricks that you might not necessarily use on a particular genre, bringing something cool to the fold which you might not have expected.” Maebe also really enjoys being on the road mixing live sound, despite most of his work being in the studio as of late. After asking him the rather loaded question of ‘who’s your favourite artist to work with?’ Maebe mentions working with Ali Campbell and UB40 as one of the most memorable moments in his career. “It’s always fun with them, and mixing that UB40 record was a real labour of love,” he explains. “Mixing one of the tracks on New Model Army’s Anthology also really stuck out. I had a track on the same album that
Maebe mentions that he also loves the teaching and education aspect of the industry, and enjoys doing workshops at exhibitions and conventions because he can impart some of his knowledge, “which will hopefully help somebody out – in the studio, I’ll tend to gravitate towards fresh assistants so that I can mentor them and teach them as much as possible,” he reveals. “It’s a double-edged sword because they’re releasing so many kids into an industry that is still pretty cutthroat,” Maebe adds. “They teach all the technical and theoretical stuff but this doesn’t count for much when you’re actually in that situation, dealing with all the egos and the sometimes fragile minds of artists – you have to learn that the hard way!” The biggest change that Maebe has observed over his career is in budgets. Producers and engineers can do everything on their laptops now, so big room mixing is arguably not as abundant as it once was. “In a way, I feel it returning to a cottage industry like how it first started,” he says. “People need to be prepared when they go into the studio now in order to optimise their time. Historically, studio budgets were not an option and a lot of time got wasted, but maybe there’s less of that now – it will find its balance again I’m sure.” The lines are also being blurred when it comes to technology and the recording environment: “While there’s a lot you can do in the box now, there’s certain things that you can’t, and one of those is interacting with a band in the same room – you can’t capture that on a laptop with a plug-in!” laughs Maebe. “It’s expensive going into the studio, and facilities are using more and more resources, but I think for about 30 years rates have not gone up,” he concludes. “Perhaps the resurgence of vinyl is making people understand the importance of quality music again – we just need to educate the end users and artists alike. If you get it right from the start, it’s going to be amazing at the end.” ■ www.wesonator.com
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SPIRIT OF SOUND Inspired by real life events, Love Sonia is the story of a young girl's journey to rescue her sister from the dangerous world of international sex trafficking. Here, Oscar-winning Indian film sound designer, sound editor and audio mixer Resul Pookutty explains how he created a number of bespoke soundscapes to depict this hard-hitting tale. Cheerag Cama reports... CC: Can you start by telling us about how you collaborated with your co-workers on the film? RP: I have a special friendship with Tabrez Noorani, the director of Love Sonia. He was also one of the line producers in Slumdog Millionaire for which I won the Oscar, and he assembled an incredible crew for this film. He made it clear that he wanted everyone to come to India during the shooting of the movie so that it felt like one big family. Everyone connected with it and made it special. I also clicked with producer David Womark, whom I worked with previously doing some ADR for Life of Pi.
CC: Could you describe how you approached the music score? RP: Because we were working on a tight postproduction budget, I wanted to do all the pre dubs in Mumbai at my place, all in Dolby Atmos. The music director Niels Bye Nielsen sent all the music to me and there were a lot of Indian instruments in the score. I heard all the demo tracks and then we got all the musicians into the studio over two days to record the music, with the santoor, flute, tabla, drums and more. Of course, it had its challenges shooting. When I read the script, I felt it had all the possibility of
becoming another Slumdogâ€Ś but in a different way. Real locations, and some very tough ones. The film travels from a small rural village to Mumbai, to Hong Kong and then to LA, so everything needed a different soundscape. CC: So were you recording sound on location for the entire film? RP: Yes â€“ I had this very close friend from Delhi, who I had been working with while he was developing this ambisonics microphone called Brahma. So we bought a Zoom H2n recorder, removed its
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microphone and put the miniature Brahma mic inside. This gave me the opportunity to produce four-track height layer professional quality recordings in a small form factor, which I could hide anywhere. For some recordings I had to stroll around in a brothel to capture its ambience, which was quite risky. I had a similar experience in Slumdog – I was recording something like this inside the Taj Mahal in Agra and got arrested by the police, so I didn't want to repeat the same story! The same guys also developed some microphones for me to capture small rooms – we shot in real shipping containers and I wanted to capture their ambient acoustics, especially in dialogue sequences. In this bespoke contraption, I had these four DPA microphones which were all measured up and placed equidistant on a plate array. We used that very heavily in creating the soundscape, especially in the container scenes. In that sequence, you can hear the vulnerability of the actor’s performance in her voice, and this was captured very well with the mic array. There was actually a situation when recording on location in Kamathipura, Mumbai where we were attacked – I got locked up in a car, some of the crew ran away and a bunch of goons chased us!
CC: How did you approach the overall sound design of Love Sonia? RP: For me, the film is not only about this girl who gets trapped into sex trafficking. It's based on a true story and this is of course, a serious social issue. It’s a film about people who get displaced from the spaces that they know – a space that they understand for generations, a space where they make a living. It’s about what happens to their life when they get uprooted from that place. That was my idea of how I would approach the sound, so I had to devise three sets of soundscapes, one for each recording location. Secondly, the film is about global warming, and the personal aftermath it can have on a person's life in a small village in a country like India. The girl travels to a completely different place from where she has grown up and what she knows, going from a quaint, dusty, stormy village to the cacophony of Mumbai. She spends 14 days in a container on a ship and eventually she gets trafficked to LA, which again is a completely different soundscape – very orderly, very soothing, very sophisticated, very upmarket. In terms of Foley, I had distinctly different textures worked out for Indian portions and for non-Indian portions. So it became not just Sonia's journey, but also a sound man's journey from one place to another. For me, it's a film about displacement.
