The result of two+ years of field testing and tweaking, Chris Muth’s latest creation is a dual-mono/stereo compressor for tracking, mixing and mastering. Created to be an “alternative compressor” that would be easy to use, powerful, and transparent, the Dangerous Compressor was made with optimal utility in mind for multiple tasks.
Its controls have a split personality. On the one hand, they’re designed for professionals who prefer manual settings — meanwhile, emerging engineering talents can dive right into various professional “auto” compression modes.
Highly musical as well as transparent, the Dangerous Compressor is available now for a street price of $2799.
Early fans seem to be legion, including Sterling Sound’s iconic mastering engineer Greg Calbi (Tame Impala, The National, Sara Bareilles); record producer/mix engineer Rob Chiarelli (Charlie Wilson, Mary Mary, Kirk Franklin); mastering engineer Jonathan Wyner (Javier Limon, Josh Groban, Nirvana, David Bowie); producer/mixer Michael James (New Radicals, Hole, Robben Ford, L7, Edwin McCain, The Coronas); mastering engineer Alex Saroudakis (Sony music, Universal music, Virgin); mixer Ryan West (Jay Z, Eminem, Rihanna, T.I.); and mastering engineer Mike Wells (Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, Tony Sly, and STS9).
From its approach to sidechain to how it handles transient and average level control, the Dangerous Compressor was created to have an identity – and studio functionality — all its own. Here are the full details, direct from Dangerous:
What’s so Different about the Dangerous Compressor?
The ‘Smart Dynamics’ feature employs two independent slopes in the detection circuit. One stage of the detector controls the average level. The other handles only rapid transients. Normally a spike would shove down the entire track, creating an audible faux-pas moment. Instead, with the Dangerous Compressor, the normal slope stage handles the smoothing of the entire content and the other deals with the spikes. This results in a higher average level relative to peak, without the stereo image collapsing.
By default, the unit is set to ‘Auto Attack / Release’ mode which uses time constants carefully selected for versatility. Engaging the ‘Manual Attack/Release’ button allows the manual use of the attack and release knobs.
The Dangerous Compressor may be operated in either ‘Stereo’ or ‘Dual Mono’ mode. Dual Mono has two completely independent paths; for example, kick drum in one channel and snare in the other. Stereo Mode may be applied to stereo instruments, stems or complete mixes. Many stereo compressors sum the left and right channel audio and feed that signal to one detector, resulting in any out of phase material will either not get compressed or will be under compressed. This will over-represent mono (content in the middle of the mix) and under represent panned instruments to the VCAs, making normal single-detector compressors potentially overreact to kicks, snares, and the lead vocal while ignoring the panned toms, guitars and keys. The stereo button on the Dangerous Compressor still uses both its detector circuits to drive each channel’s VCA for a more musical result.
The audiophile ‘Sidechain’ circuit offers both Bass Cut – sensitivity reduction to low frequency energy to keep the compressor from “dunking” with loud bass or kick drum levels-and Sibilance Boost, which increases sensitivity to high frequency energy causing the compressor to react more to the top end, taming the harshness without resorting to EQ changes. Users can control sibilance by reducing “S” sounds from a singer or gently tame the harshness from cymbals recorded with cheap condenser mics or poorly sampled loops.
Because of its transparency and audiophile sidechain and detector circuitry the Dangerous Compressor performs like an automated fader for riding vocals: no more manual volume drawing; Just a natural, transparent vocal sound, and it boasts extremely low distortion, even with 20dB of gain reduction.
Studio engineers in search of fresh ideas for signal flow: Ready to get an education?
Then go inside the intriguing design of the freshly minted Studio I at The Blackbird Academy in Nashville, which was designed from inception by its dedicated audio educators to do what no other teaching facility can do. In the process, Blackbirds principals John McBride, Kevin Becka, and Mark Rubel built an incredibly flexible new room that not only other schools can learn from, but also any studio that wants to dramatically renovate its workflow.
Launched in 2013 to provide students with an experience-based education within one of the world’s most in-demand sound facilities — McBride’s famed Blackbird Studio – the academy’s curriculum is taught by an all-star team of “musical mentors”. In addition to the expert staff, visiting mentors so far have included Dave Stewart (The Eurythmics), Ken Scott (engineer/producer), Ben Wysocki (The Fray), Tim McGraw, Bob Olhsson (engineer), Nick Raskulinecz (engineer/producer), Viktor Krauss (bassist), Dave Morgan (live sound engineer), Julia Sheer (artist), Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick.
When Becka, a veteran engineer and elite pro audio journalist (Mix, Pro Audio Review, Audio Media) got the rare opportunity to design a new studio from scratch – well, let’s just say you didn’t have to twist his arm.
At The Blackbird Academy, you’ve had the rare opportunity to start an audio education program from the ground up. What’s that experience been like so far?
We’re on a rocket ship. When I first started meeting with John (McBride) and Mark (Rubel), we had these intense brain storming sessions and it got very exciting. We quickly realized that because of the foundation that Blackbird Studio offered, plus our individual talents, we could offer something unique.
Students have access to incredible facilities, ideas, world class instruction and guest lecturers, all styled in a mentor-based curriculum that is literally changing their lives. I really mean that – we’ve seen incredible progress in just the first 10 weeks of the program.
What are some examples of that?
For example, in week 4, the students spent a week tracking and mixing a band, then in week 7, they spent 3 days with producer/engineer Nick Raskulinecz who worked with them specifically on tracking drums in Studio A. We did 10 setups and teardowns on a drum kit with different mics and placement techniques in two days. It was a mind blower.
The following week, recording artist Julia Sheer came in and we tracked and mixed a great band in studios D and C, all filmed for an upcoming YouTube reality show debuting in February. The students nailed the drum setup and sounds. I remember going out to the room to fine-tune the placement, and it was spot on. Students took the knowledge they got from Nick and used it on another project with perfect execution. It was a lightbulb moment.
