Original Resource is Real HD-Audio
Original Resource is Vinyl Records
The Future Bites is the new album by Steven Wilson, the now near legendary producer composer performer musician and all around progressive music renaissance man. The album is a fascinating study about consumerism and modern living — by way of identity loss and technology overload — in some ways it feels like a 21st-century update on Radiohead’s landmark OK Computer album which also dealt with these sorts of themes. And I mean that in the best possible way…
Steven Wilson, for those of you not in the know, came to public attention as the founder of a number of progressive-leaning independent groups, most notably Porcupine Tree. And over the years he’s become an incredible front leader of the resurgent interest in not only progressive rock but also surround sound music.
Somehow this one-man army that is Wilson seems to have gone were no other producer / engineer has been able to go in terms of making the surround sound format more visible, viable and interesting to a mainstream consumer. In the early 00s, many fantastic surround sound producers had embraced the medium (then largely delivered on DVD-Audio Disc and SACD formats, amidst an industry format war) and most efforts stalled at retail. Beyond the format confusion, support also stalled with many artists who were not always thrilled with the liberties taken in creating the surround mixes.
Thus it was a big deal years later when Wilson secured the confidence of many of the leading edge progressive rock and pop groups beginning with Robert Fripp and King Crimson. This work led to catalog reinventions for no less than Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Tears for Fears, Jethro Tull and XTC.
While there is no doubt a big vinyl resurgence — and I am certainly a huge life long vinyl fan, as many of you know — when it comes to Steven Wilson’s music I prefer to get his surround sound releases, usually on high resolution Blu-ray Disc these days.
I know that his mixes are going to be fascinating and they will probably sound the best that they can since I’m quite sure that he works in the digital domain to begin with. Plus, on these discs you usually get both Stereo and 5.1 mixes, sometimes in multiple codec options so really it is the best value in that sense.
On this Blu-ray Disc of The Future Bites there are are four different variants of the album to explore including regular Stereo plus three flavors of surround: DTS HD Master Audio, LPCM and Dolby Atmos.
As I currently do not have a Dolby Atmos-ready AVR, my primary format of choice is indeed the 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio version. I choose this not because I handled PR for the company for eight years — true story, look it up – but simply because it sounds the best on my particular system. The LPCM version sounds a little weak on this edition. And contrary to a factoid somebody on a Facebook forum told me, on my system the Dolby Atmos version gets cut down to Dolby True HD at 48K and it sounds it. The DTS HD Master Audio track plays at 96 kHz, 24 bits and sounds richer and more complete.
For those who might not believe me, I took some photos and included them here to show you what my Oppo BDP203 Universal Player was delivering into my AVR from the disc when I called up the information screen.
But really, it’s not even so much numbers of the frequency response that bothered me — I’ve heard plenty of excellent sounding 48kHz recordings! No, what bothered me is that there was some sort of alteration to the music occurring when I played the Dolby Atmos/Dolby True HD version. The DTS HD Master Audio track sounded very crisp with much discrete detailing going on in all the channels on the great track “Follower.”
However, in the Dolby True HD presentation that perspective seems to get lost and ends up feeling a bit like a fancier version of the classic Dolby Digital processing with a rather non-distinct and decidedly non-discrete approach to sound delivery. Again this is not a slam, this is just me reporting on what I’m hearing and it may well be a stylistic presentation of the music that you personally might well prefer. Also, your system might handle the sound differently than mine, so take this for what it is — just one reviewer’s perspective. Someday, when I get an Atmos systems I hope to circle back to update reviews like this once I can hear that mix (I mean, if Wilson is embracing it, I’m sure it is going to be great!).
Not surprisingly, the sound on The Future Bites is excellent, crafting a terrific balance between modern 21st century pop sheen and the rich warmth of his instrumentation and textures.
I’m especially enjoying how it seems to pick up — at least musically — where Wilson left off on his last brilliant album called To The Bone which I reviewed previously (click here to jump to that article).
There are some beautiful chord sequences amidst the new song craft, once again underscoring that Steven Wilson is a quite brilliant composer of strong pop melodies, not just epic progressive rock dramatics. In some ways, I think this type of music is actually more difficult to create than progressive rock because it has to be so concise, engaging the listener in 3-5 minutes or less. There are nice touches echoing classic 80s electronic music and synth pop from the likes of Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears and perhaps even Heaven 17 and The Human League.