As I mentioned, I had devised microphones like the Brahma and the plate array, but in almost every dialogue scene I used a stereo microphone. It's a very unusual way to work like that, because you end up running into endless phasing issues. Of course, I had multiple microphones, like my favourite 2040’s with Tram capsules and my favourite boom mics, including a Neumann KMR 81, 82 and Schoeps. I also had my Cooper portable mixing console, but for me, it was a much bigger recording setup for a small budget film. Nevertheless, we didn't compromise on how we captured, what we captured, or how we went about doing it. When it came to post, we approached all the sound editorial in a similar way, because right from the beginning we knew we were going to have an Indian release and then a foreign release later on. So I wanted it to be pleasing to the Indian ears first! I ended up in LA myself, where I mixed the film with Marti Humphrey and Gabriel Serrano, two highly respected re-recording mixers. Interestingly, someone who saw Love Sonia said: “actually, sound is another character in the film,” and I would certainly agree with this idea. I also wanted to respect Niels' and everybody else’s work, including that of all my fantastic sound editors. In the end, we only had like one month to put everything together, but all in all I would say that Love Sonia was a very satisfying film for me. ■
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THE MOULD Emily Lazar has been working hard to promote inclusivity of women in the music industry, and earlier this year became the first ever female mastering engineer to win a Grammy for her work on Beck’s “Colors” album. Here, AMI speaks to Lazar about making her mark in history...
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FEATURE You’ve been nominated for a number of Grammy’s in the past. What was your initial reaction to finding out that you had won this time around? Being nominated is always thrilling and this time was no exception. I was sitting next to Chris Allgood, another mastering engineer at The Lodge who worked on Beck’s “Colors” with me, and we were both pretty stunned! When you hear those words “and the Grammy goes to...” it’s like time stands still for a beat or two. I think anyone who has ever been nominated hopes to hear their name follow that phrase, but I always prepare myself to hear someone else’s. This year there were so many great nominees in the Best Engineered Album Non Classical category and I was truly prepared for any of them to win. I knew that the win would be a historic moment as far as me being the first woman to win a Grammy in this category as mastering engineer, but I had not really discussed that detail with any of the other talented people on the team prior to that moment. Could you talk us through the overall approach that you take with your workflow when it comes to mastering records? Every project is so unique, so it’s difficult to describe the process in general terms, but every project does have one definitive similarity which is that I really like to have a dialogue with the artist/producer/mixer about what they are trying to achieve in the mastering process. It’s amazing how varied and different the dialogues are regarding overall sonic and emotive goals, and it really speaks to how varied and different artists are from one another. It’s really important for me to establish a framework for what they are trying to do in the big picture, as it really helps form the creative decisions along the way. At this point in my career, I’ve learned a thing or two about my own strengths and weaknesses as far as my own workflow goes. My big strength is that I am – first and foremost – a creative engineer and approach it from an "artist" perspective, as opposed to from a traditional engineering perspective. I think that makes it really easy for me to relate to artists and interpret their vision. How did you originally get involved with Beck and could you tell us about how you worked together on the album? I met Beck a few times through mutual friends and he contacted me to master the first few singles for the album (“Dreams”, “Wow”, and “Up All Night”). We worked on the album together for a little over two and a half years. He’s an incredible artist with really refined ears and sensibilities. Historically, mastering has been something that happens at the end of the record making process. It used to be that artists had all of their mixes complete (and mostly mixed to analogue tape) and they would come to the mastering session and use those mixes with the addition of the option of a vocal up or vocal down — but the mix was final. Due to the advent of digital audio workstations the opportunity to revise and “perfect" mixes has changed the way records are being mastered. A lot of artists are now working one track at a time. It is very common for them to want to hear what
the mix will sound like mastered, and then upon hearing the master they will go back and revise the mix. I even have clients who bring their rigs to the mastering room so they can tweak their mixes on the fly. It is also interesting to note that because of the advent of DSPs, consumers have been digesting music differently. The landscape is now very “single” driven and I think this contributes to why some artists have been approaching the whole recording process differently. During the making of “Colors”, Beck would return to his mixes to tweak certain elements based on what he was hearing in the masters, effectively using the mastering chain to better guide his recalls in the mixing process. Can you tell us about the work you have been doing to promote inclusivity of women in the music industry? I'm on the NY Chapter Board of The Recording Academy and serve on the Producers & Engineers Wing Steering Committee for The Recording Academy. I’m involved in promoting their initiative #womeninthemix, which is expanding opportunities for female producers and engineers, but also benefits music and artists by broadening the talent pool to best match the needs of each project. I’m a “creator” for She Is The Music, a nonprofit organisation increasing the number of women working in music, that was founded by Alicia Keys. I’m also currently working with Spotify on upcoming initiatives to support inclusion in the industry but I can't share details of that just yet! Why do you think it is so important to serve as a mentor for students looking to get into mastering? I’m a big advocate of getting a proper education. That can happen at a university, an Audio Program, with an inspiring mentor in the studio, or any combination of the three. I had great mentors while working in studios as well as more formal training while earning my Masters Degree in Music Technology from New York University. Throughout my career I’ve tried to inspire students to follow their passions and find their place within the industry. I enjoy giving lectures at colleges and universities and I’ve been a featured panelist at many industry events, including AES Conferences in NYC and LA, and Women’s Audio Mission events. I’m looking forward to being a featured speaker at the upcoming WAMcon event at the end of this month. Could you tell us about your studio venture, The Lodge? The Lodge was created over 22 years ago to be an alternative to the other types of mastering facilities that existed at the time. I saw the need for a place which nurtured the type of environment where artists, mixers and producers would feel comfortable investigating whatever was necessary to complete their album. The Lodge has mastered and mixed well over 3000 projects since its inception in1997. Do you have a favourite artist that you’ve worked with? There are so many truly stellar artists that have come
through The Lodge’s doors – honestly, it’s too difficult to choose, so I’ll just list some recent standouts. As of late, I’ve mastered albums for Dolly Parton, Panic! At The Disco, Vampire Weekend, Maggie Rogers and an incredible single for Little Big Town, just to name a few. What are your favourite pieces of studio gear and why? My matched pair of Pultec EQP-1A3 from the 70's are invaluable. They have a great full, warm bottom and the highs are super smooth and clear. I also love the Avalon Designs 2077 stereo mastering equalizer. It has a beautiful, clean, and elegant sound. Simply running signal through it flat can make a huge difference. It has functional and practical frequency selections and is a very classic "musical” EQ. I also really dig my Shadow Hills Limited Edition Mastering Compressor. This unit is special not only because it's a special edition – lucky #13 of 50 made – with red LEDs and a Class-A discrete section, but because it's just such a versatile beast of a box. I can use it to lightly glue or heavily squash signal as much as I want. Just like my other two favorites, sometimes just running things through those transformers (I think I love the "steel" setting the best, though they are all great) can add the punch and vibe that a mix can be sorely lacking. n
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DOING SCIENCE Colby Ramsey catches up with Nuno Fonseca about what we can expect from Sound Particles 2.0...