It’s one thing to think of something in an idea session with the founders, but once you see how fast students are learning, and how the industry, and even other established colleges want to be part of what we’re offering, it’s really quite something. People are getting what we’re doing, which is great.
As the school has gone from a concept to reality, how has that affected your awareness of what the school needs in terms of facilities, and the gear that you equip it with?
It was great to start the school on the foundation of Blackbird Studio. In my years as an audio journalist and product reviewer, I’ve seen many facilities worldwide. Judged just by how busy it is, Blackbird is inarguably one of the top 5 recording studios in the world.
Then when you get to the mics, instruments, rooms, consoles, OB gear and staff, it jumps to the top of the list. I’m not exaggerating. So this was our base.
Once we established the curriculum and how it would flow into the existing facility, we moved on to designing the classroom and Studio I, both completely new builds and concepts.
The classroom is literally a working studio with two iso booths, an API 1608 console, patchbay, Dynaudio mains, Emotiva minis, OB racks, Pro Tools HDX, Logic 10 and seats for 30 students. Each student station is tied to the main patchbay so we can send eight channels to each station and get two back. This allows the instructor, and all the students to record simultaneously.
Then the instructor can patch mixes back from each station for playback onto the main system. The student rigs each have a Universal Audio Apollo interface with every UAD-2 plugin, Pro Tools, Logic, Shure headphones and more.
The desks were designed by Setco, a company that does a lot of custom builds for touring here in TN. Then we were fortunate enough to interest NY designers Bob and Cortney Novogratz in our project who came down and knocked the finish of the room out of the park. We were featured on the Katy Couric show twice last year.
Both the tech and trim makes for a great way to teach in a great-looking studio environment. Each student can swap live audio with the teacher and trade audio files with each other across a network – everything works together.
On the visual side, Blackbird IT guru Nick Shasserre has pan/zoom/tilt cameras placed in the isos, above the console and the back of the room which we can push to our three 65” flat screens. It’s very immersive.
Tell us about the design concept behind Studio I — what are the unique needs of a studio designed specifically for audio education?
Studio I was a pet project of mine. I wanted to build something that was very different from a traditional studio, which we already had nailed.
To get the students up to speed with modern production, they should be exposed to every kind of working environment, especially desktop. So with John’s blessing I put together a summing-based, desktop production room that can jump from tracking, to mixing, to mastering.
In my career, I’ve been fortunate to have built two studios where I literally worked construction – bricks and mortar – to a home studio for Kenny G, to the Esquire House in 2010 where we put a high end tracking room into a house in the hills above LA. In 2011 I built my own space at home which is more like Studio I, except scaled down.
With Studio I, we had a chance to take the idea to the nth degree by using Blackbird rental gear as the front and back end, and integrating it through Dangerous Music’s summing, monitoring and processing gear recording to Avid’s latest for Pro Tools. The room was a former lounge with a large, glass front window that looked down into the tracking space – beautiful.
Please tell me about the signal path that you designed – how are the equipment choices fitting in with your academic plan?
For starters, the summing concept is elegantly played out with the Dangerous 2 Bus. It’s a hands-off approach that adds no color to the signal and lets us hear all the great Blackbird mics and gear just as they sound. That was very important.
Next, the Dangerous Liaison lets us A/B compare processors in a quick fashion. We place much emphasis on listening skills at The Blackbird Academy – starting each day with an “Ears On” session. So being able to compare gear through quick relay switching with memory is fantastic.
The Dangerous Monitor ST is a great way for us to hear exactly what we’re getting out of our converters, processors and summing system. Once again, it’s relay switched and clean. Plus it’s future proof. Although we didn’t start this way, the room is large enough to support a surround setup. With the Monitor ST, we can easily step up to that workflow – we won’t have to gut and re-invent the room to jump into a multi-channel setup.
Lastly, the BAX EQ is a versatile tool that can be used when mixing and tracking. I’ve used it across my overheads when going to Pro Tools HD during a tracking session, then turned around and patched it on my 2 bus when mixing. It’s subtle, clean, and lets us demonstrate the power of filtering out the extremes of the spectrum to increase our headroom.
Besides the Dangerous gear, what are some other choice pieces of hardware and/or software that you specified for the room, and why?
We’ve got 32 channels of Pro Tools HDX with the new IOs from Avid which sound great. Preamps are a revolving cast from rentals but now include units from GML, Shadow Hills, John Hardy, Millennia Media, Grace Design, Chandler Ltd., and Radial Engineering. The outboard racks include something old and something new including an AMS RMX16 reverb, NTI EQ3, Bettermaker EQ502P, Empirical Labs FATSO JR, Alan Smart compressor, ATI mixer for talkback from the floor and gates from Keepex.
In the computer we have a UAD-2 Quad card and all the UAD-2 plugs plus the usual cast of plugin characters from the rest of the industry. We’re listening on ADAM S3-A monitors and are using an Aviom A16-D Pro headphone system when we track and overdub.
That’s an intensive setup! So what has been the faculty and student response been to the room so far? Are you finding that it is enabling you to do things beyond what you had planned on when you designed it?
We’ve had a range of sessions in I and it’s been a blast. The students are grouped in workflows of five each per class so there is a lot of focus with their hands on the gear, and they can book the room for projects.
As with the rest of the program, we’ve written interactive books for the patchbay and another for room operations so you can hold the Rosetta stone in your hand on the iPad and work through all the gear until the ideas and workflow is solid.
It’s a great way to learn! Concepts first, then soon after, execute over and over. That’s what we’re all about here.