And yet there is room for a gorgeous acoustic guitar driven strummer like “12 Things I Forgot” with a lovely lift in the chorus that is a classic Steven Wilson twist. It has some magnificent sequences and melodies going on there.
The Future Bites is growing on me a lot even after just a few listens. The three videos you get on the Blu-ray look fantastic and “Personal Shopper” is particularly powerful to watch with the 5.1 soundtrack. The animated “King Ghost” is quite gorgeous while “Eminent Sleaze” is dramatic, if a bit MTV-ish in it’s look and feel (that may be intentional). My only disappointment is that there was no video for the song “Follower,” which sounds like quite a take down of the whole social media universe and mindset.
The Future Bites is another bright, bold statement from Steven Wilson and I suspect it will make many people’s favorites list for 2021. I know I’ll be playing it a lot in the months to come, and that is the best compliment I can offer.
You can also find the album streaming in high resolution 96 kHz, 24-bit Stereo, in MQA format on Tidal (click here) and Hi Res via Qobuz (click here). Both versions sound excellent as streaming services go. But to get the surround sound experience, you’ll need to get the Blu-ray Disc so do seek out a copy soon.
Original Resource is Audiophile Review
Burbank, CA (February 1, 2021)—After spending years working at major post houses in the area, award-winning re-recording mixer D.J. Lynch and supervising sound editor Rob McIntyre have opened their own Sound Rebels facility in Burbank’s media district.
“We’re all freelance journeyman editors and mixers,” says Lynch, a nine-time Emmy and six-time Golden Reel Award winner who mixes shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “We got to a point where we needed to get everyone under one roof and do this for ourselves.” Everyone on the team has been working in animation for about 15 years, he says.
The Sound Rebels facility houses two Dolby Atmos mix stages and two sound design suites, one of which is occupied by co-founder McIntyre, himself a 10-time Emmy and three-time Golden Reel Award winner. McIntyre is currently working on Teen Titans Go! for Warner Bros. while managing projects like Camp Cretaceous and Fast & Furious Spy Racers for DreamWorks.
“We do a ton of business with Nickelodeon,” whose headquarters is only steps away from Sound Rebels’ new facility, says Lynch. Indeed, the building was once used by Nickelodeon as office space.
Sound Rebels called in acoustician and speaker designer Ken Goerres of Exakte Recording Studio Design to design and build the rooms after Lynch worked in one of his rooms at a nearby facility. “So I asked the owner for the name of the guy who designed it.”
The layout maximizes the floor area of the two stages, dubbed Victory and Triumph, within the available space. The square-footage of the rooms dictated a 19-foot ceiling to meet Dolby’s Atmos specifications. “So we cut out the attic floor to raise the ceiling,” says Lynch.
Jim Pace and his Audio Intervisual Design (AID) team provided technical design and integration, and supplied the equipment, which includes an Avid S6 mix systems on both stages. “The two sound design rooms have Pro Tools systems with a little mixer and near field speakers,” Lynch reports. “We’ve got two Foley teams that we work with. We don’t have facilities here; we rent facilities right around the corner from us.”
Victory, the larger mix stage, features a 9.1.6 speaker configuration, with two subs, that includes various JBL components, including 3-way ScreenArrays at the front. The smaller stage, Triumph, features a slightly smaller JBL setup in a 7.1.4 configuration.
To optimize and control the speaker systems in both rooms, says Lynch, “AID recommended the DAD-MOM [Digital Audio Denmark monitor operating module], which I had never used before. And we have BSS London BLU-806DA signal processers.”
Sound Rebels put a lot of time and effort into making the rooms comfortable, says Lynch, but clients haven’t visited for months because of the pandemic, of course. Only one member of the Sound Rebels team continues to work in each room. “Most of our staff are sound effects or dialog editors who work from home, because they’ve got their own systems.”
Luckily, the pandemic has barely affected the flow of projects, he says. “Ninety percent of the business we’ve been doing is animation for television or streaming, with a little bit of reality and some independent movies. Most of our clients—Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Warner Bros.—needed just a little bit of time to adapt to the work-at-home scenario, but they have so many shows in the pipeline that we have been able to keep working.”