or those who aren’t familiar, Sound Particles is an immersive CGI-like software application for film, TV, VR, music and game audio production. Introduced in 2016, it is designed to offer unique and efficient sound design workflows, increase creativity and reduce the time needed to create and record complex sound effects in virtual 3D environments. Having been used on a number of feature film releases – including Aquaman, Ready Player One, and Alita: Battle Angel, among many others – since its release, Sound Particles 2.0 is now adding a whole host of new features to
the award-winning audio tool for sound designers. Recently, the company’s founder and the brains behind Sound Particles itself, Nuno Fonseca, told me how he had to almost completely rewrite the entire application just to include support for Windows. One of the big new features is the addition of CGI metadata recognition, allowing users to import native CGI animations, such as Autodesk’s .fbx files. It’s therefore possible to tag graphical components and automatically track keyframes, saving time by streamlining workflows for dynamic objects. “It lets users import from animation or from visual effects, and essentially gets the sound to behave in the exact same way as the images,” says Fonseca. “I really think this could be an interesting way to explore complex sound designs in the future. “Another significant feature we have now is the ability to start rendering things and making tweaks in real-time – with the first version of Sound Particles, you had to render the entire audio file before listening,” Fonseca adds. “With the new version, you can actually change parameters on the fly, unless you are of course using thousands of particles – or sound sources – which just cannot be done in real-time!” Meanwhile, Sound Particles 2.0 has also added binaural
monitoring support. This allows users to monitor and audition their immersive audio creations – perhaps some 3D audio project with Dolby Atmos or something in VR – with direct binaural output to headphones, avoiding traditionally complex DAW import and routing requirements. “We realise that this is of course just the tip of the iceberg, and believe there is so much you can do with this native 3D approach to sound,” says Fonseca. “We plan to release new updates every month that increase the processing power of Sound Particles, opening it up even more in terms of experimentation with creating big battle scenes for video games and such. We’re going to release track presets so that users can easily change between particle settings, and we’re also making some adjustments to the engine, which will be announced within the next few weeks.” For many years Sound Particles was just Fonseca’s personal project, but what he has now decided to do is outsource the company vision and try things a little differently. He now has a team of 11 people dedicated to expanding the scope of the software: “Our vision is to create a native 3D DAW that would allow users to do all the usual things, but with the advancements of computer graphics and a native workflow,” he says.
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While Sound Particles will continue to be the company’s core, it will also be releasing subsets of the applications as plug-ins. In the last year it has released Doppler and Air plug-ins, which have proved popular in terms of their sound and EQ, Fonseca tells me. He says that with Sound Particles it’s sometimes about ignoring the constraints, and trying to achieve the maximum audio quality even if its not in real-time. Sound Particles can be used in many different ways on movies and productions, from an ambient restaurant scene to big explosive battle scenes, and the latter is where it really shines. “Due to the fact that Pro Tools is the industry standard of mixing in Hollywood, we need to be able to integrate with it directly to work in real-time, so we’re working very closely with Avid in this regard,” Fonseca explains. “There’s so many things that we’re exploring with Sound Particles that are just not possible to do with traditional plug-in architecture. One of the most rewarding things is to see people getting excited about the possibilities of it – they’re always coming up with uses that even we didn’t think were possible!” Although it doesn’t currently have music related features like MIDI support, Fonseca says he is finding that people are still using it for musical purposes, because they want an interesting pan or some immersive effects on their records. The clients however don’t get much bigger than Disney, who have used Sound Particles for the sound
design of their new Star Wars theme park attractions that are soon to be opened. “Video games also continue to be an area that grows every month for us, and we have as many clients on this side as we do on the TV and cinema side now,” says Fonseca. “We’re seeing more and more uses for VR, but the interesting thing about Sound Particles is that it is completely agnostic in all audio formats, so when you’re creating sound content it doesn’t matter if it’s in sixth-order Ambisonics, or 22.2, or in stereo. “We’ve also released a mobile phone and VR headset application with 2.0 which allows users to test their Sound Particles projects in real-time,” he adds. “It all just unleashes a completely new field of application, and allows sound professionals to work in an entirely different way.”
Fonseca notes that it is sometimes difficult to roll out features fast enough, to see how people can really start working and experimenting with it. There’s currently a list of around 200 features that he wants to add as soon as possible! “We want to improve the user interface to encourage better interaction with our users, but without compromising on audio quality, which is what really matters,” Fonseca concludes. “It’s really rewarding when you hear how much people rely on and enjoy working with the tool – we love sound, technology, cinema and video games, so it’s great to be able to make a small contribution to the entire industry.” ■ www.soundparticles.com
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20/20 VISION Colby Ramsey speaks to ADAM Audio’s CEO Christian Hellinger about the Berlin-based company’s two decades creating professional studio monitoring solutions... Tell us about how you ﬁrst got involved with the company. I’ve been at the company for two years now, so unfortunately was not here when it started 20 years ago! I guess I’m still kind of the new guy as many of the people here – especially in production – have been working at ADAM Audio for the whole time. Coming to this role from my long-term background in pro audio software, I have certainly learned a lot about how hardware companies operate. How has the company’s ethos helped it to achieve its goals? We’re always thinking about designing great products, and are constantly trying to push the limits of what a studio monitor is capable of. I think that’s the general approach of a lot of companies out there. We always try to harness the power of our excellent engineering teams as the key to achieving this goal and driving innovation, although we do often try to approach it from an end user perspective, rather than a technical one. It’s about trying to meet demand while also pushing the boundaries of what musicians, producers and engineers know is possible.
