International TECHNOLOGY AND TRENDS FOR THE PRO-AUDIO PROFESSIONAL www.audiomediainternational.com www.audiomediainternational.com
October 2017 December 2016
BRINGING TOGETHER THE BEST NEW TECH OF 2016 p20
JOHN STORYK Studio design tips from the designer of Jimi Hendrix’ Electric Lady Studios
GAME AUDIO TRAINING
Recreating the sound of a Inside Red Bull Studios’ warzone for ‘Battlefi eld 1’ p26 #NormalNotNovelty workshops
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HOW TO PROFILE
Preparing the perfect control LA’s legendary Sound City room with GIK Acoustics p30 Studios is back in business
Ontest tourout with Roland’sfrom We products M-5000C console p32 Warm, DPA and Aston
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CONTENTS Credit: RiannaTamara
12 Opinion Rimshot Studios owner Mike Thorne on the benefits of combining new and vintage gear
16 Training Inside Red Bull Studios’ #NormalNotNovelty female-only workshops
19 Profile We find out more about the revival of Los Angeles’ historic recording venue Sound City Studios
Credit: Cheryl Fleming
22 Studio Design AMI speaks to leading studio builders and designers as part of this studio design special
29 Acoustic Treatment
32 DPA d:vice October 2017
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MUSIC TO MY EARS…
Experts in the issue 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 University of East Anglia.
Simon Allen is an internationally recognised freelance engineer/producer and pro audio professional with over 15 years of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix engineer continues to reach new heights.
usic resonates in so many parts of the brain that we can’t conceive of it being an isolated thing. It’s whom you were with, how old you were, and what was happening that day.” I didn’t write that. David Byrne of Talking Heads did, in his wonderful 2012 book, How Music Works. He’s not wrong, is he? I don’t just like that quote because it’s from one of my favourite books, Byrne’s made an accurate observation about the profound eﬀect music can have on us. He just explains it much better than I can.
Alexandre Monnier is co-founder and director of the Rubix Group, a London-based facility oﬀering live events production, studio recording sessions, education programmes, artist management/AR and backline instrument hire.
means that more jobs are being created in the production, recording studio and music technology sectors. The report also showed that music producers, recording studios and staﬀ accounted for 11,300 of the 142,208 total jobs in the wider music business, a 19 per cent increase on the previous year. Music producers, recording studios and staﬀ contributed £121 million to the national economy. This is obviously great news for the pro audio industry and positive figures like this strengthen the argument for more investment in training to equip the next generation of professionals to enter the growing workforce. At the same time, it is incredibly important that the workforce is diverse, with equal opportunities for everyone regardless of their background or gender. Some companies are using their clout in the industry to try to make a change in this regard, such as Red Bull Studios, and you can read more about it’s #NormalNotNovelty training sessions on p16. It also seems appropriate, considering the strength of the UK recording studio sector (according to UK Music’s report), that this month’s issue is largely focused on the design and construction of the studios where the music is made. If you’re a regular Audio Media International reader, you’ll probably have noticed a few changes in these pages by now, namely a new face in the box above and a new name
“It is incredibly important that there are equal opportunities in the pro audio industry” The cultural and indeed economic value of music was made clear this September, when music industry trade organisation UK Music released its 2017 Measuring Music report highlighting the UK music industry’s £4.4 billion contribution to the national economy in 2016, a six per cent increase between 2015 and 2016. More music is being made, more people are listening to music and more people are paying to see music live. All of this activity trickles down through the industry and
in the space below. We’re the leading technology resource for the pro audio end user and we’re working very hard to keep you, the reader, informed and entertained. If you have any questions, complaints, recommendations or just want to have a chat, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Murray Stassen Editor Audio Media International
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STAR ATTRACTION: LUKE PICKERING WINS RISING STAR AWARD Church Studios assistant engineer with credits on The Stone Roses and London Grammar recordings is named winner of this year’s Pro Sound Awards accolade
uke Pickering has been named as the winner of the Pro Sound Awards 2017 Rising Star category, selected by the Audio Media International editorial team. Anyone aged 30 or under or with two years or less of industry experience currently working within the world of pro audio was eligible to be nominated for the Rising Star award. Pickering is an assistant engineer to producer Paul Epworth, and also works as an in-house assistant and engineer at The Church Studios in North London. He joined the studio less than two years ago after completing a work experience placement there, leaving a job in the audio production department at The University of Lincoln to move to London after he was oﬀered the job. He has already gained a number of impressive credits since joining the studio on records by London Grammar, The Stone Roses, Glass Animals and The Horrors. “Beginning work at the Church for Paul Epworth has been the single biggest moment in my career,” said Pickering, speaking to AMI ahead of the awards. “On a personal level, suddenly dropping everything where I’d lived my whole life and moving to London was character building, something I needed to do. There
in association with
have already been so many highlights - witnessing The Stone Roses recording their first material in 22 years was very special. “Learning from professionals first-hand has taught me essentially everything I know about the practice of
being a great engineer. I’m lucky to assist Matt Wiggins and Riley MacIntyre, who both engineer at the Church and for Paul Epworth on a regular basis; the combined talent and experience under one roof makes it a uniquely amazing place to learn and develop.”
PRO SOUND AWARDS 2017 WINNERS
he professional audio industry were out in force at the Pro Sound Awards in association with Miloco on Thursday, 28 September. The fifth edition of the prestigious event was held at The Steel Yard, an all-new location in central London, having taken place at Ministry of Sound in 2016. Funktion-One founder Tony Andrews was honoured with the Life Time Achievement Award for his contributions to the industry. “This year’s awards marks a major milestone for the event as we enter our fifth year, and the standard of entries has never been higher,” said Pro Sound News Europe editor Daniel Gumble, speaking to Audio Media International ahead of the event. “We’ve made some tweaks to the categories this time out to make sure we’re sufficiently representing all areas of the market. “For both long-standing audio heavyweights and those shaping the future of business, these awards are among the most important dates on the industry calendar.”
SOUND ENGINEER OF THE YEAR Gareth Owen
BEST LIVE SOUND PRODUCTION Britannia Row / Clair Global - One Love Manchester
STUDIO OF THE YEAR (Sponsored by Focusrite) Miloco Leroy Street
BEST INSTALLATION PROJECT Sennheiser - Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains
BROADCAST TEAM OF THE YEAR Toby Alington Ltd - One Love Manchester
LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT Tony Andrews, Funktion-One
BEST MARKETING INITIATIVE Adam Audio - A77X monitors
GRAND PRIX Meyer Sound
Here are all the winners from this year’s event:
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AMI BEST OF SHOW AT IBC 2017 WINNERS
aunched at the 2016 IBC Show, the Audio Media International Best of Show Awards recognises new and outstanding pro-audio equipment exhibited at the event. Awards are presented by NewBay publications Audio Media International, Installation, PSNEurope, Radio World International, TVBEurope and TV Technology Global and are open to any company showing a product at the Amsterdam trade fair. This year’s event reported record visitor numbers, with a total of 57,669 attending the six-day event hosted at the RAI exhibition centre in Amsterdam.
www.sennheiser.com www.sonifex.co.uk www.merging.com
SHOW AWARDS 2017
The winners are: 1. ANEMAN - Merging Technologies Completely free and partially open source, the innovative software has already been adopted by several manufacturers and end users due to the networking benefits it oﬀers. See the feature in September’s issue of AMI to read more about ANEMAN and AES67. 2. HANDMIC Digital - Sennheiser Described by the company as “a professional tool delivering professional audio quality for mobile journalism”, the HANDMIC Digital is an incredibly rugged and practical product aimed at field reporters. It features an all-metal body and offers extremely low handling noise thanks to its shock-mounted capsule. 3. Sonifex AVN-PXH12 2 x 12 Channel Mixer Monitor “It’s great to receive the AMI Best of Show award,” said Sonifex MD Marcus Brooke. “Our mix monitor is a fairly unique product and it really does make it simple to mix and monitor AES67 streams. Now that AES67 has been implemented in ST2110 also, the product fits in with current and future workflows.”
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF PLASA SHOW
LASA Show returned to London’s Olympia Conference Centre from 17-19 September, with the 40th anniversary edition of the event seeing a 25% in the number of audio companies attending as well as an increase in visitor numbers. Product highlights from this year’s event included launches of Harman’s Vi1000 digital mixing console, Adamson’s IS-Series of installation loudspeakers; and KV2 Audio’s VHD2.18J direct radiating bass-reflex loudspeaker. Shure was also exhibiting it’s new and much-talked about Axient Digital wireless microphone system, which won a PLASA Award for Innovation during the show. Commenting on their decision, the judges said: “The
most compact, discrete and ergonomic transmitter married with a very smart RF system makes the Axient an obvious choice.” Elsewhere at the show, DiGiCo’s SD12 digital mixing console was on display at both the SSE Audio Group and Autograph stands. SSE also debuted the new Sennheiser Digital 6000 Series microphone on their stand, alongside products from L-Acoustics, d&b audiotechnik, Avid, Link and DPA. Bose Professional showcased their compact ShowMatch DeltaQ line-array system on their stand with the likes of KV2 Audio, Shermann Audio and TiMAX also present at the show. PLASA’s director of events Christopher Toulmin, told AMI that PLASA is “looking to create some exciting new
features for visitors” in the coming years, following the success of the 40th anniversary event this year. “This year’s show was a fantastic celebration of 40 years of PLASA and a real validation of our decision to return to West London,” said Toulmin. “We saw an increase in visitor numbers, a sold-out show floor - following the release of additional stand space this year - and a 25% increase in the number of audio companies exhibiting. “Exhibitors reported continually busy stands and a high quality of visitor across all three days, and visitors were pleased with the number of brand new products on show as well as the high-profile speakers on the seminar programme.”