During the pandemic, Sound Rebels has been sending Quicktime videos to one client for reviews and notes, he says. Others prefer Source Elements’ Source-Live platform, which streams real-time audio from the DAW to a web browser and supports HD video and multi-client chat.
“It’s a back and forth, real-time interactive process, so we needed a solution,” says Lynch. “With SpongeBob SquarePants, everyone signs into Source-Live and we watch the show. We’re done in an hour or two at most. We operated that way all year and probably will for a good chunk of this coming year.”
Link: Audio Intervisual Design • www.aidinc.com
Sound Rebels • www.soundrebelspost.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Berkeley, CA (December 23, 2020)—It took 18 months for Michael Romanowski to build the latest iteration of Coast Mastering under his Bay Area house, during which time he and his wife were without heat. “The furnace was the first thing to go; it was like camping,” he says.
Berkeley-based Pancoast Construction dug down 10 feet below the house, which is on a slope, to accommodate Romanowski’s plans for a mastering room that supports today’s leading immersive formats. Acoustical consultant Bob Hodas tuned the room and devised an ingenious bass trap that makes use of a three-foot cavity above the 11-foot ceiling. Studio design consultant Bob Levy was also involved from the start of the project.
The finished room is outfitted with a 9.1.6 monitoring setup for Dolby Atmos Music work (Romanowski consulted with Dolby’s Ceri Thomas from the get-go) and can additionally accommodate Auro-3D. With the addition of two front floor-level speakers, the room can also handle Sony 360 Reality Audio projects.
Three Focal Scala Utopia EM speakers deliver the LCR channels with six Focal Utopia Diablo Evo speakers providing side and rear zone coverage. “I found I was drawn to the sound of the inverted beryllium dome tweeter—it’s very natural—and how Focal handle their drivers seamlessly across octaves,” he says. A Meyer Sound sub provides LFE.
Romanowski’s quest to replace his aging Pacific Microsonics Model Two converters led him to Bricasti. “The pairing of the Focals and the Bricastis has worked out great,” he says. For overheads, he installed Neumann KH 310 speakers, on tracks, to allow repositioning. “I like how their high frequency dispersion works with the Focals. It gives me a nice fullness from the ceiling without any compromises.”
There is no mastering console. Instead, Romanowski’s gear is within easy reach, with just a workstation screen and keyboard in front of him, where he uses Steinberg’s WaveLab. “It uses the same engine as Nuendo,” he notes. Nuendo, it turns out, is what he uses for tracking, mixing and now immersive mastering since it can handle ADM files within Dolby Atmos. The new facility includes a tracking room, and he’s been mixing Sony 360 Reality Audio projects for Sonic Studio’s Jon Reichbach and his Streamsoft Artist Connection music service.
Literally undermining his house was no simple task, but it was worth it, says Romanowski: “Immersive music is ripe for so many problems—phase issues, presentation issues. If we’re going to get it right, we need rooms like this to keep the bar high.”
Coast Mastering • www.coastmastering.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Berkeley, CA (November 19, 2020)—Mastering engineer Michael Romanowski recently completed a new facility at Coast Mastering that is outfitted to handle projects up to Dolby Atmos 9.1.6.
The new mastering room was designed by Romanowski along with acoustical consultant Bob Hodas, who also tuned the room. California-based audio engineer and studio design consultant Bob Levy worked closely with the build-team from the beginning of the project.
Coast Mastering features equipment chosen over Romanowski’s 30 years as a recording, mixing, and mastering engineer, both in Nashville and the San Francisco Bay Area. On the audio software side, Romanowski has been mastering immersive audio projects using the Steinberg Nuendo software for many years.
A main feature of the new studio are the Focal Scala Utopia EM speakers for left, right, and center channels which tower at almost six feet tall, and Focal Utopia Diablo Evo speakers for the six surrounds, which are all paired with Bricasti amplifiers and converters, and Wireworld cables. The subwoofer is by Meyer Sound, while the six height speakers are by Neumann. Stillpoint Aperture acoustic treatment was used throughout the new studio.
“As a music fan, I have really been enjoying the variety of styles of music that I have mastered in Atmos, with Alicia Keys, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, The U.S. Army Field Band, Fantastic Negrito, The Devil in California, and a local Bay Area Latin fusion band, Vibrason, among many other projects,” said Romanowski.