We offer monitoring solutions for a very wide range of budgets and experience levels, which I think makes us rather unique. From the quite methodical T-Series up to our ﬂagship line of S-Series speakers – we are not boutique, and pride ourselves as being the manufacturer of studio monitors that many audio professionals rely on every day. There’s some awesome opportunities, because we are getting in touch with some totally different users out there and we like to follow them through their whole musical journey. We are toolmakers, who like to get our hands dirty. Knowing what the users need and being able to adjust and develop our products is crucial to stay relevant, so keeping that in mind is more or less part of everything we do. I want to keep the passion going at ADAM Audio by staying very pragmatic and hands-on, while combining this with some very professional processes, structures and supply chains that can shift the company up to the next level. How would you describe the company’s recent growth trajectory? ADAM Audio has experienced all kinds of ups and downs. Around four years ago the company went
into insolvency and the entire structure significantly changed. We now have investors on board who have made some major decisions in that we’re not doing hi-fi products anymore, and are instead really putting our focus on pro audio and our studio monitors. I think we owe our recent success in pro audio and significant organic growth to that decision. What our shareholders did was heavily invest their time, effort and funds into the operations departments; supply chain, logistics, purchase, production etc. They put some solid structures and processes in place to allow for future growth, but still kept the spirit that I mentioned earlier – handmade gear with a lot of passion, based on a professional and reliable company structure. Why is ADAM Audio’s 20th anniversary so signiﬁcant for the company, and what are you doing this year to celebrate? 20 years in the audio industry is quite a long time, and we really have experienced it all, from great success to very tough times. The intention and the approach was always about the product and it has remained that
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way – the company has changed a lot but we still have the same people and the same passion. Because of the changes that took place around four years ago, it feels like the company is still in its early stages, despite being around for 20 years. It almost feels like a bit of a startup where everyone is hungry and excited for the next five years. We’re making progress in every aspect of our business and we want to maintain that. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary this year, we also want to make it a celebration for our users and our business partners. We are going to be doing special promotions and activities every month, as well as a big party in Berlin for all of our dealers, distributors, staff and their families in the late summer. Under that 20-year banner, we want to do some limited editions of our products and donate any profits raised to some kind of social institution. It’s a big year for us and I can see that people are very proud, especially my colleagues who have been here since the beginning! We will of course be at Superbooth again this year – it’s a show that’s really focused on the music and
the passion. We exhibit there, but more importantly last year we supplied more than 60 per cent of the exhibitors with speakers and supported them. Events like this show that we are a company that wants to be close to the customer, always engaging in conversations with them. How do you plan to develop your product ranges? Could you offer your thoughts on any particular industry trends that you’re seeing? While we are always growing and developing our existing product ranges, I think there’s lots of opportunities for us in terms of horizontal growth, and I can see us playing a significant role in other areas of the pro audio environment. Headphones is of course a logical step for us. We’re seeing so many interesting use cases in terms of immersive audio and Dolby Atmos on the installation side of the business. However, we are a small company compared to some of the others out there, so we have to make sure that we don’t lose our focus. For me, quality over quantity is important.
We’re still really keeping our eye on the move from analogue to digital, which is part of the reason why I came into the company with my software background. The speakers are becoming more and more software based with their big DSP engines, which is an important step for us, especially when it comes to our ideas about the solutions that we provide. Users want to interact with their speakers and have them connected and embedded. It’s a case of looking at how we can translate the ‘smart home’ of the future into a ‘smart studio.’ We’re always looking left and right to see what else can make us a major player in pro audio aside from speakers, and it’s about trying to balance our core segment with research and development into the next generation of products. There are some extremely exciting times coming up and we’re in our best shape ever at the moment, so I think people are really looking forward to what we have planned for the future. n www.adam-audio.com
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ASTON STEALTH Alistair McGhee tests out this ‘revolutionary’ new broadcast quality microphone for studio and stage...
Key Features n Four settings, four different voices n Active & Passive modes with 48V Autodetect function n Built-in Class A Mic Preamp n Unique Sorbothane internal shock mount RRP: £299 www.astonmics.com
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ou have to feel a little sorry for microphone manufacturers. In an age where digital processing power sprinkles fairy dust on virtually every aspect of recording, in the world of microphones at the very front end of the audio chain innovation is a tough gig. But British mic makers Aston are not in the business of same old same old and their new Stealth mic is here to prove it. First the Stealth is a large diaphragm dynamic mic, nothing new there, with a built in autoswitching class A mic amp powered by phantom – now that is new! There are four different ‘voices’, which are essentially four discreet circuits offering four different tonalities, two voice settings, a setting for guitars and a dark setting, ideal for late night sessions. Then there’s the mechanical stuff, an internal sorbothane suspension means the Stealth doesn’t need a suspension mount and in terms of fixing it, it has an internal socket for a clip that is light, durable and weighs next to nothing. It’s safe to say a lot of thought has gone into the Stealth. And a lot of listening too. Aston has assembled a top team of producers, artists, engineers and liggers. Well not the liggers, but all the others were there and a massive listening exercise was undertaken to refine all the acoustic elements of the Stealth. Aston have also put their shoulder to the unboxing experience too – the Stealth is nicely packaged, though I always kind of miss a case, yes even a thin cloth case so that when I chuck the Stealth in a bag (which I often did) I don’t scratch that slightly menacing all-black finish. The ingenious new clip is included but there’s no windshield as Aston claim the Stealth doesn’t need one. Once you’ve mounted it on the stand thinking, will that clip really support it? (yes it will) and will that clamp really hold it? Again, yes it will. The overall effect is pretty impressive – this is a big ass mic, it makes my Beyerdynamic M99 look positively discreet! You really will need to trust the clip and clamp because the Stealth is not a side address proposition but an endfire mic and that is going to apply considerable leverage when levelled and ready for action. The first thing you want to do is consider whether you want to power up the mic or not. The onboard class A mic preamp supplies at least 40 dB of gain. I need to think about that before pressing scene recall on an iLive, recalling a scene that had phantom on my Stealth channel where no phantom was before. Talk about ringing the room, I rung the building and several near by – so think carefully. I broke out a little Soundcraft for a simple voice and guitar gig – without remembering that the Soundcraft has permanent phantom and with mandatory 40+ dB of class A wallop, my gain structure was ‘interesting.’ The second thing is which voice you are going to use. The choice is on a ring that sits flush to the