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BEST COAST: LA’S SOUND CITY STUDIOS BACK IN BUSINESS Iconic west coast recording studio installs two analogue Helios consoles as part of an extensive refurbishment
ound City Studios operator Olivier Chastan has told AMI that the legendary LA recording facility “probably has the best sounding room” on the US West Coast. Sound City is back in business after nearly 10 years of dormancy, with Chastan (pictured) working with Sandy Skeeter (daughter of founder Tom Skeeter) to bring the studio back to its former glory. The pair oversaw an extensive refurbishment earlier this year, kitting out the studio with modern audio technology as well as an impressive haul of analogue gear. “The standard was already high, so I just wanted to maintain the place and give some of the special equipment I’d acquired a special home,” continued Chastan. The refurb included the installation of two Helios analogue recording consoles, one of which was used to record a variety of albums from the likes of Joe Cocker, Black Sabbath, Donna Summer and Kraftwerk in some of Europe’s biggest studios. Commenting on the studio’s revival, musician and record producer Tony Berg (Edie Brickell, Public Image Ltd.) who has recorded at Sound City for over 30 years, said: “When I learned that Olivier Chastan – a respected
producer and entrepreneur – had occupied the space and brought it to it’s original luster, I was thrilled. “The sound was immediately impressive, at once broad and warm. It was just what I’d hoped for and it was a terrific experience overall. The Helios struck me as a
wonderful complement to the room; less colour than other consoles perhaps, but musical, easy to use, and immaculately restored. It has always been one of the great recording environments - big, musical, and inviting.” Read the full Sound City profile on p19-21
AUDIO-TECHNICA LAUNCHES NEW 50-SERIES MIC AT REAL WORLD
udio-Technica hosted a launch event for its new 5047 microphone at Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios on Friday, 22 September. The new mic was originally launched at Prolight + Sound earlier this year, with the September event providing the chance to show oﬀ the mic’s capabilities in a live environment. The event saw performances by Kweku Mainoo and Chris Woods Groove Orchestra. “The microphone is all about its natural sound, with the sensitivity to be used with lots of real world instruments in lots of diﬀerent environments,” said the company’s EMEA marketing manager, Tim Page. “The 50-series embodies versatility and high quality sound, so coming to the European home of world music was an ideal choice. With the new transformer in the 5047, you get a warmer sound and greater flexibility to connect to diﬀerent devices, enabling more of a pure signal chain. “The reason I selected Real World was because I wanted somewhere that was diﬀerent; somewhere people would remember. It’s quite a journey to get here but today’s been about a journey through music.”
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21/08/2017 11:15:27 08:05:08 13/01/2017
SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW Rimshot Studios’ Mike Thorne explains why using a combination of vintage and modern gear can be great for your music
s computer recording has progressed, there are many good reasons why you might not use vintage gear in a mixing session. At the recording stage, however, there are many equally good reasons (beyond oﬀering artists cool sounds) to combine vintage with modern gear. Over the years I have found that a mix of both vintage and modern gear has certainly helped my recordings.
Musicians “step up” and give their best With computers oﬀering playlists, tape modelling plugins, excellent AD/DA converters and almost infinite noise floor and headroom, why would anyone still record on tape? I begin about 60% of projects on tape because of the vibe it brings. It feels like an event and I’ve found that, without exception, musicians step up their game. If the guitarist wants to have another crack at the solo, he’s got to really believe he can play it better. If we’re punching in the entire band at the end of a section, everyone is focused on giving their best, knowing that we risk destroying what we’ve got if we have to do repeated punches. Adrenaline and excitement is inherent in the process – on both sides of the glass – and this contributes to the excitement of the performance. There are plenty of downsides: the noise-floor, changing reels, lining-up, losing HF response with repeated playbacks and print-through, but the increased commitment in the musicians’ performances often outweighs these. Plus, you get re-wind time … those beautiful moments of quiet that let you re-focus.
Using hardware offers a lot that plugins don’t – vibe Vintage outboard oﬀers the potential for collaboration and fun. I’ve got a Binson delay that has loads of cool dials and lights. It sounds great, but the important thing is that artists love using it because it’s tactile and fun. To 12
Rimshot Studios simultaneously operate the vari-speed (on the back) and the swell and feedback controls (on the front), you really need two people, working together. This has led to some crazy and unique eﬀects that wouldn’t have happened dragging a mouse over a computer screen. It’s also a great ice-breaker during a long day if people are tired or tense and it’s often a fun thing that artists remember years after the session.
The limitations of vintage gear are great for your music If I’m recording to tape, I have limited tracks available. I might want to record the kick with two or three mics. Committing to a blend of them (bussing them to a single track) means that everything else that comes after is informed by decisions already made. Similarly, committing to a guitar sound (bussing mics together, printing eﬀects) will aﬀect the way the guitarist plays in a positive way, plus, when I mix, I’m not building the track from scratch. Being forced to make decisions means knowing where you are in the process and brings clarity to the production which makes for a better recording. It’s also quicker.
Happy accidents Patching gear in, finding the sweet spots for levels etc., means that cool things can happen that inspire other people in the room – maybe I cranked the gain too much initially and the snare is distorting in a cool way that we decide to keep. Maybe the compressor I patched in wasn’t zeroed out and so the room mics are pumping like crazy which the drummer hears and she adjusts her feel and the track is all the better because of it … happy accidents! This just doesn’t happen with plugins.
Modern tools Working in a hybrid studio (with tape and Pro Tools) I use the computer mostly for overdubs, editing and mixing. It’s at this stage that the limitless options the computer oﬀers really are useful – especially as I’ve narrowed down the available choices at the tracking stage. The world doesn’t need another 1176 emulation, but tools that increase workflow, or do things that aren’t possible in the hardware domain, are invaluable. Being able to quickly and easily time-align drum mics, or see the dynamics of your mix in real-time, or use a pitch-tracking EQ on a vocal or bass means I’m able to work quickly and that helps me keep perspective – which can be just as inspiring as any piece of vintage kit.
I can do most of this in the computer so why does it matter? The best recording studios are temples of sound where magic happens. The rooms and equipment they contain are not just about capturing performances, they’re about inspiring performances. For me, a combination of both vintage and modern gear is a big part of this. Anything that helps lift the artist to give a great performance means we’re serving the song better – and that’s what we’re there to do.
Mike Thorne is the owner of Rimshot Studios and also works as a recording engineer, producer and professional drummer. www.rimshotstudio.co.uk
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Rubix Group co-founder Alexandre Monnier shares his toughts on the best sounding rooms for drum tracking…
hen I was training to become a sound engineer, my teacher (a veteran mastering engineer from Decca) asked the class: “What is the most important industry standard in music production?” We all had a go at guessing before he brushed our answers aside by writing the following letters on the whiteboard: S.I.S.O. As we all looked puzzled, he shouted: “Shit in, shit out!” A great master cannot be made from a poor mix, a great mix cannot be made from a poor recording and a great recording relies fundamentally on great instruments in a great-sounding live room. If you let that sink in, you may realise that fancy microphones and outboard gear, although very helpful, are somewhat secondary to how you use them and where. Being able to perfectly record a bad sounding room or a bad sounding instrument is quite useless. Of course, you can always process heavily and turn knobs for hours on your favourite EQ or delay when attempting to “fix it in the mix”. At the end of the day, some things cannot be polished so you might as well save yourself time and money by getting them right from the beginning. 14
What exactly do we mean by “good acoustics”? When building a professional recording studio, a large part of the budget is allocated to its architecture and structure. Top acousticians are hired to help design and “tune” the live room to ensure that it does not get in the way of recording good music, but instead enhances its quality. A Stradivarius will sound how it sounds because of its proportions and the nature of the wood chosen, how its angles and surfaces aﬀect the movement of the air and the resonance of its body to give that balanced, rich and beautiful tone. Much similarly, a good live room requires care in the making. To avoid confusion, let’s clearly identify soundproofing and sound treatment. One of the first functions of any live room is to keep the noise outside, this is what soundproofing does. Nobody wants to hear a plane or a train passing in the background. The second step is sound treatment, designing a room that helps the recording by oﬀering a harmonious frequency response - free from standing waves and striking that delicate dry/wet balance. A good room should not be too dead or too reverberant. Some basic rules include avoiding large reflective parallel surfaces and controlling the build-up of certain frequencies in various parts of the room by adding diﬀusers, traps or reflectors as appropriate. Obviously the size of the room will aﬀect the decay of its natural “ambiance” or reverb. Actually, before physical reverb units (spring, plate, digital) or plugins were invented, long acoustic tunnels were used to re-record tracks and add some natural reverb to the programme material. Thick mobile panels would allow the engineer to vary the reverb time as required. Of course, you could reasonably ask me why large studios invest so much in building and treating a live room when many good recordings can be done from a laptop in a home studio. The thing is, tracking a synth or a bass, an electric guitar or some vocals can be done reasonably well in a small booth with the use of some foam treatment to reduce reflections. And with the use of eﬀects and processors, decent results can be achieved. This is because the space in which those instruments are recorded does not impact the recording so much or can be controlled fairly easily. They also usually require a maximum of one or two microphones - if any at all. After all, a DI signal from a good bass amp often sounds pretty decent. However when tracking a drum kit, a string quartet or a grand piano, you really need a larger room. There, slapping a few foam tiles around simply will not be good enough. A well-balanced room with good acoustics is necessary, especially as “room
mics” positioned at a distance from the instrument are precious to provide an immersive sound stage and to capture the character of the instruments in that space. Recording the subtle acoustic details of a drummer’s performance is often considered simultaneously one of the most diﬃcult and one of the most important parts of a song recording. It drives the song and delivers power as well as detail. Tracking drums is particularly delicate due to the fact that several microphones are usually required, which can cause phase issues to creep up if the mics are not positioned properly. To make things more complicated, the worse a room sounds, the more a kit will require a large number of microphones placed very close to the drums in an attempt to have as little “room” as possible going into the recording. Worse, a standing wave in a bad live room will likely excite some of the drums and when you hit that floor tom, the whole room may resonate and go “whooooommm” for a split second. This brings some engineers to reach for various gel pads, muﬄers or even tape in an attempt to keep that in check, resulting in a dead-sounding drum sound. That is why getting the right drum kit, tuning it properly and setting it in a perfect acoustic environment is the only way I know to get the awesome sounding drum tracks that the artist relies upon. If you go to Abbey Road, you will often see engineers spend a couple of hours building a wall of acoustic panels around the drum kit and moving microphones about. This is partly to reduce bleed between drums and other instruments, but also to manage the acoustics within the space where the drums are being recorded.