– David Weiss
A full house of producers, engineers, mixers, artists and – of course – mastering engineers kicked off their weekend with knowledge and networking at the always-buzzing East Village recording/mixing facility.
Kutch’s presentation in FLUX’s “Dangerous” live room captivated the crowd’s attention, as he shared the considerable wisdom he’s gained in mastering for the likes of Alicia Keys, The Roots, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson, MNDR, Natasha Bedingfield, and many more.
In addition to covering advanced mastering techniques such as mid-side processing and parallel processing, Kutch went over file labeling protocols, gave career/life advice (“Hang out with people smarter than yourself!”) and fielded some high-quality questions from the crowd.
In the meantime, demos of Dangerous, Focal, and Manley gear went down in the artfully appointed “Fabulous” suite. And as per FLUX’s most hospitable tradition, champagne and snacks fueled musical conversations before, during and after in the lounge and on the roof.
Check out Kutch’s essential segment on mid-side mastering techniques.
For dance music producer Matt Verzola, “Demystifying Mastering” was a highly informative experience. “I’m doing my own mastering on my dance tracks,” he noted, “so when this clinic came up I said, ‘I’d love to hear more about how the real pros do it.’ I really liked how open Dave was – he wasn’t keeping any secrets. He explained how he’ll use parallel compression for mastering, for instance, which I never thought to do.
“Dave offered up a lot of good resources to go to later, and the crowd was really good,” Verzola continues. “I think only people that understand what mastering is were there, so there weren’t any questions that weren’t great. It was a really good forum.”
Also in the audience was Heba Kadry, Mastering Engineer/Project Coordinator at The Lodge, who was more than happy to learn from one of their accomplished colleagues. “It’s terrific to have someone like Dave Kutch – with all his experience – demonstrate some material pre- and post-mastering, and illustrate the difference that mastering can make on your record,” she said. “He showed the progression of mastering over the years, and talked about the best way for mixers to approach their mixes with the mentality that the material will be mastered later on.
“Just beyond the geek talk, its great to get out of your studio bubble and see what other people are doing in a relaxing environment,” Kadry adds. “FLUX is a great studio. It’s really fun to talk to people and see what they’re doing.”
Now see more for yourself! (BTW, SonicScoop, FLUX, and our friends will be holding more audio-centric events throughout 2012 — if you want to be notified about future happenings, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “events” in the subject line. Thanks! See you soon.)
– Text by David Weiss, photos by Janice Brown and David Weiss
Event Alert: “Demystifying Mastering” – with Dave Kutch of The Mastering Palace, Dangerous, Manley, Focal & Alto NYC, 5/11
Join us for “Demystifying Mastering,” an evening event presented by SonicScoop and Flux Studios on Friday, May 11 – for engineers, producers, musicians and mastering engineers who want to gain a deeper understanding of the mastering process, and hear modern tools and techniques in a studio environment.
The event will run from 6PM-9PM and will feature a clinic led by top NYC mastering engineer Dave Kutch (The Roots, Alicia Keys, John Legend), listening stations for demoing gear by Dangerous Music, Manley and Focal Professional, and a fun Friday night mixer with drinks/snacks.
Kutch’s clinic (7-8PM) will be a Q&A-driven discussion and demonstration of:
- Best engineering practices leading up to mastering
- Best production practices to optimize your mastering experience-
- How to break bad habits that limit what can be accomplished in mastering
- Tools and tips for sonic problem solving
- Effective mastering chains and techniques
Before, during and after the clinic – throughout the rest of Flux – Dangerous Music will have stations setup where you can demo the Dangerous Master, Monitor, Liaison and Bax EQ; Manley will be on hand with their Pultec EQ, Mastering SLAM! and Mastering Massive Passive; and Focal will be showing – for the first time in NYC – their new SM9 monitoring speakers, which are now available. Alto NYC’s Shane Koss will be in the house as our retail/technologist partner in the event.
Not sure when/where else you’ll be able geek out this hard on mastering. So, come through! RSVP to Janice@sonicscoop.com and we’ll put you on the list!
Demystifying Mastering Clinic & Social
Friday, May 11, 6-9PM
154 East 2nd St, NYC
Free with RSVP: Janice@sonicscoop.com
While Anaheim is most famous for attracting hoards of children to Disneyland each year, this past weekend the “adults” of the music world got to take over for a long weekend.
The enormous Anaheim Convention Center was absolutely packed with virtually every gear and instrument manufacturer that one could imagine. As I had never been to a Winter NAMM show this was a great treat for me, and I had an awesome day walking around and chatting with representatives from some of my favorite companies. My only complaint was the fact that, pathetically, my legs were sore the next day!
This year at NAMM there were quite a few big announcements from some major players in the audio world, along with the typically exciting spread for musicians, so without further ado… let’s discuss:
In the past ten years, Universal Audio (UA) has a come a long way, not only continuing to make their classic hardware products, but also creating one of the best lines of plug-ins that’s out there right now. They’ve really embraced the DAW age, and in the process have created what most engineers and producers now consider an essential part of their creative toolset. This year there was a lot of buzz surrounding UA’s release of their first foray into the world of multi-channel audio interfaces: Apollo.
The Apollo interface is feature-packed: Offering 18×24 inputs and outputs, it will work at sample rates up to 192 kHz and connects to the user’s CPU via either Firewire 800 or Thunderbolt. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Apollo’s functionality is that it is also loaded with either the UAD DUO or QUAD DSP cards, so you’ll also be able to run the full complement of UAD plug-ins when using the interface.
Apollo can also be completely software controlled, and UA has built a fantastic software interface that works seamlessly with most DAWs. For the first time, UAD users will be able to use their coveted plug-ins with near zero latency! Not only that, but you are now able to track with as many DSP-powered plug-ins as you like, and you also have the option to print the processed tracks as you record; with less than 2 ms of input latency. The system is naturally instantly recallable, and in the demos that I saw, is very solidly incorporated with the user’s choice of DAW.