body of the Stealth at the connector end. Designed not to be nudged, the selector needs to be gripped around its circumference in order to move – you’ll get the hang of it, no problem. You are actually moving cogs and wheels to change connections inside the mic and you’ll want to do that with the gain turned down. And finally there’s a mic clip release button on the bottom of the mic. Actually that isn’t a mic clip release it’s just a button adjacent to the mic clip socket which actually engages the discreet LED lighting that tells you phantom is on. In some terribly clever fashion the mic clip engages itself automatically on insertion and with a dash of bravery and a firm hand you can reverse the process. Aston claims that you can hang the mic upside down from the clip without danger of droppage, unless you swing on it. So don’t do that. With the onboard mic amp and four different voices, Aston are claiming that this is the world’s most versatile microphone – of course the marketing department have to earn their corn like everyone else. To be fair, they do have a point – you have eight different options before you even begin to position the mic and the difference in sound when the mic amp is engaged is considerable. Without the mic amp the Stealth needs a fair chunk of gain – about 70 dB without yelling into it. This is ten dB more than my PR40 or M99, but I don’t care when I have quiet mic amps with tonnes of gain. The M99 itself has a couple of EQ positions but I left it in flat as otherwise there would just be too many options There was a consistent contrast between the Beyer and the Stealth, more top end on the Stealth and a distinctly warmer bottom on the M99. Having said that I felt the Stealth had more weight in the bottom than the very well regarded Heil PR40 and in my very limited use of other people’s ears the Stealth won out as having more presence. I would say the Stealth leans towards a condenser in presentation. To test the proposition I fired up a Neumann condenser – the BCM 104 large diaphragm. In preparation for this stern test I shoved some phantom up the Stealth to engage the preamp. This makes a big change in the Stealth sound. The 104 has that seductive Neumann sound that is almost impossible to define but you know it when you hear it. In comparison the Stealth just has a slight thickening on some vocals and a shelfy top that isn’t as silky smooth as the 104. Which in case you are interested, costs three times as much. The Stealth works well on a guitar cab, mean enough for the level, detailed enough for definition and weighty enough to be full bodied. Live and out and about I dropped the Stealth into three or four live gigs as a vocal mic and each time it did sterling duty – it cuts through the mix easily. You can pop it if you try but then you can pop anything if you try. Mechanical handling was commendably
low – at least 10 dB better than the M99 when both were directly mounted to a bar. I didn’t have a chance to run the Stealth in every situation it could possibly handle and it is an incredibly versatile performer. I understand the pitch that says you don’t need a gain lifter but I think this is more of an issue for podcasters than broadcasters. I I like the fact that the phantom power option changes the sound, in fact I found it a bigger change than the optional ‘voices’. In summing up, James Young from Aston outlines three factors in the sound of a mic – the capsule, the electronics and the mechanics. Each area has been addressed by Aston in the Stealth and it really is a special mic. What do you know – innovation in the microphone world without DSP is still a thing! n
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television.
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UNITY AUDIO BOULDER MK-III Nigel Palmer gets his hands on this 3-way active monitoring system from British manufacturer Unity Audio...
Key Features n Two 8.5” / 220mm Crystal Membrane Woofers n Two 300w Class D amplifiers and dedicated PSU for woofers n X-JET Coaxial Mid-Range n JET 5 Folded Ribbon Tweeter RRP: £6495 www.unityaudioproducts.co.uk
n 2012 I reviewed Unity Audio’s newly introduced The Boulder active loudspeaker for Audio Media, then minus the ‘International’. I liked what I heard at the time, and have been pleased to see the Unity brand go from strength to strength. Not content to rest on their laurels, Kevin Walker and co have run a continuous programme of product refinement, to the point where a gleaming set of Mk-III Boulders showed up recently at Lowland Masters for review.
OVERVIEW Measuring 390 x 268 x 614mm (15.4 x 10.5 x 24.2” DWH), and weighing in at 28.8kg (64.5lb), the Mk-III is larger and heavier than the Mk-I I originally reviewed, and about the same as the Mk-II. Incidentally, Unity offers a cost upgrade path for both older versions to III specification, enabling earlier adopters to access the current refinements. The Mk-III’s driver complement is arrayed in the familiar D’Appolito-like configuration with woofers
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PRODUCT REVIEW either side of a mid-tweeter, but the units themselves have changed: the two low frequency drivers are swapped for 220mm (8.5”) crystal membrane units, presenting a geometric appearance which apparently helps stiffen the cone. The central driver, provided with a neat magnetic grille to protect it (I left this off to listen), is a dual concentric 130mm (5”) X-Jet midrange with a 50kHz folded ribbon tweeter. Amplifiers are two Class D 300 watt units for the lows, and two discrete Class A/Bs for the mids and highs from Esoteric Audio Research, a brand partner since Unity’s inception. As always, the cabinet is a sealed box, which has the advantage of a smoother low frequency rolloff in comparison to a ported enclosure – this results in more natural-sounding bass instruments and kick drums, plus more LF extension. The crossover points remain unchanged at 694Hz and 2.5kHz, and the overall frequency response is wider than previously at 30Hz-38kHz, +/- 3dB. Unity have continued the use of a rounded-edge Corian front baffle on a rigid Baltic Birch enclosure, while the rear panel also remains unchanged with +/- 2.5dB high and mid cut and boost switches, a gain control, XLR analogue input and mains facilities. For even more bass power, The Boulder has an optional extender cabinet, the BABE, as well as a subwoofer, the Avalanche; and for those requiring digital access with more in-room and monitor control, a The Boulder DSP will be available in the near future.