Conclusion I suppose one could compare the importance of acoustics in sound recording to the role played by light for a photographer or a painter. This is true for the live engineer (good concert halls are designed with acoustics in mind) and even more so for the studio engineer: the acoustics of the studio will impact quality, the ease, the speed and therefore the cost of achieving a great sounding master.
Alexandre Monnier is co-founder and director of the Rubix Group, a London-based facility oﬀering live events production, studio recording sessions, education programmes, artist management/AR and backline instrument hire. www.therubixgroup.co.uk
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13/09/2017 12:28:09 08/09/2017 11:23
novelty Red Bull Studios’ series of female-only workshops toured the UK in September. Colby Ramsey caught up with three of the guest speakers to find out more...
ed Bull Studios’ #NormalNotNovelty series of female-only workshops went on a tour of the UK this September with stops in Bristol, London, Leeds and Manchester. The sessions have featured a range of guest hosts and speakers, with the likes of Clara Amfo, DJ Storm and Madam X having taken part in the initiative. Open to aspiring female music producers, DJs and sound engineers, the workshops – which have been running on a monthly basis in London since January – provide a space where experienced industry professionals can share knowledge, advice and practical tips. #NormalNotNovelty aims to “break the stigma of life behind the recording studio glass”, encouraging women to get involved in the audio industry. Just like the monthly London events, access to the tour sessions were free of charge, and saw them partner with music production colleges in each city. October, 16
November and December will see the workshops return to the capital as usual. The campaign is one of the most recent eﬀorts to tackle gender inequality in the audio industry, alongside organisations such as SoundGirls, which works on a global scale and the Women’s Audio Mission, which is based in the US and aims to promote “the advancement of women in music production and the recording arts”. “The recent London event went really well. It was the most people we’ve ever had sign up for one of these events,” said mastering engineer Katie Tavini, who taught the first engineering workshop at the beginning of the year and has hosted them since. “It’s got into a really nice flow and has become like a little family in that all the girls are supporting each other, which is amazing.” “#NormalNotNovelty is great because it pretty much covers everything audio related, and really helps to widen people’s networks,” added Tavini. “Now some of the
workshops have taken place, it seems everyone’s got a much more positive attitude to being in the industry. It’s really important to do this as a tour to reach people in different areas, as there’s lots of work to do.” Tavini told AMI that Red Bull Studios’ head engineer and studio manager Brendon Harding shared his idea for #NormalNotNovelty with her last year, which stemmed from a thought that he does not want his two daughters to grow up in a world where they feel like they can’t do something because of their gender. Before she was mastering, the only women Tavini would ever see in the studio were vocalists: “Since this event has happened, it’s opened up a lot of doors for people and has helped to boost their confidence a bit. I know that some of the girls are already collaborating on projects.” She also said that it has helped having a company like Red Bull involved with a project like this because “it
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REPORT: TRAINING Pic credit: RiannaTamara
(L-R) Top row: Jade Avia, Katie Tavini and Hannah V (L-R) Bottom row: Clara Amfo, K Minor and Ioana Barbu (L-R) Jade Avia and Clara Amfo
/////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// already contributes so much to the music industry”. “It definitely gives these workshops more weight and I think people take it more seriously,” she said. “The engineering workshops have been really useful in teaching girls a practical skill, but I personally think
to set up microphones for diﬀerent types of foley eﬀects and strategies for recording them. “We’re working very strongly on gender equality in the audio industry, aligning ourselves with the United Nations HeForShe campaign,” Lopez explained. “What I’ve noticed
“We’re working very strongly on gender equality in the audio industry” it would be good to give girls more of an insight into diﬀerent areas of the music industry like the legal or business side,” she added. Vice chair of the AES British section committee Dr Mariana Lopez hosted a foley session at the Leeds engineering workshop, as her specialisation is in sound for film. The session included advice on how
mostly is that you get a very positive response when you talk to people about this. It’s great that something concrete is happening but we still have a lot of work to do.” Jade Avia, radio presenter and artist manager who can often be heard on Rinse FM’s podcasts, originally got involved with #NormalNotNovelty as a guest speaker and has ended up standing in for Madam X as
host of the DJ workshops. “I was just really overwhelmed with the format of the whole thing,” said Avia. “It inspires so much conversation and the guest/host roles are interchangeable, so there’s always something to talk about. “I feel like every time I’ve come to a session, whether as a host or guest, it’s grown more and more. The vibe in there is really exciting – all ladies of all ages coming together to just have a chat and talk about finding success. “As women, we also face a lot of scrutiny with age so it’s a great platform to discuss these struggles. Handson projects and events like this will hopefully become more commonplace in the future as they’re extremely important – it’s all about inclusion and empowerment.” www.redbullstudios.com
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////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// After a decade of dormancy, the legendary Sound City Studios on the west coast of the US has catapulted itself back into the spotlight in a big way. Colby Ramsey speaks to studio operator Olivier Chastan to find out more...
ound City Studios is back in business. The subject of Dave Grohl’s 2013 documentary (and the birthplace of classic recordings by artists ranging from Fleetwood Mac to Nirvana) has been closed to the public for almost ten years, but this year has seen the revival of the iconic Los Angeles venue. Earlier this year, partners Sandy Skeeter (daughter of founder Tom Skeeter) and studio operator Olivier Chastan set about rebuilding the studio back to its former prestige, filling its rooms with a plethora of vintage analogue equipment and modern digital technology, including not just one, but two legendary Helios recording consoles. Skeeter runs the whole music-centric Sound City complex of which Sound City Studios is the beating heart, while studio manager and engineer David Andersen takes care of the day-to-day running of the studios including all bookings. However, it is studio operator Olivier Chastan who was responsible for acquiring the two Helios consoles which now grace the control rooms of the facility’s two main recording spaces. After moving to LA for business reasons and hearing about Sound City Studios through a mutual friend of Lenny Kravitz, Chastan met with the Skeeter family, subsequently acquiring an impressive haul of audio
equipment before moving in and deciding to relaunch the studio, which at the time was only being used as rehearsal rooms. “The place is absolutely stunning with 40-foot high ceilings – and is probably the best sounding room on the West coast of the US,” Chastan claims. “The standard was already so high so I just wanted to maintain the place and give some of the special equipment I’d acquired a special home. For me to put it in some non-descript room made absolutely no sense.” The Helios Type 69 console in the main control room at Sound City – the same model that was used in a number of prominent studios including Island, the Manor, The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio, and Strawberry Studios – is said to be one of 11 surviving consoles and is in “absolutely spotless condition,” according to Chastan, who believes it needed to shine in a place that not only has a rich history but a great sonic quality and character too: “That’s the history I care about – that everything that comes through Sound City over the years sounds good,” he says. “The main reason for this is that live room A and Studio B are extremely well balanced,” he adds. “That’s something that was just a historical accident, because it was originally a factory for Vox amplifiers and so has continued to sound exceptional over the years. I therefore thought it deserved an amazing haul of equipment, and vice versa.”
A slice of history The live room A remains completely untouched and is exactly as it originally was when it was built in 1969, whereas the control room needed some additions prior to the relaunch. Chastan replaced the classic horn-based speakers with ATC monitors – SCM200 mains and SCM20ASL nearfields – which go down to 30Hz over 1000w. “The room couldn’t take the bass, so we put in some additional diﬀusers to control the bass a little bit,” explains Chastan. “It’s a very ‘60s control room that is only 14ft deep, so we don’t have the benefit of being able to control standing waves in the same manner.” While ATC monitors are utilised in the main control room, JBL mains designed by leading US studio designer and acoustician George Augspurger – who has been looking after Sound City since the ‘70s and continues to help Chastan and co navigate the improvement of the control rooms – provide feedback for Studio B. With an extensive microphone collection that includes AKG, Electrovoice, Shure and Sennheiser – along with an equally extensive selection of audio interfaces, compressors, EQs and preamps – Sound City Studios is far from short of recording options. Yet the backbone of the studio is undoubtedly the two Helios consoles, whose history is as impressive as October 2017
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Sound City’s itself. The first Helios console ever made was built for Olympic Studios, often frequented by Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles: “Helios lied at the heart of the golden era of rock and roll, and a huge amount of classic hits were recorded on these consoles,” said Chastan. “I think we’re the only studio in the world that has two. “When I was looking for gear for Sound City and first heard the Helios, it was like a revelation, so when I came to acquire the first console for Studio A – which is from 1973 – I jumped at the opportunity,” he recalls. “It is entirely original and was restored totally to spec by famed electronic engineer Dave Amos. It carries so much history and it is a great example of a console with flexibility and pristine clarity.” The second Helios console from 1969 is arguably the more historically interesting of the two however. Chastan explains that it was a custom request from Island studios, built not as a regular recording console with preamps, but as a returns console for mixing, and used by the likes of Joe Cocker and Black Sabbath. The console ended up with renowned German mix engineer Jürgen Koppers, who used it to mix many Donna Summer and Kraftwerk records. “After this it went to the US and disappeared soon after,” reveals Chastan. “I then randomly came across it on Craigslist and now we’re nearly done with the restoration of this one, which will be in Studio B. “This is great because it is going to be the perfect
console for the Pro Tools user (Sound City operates with Pro Tools HD 10), meaning no outboard preamps and some of the best EQs on the planet - It’s a real mixing desk where you can visualise your work,” he continues. “It’s an interesting combination of a very modular-based console with lots of flexibility while still retaining the sonic character that makes Helios consoles so great.”
record a wide-ranging variety of genres from jazz to rock projects, which is reflected in the records that have come out of there over the years. “There’s an echo chamber in the studio which is a unique touch, and we’re also represented by Miloco now which is really great,” Chastan explains. “One of the challenges for any studio today is that people come with a lot of baggage, so many artists are unwilling to experiment.