“I built my first mastering room in 2000 for 5.1 surround with Paul Stubblebine, then moved to immersive sound adding height speakers in 2018. My new mastering room was built specifically for immersive formats including Dolby Atmos. It’s such a joy to work in and to really hear the music as it is, so I can make the best decisions for my clients.”
Coast Mastering • www.coastmastering.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Culver City, CA (November 4, 2020)—With the coronavirus pandemic still limiting in-person gatherings, this year’s seventh annual Mix Sound for Film & TV event moved to an online format while retaining much of its popular programming. Hosted, as ever, at Sony Pictures Studios, the virtual event successfully recreated the physical experience with nary a glitch during its two-day premiere.
As it always has, the event gathered the interest and input of top players in the industry. Held by Future PLC (parent company to Mix and PSN), sponsors included Apple TV+, Clear-Com, Dolby, PMC, Sony, Netflix, Genelec, Grace Design, Krotos, Meyer Sound, NTP Technology, Nugen Audio, OWC, Pro Sound Effects, RSPE Audio & Video Solutions, Shure, Sound Particles and Wholegrain Digital Systems, while event partners included the Cinema Audio Society, Entertainment Industry Professionals Mentoring Alliance and Motion Picture Sound Editors.
One annual highlight is the Opening Day keynote address. Walter Murch, the only person ever to win Oscars for both sound mixing and film editing, for The English Patient, predicted that one day the two jobs will become one. Murch, who was at the forefront of film’s transition to non-linear editing, observed that the technology made the process “easier but relentless,” eliminating the long pauses that previously came with rewinding film and changing reels.
Offering his opinions on mixing in Dolby Atmos, Murch advocated for dialog to remain anchored to the center channel, regardless of where those speaking appear onscreen; the brain compensates, he said. Some mixers change the audio perspective with Dolby Atmos to match the visuals, which is fine when there are no edits, but “weird,” he said, when cutting between two people talking. “It’s a matter of taste, I guess,” said Murch.
Sound designer and re-recording mixer Ren Klyce, presenting the Day Two keynote, spoke about his transition from music to sound. “From a very early age, I was taught that music is sound and sound is music, if you open your mind to it being that,” he said. His first job working to picture, he recalled, assisting a filmmaker on an animated short for Sesame Street, was all about city sounds as music.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended everyone’s lives, and various panel discussions offered insights into how audio post practitioners are using existing technologies and adopting new platforms to work remotely. The single biggest challenge with working from home, it seems, is internet bandwidth, which can vary wildly according to each individual’s circumstances.
For many, moving chunks of video and audio around has become a grind. “You have to plan for it,” said Sean Massey, MPSE. “It’s become part of your day.”
That said, cloud-based solutions for collaboration and tasks such as ADR have become essential. Panelists recounted their initial attempts at ADR when work-from-home orders first came down. Initially, productions had actors record lines wild into their iPhones at home. The process quickly evolved, with productions sending out microphones and mic preamps for actors to record into their laptops or other devices.
But some actors have absolutely no idea how to use microphones, including which end to speak into, it seems. Plus, added Gabriel Guy, CAS, “You have to do a screenshare to make sure they hit record.”
New York post shop Parabolic now offers home ADR recording packages for clients in the U.S. and Europe, including a choice of microphones, and Delux has launched its similar One Dub system. The sound team also now takes remote control of the actor’s laptop, said Mendell Winter, MPSE. Using a combination of dedicated remote collaborative and asset-sharing platforms such as Sohonet’s ClearView, Evercast, PIX and Zoom alongside Source-Connect and other remote recording workflows, managing ADR from home now feels just like a stage session, panelists reported.
One remaining bottleneck, however, is loop group, which has become much more time consuming. Cleaning up noise issues, now multiplied by the number of individual mics being recorded by the group, and correcting the latency on each dialog track, adds significant editing time, participants reported. Todd-AO’s Absentia DX software got a shout-out from several panelists for its dialog noise-cleaning capabilities.
With COVID-19, playback and notes sessions are also remote, and use some of the platforms previously mentioned platforms by necessity. “We were afraid of weird notes because of what people were listening to” at home, said David Fluhr, CAS. Netflix solved that problem by sending everyone the same model headphones, he said. Netflix has also been holding playback sessions on its platform, streaming directly to each participant’s location at a scheduled time, Fluhr added.