IN USE Once the Mk-III pair was set up, and input gain adjusted to about halfway around its travel to suit the output of my mastering DAC, I ran a selection of test and work pieces from CD and computer over a few days. An early impression was that things were a little bright for my taste – not unusual as I find the majority of speakers to be treble-heavy in their native state. I went to back the high end off with the switch and managed to temporarily confuse myself as I’d forgotten that, counter-intuitively, the mid adjust is above that for the highs, and both switches are ‘up’ for cut and ‘down’ for boost. Correct selection once made, however, the overall balance came nicely into play for my preference and room. I started with CDs. A good first listen in such circumstances is the Hurricane album by Grace Jones: the first two tracks, This Is and Williams’ Blood, in particular can inform much of what I look for in a speaker such as solidity of image, frequency range and resolution – the Mk-III handled the test with panache and, having recently auditioned a set of Mk-Is to refresh my memory, it was apparent that the more recent speaker went both lower and higher, and had a flatter presentation frequency-wise. Subjectively its predecessor had a subtle lift in the lowmids, contributing to a somewhat different voicing than that of the Mk-III: while both are very usable working tools, I personally preferred the newer, more neutral iteration. I also found the Mk-III to be equally at home with both beat-
based and acoustic – including classical – music. Moving on, I played The Blues from Marcus Miller’s Tales album, which has several speech archive pieces from jazz and blues greats placed in the music, their degree of intelligibility being a useful guide to how revealing and resolved a speaker is. Flying colours – every word was clearly heard, and that sets the Mk-III apart from most speakers passing through here for review. Over the next working period I checked on mastering work both in progress and completed, and found my choice of EQ and dynamics processing confirmed. While that was welcome, I was even more pleased to find the direction taken on one recent album, essentially a flat transfer with gain, was validated. Knowing when not to process is an underrated and key part of a mastering engineer’s toolkit – it probably took the first decade for me to really start to understand this, and from a working perspective, being told the truth about how music sounds is one of the more important attributes a loudspeaker can have.
CONCLUSION I’m bound to say I believe Unity Audio have done it again in The Boulder Mk-III, and are offering a great deal of loudspeaker for what I consider a very fair price. The whole package sits well against the competition, of which there is a considerable amount in the near- to midfield sector these days, and is a resounding must-audition if that’s an area where you’re looking to buy. n
The Reviewer Nigel Palmer has been a freelance sound engineer and producer for over 20 years. He runs his CD mastering business Lowland Masters from rural Essex.
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AUDIO-TECHNICA 3000 SERIES Alistair McGhee gives us his verdict on the fourth generation of Audio Technica’s wireless microphone system...
adio mic technology is more diverse than ever. You can have traditional wireless kit on traditional UHF frequencies, professional digital radio mics sharing WiFi frequencies or UHF frequencies, or some sort of hybrid setup. Audio Technica make equipment that spans this spectrum from affordable trad kit and 2.4Ghz systems through to the 5000 gear pushing the top end. Here we’re looking at the new 3000 series which would be a very definite step into professional quality. The new kit has some significant technical advances, including 60MHz of tuning bandwidth – more than twice that of the 3000 V3 systems. With frequencies ever more congested, more tuning bandwidth is a good thing and it’s worth noting that the big brother 5000 Series system offers a whopping 230MHz of bandwidth. In the marketing stakes the 5000 Series is very up front about being true diversity – meaning two discrete receiving circuits inside each receiver and not just two aerial systems.
The 3000 is also a ‘true diversity’ system, though you’ll have to dig a little harder to find this nugget of info. I had the chance to look at a handheld system featuring the ATW-R3210 rack mount receiver and the ATW-T3202 handheld transmitter with the ATW-C510 capsule. For lavalier use I had the ATW-T3201 body-pack transmitter and an AT831cH miniature cardioid condenser lavalier microphone, though I take a slight issue with ‘miniature’ here – from memory the 831 is bigger than an ECM-50. Before working through the details, I thought I would do a quick walk test with the handheld and a leading brand’s 2.4GHz handheld system. This is not a line of sight but in a complex building, and the latter was somewhat of a disappointment. The 3000 system’s range was just so much better as to make the contest null and void. In one sense that might be expected as radio waves get more directional with higher frequencies and the 2.4GHz gear is running at about four times the frequency of the AudioTechnica kit. Which is why an old pal of mine often
Key Features n Extremely wide 60 MHz UHF tuning bandwidth n True Diversity operation reduces dropouts n Frequency scan and IR sync functionality for ease of setup n Ability to switch to a backup frequency in case of interference n Dual-mode receiver display RRP: Variable by configuration www.audio-technica.com used to carry a VHF system, just in case he needed a little extra range. I’m sure in a line of sight test things would be closer, but it just goes to show. Before we turn to more strenuous testing, a word about features and technology. The R3210 receiver has a very fetching and bright mono display carrying all sorts of helpful info and the usual press-andturn knob for menu selection. Both the beltpack and handheld feature similar bright displays with
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“In an ever busier RF environment, having group scan is going to get a multiple mic system up and running with maximum efficiency”
all the information you need in smaller chunks. The 3000 system has group scanning coupled with infrared communication between the receiver and the transmitters. In an ever busier RF environment, having group scan is going to get a multiple mic system up and running with maximum efficiency. The scan function includes variable threshold so you can select for maximum channels and live a bit dangerously, or maximise stability at the cost of fewer open frequencies. The sync function is also a real time saver – I’ve always found IR a bit hit-andmiss but it’s a joy to sync all your settings in one hit from the receiver to the transmitter. Reaching back in time, I had a sterner trial for the 3000 beltpack system – my Micron Explorer kit, now a bit long in the tooth but still getting the job done. Even when I bought the kit it was a little hair shirty. You don’t get a nice OLED display like the Audio-Technica, or indeed lovely menus. Instead, Micron supplied not one but two tweaking screwdrivers and a couple of LEDs on the receiver. The Micron’s radio performance is very good indeed and I’ve loved it and relied on it despite the idiosyncrasies. Even though the Explorer is a battery powered receiver I expected it to best the 3000. A few years ago I compared the Explorer to a big name system with all the displays, bells and whistles and the Micron’s RF performance ruled. So off I went pushing the RF to the limit and just over – no line of sight here either. I was somewhat surprised that it was very, very close, but if I had to pick a winner it