“A huge amount of classic hits were recorded on these consoles - I think we’re the only studio in the world that has two.” Back to the grind While Chastan and co started taking bookings in May, the studios oﬃcially reopened in July, starting with a launch party that was attended by 350 people. “This made a bit of noise,” says Chastan. “Just being out there and talking about it, you can see there’s already interest on a national scale. Fall Out Boy have been in recently, as well as mix engineer Mark Rankin, so there’s already a lot going on which we feel is really starting to help the studio come together.” While the impressive history of the facility itself seems enough to attract artists, producers and engineers far and wide, the core aspect of the studio is its sonic consistency, clarity and balance. Due to its neutrality, Sound City Studios’ rooms are ready to
It’s really important to us therefore that people give the entire experience a chance, which means we’re willing to meet everybody halfway by having them come and do a complete test run of the studio when they want. “Fleetwood Mac, Rumer and Nirvana have all been here and while they’re all very different, it all works here at Sound City,” Chastan concludes. “The consoles, and more importantly the rooms, do not get in the way and having great equipment means that not only are you going to get a great sound, but you’re hearing exactly what you’re supposed to hear.” www.soundcitystudios.com
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FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN
Top studio designers and builders take us through the initial phases of planning and constructing a new studio and tell why working with professionals is crucial to avoid costly corrections or, in a worstcase scenario, starting all over again further down the line...
nybody can buy great equipment, but you can’t buy the guarantee of a busy studio,” says producer and mix engineer Pete Hofman, who is also project manager and technical director of Miloco Builds, the studio design and building arm of Miloco Studios. So how do you guarantee a busy studio? “It’s all about making the perfect environment for musicians to be creative,” he continues. “All the gear is there to buy and all the advice is online, so people just go for it without knowing how to set it up properly, although they may know something is wrong.” Hofman’s not wrong about there being a wealth of advice online, with countless articles and opinion pieces on how to build a studio. While many are well researched and cover most aspects of building and fitting out your own studio, they can’t replace years of experience gained by acousticians or expert studio builders. Fortunately, for those planning to have a studio designed and built from the ground up, there are highly experienced professionals who can see them through the process of constructing their dream creative space that sounds as good as it looks. 22
First things first Led by Hofman, who works alongside respected acoustician Nick Whitaker and veteran studio builder Peter Russel, Miloco Builds has provided studio design and building services to the likes of engineers, artists, producers, post-production companies and education providers for over 15 years. Miloco also benefits from an infrastructure of maintenance engineers, technicians and support from [the firm’s sales and distribution arm] Miloco Gear. “We can do the whole AV design and specify, install, commission and teach,” explains Hofman. “Clients will come to me and I’ll sit down with them and try work out exactly what it is that they need.” Recent projects undertaken by Miloco Builds include Sholto Ratcliﬀe’s Dock Street Studios (pictured above), a studio for former Kaiser Chiefs drummer Nick Hodgson and a recording studio for Bastille, amongst many others such as Paul Epworth’s Church Studios which it worked on with WaltersStoryk Design Group (WSDG). After the initial process of discussing what the client is hoping to achieve with the new studio, Hofman says
that he will then start looking at properties and carry out an acoustic survey, explaining to the client what short-falls in any particular property might be. “We might then start sketching out ideas to figure out how many rooms they need and how they like to work,” he says. Then I’ll take that away and sit down with our acoustic consultant Nick Whitaker and he will do all the calculations and turn it into something that will work. I’ll then sit down with our builds team and cost it and work out how we are going to build it.”
HOT PROPERTY Hofman tells Audio Media International that finding a suitable building for new recording studios and postproduction facilities is becoming more and more difficult, especially in London where “there are no big buildings left or they are too expensive”. In fact, everyone that spoke to AMI for this feature cited the choice of building as one of the biggest challenges for anyone curently looking to take ownership of a custom-designed studio. “The problems are all around the building,” agrees Munro Acoustics’ Clive Glover. Founded by Andy Munro around 30 years ago, south London-based
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FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN
Abbey Road’s Dolby Atmos mixing theatre
Miloco Builds project Dock Street Studios
/////////////////////////////////// Munro Acoustics originally started as a design company, diversifying into studio building with the addition of a dedicated building arm called Form & Funktion. “In the post-production industry for example, for a very long time it had to be in Soho, which meant that there are no suitable buildings in Soho for studios, so you are constantly fighting against the restrictions you are being given,” he explains. “If you are going to put in an isolation shell you are going to have a floating floor. That takes up volume and that takes up space. Over and above that you have got to have air conditioning and ventilation. There are a lot of things you need to fit into that volume. “The next issue can be when you are building a room within a room, you’re adding quite a lot of mass to an existing room. If the structural capacity is not suﬃcient to support the isolation shell then it’s a problem. You might end up having to reinforce the building. It can be expensive and get complicated.”
ON THE LEVEL Level Acoustic Design founder Chris Walls says that the feasibility of building studios within a chosen property will
need to be established before he becomes engaged in a project. “That is the first thing – establishing the feasibility,” he says. “Quite often we’ll get a call from a client looking for a property. We’ll go and view some properties with them, maybe take some acoustic measurements, background noise levels, vibration levels and appraise whether we think it’s going to be a suitable building to build studios within.” Walls founded Level Acoustic Design around four years ago, having spent ten years working for Munro prior to that. He’s worked on over 1,000 projects since then, having designed studios for the likes of Abbey Road, NBC and Universal. His firm also provides design services to Justin Spier’s Studio Creations which, launched 14 years ago, has built studios for an enviable list of clients including Warner Music UK, Mute Records, Jamie Cullum and many others. “Having quite a lot of collective experience, we can tell fairly quickly whether things are likely to work or not,” continues Walls. “We’ll go in there and we’ll take a thorough acoustic survey of what the prevailing noise climate is inside and outside the building. Then we carry out a dimensional survey to see what kind of space we’ve got to work with.” Spier explains that if a building is deemed to be unsuitable after the feasibility study has been carried out, they will advise the client against building there. “We both believe that to do it, it needs to be done correctly,” he says. “There’s no comeback if you skimp on it in any way, or if the noise figures are a bit lofty, or anything else is wrong really. It’s better to be upfront.” He adds that one of the biggest problems in the studiobuilding world is that hopeful new-studio owners will turn to ‘cowboys’ who might agree to go ahead and build something rather than advise their clients that it might not be the best way forward. “They’ll go, Yeah, I’ll build you a studio! But it’s massively complicated and a lot of skill [is required] from the design perspective straight down to the actual builders themselves delivering something,” he says. “Someone will always tell them that they can do something and build it, and that’s where problems arise. Occasionally you get a call six to 12 months later, asking, Can you please fix the problems?”
Clearing the Air After the choice of building, one of the first things that should be considered when designing a new facility is how to make the air conditioning work, suggests Munro’s Glover. “Once you have that sorted, the rest usually falls into place,” he says. “That is probably one of the major things that can go wrong. People will have their ideas and they start building and they then get to a certain point where they think, Oh, we also need some air conditioning. You’re in trouble if you think about it in that sequence.” Working alongside Glover is acoustician Phil Pyatt who also handles the custom speaker side of the business. “We’re still running the Dynaudio Acoustics name after all these years, making big custom systems,” he says. One of Munro’s recent projects was the new Atmos mixing theatre at Abbey Road Studios. “We did the internal fit out and all of the acoustic treatment and acoustic isolation shell as well as using our speaker systems,” explains Glover. “Dolby have several different degrees of licensing,” says Pyatt. “If you go for the Dolby Atmos Premier Studio Certification, they will spend several weeks measuring everything within a quarter of a dB. Over the course of several weeks they will be fine tuning things. That’s their standard and you get a trophy at the end of it.” John Storyk, founding partner of WSDG says that “HVAC (heat, ventilation and air conditioning) is of course a concern,” and is usually one that can be resolved with adequate height for ductwork as well as access to outside air. “It is rare for us not to be able to create solutions for this design element, but what we often find is that studio owners fail to account for these components in their initial studio construction budgets,” he says. “This is why it is critical that designers talk with their clients before beginning work on a new project.” www.milocobuilds.com www.munro.co.uk www.levelacousticdesign.com www.studio-creations.co.uk www.wsdg.com October 2017
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Superior Sound Quality Precise, transparent, accurate and present sound. Even dynamics across the frequency spectrum. Rich, warm, intelligible vocals
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Quick and easy deployment. Rotational axis exactly between enclosures ensures excellent coherency between adjacent components. Allows for adjustment under load and facilitates easy placement of enclosures on transport dolly
Free-ﬂowing user experience. Easily built virtual venues and arrays. Array optimisation in 3D real time workspace. Live load information allows for safe rigging. Automatic equipment listing
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FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN
Justin Spier (left) & Chris Walls (right)
CREATIONISM /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// Studio Creations is a leading UK-based recording studio installation company. Here, founder Justin Spier talks us through the process of building The Annexe Studios in Exeter...