Sony took the opportunity to present its new 360VME (Virtual Mixing Environment) throughout the two-day program. Check PSN’s December issue for a full report on the technology, which virtualizes the dub stage for remote work using headphones.
Mix Sound for Film & TV • www.mixsoundforfilm.com/2020
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
London, UK (October 8, 2020)—Dean St. Studios in London has outfitted Studio 1 with 17 PMC loudspeakers, including PMC’s flagship IB2S XBD-A active monitors, to enable mixing for Dolby Atmos Music.
Previously closed for refurbishments undertaken by Veale Associates during the coronavirus pandemic, Dean St. Studios is reopening its doors to provide artists the chance to create dynamic and immersive tracks in Dolby Atmos, taking their music beyond the restrictions of stereo and mono to a platform that provides a whole new way to create and listen to music.
The Dolby Atmos install features PMC IB2S XBD-A monitors covering left and right main channels, an IB2S-A monitor for the center channel, 10 discrete Wafer2 loudspeakers for surround and height channels and four sub2 subwoofers. The Dean St. Studio’s set up exactly replicates the PMC system initially designed for Universal Music and installed two years ago at Capitol Studios in Los Angeles. The install reportedly exceeds the standard Dolby requirements.
Dean St. Studios has welcomed a roll call of music artists through its Soho doors to record some of their biggest hits. Icons such as David Bowie, Adele, John Legend, Lady Gaga and Paul Weller are just some of the names to have stepped foot in the studio.
Jasmin Lee, managing director at Dean St. Studios, said: “I have grown up in the music industry and have seen a lot of advances and change over the years, but nothing excites me more than Dolby Atmos Music. This is a game changer for artists in terms of how they can create their music and engage with fans. I have listened to tracks in our new Dolby Atmos mix studio and my mind is just blown by it. This is music like you’ve never heard it before. We have a proud history of working with some of the world’s most successful artists and we can’t wait to offer them this new more immersive format which I’m sure will unleash a whole new creative journey for them.”
Dolby Laboratories • www.dolby.com
PMC • www.pmc-speakers.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
North Hollywood, CA—Zach Seivers went to school to pursue his dream of telling stories through film but found that sound was his true calling. In 2006, straight out of film school, he started his own audio post company, growing the business from one to four rooms before recently adding to his storytelling tools with an upgrade to Dolby Atmos mixing capabilities.
Seivers set up Snapsound in an office tower in North Hollywood in a deal with a documentary filmmaking client. “I was able to bring equipment into a room that they traded with me. I said, ‘I’ll be an in-house guy for you guys, but I want to be able to pursue my own clients.’ And they were cool with that.”
He still maintains a working relationship with the company but has since leased his own space in the building, initially focusing on non-theatrical content, primarily for broadcast. “We built three 5.1 nearfield rooms and a voiceover/ADR recording space. Eventually I stopped recording dialogue and repurposed that room as a fourth nearfield room. If I was doing any projects with a theatrical destination, I partnered with a facility like Deluxe” in Hollywood, he said.
Working with an acoustical designer, Seivers value-engineered the rooms to get good, basic acoustic treatment and isolation in the studios at minimal expense. “I didn’t know how long I would be in the space,” he explained. “Now it’s been over 10 years, but I knew I would never be able to take those physical investments with me if I had to leave the building.”
Instead, he said, “I decided to put the emphasis on digital tools to account for any acoustical issues. We worked with Trinnov and brought the DMON [monitoring processor] into all of the studios. That was a game-changer.”
The layout and equipment complement, including JBL 4328 speakers, was designed to be identical in every room: “The DMON allowed us to fix the more complex problems and matched the sound of each of the rooms so much more closely than we were able to do without it.”
The monitors have since been upgraded to JBL 708s. All four rooms have also transitioned from Digidesign Control 24 surfaces to C24 desks over the years.
As the momentum behind Dolby Atmos built in recent years and the essential tools became more readily available to independent facilities, Seivers decided it was time to take the plunge. “Netflix embraced and pushed delivery in Atmos. That was the catalyst for me as a business owner,” he said.