In addition to the Apollo interface, UA also announced a new Direct Development partner for their UAD-2 platform: Sonnox. As with other third-party developers like Brainworx and SPL, this partnership means that Sonnox will be able to directly create software for the UAD platform, and to sell these plug-ins via UA’s online store.
I was also assured by Lev Perrey, UA’s Director of Product Management, that AAX and 64-bit versions of all of the UAD plug-ins are a top priority, and that they should be ready by the end of the year.
I was excited to see some big surprises here! Steven Slate was on hand to announce three big new products, two of which were completely unexpected. First of all, the new Raven X1 Production Console was introduced.
The Raven is a unique console and control surface solution for DAW users. It is, essentially, a monitor and cue section loaded into a 32-channel frame. Along with racks for favorite gear, the Raven also ships with 4 Avid Artist Mix controllers pre-loaded, as well as an LCD monitor, metering, and a unique set of laptop-style monitors built into the surface. This is definitely a cool (and more cost effective) alternative to Avid’s D-Control and Command control surfaces.
While price is still TBD on the Raven, and the model on the show floor was just the prototype, Slate Pro Audio assures the first consoles will start shipping in 60 days.
Next up from Slate was the new Siren D3 Monitoring system. The Siren is a 1,000 watt 3-way monitor speaker with a phase-linear DSP-powered crossover. The coolest thing about these monitors is that the user can alter the crossover settings remotely using an iPhone app; different speaker response characteristics can be easily emulated by changing the way the crossover works. This feature essentially gives the user several different types of monitors all in the same package.
Last but not least was Slate’s new tape emulation plug-in, called the VTM (Virtual Tape Machine). Although tape emulations have been a bit de-rigueur over the past few years I’m definitely excited to hear what this one sounds like. The VTM models two machines, a 16 track 2”, and a 2 track 1/2”, and according to Slate, every aspect of the machines’ characteristics were gone over. In fact, Slate’s CTO, Fabrice Gabriel went as far as to say that the algorithm they used was “bloody” in its complexity: sounds good to me!
Pricing/availability on the Siren D3 and Slate Digital VTM plug-in have not yet been announced. Stay tuned!
Over at Dangerous Music, the major news was their brand-new monitor controller called the Dangerous Source.
Dangerous designed the Source with portability in mind, incorporating the components and build quality of their other monitor controllers into a smaller box. This is a desktop or rack installable unit providing monitor control for up to two pairs of speakers and headphones with digital, analog and USB sources. Especially notable here is that this is a “Dangerous”-ly well-crafted product at a sub 1k price point!
The Source has two headphone outs, a USB-in for use of Dangerous’ superior D/A converters in place of a traditional I/O interface, and multiple digital and analog inputs (including an 1/8’ in). An especially interesting feature, which you’ll be hard-pressed to find in another small-footprint monitoring solution, is the inclusion of four monitor outputs that can all be used at the same time if desired; users can monitor on two sets of different speakers, or incorporate a subwoofer as a supplement to one set of speakers. The Source will begin shipping in the 2nd quarter of 2012.
Perhaps the biggest news Moog had at NAMM this year was the introduction of the Minitaur, a new analog synth based on their classic Taurus foot pedals. I got to spend some time with it and it sounds incredible! Equally appealing is the Minitaur’s low price: $679.00 MSRP.
The Minitaur has a small footprint, but really sounds enormous; definitely a great addition to the Moog line.
Cyril Lance, a senior engineer at Moog was nice enough to show me some of the other newer Moog products as well, including the Anamoog iPad app, their 500-series Ladder Filter, and the Cluster Flux Moogerfooger pedal. As per usual with Moog products, all three designs sound incredible and are incredibly musical in their orientation and usability. A really inspiring visit!
Line 6 debuted a surprising new product this year called the StageScape M20d. The StageScape is an all-in-one digital mixer for live sound, targeting bands and musicians who want great sound and ease of use.
The most remarkable thing about this product is the touchscreen interface and GUI. All functions of the mixer can be accessed by a 7” color touchscreen that controls easy-to-use software; all mixing is done using a graphical representation of instruments on a stage. For the technically uninitiated this makes the live sound mixing process incredible simple; just orient what’s on the screen to match what you see in front of you and you have the beginnings of a solid live mix.
Of course, the user can go deeper, incorporating easy-to-use effects and recording capabilities as well. There are 12 mic pres/inputs built-in, as well as 4 line inputs, 4 monitor outputs, USB, and two main speaker outs. Additionally, the StageScape can also be controlled by iPad!
As noted above under the Universal Audio heading, one of the more notable pieces of news with Sonnox this year is that their full line of plug-ins will now run on the UAD Powered Plug-Ins platform. However, this is definitely not the only news. Sonnox is one of the first plug-in developers to offer their full line of products in not only 64-bit code, but Avid’s AAX format as well! This is great news, as these plugs are so well-loved and used!
Additionally, I got to see a demo of the Sonnox Fraunhofer Pro-Codec. Although it isn’t brand-spanking new, I have to say that it is an invaluable tool! The Pro-Codec allows the user to hear their mix in multiple codec formats in real-time within the DAW; you can instantly hear exactly what an mp3 or m4a version of your material will sound like. Definitely a unique piece of software and great to have around!
Shure’s news this year is on the wireless front, specifically with their new ULX-D Digital Wireless system. Given that the FCC has shrunk the bandwidth available for wireless networks, new efficiency is needed, and the ULX-D is Shure’s answer. The ULX-D system converts incoming signal digitally, and broadcasts the digital signal to the receiver. This system not only allows for greater accuracy, but allows a full 14 streams per channel, maximizing the narrow bandwidth currently available.