teve and Lindsey Troughton of The Annexe Studios (pictured) engaged Studio Creations and Chris Walls from Level Acoustic Design after various industry recommendations to provide a fully bespoke design, build and installation service for their commercial studio based in Exeter. The studio comprises a large control room and live room with three adjoining isolation booths to allow the capability for full band tracking, mixing and production. The studio is housed in a purpose-built building, built to our specifications. A local contractor carried out the “shell and core” construction to our design leaving us with a set of isolation shells for our team to acoustically treat and fit out. As with any studio build it is essential to carefully evaluate the potential issues arising from adjacency, neighbouring properties, the building’s existing structure, internal and external vibration and noise ingress and egress. There is no “one size fits all” solution to building a studio and each room has its own set of criteria with a construction designed specifically to deliver a fit for purpose facility. As always, the design started with a series of discussions with the client to understand what facilities they needed and how they intended to use the studio. We took them to visit some previous projects and talked about existing studios they particularly like. This process really helps to clarify the operational brief. Next we carried out an evaluation of the site and its surroundings, identifying any applicable legislation or planning conditions relating to noise and any potentially problematic noise sources or adjacent noise sensitive properties. Once this was complete we specified the acoustic performance criteria required to make the studio work. Steve and Lindsey had a clear operational requirement, they wanted a studio for tracking bands with the live room
specifically designed for a great drum sound. The other main consideration was noise breakout from the studio to neighbouring properties. The local authority imposed a stringent planning condition specifying a noise limit at the property boundary, which required a very high degree of sound insulation because of the semi-rural location. Once the design parameters were established we began the detailed design. This is when the isolation shells are designed and detailed to achieve the requisite sound and vibration isolation and the room treatments are designed to achieve a flat monitoring response or a great recording space etc., all the while trying to balance the engineering requirements with aesthetics. The details vary from project to project depending on the site and the client’s operational requirements; construction details are calculated and specified for each project.
lighting controllers were selected to avoid noise and RF interference. This is arguably less important for setups using balanced lines throughout but not immune given the right set of criteria which is why all studios will benefit from proper electrical system design. Lighting systems require dimmer packs to be located outside of the studios and preferably using DC dimming to ensure low levels of radiated electrical noise. Once construction drawings and specifications were prepared, work began on site. We always maintain close contact with the team on site and visit regularly throughout construction to ensure the works follow the design, whether it is our own fit-out team or a client-appointed contractor doing the work. As and when issues arose, which they invariably do on studio projects, we worked with the site team to resolve them without compromising the end result.
“There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to building a studio” The HVAC system was designed early on to ensure adequate space was allotted to plant, ducts and attenuation; low velocity air conditioning systems require relatively large ducts and their routing and point of entry in to the studio can be critical. Designing the studios and then trying to fit the HVAC system around it rarely works! The studio power also required careful planning and specification. In this case a new dedicated mains supply was required. A full electrical specification was provided to ensure circuits were run as radial rather than ring mains, circuits and equipment were all properly earthed along with cable containment to the technical ground, a suitable grade of mains cable was used and
The technical installation team started running cables towards the end of the fit-out works and once finishes were complete the equipment installation began in earnest. The bulk of acoustic commissioning testing was carried out at this point, checking compliance with the planning condition and the general sound insulation performance of the studio. The HVAC systems were balanced and the monitoring response fine-tuned. On completion of the technical installation, mains power quality and audio analysers are used to verify that the overall system noise floor is at an acceptable level, and free of ground loop related problems and any other distortions following which we were ready to hand over to the client and begin training. October 2017
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FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN
STUDIO DESIGN 101 WITH JOHN STORYK
egendary studio designer John Storyk, a founding partner of Walters-Storyk Design Group (WSDG), has been designing recording studios for nearly five decades, starting in 1970 with Jimi Hendrix’ iconic Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village, New York City. WSDG has created nearly 4,000 recording, broadcast and audio/video production studios around the world since then, for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Alicia Keys and Jay-Z, to NYC’s Jazz At Lincoln Centre, Le Poisson Rouge and Switzerland’s KKL Luzern Concert Hall. Here, Storyk shares his thoughts on how not to build a recording studio...
What steps need to be taken when designing and building a studio? The most important step is to spend as much time as possible directly with the client on programming. Basically learning how to answer the key questions such as what they are really trying to accomplish. Most mistakes later on in the studio creation process can be traced back to not taking the time in this step. Critical issues, though not necessarily in this order, are: How much sound isolation is required for bothersome external noises for recording, music being recorded in the studio that would impact on neighbours, etc. and, realworld noise occurring outside the studio that needs to be kept from impacting on the recording process. It’s very important to determine the exact sizes required for the room (or rooms) that you need. Bigger does not always mean better. I like the Buckminster Fuller axiom of trying to arrive at the bare maximum. And of course these decisions are generally dependent on budget. The amount of square footage you desire is directly related to your real financial situation. Control room or mix position orientation and ergonomics: All studios need to deal with this critical layout issue. I find that laying out in exact detail how you want to listen and mix audio (either stereo or advanced immersive) is a primary issue in creating the rest of the studio design. Which of these steps would be most detrimental if they were to be missed? The client and the studio designer must determine the most accurate isolation requirements and size. When full isolation is required, this usually results in the single largest budget issue. The next mistake we frequently encounter is simply not paying attention to low frequency behavior, particularly in small listening environments (which of course is the vast majority of today’s studio control rooms). The smaller the room the more diﬃcult it is to install large traditional bass absorbers. That’s the bad news. The good news is that 26
the world of prefab thin (less than six inches) pressure absorbers, such as membranes, resonators, etc. has expanded significantly in recent years. There are a lot of cool solutions on the market. The trick is in knowing where to use them. How important is the choice of building for a studio? There is an old saying in studio design: “Quiet studio, quiet site.” Noise and sound isolation are often the single largest construction cost for studios. Try to avoid wood structures whenever possible. Studio locations that are “slab on grade” are usually a bit easier to deal with, particularly with low frequency sound isolation issues. You cannot really have too much height when analysing a potential site. Built up floors, isolated ceilings; additional ceiling treatments, HVAC ductwork etc. All of these elements eat up the available height. In some basement studios we have been able to create additional ceiling height by excavating the floor. For a recent project in an old brownstone building in Brooklyn, NY, we dug down six feet and actually found an old Revolutionary War cannonball! Non-acoustic issues. I for one am not a big fan of studios that do not have daylight. Hours and hours of working without daylight – yeeks. In certain countries in Europe, this is actually illegal. Anne Mincieli’s iconic Jungle City Studios are a prime example of incorporating daylight and accessing amazing New York City views in the live and control rooms. Same with Paul Epworth’s Church Studios in London and Grammy award-winning engineer, Cynthia Daniels’ Monk Music Studios in East Hampton, Long Island, NY.
John Storyk on Paul Epworth’s Church Studios, Writing Room in London: “I love the use of daylight as well as the ability to have virtually an unlimited amount of colour in the rooms. Almost 50 years ago, Jimi Hendrix asked for the same thing – we have been chasing this idea ever since. Notice how small the writing room is. This is made possible by targeted low frequency control on the walls and ceilings (very specific perforated thin panels).”
What are the most common problems you’ve encountered in music studios? With respect to internal room acoustics (IA), the most common problem is lack of successful Low Frequency Response. LFA is often a step that is simply not taken in studio design. As studio environments have gotten smaller and smaller, which is good news concerning overall construction budgets. LFA becomes all the more important. It’s a simple matter of math as first order Eigen Tones (standing wave frequency) become higher and higher. Geometry - I have always loved this subject. I am always amazed at how often the simplest geometric mistakes are made in early studio layout and planning. This does not mean that parallel walls are bad. (Actually this is a common misunderstanding – there is really nothing wrong with parallel boundaries if they are treated correctly). Room ratios count (no squares or cubes please!) and there are always best and worst locations for speaker and listener positions in mix environments.
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FEATURE: STUDIO DESIGN John Storyk on Ovasen Media, New York City: “The two mastering film mixing control rooms are possibly the smallest and even the least organized geometry we have used in many studio examples. Why? This was the only way we could squeeze all of the rooms and support spaces in a very tiny 1,200 square foot loft in mid-town Manhattan. We make these mix rooms work by using electronic corner LF absorbers (mfg. by Bag End) - clearly a last resort, but part of the designer’s job is to know what tools are available if and when we need them.
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John Storyk on Jungle City Studios, New York City: “It took founder and creator, Anne Mincieli over a year to find the perfect location - high above surrounding buildings; high ceilings; concrete construction; and (most importantly) lots of glass. When recording and mixing, artists and engineers can enjoy (and be inspired by) panoramic views of Manhattan and by turning around in the control room see the World Trade Centre through a clear / transparent rear wall diffusor system.”
GROUND LEVEL FLOOR PLAN – RESIDENCE
3D VIEW FROM STREET
Walters-Storyk Design Group, Inc. Highland, NY
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John Storyk on Monk Music, East Hampton, New York: “Geometry and room proportion are the keys here as well as obvious symmetry. Glass is certainly not the enemy and in fact is used to optimise reflection control to rear room diffusor elements. Originally, owner Cynthia Daniels only wanted one iso booth. We championed the idea of two (for obvious symmetry) and Cynthia has smiled every day since the studio opened with those expanded capabilities.”