would be the Audio-Technica. Ten years of abuse, no maintenance etc. must be factored in for my Micron kit, but nonetheless a very confident performance from the 3000 Series system. I used the 3000 Series handheld on a couple of gigs as a vocal mic without complaint. There is a range of capsules available from Audio-Technica with ‘industry standard’ screw thread including condenser capsules and models more optimised for stage use. The receiver has balanced and unbalanced outputs and unusually a ground lift for addressing hum problems. Both the beltpack and the hand take two AA batteries, and have charging terminals if you want to run a rechargeable regime alongside A-T’s custom chargers. On the beltpack there is a now pretty much standard dual clip, along with a fold down flap arrangement that reveals both batteries and controls. A slight gripe for newbie users is that Audio-Technica love button text that is black on black, and given you’ll be using these in low light with fading eyesight, give us old guys a break Audio-Technica! In the handheld, the body cover unscrews to access the battery compartment and the major controls including the power switch. I have mixed feelings about this. I know if you put the power switch on the body of the mic then the talent will undoubtedly switch it off at the crucial moment, but we put a mute switch on there, and I often find seconds count when pushing a performer on stage. I’d rather not be scrambling to unscrew the
body cover of a mic if the call comes early. Instead of power the bottom of the A-T handheld you get a multi function button which is – I have to admit – pretty cool. This can be configured to mute the mic, disable the RF and even switch to a backup frequency in concert with the receiver. In fact, backup is really ‘swap over’ – you can keep hitting it to swap between your two chosen frequencies. Neat eh? Now if only they had a further option to make it the power on switch! On the beltpack you get the function button but also a dedicated mute switch. So what do we think? I love all the gadgets and features, but in truth if I had to wear a hair shirt and wield a screwdriver and got better RF performance, I would probably go down that route. It seems with the Audio-Technica 3000 Series system you get a lovely slice of both, rather than either/or. It really is nice gear, and deserves to be on your shopping list if you want performance and features. And who doesn’t? n
The Reviewer Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television.
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KROTOS SOUND DESIGN BUNDLE 2 Stephen Bennett gives us the lowdown on this bespoke collection of plug-ins for sound designers...
ound design and effects are just as important as the visual elements of film, television and video games. The modern ‘just in time’ methods of production – where editors and directors are changing the soundtrack in the dubbing theatre
right up to the release deadline – means that the days of spending weeks with an ARP 2600 generating the voices of robots, shooting rifles in fields or scouring machine shops for the right kind of engine are probably long gone. While veteran FX engineers usually have a vast library of self-recorded effects, mangling these so they don’t sound the same in each production can also be time consuming. To the rescue comes a series of plug-ins from Krotos, all of which are designed to generate realistic – or more fantastic – sound effects while providing enough manipulation tools for each user to imprint an individual
Key Features Four products and two library bundles at 30% off Create sound and voiceover effects, Foley, creature sounds, weapons, vehicles and more RRP: £1,842.00 inc. VAT www.krotosaudio.com
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take on the result. All the plug-ins are available with add-in libraries, while the Sound Design Bundle 2 collects them all together at a significant discount. The plug-ins are available for Mac or Windows computers and in 64 and 32-bit flavours. Dehuminiser 2 is designed to create monster noises – very useful for your average rom-com! It features a kind of object orientated interface – or nodes as Krotos calls them – that can be linked together to perform different tasks. It reminds me a lot of MAX/ MSP and that’s no bad thing. Each node can perform a specific sonic manipulation, such as pitch shifting, ring modulation and vocoding. You drag the nodes to the screen and connect them with virtual cables and each node has various parameters you can adjust to tailor the sound. It’s incredibly easy to build bespoke voices, but Krotos offers some useful presets to get you started, as it does with all the plug-ins in the package. Igniter is a plug-in designed to generate vehicle noise, whether it be engines accelerating, in-vehicle Foley, sirens, aeroplanes or futuristic vehicles that don’t exist. The software has four ‘generators’ that create the final sound. The main tab is Granular which allows you to select the engines and exhausts and the various parameters that control their behaviour. Krotos provides quite a few samples to get you going, but you can also purchase further libraries or use your own recordings using the One-Shot generator, which consists of four sophisticated samplers, or Loop System, which links loops to the master ‘revs’ controller. The Mod generator allows the user to control various behaviours of the sound generation system and, with eight to choose from – all of which can have multiple control destinations – designing complex effects is relatively easy. The final generator is a synthesiser with five oscillators that has various waveforms controllable by AM, FM and Vibrato. This is useful to add low
frequency ‘meat’ to your effects and should help create trouser-flapping low end for your Dolby Atmos dubs or sweeten other noises you create. A useful file browser and mixer with DAW-quality insert effects are also part of the plug-in. It’s a complex beast and Igniter struggled with my ageing Mac Pro, so some significant CPU power is needed to fully exploit the plug-in’s possibilities. If you’ve ever wondered what a Porsche (or Dacia!) engine sounded like through a Ferrari exhaust, you can satiate that desire with Igniter! Weaponiser is pretty much what it says on the virtual tin – a generator of all kinds of weapon noises from ‘traditional’ guns to those of a more sci-fi variety. The plug-in features a browser/file locator/tag system that helps make navigating the available sounds easier and splits its generative abilities into four ‘parts’ that comprise the composite sound of the weapon. Onset defines the initial explosive transient, Body the main ‘heft’ of the sound, Thump the low frequency content and finally Tail which defines the decay part of the weapon. This latter feature can be further enhanced using the included convolution reverb which delivers samples of real-world spaces. Each generative ‘Engine’ has multiple parameters you can tweak to create your bespoke effect and weapon firing can be in single shot or ‘burst’ (for repeated shots). There’s also a big friendly red FIRE! button to test your sounds. Krotos’ recordings of weapons fire are of a detailed and high quality and include multi-mic positions. Reformer Pro is a ‘mangling’ plug-in that takes incoming audio and uses this as a controller, based on its frequency and amplitude, to manipulate samples loaded from specialised library files. These libraries are loaded into the four quadrants of the onscreen XY pad, which then can be used to balance the effect on each, while a ‘visualizer’ gives some idea of the sonic properties of the