The ULX-D1 sports a rugged build, and uses lithium-ion batteries which provide a 12-hour life per charge. Click for more details and pricing.
Additionally this year, Shure is getting into the professional open-backed headphone market with two offerings, the SRH-1440, and SRH-1840. Open-backed headphones are prized because of their naturalistic sound, depth of field, and wide imaging characteristics.
Sennheiser also has a wireless offering this year, but on the more affordable end of the spectrum with their XS Series. Designed for ease-of-use, the XS series offers true diversity reception, 8 frequency banks with 12 coordinated channels each, up to 10-hour operation using AA batteries, and a scan function which easily identifies all available frequencies.
The XS series comes in several different configurations (Instrument, Vocal, Presentation), all around the $400.00 range which makes it a powerful and affordable solution for most budgets.
On the live and installed sound tip, Harman introduced a new version of HiQnet system configuration and control protocol. The new Crown HiQnet Band Manager 2 is a simplified version of the software designed for smaller systems, giving musicians, DJs and venues control and monitoring for Crown Audio’s XTi 2 product lines. Users will be able to manage up to eight XTi 2 amplifiers via intuitive USB interface. Click for more details.
Lexicon’s news was that its PCM Native Effects and PCM Native Reverb plug-ins will now available individually. Starting in February, the 14 PC- and Mac-compatible plug-ins, including Pitch Shift, MultiVoice Pitch, Chorus, Resonant Chords, Stringbox, Vintage Plate, Concert Hall and Chamber, will be available individually at prices ranging from $199 – $699 a pop.
So Much To See
Beyond what I’ve outlined above I was able to see a myriad of other wonderful offerings, including Peavey’s Auto-Tune guitar, some stellar mic amp and summing options from Phoenix Audio, and Arturia’s fantastic new analog synth – the MiniBrute.
I also saw some great offerings from Blue Microphones for musician-recordists and discriminating consumers, including the Spark Digital iPad mic, the Mikey Digital iPhone mic and interface, and the new Tiki USB mic.
Looking forward, I am hoping to give more in-depth reviews of some of these new products in the near future, and in the meantime, I’ll be bathing my aching legs in Epsom salts!
Bo Boddie is a Grammy winning engineer/producer and composer who has worked with Santana, Everlast, Korn, Reni Lane, and many others. He just completed work on Imperial Teen’s second release on Merge Records, as well as composition work on HBO’s 3rd season of Hung.
NEW YORK CITY: As SonicScoop editor David Weiss states in his Op-Ed story this week, the 2011 AES convention was less about innovation and more about survival. At least on the surface.
Between the most troubled economy since the Great Depression and allegations of fiduciary mismanagement by the AES’ outgoing Executive Director, the 131st convention saw lower levels of manufacturer enrollment than in recent years.
But if there a smaller exhibition floor than in the past, it didn’t stop the crowds from coming. The first two days saw especially heavy traffic through all nine rows of booths, and the convention’s flagship panels made their presentations to a packed house.
Underneath the surface of the show were a smattering of innovations. One of the largest players in pro audio made a surprising announcement, and a handful of dark horses brought promising new designs to market. While huge developments from major manufacturers were few and far between, seemingly everyone had a new little trick for the 500-series lunchbox. Here’s a small a handful of the most notable designs from this year’s convention:
AVID LAUNCHES PRO TOOLS 10 AND HDX
Whenever the industry leader in Digital Audio Workstations makes an announcement it’s hard not to notice.
For anyone in the market for a new commercial-grade studio system, Pro Tools 10 and HDX should be a welcome development. The latest cards and software allow studios to harness more power at a lower price point than ever before.
In the new software, session-loading speed has increased, editors can slide around cross-fades and pre-fader gain in real-time, the system architecture and mix bus have both been improved, and a powerful new Channel Strip plug-in has been thrown in for good measure.
But the announcement of PT 10 hasn’t made everyone happy. Longtime users who upgraded to PT 9 less than a year ago will have to shell out $300 if they want to upgrade immediately, while HD studios could pay upwards of $999 to make the switch in software.
While this release may not have all studio owners jumping out of their seats for an immediate upgrade, the new feature-set may appeal to some of the busiest commercial facilities, and new installations could benefit from the lower cost-of entry.
Whether an upgrade is right for your studio, and what Avid’s change in system architecture and plug-in protocols will mean for users in the long run is enough fodder for a whole separate article. Stay tuned for that story soon.
Aside from the introduction of PT 10, many of the most innovative new designs came from smaller operators, some of whom are new to the scene.
THE DARK HORSE DEVELOPERS OF AES
One of the most striking new standouts was the Pegasus large-diaphram tube condenser microphone from Ronin Applied Sciences.
With an eye-catching mother-of-pearl inlays and a power supply the size and shape of a high-tech toaster from the Jetsons, it was a difficult piece to ignore.
If you were willing to wait on line for the opportunity, you may have had the chance to talk to the limited-edition mic’s sharp young designer, Dimitri Wolfwood.
How does it sound? Initial impressions from engineers on the showroom floor suggest “pretty damn good.” We’ll have the whole story, and a more comprehensive review for you, in the coming weeks.
A veteran designer who recently struck out on his own had several new pieces to announce. Dennis Fink of Fink Analog Audio worked with UREI and Universal Audio on some of their best-selling designs before building his own designs.
Adding to his recent CS2-FA Vacuum Tube Dual Channel Strip are fresh new units including a 4-channel limiter, and an 1176-style compressor with a tube signal path, all of which are built right here in New York and New Jersey.
THE BOUTIQUES ARE BACK
Vintage King Audio and Studios 301 Manufacturing showcased their new Custom Series 75 Console, a Neve-powered desk that promises to deliver both clean and classic-sounding signal paths in the same frame.