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PRODUCT FOCUS ACOUSTIC TREATMENT
ROYALTREATMENT The number of acoustic treatment and isolation options for the studio market has grown exponentially in recent years. Here, we profile a selection of useful products from leading acoustics manufacturers...
Auralex Acoustics ProMAX v2 Aurelex has been providing high-quality acoustic treatment products for nearly 40 years after it was launched out of the garage of company founder and president Eric Smith in 1977. The company’s products are used in the studios of a long list of notable clients, from the likes of 20th Century Fox, ABC Television & Radio Studios and Berklee College of Music, to a range of top artists and producers. The Auralex ProMAX v2 is designed as a portable, lightweight absorption treatment for run-and-gun recording and performance applications in the studio, on stage, classroom, in the home and more. These free-standing treatment options are designed for applications where boundary-mounted acoustic treatments aren’t an option. The Auralex ProMAX v2 stand-mounted acoustic panel system helps to reduce unwanted acoustic reflections and tame chaotic reverberation. The system features two 2ft wide x 4ft tall x 3” thick absorptive Studiofoam panels, along with an angled
reflective rear surface for tonal variability for dialling in the desired amount of room ambience. The panels include round-base stands and are available in three colours. www.auralex.com
Key Features n n n n
Semi-reflective, angled rear surface Adjustable height w/included mounting stands Effective control of axial modes Flexible, portable absorption for professional & residential settings
GIK Acoustics Gotham N23 Skyline Diffuser If you’re looking for a product to improve clarity and intelligibility in your room, then this could be a good option. More accurately called two-dimensional diffusers, these Skyline Diffusers from GIK Acoustics have the advantage of scattering sound across both horizontal and vertical planes, broadening the soundscape and making a room sound larger. GIK Acoustics’ Gotham N23 5” Quadratic Skyline Diffuser has a 23-root, calculated quadratic sequence which is machine cut within 0.2mm, matched with a striking appearance to enhance the space where it is being used. The diffuser is made using MDF and carries a standard weight of 9kg. The Gotham N23 turns damaging reflections into a ‘sonically pleasing’ diffused sound field, while controlling higher frequencies, and making the room sound larger than it is.
GIK Acoustics also manufactures bass traps and acoustic panels for home theaters, recording studios, restaurants, listening rooms and auditoriums. www.gikacoustics.co.uk
Key Features n Diffuses sound energy while retaining higher frequencies n Even diffusion from 1250Hz to 9500Hz with scattering effects down to 650Hz n Easily wall mounted with two sawtooth hangers (included) n Dimensions: 415mm x 430mm x 135mm
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PRODUCT FOCUS ACOUSTIC TREATMENT
Primacoustic MaxTrap The Primacoustic MaxTrap is a broadband corner bass trap that combines a diaphragmatic resonator with a full-size acoustic panel in a sealed enclosure to provide three-way absorption throughout the full frequency spectrum. This design begins with a 3” thick front-mounted 24” x 48” Broadway panel made from 2.7kg per cubic foot high-density glass wool fibre, effectively absorbing frequencies down to 100Hz. Behind the panel, a closed air space takes full advantage of quarter-wavelength principles to further reinforce low frequency absorption in this critical bass region. The MaxTrap’s notable low frequency extension is achieved by way of a suspended diaphragm that stretches the full size of the device, capturing bass by vibrating where the low frequencies are most prominent. As room modes combine, they either reinforce certain frequencies or cancel them out. MaxTrap’s limp-mass structure naturally migrates to the most powerful frequencies where it quietly resonates to remove excess bass and subsequent modal frequencies.
Available in black, beige or grey, MaxTraps are ideally placed in corners where walls intersect and sound naturally gathers. John Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls), Tommy Lee (Motley Crue), Nathan East (Eric Clapton) and Chad Kroeger (Nickelback) are just some of Primacoustic’s customers. www.primacoustic.com
Key Features n High performance corner mounted bass trap n Suspended diaphragm absorbs bass down to 40Hz n High-density front absorber controls highs & mids n Ideal for small rooms where modes cause problems
Acoustic Fields ACDA-10/12 The ACDA-10 Studio sound absorber from Acoustic Fields can be placed around drums to lower pressure levels and allow for more detailed energy to be heard at the microphone position, while it can also be positioned on each side of a console. With the broadband absorption provided by carbon technology and middle and higher frequency absorption created with foam technology on the face of each unit, users have an acoustic absorption tool that starts at 30Hz and moves through 6,300Hz, with an average low frequency absorption coefficient of 25%. Users can choose a fabric face or just leave the unit with its foam face. Meanwhile, the ACDA-12 is finished with a three-time clear coat process to protect the commercial grade exterior material,
and also makes use of Acoustic Fields’ carbon and foam technology. The ACDA-12 Studio is a frequency specific absorber that starts at 30Hz and goes through 50Hz, with 35% absorption at 30Hz, 63% at 40Hz, and 100% at 50 Hz. The unit acts as a low frequency “sponge”, absorbing unwanted energy within smaller studios and working especially well for kick drum unwanted low frequency pressure issues. www.acousticfields.com
Key Features n Lowers pressure-related energy levels n Utilises carbon and foam technology n ACDA-12 acts as a frequency-specific “sponge” n Dimensions: 30” w x 60” h x 16” d and weighs 150 lbs
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DPA D:VICE PREAMPS
Jerry Ibbotson gives Audio Media International his honest opinion about this dual-channel microphone preamplifier from Danish pro-audio firm DPA
ize and scale are odd things. Remember the classic “this is small, those are far away” moment in Father Ted? I’m having a similar experience right now. I’d seen images of DPA’s new d:vice and thought it looked interesting: a compact twin mic preamp and A/D converter. I tend to see new kit and try to picture a use for it. With the Danish firm’s new oﬀering I immediately thought of location reporting for radio news, one of the sections on my own career CV. One of these and a couple of the (supplied) DPA personal mics and you’re halfway to a studio-on-the-go or an outside broadcast point. The thing is, when I looked at the pictures I imagined something the size of a small saucer. When I opened the box, I discovered something closer to an after-dinner mint. It really does sit in the palm of your hand with plenty of room to spare. I actually laughed. It’s like a flat pebble finished in matt black and brushed metal, solid and well-finished. There are two Micro-Dot connections and a micro-USB input and that’s it, nothing else spoils the look and feel of it. What does it do? It hooks up to an iOS device or a Mac or PC and provides a high-quality dual-channel preamplifier and digital convertor. Simply connect a pair of DPA mics and plug it in. It sends a stereo feed but if you only connect a single mic, the unit interprets this as a mono. It comes supplied with two cables, a Micro USB to iOS Lightning and a Micro USB to USB A. There are also two clips for attaching the mics to your person and a neat carry pouch. The d:vice has a dynamic range of 114 dB and can support sample rates up to 96 KHz. It’s set to 48 as a default. It also has a high pass filter on each channel, at 80 Hz, to clear up any potential noise or rumble. You’ll also be pleased to learn it can work down to zero Celsius, though the human user may not function as well at that temperature.
Key Features n Dual-channel microphone preamplifier n A/D converter n Ultra low noise floor n High Dynamic range n Works with most third party apps RRP: £528 ($700) www.dpamicrophones.com
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PRODUCT REVIEW The d:vice is primarily aimed at iOS device users. There’s an Apple app available which gives control over gain, the filters, monitoring and mono /stereo. It has a level meter and four preset buttons to store settings for specific mics. The app works in conjunction with third party software, such as live broadcast applications like Luci Live or the BBC’s own oﬀerings as well as commercial audio and video software. Use it with anything else and you’re pretty much left to your own devices as far as control goes. I don’t use any iOS gear (heresy, I know) and instead hooked the d:vice to a laptop running Windows 10. It installed itself with zero fuss and immediately appeared as hardware in the settings panel of Adobe Audition. For control over gain, I had to rummage about within Windows but it wasn’t a total faﬀ, just a bit disappointing, as I like the look of the iOS app.
The one thing the d:vice doesn’t oﬀer is any direct monitoring. If running on iOS you can monitor a recording or broadcast through headphones connected to the Apple device. In my case (and yes, I know I’m a Luddite) there was nothing that could be done. I did some test recordings, using one of the supplied DPA 4060 personal mics and the sound quality was as good as I’d expected. It’s a DPA after all. There was no hiss or noise from the preamp and I even had a look at the recording in Audition’s spectral view to get a better idea of what was going on. This simply confirmed how clean the recording was: crisp and sharp with no nastiness at all. That’s not to say I was expecting anything bad, more a reflection on how some small recording gear I’ve tested over the years has been let down by hissy preamps. I couldn’t honestly say it’s quite as good as a “full size” preamp, it’s a little cold and hard to my ears, but
it is remarkable that such a small device can provide audio of this quality. If you were running this in the way it’s intended, with an iOS device, it throws up a whole stack of possibilities. Slip the d:vice pouch in one pocket, a phone and headphones in another, and a radio reporter has pretty much all they need for mobile journalism. Having a separate, personal mic, means you can report in trickier situations where holding a phone to your ear isn’t an option. This might simply mean somewhere with bad weather, with the mic in a proper windshield. Or you can set up a two-mic interview situation, like a mini-studio, in a hotel room or coﬀee shop (I’ve done both). It would be great if the control app was available on other platforms but that’s pretty much the only negative I can come up with. DPA have proven, once and for all, that size means nothing.