output. You can adjust the playback speed and volume of individual library outputs and there are controls for input transients and dynamics. The plug-in can be controlled via MIDI in some DAWs. Of the four plug-ins in the bundle, Reformer was the most difficult to get my head around. Its output is unpredictable, but it is capable of generating some unearthly sounds that will fit right in with the horror genre, for example. You can also create your own libraries for use in the mangling process and the presets included really help you understand how it all works. In all, this Krotos bundle provides a great number of tools that are extremely useful to the busy sound designer, while allowing enough creative experimentation to produce individual results. This brief review doesn’t do justice to the wide scope of sonic manipulation that the Krotos software provides, nor how easy it is to control the myriad of parameters of each plug-in feature. But if you’re a professional sound effects engineer, the full-fat versions of the bundled plug-ins are a no-brainer as are the extended libraries available. If you’re a dabbler, there are low cost – and free – versions of the plug-ins that might be all you need for your productions. In any case, Krotos offers a generous demo period for you to try out the software, but be warned – once you’ve added the sound of a Ferrari revving alongside to your Morris Minor documentary, there may be no going back to risking your life dangling a microphone from a bridge over the Monaco Grand Prix. ■
The Reviewer Stephen Bennett has been involved in music production for over 30 years. Based in Norwich, he splits his time between writing books and articles on music technology, recording and touring, and lecturing at the UEA.
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PRO SPOTLIGHT In each issue of AMI we feature an audio professional from a range of disciplines to find out how they got started in the industry and what they’ve worked on. This month we speak to White Mark’s David Bell... What do you do? I am the MD and acoustic design engineer with White Mark Limited, an acoustic and technical design practice which has designed world leading facilities for 22 years now. How did you get into the industry? Following a Physics and Maths degree, I applied for many jobs and was asked by EMI to join their digital recording research programme. This allowed me to bring my science and engineering background alongside my long history of classical music involvement and saw me working on the first digital releases EMI made in the early 1980s. I worked mostly at CRL in Hayes but spent a lot of time at Abbey Road. I also spent time with Peter Dix, who was EMI’s principal acoustician at the time. What are some of your credits? After EMI CRL Audio Research was closed down, I moved to the BBC where I was deeply involved in the specification of the assignable digital desk purchased from Neve. I spent three months talking to nearly 300 sound engineers and assistants on the requirements for an assignable control surface. Having come across the SSL console I moved there and worked on the development of the algorithms for equalisation, compression and mixing for the 01 console. Following a year at Real World looking at studio technical integration in the digital domain, I joined HGA, the studio designers. After eight years becoming more and more interested in acoustics, I set up White Mark in 1997. Since then we have created nearly 200 control rooms in Soho alone and worked in 26 countries on post-production facilities for film, tv and radio and some of the finest music recording rooms that now exist. Our client list includes many of the great names in the world: Hit Factory, Red
Bull, Air, Strongroom, Kore, Mosfilm, CineLab in Moscow, SSL, Grand Central, 750mph, Wave, Mutt Lang, Real World, Germano, Envy and many others. Universities are becoming a more important aspect of our business and we have worked for a number including Kings College, Cambridge, Imperial College, NYU, Nottingham and Nottingham Trent, LSBU and MMU.
importantly, those who are going to use the facilities should have input into how they are designed.
What is your favourite item of audio gear and why? This must be the Steinway piano in Sanctuary Studios in the Bahamas. We have worked on many recording studios but, increasingly, the large Live Room is not a space that is often requested. Whilst we have created a number of rooms that were extremely good, the sound made by the Steinway immediately after its assembly in the Live Room in Albany’s studio in 2017 was incredible, not least because it was being played by one of the construction workers (whose name was Lugga) who had worked on the studio and who stepped forward when I asked if anyone could play the instrument. The sound of Fur Elise by Beethoven in that acoustic space will live with me forever!
What was your favourite project and why? I imagine most of your interviewees have most difficulty with this question! I must say that the recently completed Metronome Complex for Nottingham Trent University (pictured) must take this accolade. This facility has music recording rooms, practice suites, performance venues, performance training suites, mastering and editing facilities that span the whole spectrum from Further Education and Higher Education use for training in recording, postproduction, live performance and technical services to a 300 person live venue recently described as the best sounding concert space in the Midlands. The client design team involved users, builders and a team of specialist technical advisors that were as knowledgeable as any with whom we have ever worked. The net result is a large facility (it has over 35 technical spaces plus common areas) that embodies everything we have learnt in acoustic environment creation and isolation that is a good as any we have experienced.
What are some of the challenges that you face in your job? More and more, we are frustrated by the design and build approach used by public bodies to create the educational facilities with which we are becoming increasingly involved. The lack of a properly effective specification for what constitutes a “studio” leads to facilities being created, at great public expense, that do not have effective isolation and have acoustic environments that fall well short of what would be expected by the professional user. Getting past these issues and explaining that properly specified facilities can be created economically and that, most
What’s the best bit of advice that you can give anyone trying to break into the industry? Always ask if you don’t know. Our industry is full of those who talk the talk but fall short when pressed for a clear plan of action. The creation of good acoustic environments is not complicated and rarely, if ever, requires the purchase of special items that can only be obtained from the source of the advice! I have had the help of many well informed people through the years and you should find such people to help you. Our industry is very friendly and there are many people who want bring the benefit of their experience to you. ■ www.whitemark.com
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