This analog desk is available in 16 through 64-channel configurations with a powerful automation system.
The designers at Dangerous Music have been hard at work on a new product called the Liaison, an inventive new box that might change the way many of us think about analog routing.
This new box helps users to audition, compare, and recall complex signal paths at with the flick of a switch. For the first time, engineers can directly compare hardware effects chains without having to patch and re-patch several pieces of gear, and even recall analog routing “presets”.
We also saw the introduction of the Black Box Tube Pre the first release from Black Box Audio. This tweak-friendly all-tube design features continuously variable triode and pentode stages, which puts the tonal character of the preamp in the user’s hands.
SWEDES KNOW AUDIO
Sweden is one of the world’s eminent producers of finely-honed pop music, and now, one of the major players in Pro Audio.
This FET-based unit is a fresh new take on the classic 1176, and includes a wet/dry mix knob and 5-position electric guitar-style switches that the select between finely tailored attack and release settings.
The Swedish-based Golden Age Project has expanded their line of affordable 1073-inspired preamps by announcing their new PRE73-DLX. This version adds a 5-position high-pass filter, Active DI input and an output attenuator that allows users to milk additional overdrive out of the unit when desired.
Also new to the Golden Age line is the half-rack EQ73 new selections for 500-series users.
500 SERIES MODULES. PEOPLE STILL LIKE THEM.
Also on display at AES this year were a slew of handy new 500 modules, priced to give gear-fiends a quick and affordable fix in a sluggish economy.
Even Moog got into the game. Along with the Animoog, the first “professional-level iPad synthesizer”, this veteran company revealed their first 500-series offering, a flexible analog resonance filter called The Ladder.
Neve too had an unexpected 500-series module on display – its 2264A compressor/limiter is now available in the Lunchbox format (2264ALB) via Vintage King.
al.so expanded its line with the new “British-style” Q5 EQ and the Komp5 compressor (which comes complete with a miniature 500-series VU meter).
John Klett’s nonlinearaudio announced two new 8-channel preamp designs – the FlexiGuy and the Orson - both which should be available in 500-series soon. He also revealed an esoteric and inventive module called the Blenda 500 which uses the auxiliary i/o in Purple Audio’s Sweet Ten rack to “give the user a split to any external processor and a reblend function, with phase reverse, for parallel additive or subtractive re-blend within your outboard rack.”
WIRELESS WITHIN REACH
Earlier this year, Shure introduced the PGX Digital Wireless series which promises to bring new levels of fidelity and stability to the field.
And while the PGX series makes digital wireless mics affordable, Earthworks decided to make them upgradeable. During AES, they announced the WL40V, a wireless microphone capsule based on their recent SR40V handheld vocal mic design.
This high-definition capsule can be quickly screwed onto any handheld transmitter that receive a 31.3mm/pitch 1.0mm threading, like the ones from Lectrosonics, Line 6 and Shure.
While there were new and recent products to be seen and heard, for many attendees the biggest highlight of the convention was the people.
Even when the pickings are slim, AES represents a meeting of the minds that’s rarely seen the rest of the year. We met some of my favorite designers and mixers, walking the floor, speaking on panels, eating dinner, and hitting the after-party circuit for the better part of a week.
At AES everyday engineers meet the people who build their favorite tools, write their favorite stories, and make their favorite records. New relationships inevitably form. Some of them can last a lifetime.
- The SonicScoop Staff
EAST VILLAGE, NEW YORK: The festive spirit of AES 2011 stayed strong on Saturday night, as aisle-dwellers transformed into party-hoppers after sunset.
For many, the post-Javits evening began with a packed gathering at Electric Lady Studios. Later on, those with the inside track got to an intimate event at Germano Studios. From there, it was just a hop, skip and a cab ride to the reigning emperor of East Village recording, Flux Studios.
The stylish three-room facility is the HQ for producer Fabrice Dupont (PureMix.net, Santigold, Mark Ronson, Les Nubians, Toots & the Maytals, Sean Lennnon, Babyface, Brazilian Girls, Bebel Giberto). It’s also legendary for being the former home of the Dangerous Music genius team, which originally founded the studio and served as a sponsor for the evening’s activities. Joining Dangerous in making it all happen was Focal, Lauten Audio, Vovox and Sterling Modular.
Visitors arrived in waves, greeted with champagne at the door and more on each floor, including Flux’ luscious rooftop. Audio luminaries and their entourages stayed laaaaate – the perfect crossfade into AES’ final day.
GARRISON, NEW YORK: Sometimes the siren call of New York City crossfades into the call of the wild, and upstate tracking and mixing begins to beckon. At those naturally inspired moments, audio havens like upstate’s Sneaky Studios become a logical location to look to.
SonicScoop first made mention of Sneaky Studios in our June article on the facility’s founder, Duncan Sheik (“Barely Breathing”, Spring Awakening). While the studio was fully functional then, there was still an incognito feel when it came to the Garrison, NY hideaway’s commercial availability.
But lately, with multiple projects completed and all systems totally go, Sheik and his talented Chief Engineer, Michael Tudor, have been making it clearer: Artists interested in booking time at Sneaky should get in touch. For those who make the one-hour drive up the Pallisades Parkway, it’s a safe bet they’ll find that this residential music destination was worth the trip.
Blessed with space, light, views, and the ambiance of the Appalachian Trail passing through the backyard, Sneaky provides its clients with a musician-centric workflow, designed as it was around Duncan’s multi-instrumentalist skills and impulsive creativity.
“The fact that it’s owned by an artist is the first thing that distinguishes this place,” says Tudor, Sheik’s longtime engineer. “There’s so many toys there: probably 30 guitars, tons of pedals, percussion instruments, keyboards. There’s a huge pallet of stuff to work from there, as opposed to a studio in the traditional sense — where you go in and the room is kind of zeroed out, and anything you want to use has to be unpacked and put together by an assistant.