“It is remarkable that such a small device can provide audio of this quality”
The Reviewer Jerry Ibbotson has worked in pro-audio for more than 20 years, first as a BBC radio journalist and then as a sound designer in the games industry. He’s now a freelance audio producer and writer.
32-33 AMI Oct 2017 Lead Review_Final.indd 2
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@PSNEurope 21/09/2017 14:04
WARM WA-87 AND WA-14
Stephen Bennett tells AMI why these new oﬀerings from Warm Audio are far from your average ‘clone-type mics’
hat’s this you say? Not another review of some ‘clone’-type microphones! But before you move on to the article detailing the lengths that location recordists will go to when trying to capture the sounds of sharks devouring seals, bear in mind that the microphones under review come from quite a special place. Warm Audio is the brainchild of engineer Bryce Young and the company is renowned for their recreations of classic recording gear such as the EQP-WA equaliser and the WA76 and WA-2A compressors (the latter two reviewed in Audio Media International)-I’m sure you can work out which particular vintage hardware they are based on by their model numbers. Meticulously designed and constructed - Warm have something of the whiﬀ of an obsessive artisanal company about them - these hardware processors sound as close to the originals as makes no odds, but at much lower cost. The condenser microphones under review, the WA-87 and WA-14, have also been designed with a couple of classic models in mind. On opening the packaging it’s clear that care has been taken in the construction and presentation of the microphones and both feature the excellent CineMag transformers to help add to that vintage mojo. In fact, the quality of the engineering made me realise how far we’ve come since the days when the only way to aﬀord a decent sounding large diaphragm condenser microphone was to source some obscure, poorly finished, Russian military model and smuggle it into the country inside some bags of cocaine. Both microphones come in nice wooden boxes with useable shock-mounts.
overview The WA-87 is, as you may suspect, based on the venerable Neumann U87. Physically, it’s very similar and dismantles in the same way, revealing a neat circuit board full of discrete components and the aforementioned transformer. The microphone features three polar patterns - cardioid, omni and figure-of-eight all selected by a front facing switch, while the rear features a -10db Pad and an 80hz High Pass Filter. Both microphones require phantom power and appeared immune to accidental removal of the XLR cable during use with power on - something that my vintage microphones do not like me doing at all. The WA-14 is also based on a vintage model, in this case, it’s the AKG 414 and Warm have chosen as inspiration for
n n n n n
-10db Pad (WA-87) 80hz High Pass Filter (WA-87) Both mics come in wooden boxes Shock-mounts included -20 or -10dB filter (WA-14)
RRP: WA-87 £599 ($790) WA-14 £499 ($658) WA-87
their microphone one of the most desirable versions - the CK12 ‘brass’ capsule EB model. According to Warm, the LK12-B-60v capsule in the WA-14 is a reproduction of a later AKG CK12 design that “overcomes the limitation of earlier versions while delivering the sound so sought after by audio recordists.” Creating a reproduction of the CK12 is no mean feat - it was one of the most complex capsule designs ever manufactured, according to Microphone guru Ashley Styles and is the reason why AKG switched to a ‘teflon capsule’ half way through the life of the 414 EB - so Warm are to be applauded for even attempting a recreation. The physical aspect of the microphone itself is more ‘414-like’ than a direct copy of an EB and again features sliders to choose between cardioid, omni and figure-of-eight patterns alongside a -20 or -10dB filter, though both located on the front face in this case. The WA-14 isn’t as easy to take apart as the WA-87 so I didn’t October 2017
35-37 AMI Oct 2017 Review 1_Final.indd 1
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PRODUCT REVIEW attempt it, but the view of the brass capsule surround through the mesh grille looked promising, as did the general quality of the finish of the microphone. The specifications of both microphones are detailed in the manuals at www.warmaudio.com -including frequency and polar patterns - alongside some nice illustrations as to which application you may put them to use. But you know that really isn’t what is important in a microphone - it is the way it captures a selected sound source that can make it something you really want to use in your recordings.
In USE To test the Warms against various versions of the objects of their inspiration, I used both microphones on a session alongside my trusty ‘80s ‘battery compartment’ U87, a 2015 manufactured U87i, a modern AKG 414 and my 1970s vintage ‘brass ring’ 414EB. As I might with my Neumann and AKG microphones, I used both the U87s and WA -87 on vocals and overheads, while the 414s and WA-14 handled almost everything else including a bit of mid and side action. The sonic character of my vintage and modern U87s is pretty similar, with the latter tending to a slightly brighter sound - a diﬀerence which I’ve always attributed to the amount of tobacco and alcohol sprayed on the capsule of the older microphone by a previous (famous) owner. The Warm’s overall tonality definitely leans toward the vintage U87 - not surprising given the capsule design and its transformer - so it turns out my old 87 is on the button after all! While there were audible diﬀerences in the sonic nature of all three ‘87s when pointed at the same source, I’m not sure I could really pick out which were my Neumanns or the Warm on drum overheads in a blind test. But on both the male and female vocalists I recorded, I definitely preferred the vintage Neumann and the Warm every time - It’s inevitable that this kind of preference will be source dependent, but it demonstrates that the WA-87 is an admirable performer. The modern AKG 414, while being an excellent and versatile microphone, is so diﬀerent from the earlier CK12 brass-capsuled versions it probably really should have had another model name. It’s an excellent all-rounder and its low noise and extended frequency response is well suited to capturing those sounds destined to appear in earbuds, games consoles and TV speakers. Like the WA-87, the WA-14 was, predictably, sonically closer in character to the vintage 414 - but what I didn’t expect was just how close the sound was. I tried some stereo and M-S recordings with vintage and Warm microphones and the diﬀerences were less than when using than my pair of ’80s U87s as a stereo pair. The lovely light and open upper frequencies were there as was the ‘richness and clarity with Warmth’ - which is the reason I love my EB so. Recording flute and violin, I had to keep checking which was which microphone, the only real sonic indicator being that the Warm’s background noise is considerably lower than the older 414. The Warm’s had no issues with overloading on any of the typical use that such microphones may be put to in a recording session,
although I didn’t use either on the bass drum - I eagerly await the WA-47 FET for just that application. “You can have too many microphones,” said no audio engineer ever. Almost every microphone has a use even if it’s to just to decimate a perfectly nice noise for artistic reasons. The Warm microphones lie in what is, today, the mid-price bracket between re-labelled Chinese models and those produced by the established and artisan companies. It’s a competitive area, but I believe the Warm microphones are up to the challenge. The WA-87 is an excellent performer that sits sonically somewhere between the modern and vintage Neumann models while leaning towards the latter. The WA-14 is the hero of this particular review though as it captures extremely well the general characteristic of the most sought-after of all AKG 414s - the remaining examples of which go for headswimmingly high prices these days.
“You can have too many microphones, said no audio engineer, ever ”
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 University of East Anglia. October 2017
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ASTON HALO SHADOW REFLECTION FILTER Simon Allen tests out this reflection filter from Aston Microphones...
Key Features n Easy-mount hardware n PET felt is made from 70% recycled PET plastic bottles n 40% more surface area than the ‘main competitor’ RRP: £220 ($292) www.astonmics.com
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f you have ever owned or used one of sE’s original reflection filters, then you’ll be all-too-aware of the usability issues around this original design. The sE reflection filter is however, responsible for creating this new market (and Aston Microphones owner, James Young, was founding member and MD of sE). Until sE brought out their ‘heavyweight’, the only option was to get creative with a duvet and some gaffer tape. Hardly the professional look, even for a home studio. Help is finally here though, as Aston believe they have the answer to all these teething problems. Aston’s Halo Shadow is essentially the same as their original Halo, but now in black for a more “moody” feel. A small detail, but the original is purple and it isn’t exactly a small item. While the striking original is quite fun, it’s great to see this black coloured option. I hadn’t had a chance to try the Halo yet, so this proved a great opportunity for me to put this new reflection filter to the test.
Simple is Best The first thing you notice about the Halo is it’s size. Aston have clearly focused on the performance of this reflection filter, which is great. When it comes to any form of sound treatment, you can’t really cheat on dimensions, design or choice of material. Thankfully,
“Aston have clearly focused on the performance of this reflection filter” Aston have concentrated on all these aspects. The downside of its size though, is that you’ll need somewhere to store the Halo as it doesn’t fold away. The size and shape of the Halo, of course present several benefits. I really like how Aston have addressed reflections entering your microphone at the top and bottom, as well as from the rear and sides. Intended for those in un-treated rooms, ceiling and floor reflections could potentially be quite strong and I’m convinced this plays a large part in the eﬀectiveness of this filter. At the end of the day, microphone pick-up patterns are 3-dimensional and the shape of the Halo truly takes this into account. The size also reduces the colouration the filter has itself, or should I say hasn’t, on the microphone. Quite honestly, I wasn’t aware of the filter imposing any reflections or colouration back into the microphone, even when I tested it in a treated room. Alongside Aston’s design and choices of materials, you’re also left with a comfortable space for any microphone to sit inside with room to ‘breathe’. Although the Halo is quite large, Aston have managed to keep the weight down with their choice of material. Made from PET felt, Aston describe it as “one of the most lightweight and eﬃcient, technical acoustic products available”. Even a basic, over-used boom stand I had at home was able to hold the Halo without drooping or feeling unstable.
This brings me neatly onto the clamp. Aston call it the “easy-mount hardware”, which is actually quite accurate. There aren’t any adjustable pivots with difficult-to-use wing nuts or over-complicated brackets. In fact the mounting hardware is refreshingly simple yet well thought out. It offers adjustment for placing your microphone forwards and backwards as well as up and down. Thanks to the position of the clamp on the filter, the weight is also kept centred, helping reduce the strain on your mic stand. I’m sure a more elaborate design could be produced, but sometimes simple is best.