He contacted Chris Bolitho, sales director at Vintage King Audio in Los Angeles, about upgrading Snapsound’s Studio A. “I’ve known Chris for a long time,” said Seivers. “He quickly connected me with Miles [Rogers, cinema/studio development manager] at Meyer and introduced me to Jose Castellon [senior studio and cinema design engineer] at Dolby. VK is very hands-on and has a very personalized service. And they have a wonderful guy on their staff, audio consultant and technician Frank Verschuuren. It’s nice to have that level of support.”
Seivers had heard Meyer Sound’s Acheron Designer cinema speakers in sound designer and re-recording mixer Will Files’ room at Sony Pictures in Culver City, CA. “It’s a relatively small room, but they had such a huge, theatrical sound, and resolution, detail and color,” he recalled.
With the Acherons, “You can emulate a theatrical sound, and I’ve increasingly been moving into more theatrical work,” he said—a move that led to installing three Acherons for LCR coverage in Studio A. “The way the sound moves in the room is so much more dynamic that I’m able to make choices that I have found translate better from a small to a big room. If I’m going to another facility and four-walling a large stage, I want to minimize the amount of time I spend translating the work to that room.”
Meyer’s UP-4slim speakers support the Dolby Atmos side and overhead zones. “I like that they have more than enough power, the resolution is fantastic, and they have a really interesting look. I also like that they’re extremely modular and easy to install—and remove. And we didn’t have to deal with cutting holes in the ceiling.”
Studio A’s spec was barely compliant with Dolby’s criteria for Atmos Home Entertainment Studio certification, he said. The room just squeaked through. “Because our room has a sloped ceiling, the rear overheads were right on the edge of what Dolby considers their minimum spec. They’re very careful with when and how they make concessions, since the point of the certification is that it is a standard. But we were so on the edge that they were willing to be flexible. They balanced that with the other aspects of the room.”
Signal transport between the Pro Tools system and the Dolby Atmos RMU—both running on Mac minis—and the Avid MTRX controller is via Dante. To continue taking advantage of Trinnov’s optimization technology, Seivers also upgraded Studio A’s DMON to a Dante-enabled version capable of handling the new 7.1.4 speaker configuration and communicating with the MTRX.
He also swapped out Studio A’s C24 for an Avid S6 desk. “I love the reaction of the faders,” he said. “As simple as that sounds, that was the biggest reason I wanted to invest in it.” The S6 is popular for mix-to-picture rooms, but Seivers initially resisted the upgrade because of the expense. “But there’s a little bit of a future-proofing aspect because the S6 is built with Atmos in mind,” he said.
As it turns out, there’s an active used console market through online portals such as UK-based Resurface, including for the component parts of Avid’s M10 version of the S6, which doesn’t include the display screens. That’s fine by him, said Seivers, who finds the displays distracting. “I’m looking at the image on the screen and not Pro Tools or the board displays. You can get an M10 at a fraction of the price of a new M40 system, so I ended up buying the S6 used.”
Now, like everyone else, Snapsound is facing an unpredictable future in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “It’s super strange, but we’re creative people and we can be creative in ways beyond our craft,” said Seivers. “I’m confident that people are going to find ways to tell stories no matter what.”
Vintage King Audio • www.vintageking.com
Original Resource is ProSoundNetwork.com
Spring Hill, TN—Early in his career, Rob Burrell had to decide between making records and making movies. Fast-forward a couple of decades and Burrell can now indulge his twin passions under one roof following an upgrade of his home studio to an 11.1.4 Dolby Atmos mix environment.
Not that Burrell was unable to mix both sound-to-picture and music projects during the intervening years. In fact, he said, he became the go-to guy in Nashville for 5.1 projects almost as soon as the technology allowed. “As soon as surround was possible on the Mackie Digital 8-Bus, I set up five speakers and went for it,” he said.
Having chosen to move to Nashville, which he and his wife felt was preferable to Los Angeles for the large family they planned to raise, Burrell thought he’d scotched any chances of getting his foot in the Hollywood door: “I was mad because I didn’t want to have to pick. I’ve always been a big fan of both—I grew up a musician and a lover of film and storytelling.”
He lost no time in establishing a reputation in Music City, working with the likes of Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Michael W. Smith and Michael McDonald. Since 1994, he’s engineered and/or mixed a host of Grammy-nominated and Grammy- and Dove Award-winning albums, bestsellers and Billboard 200-charting projects.