“At Sneaky Studios, all the guitars are hung out on the wall, and everything is within reach,” Tudor continues. “Also, Duncan’s always looking for what’s new and interesting, in terms of software and synths — he’s loves going into Rogue Music and swapping for gear he’s just heard about.”
For Tudor, who cut his teeth working at sound-for-picture houses like duotone early in his career, the ability to quickly capture a great live sound for guitars, drums and keyboards is paramount.
“Having spent small amounts of time to get good sounds, and letting the mics do the work – I’ve found that’s the way to go,” he explains. “It keeps the clients interested if you can immediately pull up something that sounds great. We designed the studio so that as many of the toys that you have your disposal can be hooked up in the shortest amount of time. We thought ahead about how we should design the patch bays, and what cables we would need to loop everything back out of the computer.”
During tracking and mixing, Sneaky employs an extensive Dangerous Music setup, using the Dangerous 2-Bus analog summing mixer, Monitor ST speaker switching system, and DAC ST D/A converter to cut out the console and work with the Logic/Pro Tools DAW at maximum efficiency.
“The new music industry paradigm is that the budgets are smaller, which means you need to be able to work quicker and make revisions fast if you’re working partially in the box like we are,” says Tudor, who runs a parallel setup in his own Woodstock studio, Mama’s Place. “The Dangerous gear really helps me trust that every time. Whenever I have to come back to a revision, or A/B against other commercial records, I feel like the Dangerous gear is there to do that job for me, and in a very transparent way.”
Via the Dangerous setup, Sheik and Tudor have established a highly dependable system for checking their mixes via Sneaky’s Focal and NS-10 monitors – a workflow that aided them in the completion of recent projects like Sheik’s outstanding Covers ‘80s album. An Apogee Symphony A/D D/A system is also in the signal flow, along with Neumann and Royer microphones, and Telefunken and Urei 1176 mic pre’s/outboard. It’s all the better to capture the 1917 Steinway Upright, 1911 Steinway (Happy 100!) O Grand Piano, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, Hammond organs, mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, acoustic/electric guitars, marimba and more that are onsite.
With all of that going on inside, Sneaky’s setting can’t help but to elevate the music that’s made within. “The pastoral environment takes you out of your everyday head, and it’s sort of otherworldly to be surrounded by all that beauty,” Tudor relates. “Artists can be here and be completely focused: The day can be about recording, meals and going on hikes. It gives you protection and isolation from the everyday world, and creates a safe environment where you can get away and create.”
While singer/songwriters will be obviously attracted to Sneaky with its pedigree and amenities, Tudor points out that its natural appeal is wider than that. “As I said, Duncan is also a great collector of synthesizers, and very much plugged into the tools that are more electronica-oriented. So Sneaky could easily serve the new crop of young bands that are combining synths and acoustic instruments. It really has a pretty broad pallet, because Duncan’s interests and his obsession with new technology drive the design of the studio.”
The studio is adjacent to a large house with four sleeping areas, making longer-term creative stays a logistically smooth proposition. But if all this loveliness sounds like something meant just for the upper crust artist, think again.
“The way we think about it is developing relationships,” Tudor says of Sneaky Studios’ flexible rate structure. “We’re sensitive to the realities of the music business as it is. We want to make good records, and obviously we want to pay the bills, but we’re most interested in creating opportunities for people. Duncan and I are both writers/producers/engineers. We’re doing all of those things, all the time, and this is a natural extension of that.”
Track next to Washington Square Park – or cross the George Washington Bridge? As Michael Tudor observes, area facilities located off the city grid have an important function in the region’s constantly evolving audio production ecosystem.
“I think that the upstate studio fulfills a need that the NYC facilities can’t,” he says. “I spoke before about the idea of being a sort of a safe haven and a real inspiring environment creatively. An artist can come up to one of these upstate studios and feel like they’re really spreading out — go for walks, breathe the air. We go out shopping and cook in a kitchen, and there’s something therapeutic about it.
“I’m definitely a lover of NYC studios,” Tudor continues, “but you’re still in the rat race and hustle/bustle there. When you come upstate, you’re coming to an environment that will serve your every creative impulse, You enter a comfort zone that you can’t get in the city.”
– David Weiss
Cologne, Germany-based MasteringWorks Europe will be launching its new products at NYC’s Flux Studios this Friday, March 18, from 4-9PM. Come on down to Flux for some German beer (and potato fritters!) and new, never-before-seen audio gear!
Attendees will have the opportunity to hear the RockRuepel compressor, Comp.One, and the Roger Schult 500 EQ W2377 (check out Roger Schult on YouTube). Special pricing will also be offered exclusively at this event.
This will also be a great opportunity to experience the full range of Dangerous Music gear and Flux Studios, a top-notch recording, mixing and mastering facility located in the East Village.
Beyond the gear demos, this will also be a cool hang and networking event, so go ahead and RSVP to MasteringWork’s Stefan Heger at stefan [at] masteringworks [dot] com and we’ll see you there!
MasteringWorks Product Launch
Friday, March 18; 4-9PM
154 E 2nd St 4A
RSVP to stefan [at] masteringworks [dot] com
HARLEM, MANHATTAN: As artistic as the purpose of New York City recording studios may be, it’s fair to compare these houses of sound to modern-day warriors. Every one goes into battle with the belief that they’re invincible. Many fall – but some grow stronger.