The Devil’s in the Detail As well as the size and shape of the Halo, the PET felt has been given some ridges. These aid in breaking up any reflections from the surface of the filter itself and therefore reducing any colouration the filter has on your microphone. The ridges also increase the surface area of the filter, hopefully absorbing more reflections. Aston advertise that the Halo has 40% more surface area than the ‘main competitor’ and the ridges “almost double this again”. The construction of the filter is comprised of three layers of PET felt. Sandwiched inside the outer shell is a looser version of the felt, designed to absorb some bass frequencies. Interestingly, the PET felt material is actually made from 70% recycled PET plastic bottles. It’s great to see this eco green feature of what is quite
a sizeable product. All these details and the simple approach that Aston have taken, leaves the Halo Shadow feeling like quite an organic product. It also looks modern and professional, therefore suiting professional studio environments as well as domestic. Ultimately reflection filters are designed to help those recording in un-treated environments, but for commercial studios with large live rooms or when extra isolation is needed in multi-musician setups, the Halo is a valuable tool.
Conclusion The reflection filter market is relatively new, but the Aston Halo is easily the most effective solution available. Whilst it might be amongst the most expensive, the results speak for themselves. The key to their success lies in a great design executed with simplicity. This is a no-fuss answer to your recording environment issues. Now in black, this will also look the part in any home studio environment.
The Reviewer Simon Allen Is a freelance internationally recognised engineer/ producer and pro audio professional with over 15 years of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix engineer continues to reach new heights. October 2017
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BEYERDYNAMIC DT 1990 PRO HEADPHONES
Alistair McGhee reviews these studio headphones from Beyerdynamic.
eyerdynamic has a long and distinguished history in studio microphones and headphones. The DT100, 770 and 990 headphones are ubiquitous enough to be considered industry standards and so any new product from Beyerdynamic aimed at the studio user is bound to be of interest. And when that product is pitched into the burgeoning market for high end cans then a positive frisson of excitement is guaranteed. And that brings us neatly to the new Beyerdynamic DT1990 PRO, which sit proudly at the top of Beyer’s range of professional studio headphones. First the DT 1990s are open backed so you’ll be sharing a little of your audio with the room, if you are on location or need more isolation then the DT 1770 PROs oﬀer a closed headphone featuring the same driver as the 1990 model.
THE DESIGN A quick whip round the spec sheet provides some interesting design features. I wept tears of joy (nearly) when I discovered that Beyerdynamic had opted for a mini XLR connector on the headphone end of detachable cable, probably familiar from Sound Devices gear. The TA connectors are exactly the right choice for a professional headphone connector: locking, reliable and standard. In the box you get a choice of curly or straight cables, both high quality items with commendable ruggedness. Also in the box is a choice of ear pads - and a choice that oﬀers audio options. If you fit the dark grey EDT 1990 B ear pads and you get what Beyerdynamic describe as a ‘balanced’ presentation, swap on the other hand to the EDT 1990 A pads in light grey and you get the ‘analytic’ expression. One obvious diﬀerence between the two pads acoustically involves the number of holes in the pad, twenty in the balanced option and only twelve in the analytic. More of the sound options later. The finish of the DT 1990s is of the highest standard, Beyerdynamic claim they are ‘hand crafted in Germany’ and they certainly exude quality in assembly and materials. Having broken the yoke on an expensive pair of headphones from a well known competitor I was
particularly impressed by the anodised aluminium yokes on the DT 1990s. The attention to detail can be seen in design details like the method for replacing the ear pads which is simple yet beautifully eﬀective. The DT 1990s are a higher impedance headphone at 250 ohms so you’ll want to drive them with something that has a little grunt, or a big grunt if you listen to Back in Black and would like to share the love with your neighbours. Driving them with the Marenius DAC-S2 was not a problem.
IN USE Plug DT 1990s into DAC-S2, set volume to stun…. Initially we got oﬀ to an inauspicious start, I struggled with the sound, there was something about the DT 1990s that I couldn’t immediately process. They were ‘dry’ - was there something missing? No, no, after a little more considered listening I realised there were two things going on. First like all great transducers the DT 1990s ruthlessly expose failings in the source material. If your mix is crap, if you’ve squeezed the compressor to the last dB, then the DT 1990s will faithfully unveil the flatness of the finished product. If your mic placement was poor and you put audio soup on to tape - then you’ll get an earful of mulligatawny. Secondly the DT 1990s have low end energy at the bottom that is simply startling. As already noted the high end headphone game is a competitive field with huge dynamic range, you can get excellent headphones for under two hundred quid, but then can six hundred quid headphones be good value? What about sixteen hundred quid cans?
Key Features n Choice of ear pads n Mini-XLR connection n Comes with two cables: 3-meter straight and 5-meter coiled. RRP: £599 www.europe.beyerdynamic.com Well, I have a really good pair of headphones that cost about half the price of the DT 1990 PROs - and two minutes side by side listening assured me that the Beyerdynamics are nearly twice as good! Value can be a slippery fish. I reached further up the food chain for cans from a similar price band. Ultrasone Signature Pros. The Ultrasones’s have established a fearsome reputation at a slightly higher price point. And for this stern test I fitted the DTs with the analytic pads which keep the bass a little more honest. Talking of bass, the headphones have authoritative low end presentations, not sagging like a veteran props pot, but taught and firm and low, low, low. I dug out the Sound Devices headphone amp and the Castle SPL meter to more closely match levels.
CONCLUSION Having moved to the analytic ear pads I felt two aspects of the DT 1990s performance stood out a little more. First their dynamics - which are absolutely top notch, their is a crispness to the transients that is outstanding, if your recording has dynamic range then you’ll feel the benefit on the DT 1990s. And secondly a more exposed top end. Of course these two things are probably connected, but more noticeable with the analytic ear pads. The open backed DT 1990s spread a soundstage that makes isolating instruments and voices a morsel of madeira, they are a first rate studio mixing tool. With a finish and comfort fit that are absolutely top notch the DT 1990 PROs declare that Beyerdynamic have still got their mojo. You should hear them.
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. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba. October 2017
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Eddie Veale is a pioneering studio designer who counts John Lennon’s home studio amongst his credits. Here he talks to AMI about his career highlights, the early days, and his recent accolade from the University of West London...
I’d met George Harrison previously after his Moog synthesizer that he was using to record Here Comes the Sun at Abbey Road developed a fault, and being the Moog guy at the time, I went along to sort it out for him. When he bought Friar Park, he asked me to help build him a studio there, during which time I worked for all the major studios. My time spent working with George was a great opportunity for me to develop new ideas. Around that time I also got the job of building Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton, which was one of the first commercial radio stations that was presenter driven. Consequently, some others and myself created an automation package for some smaller commercial stations after the IBA recommended us. What have you been working on more recently? I’ve been involved in cinema with Dolby Atmos, bringing immersive sound to cinemagoers – we did the Starr at the Tate Modern, which has proved popular for corporate events. We’re also wrapping up a project with the University of Winchester, for which we’ve ended up designing and building two studios for them as part of a new course. We’re also working with a couple of games companies on the audio side, and having lots of discussions about immersive sound with companies and universities. What was your initial reaction to receiving your Honorary Doctorate? My reaction was one of total surprise - I hadn’t expected them to consider me for such an accolade! I’ve worked with them for the last three and a half years, during which time we’ve designed and organised the building of a number of studios for them. We also handled the acoustics for a number of other projects there including a new space called Weston Hall, a 300-seat auditorium that has already proven popular with the orchestras that visit the university. We’ve had some great feedback about their music studios and post-production facilities, which were completed some two and a half years ago now. How did you first start out in the studio design industry and what do you feel have been the most significant developments over the years? I guess it began when I joined a company called Advision based in Bond Street. Everyone was using Ampex four-track recorders at the time, while a US-based company called Scully Recording was developing and producing the eight-track recorder. The head of Advision soon decided that it would be good to become the first eight-track studio in London, so I 42
started to learn about studios and desks very quickly and it was a thorough learning curve process. We then turned the film and dubbing theatre into the first ‘rock and roll’ studio, where many shorts and TV ads were recorded. Advision then became the first sixteentrack studio, and I subsequently set about getting Moog synthesizers into the UK and Europe. I also remodelled the studios at Advision even though the types of materials available at the time were very basic. I was then introduced to a Swedish musician who had a lot of great ideas about acoustics and how control rooms/studios should sound. That was really enlightening because we wanted to use better materials for the new premises, so this is when I discovered a sound-absorbing product called Rockwool and we shipped the first container of it over to the UK. What have been the highlights of your career? An invitation to Saville Row lead to my introduction to John Lennon, who wanted a home studio built. That was certainly the first home studio in the UK and probably in Europe built to professional recording standards, and the studio where Imagine was recorded, which I also got involved in.
What advice can you give about how NOT to build a studio? The critical thing in any circumstance is the control room or listening room, because if the room has influences, the recording will reflect that. It needs to be benign with an accurate reflection of the speaker output, which also needs to be faithful to avoid colouration. You can hear the defects of a recording space and you’ll either be able to rectify them or put them to good use to enhance a recording in some quirky way. In which direction do you see the industry going in the near future? My philosophy is, do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do – if you have the opportunity to push a boundary, push it as far as it will go. With this in mind I have risen to such challenges and received enjoyment from overcoming them. There’s a lot more respect and interest in good studios, be them large or small. I think people are discovering that, while there are a lot of things that they can do in their bedrooms these days, there are also many thing that they cannot do. www.va-studiodesign.com
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