Burrell Builds for Dolby Atmos, April 21, 2020: Grammy-winning mix engineer Rob Burrell recently converted a space in his Nashville-area home studio into a Dolby Atmos mix room.
“By the late ’90s, I had an opportunity with some of the artists I was doing records with to do their live DVDs in 5.1,” he reports. That was soon followed by a slew of 5.1 remixes of studio recordings for Sony, he said.
As a result, Burrell’s studio has been able to handle 5.1 projects since the ’90s and 7.1 projects for the last several years. Because he had been keeping an eye on Dolby Atmos since its introduction in 2014, he was ready to pull the trigger on an upgrade when the tools became available for independent and home studios last year, he said. “As soon as Pro Tools and the Dolby renderer software happened, I knew it was going to be a piece of my future.”
Burrell installed eight JBL 306P MkII speakers for the surround and overhead zones around his room, which is 16 feet wide and 22 feet deep. A pair of ATC SCM50ASL speakers sit at left and right, while an ATC SCM20ASL supports the center channel. “The 20 is an incredible match to the 50s. The front speakers also use a dual Bag End subwoofer setup, so I have accurate, distortion-free extension,” he said.
Since the studio is in his basement, he couldn’t raise the 9-foot ceiling, but that’s plenty of height, he said. “Dolby has a lot of tolerances in their math for placement options, so I experimented for a long time before I chose my final angles and positions. I wanted translation to headphones in music, and the music mix experience and the film and TV experience to all work in my room.”
He did all the integration work himself, getting to grips with Dante networking and optimizing Pro Tools. “I’m a fanatic for workflow. It has always been crucial that whatever tech I choose can melt away once it’s set up and just become an extension to making music.”
Because mixing has been Burrell’s main occupation for the past 15 years, he has never needed to upgrade Pro Tools beyond HD Native, he said. Indeed, when he upgraded from his TDM rig, HDX had a reputation for “voice-stealing,” limiting the number of voices available when jumping between DSP and Native plug-ins, he said—a problem that was magnified when working with surround buses. “HD Native didn’t have that problem. I knew my 256 voices would be a true 256 voices.”
Then, having added Focusrite’s RedNet 16Line as the brain and backbone of his new Dolby Atmos setup, he reported, “One day I went into lab coat mode and ran it in Thunderbolt 3 mode. When I ditched the HD Native card and went to Thunderbolt 3, my CPU headroom had a 25 percent gain. Once I realized the stability of the system and the headroom, I sold the HD Native card.”
Valencia Builds Largest Educational RedNet Installation, May 14, 2018: Facilities for Valencia College’s Sound & Music Technology program are connected via Focusrite RedNet.
Now, he added, “I’m doing everything with a Focusrite interface via Thunderbolt 3 on a 2018 Mac mini. It’s Pro Tools Ultimate with the Atmos renderer on the same rig.”
Down the road he may need more horsepower for object-heavy Dolby Atmos mixes, but that will mean forking out for a costly new Mac Pro. “Until I see if the Atmos investments that I’ve made are going to pay off, I’m not going to make that decision—it’s another $10,000 or $11,000.” But for the moment, he said, “I freeze this track or commit that track to free up processing. It hasn’t become prohibitive yet.”
Burrell’s 40-channel D-Command surface served him well for years, but now he has four Avid S1s and a Dock, all fitted with Amazon Fire HD10s instead of iPads. He’s a tactile mixer, he said, after years of working on 80-fader SSL desks. “I really play a mix like an instrument. I love rolling up and down the console and tweaking balances.”
After years of having the Pro Tools monitor out of his field of view, he now has it center-front, but down low. “I ‘see’ the height and depth of my mix; I visualize it floating in the air. My brain has a finite amount of CPU power and my eyes will take more CPU power than my ears if I engage my eyes, and I don’t want my eyes stealing from my ears,” he explained.
Over the past 15 years, while Burrell has been focused on mixing, he has also seen some film projects roll in. “About 2005, indie filmmakers started contacting me. My first few clients, I said, ‘I don’t do film, but I’m a film junkie and I think I know what I’m doing with audio. If you want to learn with me, let’s do it together.’”
To date, he said, “I’ve done four full-length features and close to 30 or 40 shorts and documentaries, all indie and local.” A few have been released on Netflix, he said.
“So I’ve been able to have my cake and eat it, and be able to make records and make movies. I don’t have to choose!”
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