Uptown, the facility known as Stadium Red became convinced that there was only one sure strategy for thriving in the battle-scarred landscape of NYC: expand, and you’ll be in demand. Marking steady gains since its inception in 2007, when Stadium Red owner Claude Zdanow took over the highly respected but troubled former studio of jazz legend Ornette Coleman at 125th and Park, 2010 sees Stadium Red placing a bold bet that bigger really is better – even when paying NYC prices for your real estate.
The result is a recently completed 2,500 sq. ft. Frank Comentale-designed expansion that sees big names and powerful new capabilities added to the facility. A focused new B-Room is home to hip hop super producer Just Blaze (Jay-Z, Eminem, Saigon, Fabolous, Jamie Foxx, Talib Kweil, Kanye West) and an SSL AWS 900, Augspurger mains, and a digital/analog hybrid production/mix approach. A world-class mastering suite has also been added to house Herb Powers-protégé Ricardo Gutierrez (Justin Timberlake, Usher, John Legend, Jill Scott).
Meanwhile, Stadium Red’s accommodating A-room has gotten its own facelift, swapping in the classic SSL G+ board from Baseline Studios (RIP). Another pair of Augspurger mains with dual 18” subs, a custom Dangerous designed 7.1 surround monitoring system, 24-track tape machine and more are all in there. Mix engineer Tom Lazarus (Ray Charles, Bjork, Yo-Yo Ma, Chicago Symphony), mix engineer Ariel Borujow (T.I., Black Eyed Peas, Puffy, Kanye West), engineer Joseph Pedulla (Thursday, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Mos Def, Kid Cudi) and producer Sid “Omen” Brown (Ludacris, Mya, Drake, Fabolus) also maintain their respective residencies throughout the studio. A host of old skool elite amenities – from upgraded lounge to private chef/spa services – are in the mix for good measure.
While the idea of an all-encompassing studio environment of writing/tracking/mixing/mastering is not new, Zdanow believes that it’s the rare human resources he’s gathered – and what they’re on board to do – that will make the Stadium Red expansion stand out. “The idea is that more heads are better than one,” he says. “In studios it can become a stale environment, where the engineer is just a button pusher. What we take pride in is something the artists and labels don’t offer anymore, which is artist development.
“Artists come in here, and when they walk out our brand is attached to them. It’s about letting them know that all these ears are around, whether it’s Yo-Yo Ma, Eminem, or the emerging people we work with. We want to make records here that matter, and the idea is to bring back that creative community — we’re a growing team of NYC engineers and producers that care about NYC and the music scene.”
Zdanow’s energy – driven equally by his spirit of adventure and copious amounts of caffeine – was enough to convince Just Blaze to relocate to Stadium Red after closing his beloved Baseline. “I had known Ariel from before, and he said, ‘You should come look at this space and have a conversation with Claude,’” Blaze relates. “Claude explained his vision, what he wanted to build, and I said, ‘Maybe we can make something work.’ It made sense: The overall vision of the place and the appeal is that it’s a one-stop, end-to-end solution, from recording to mixing to mastering, even doing surround 5.1-7.1.
“So he physically expanded the space, and we combined our resources. It’s a win/win I get a little bit of the stress off my shoulders from running the day-to-day. That allows me to be more creative, but at the same time I have my own space.”
Whether for intensive writing sessions or serious mixing, the new B-room that Just Blaze inhabits was designed to be distinctively accommodating. “It’s gotta be something special — if it’s going to be this meeting of the minds, then it’s got to be something worthwhile,” he emphasizes. “It can’t just be a Pro Tools setup. The way I work, I need all the resources available all the time – I couldn’t go from a G+ to a writing room. And if we’re talking about partnering up and joining our resources to build a business, there’s no point in building something that’s just a production room. That’s something people can put in their houses these days. So you’ve got to take a step further and make it a destination.
“My room is the best of both worlds. If you want to walk in and get down to business in the box, you can do so: We have every plug-in, plus Augspurgers and other monitors. But if you’re a little more old school, you have the SSL and all the gear to go out of the box. Or you can go the third route, in that the AWS can go in and out of the digital world.
“By keeping it smaller we could keep it more affordable. Clients have the SSL, a full suite of plug-ins, Augspurgers – everything that would usually cost you $2500 or more a day, at the fraction of the cost. I think we really hit that sweet spot in terms of sizing. Sometimes you just need a room for production, with a controller or a laptop, but if you’re in this big huge room that’s a waste of money. Or it’s the other way around, and you’re feeling cramped. This place is small enough to feel like a production room, but big enough to feel like a room you can mix comfortably in.”
Arguably, the Stadium Red formula was working already: The studio and its personnel had a part in ten 2010 GRAMMY-nominated projects including Eminem’s Recovery (Album of the Year, Best Rap Album), Drake’s Thank Me Later, (Best Rap Album, Best New Artist), and Steven Mackey’s Dreamhouse (Best Classical Album, Best Orchestral Performance, and Best Engineered Album, Classical).
A good year, all right, but that’s already in the past. Although he’s young – still just in his early 20’s – Zdanow understands that part of moving forward is understanding what didn’t work before, and making adjustments. In that regard, the difficult decision to swap out the A-room’s ICON for the SSL G+ dovetailed with the concept of adding new faces, spaces and capabilities at Stadium Red.
“We’re in an ever-changing industry,” he observes. “When we started out I had a very strong opinion about being versatile and trying to do it all in one room. People appreciated the ICON, but over time we weren’t doing anything as good as we could have been doing it.
“By adding these two rooms, we’ve come to critical mass. People want a lot of options. The ‘A’ room has a big live room where people can track through the console, and mix with tons of outboard gear. Just Blaze’s ‘B’ room is its own environment for production, with the SSL AWS. If you want a powerful controller-based system, you have that in the ‘C4’ room where Ariel Borujow works. So what we realized was that it wasn’t just about one room. There are certain things that need to be in place to do everything — and do it well.”
– David Weiss