Autumn, L.A. , AES and… Lots of work.

(Will add some photos tomorrow)

Been a while since I’ve had time to write on this blog.

Last Time I wrote I was on my way to Beirut, Lebanon. It turned out to be a great trip I will fondly remember.

The client, Walid, has been a very nice host. We first spent a couple days assessing what could be done to upgrade his studio in Beirut.

Walid’s studio construction had been stopped a few months before when he noticed there were major problems with the design he was using: he noticed major calculation mistakes and basically lost trust in the original designer of his studio. So he brought us in to try and assess the extent of the damage, what could be salvaged of what’s already been built and what needed to be basically rebuilt from scratch.

Not an easy task for us and not a fun time for him. But I must say he struck me as a very positive person that just wants to go forward with his build and do it right. I admire how he kept calm throughout the whole evaluation procedure. Example: it’s not a good day when you learn that the already poured floating floor was miscalculated by a factor of 10 (basically, not calculated at all we think).

The decoupling interface is to be loaded with the equivalent 125kN/M² while it’s in reality loaded at about 10% of that. Hence, the floor is de facto coupled and there are LF noise problems among other potential nasty side-effects. There were also geometric and LF management issues with the Control Room shells. Basically a lot to correct.

Hopefully we’ll be able to salvage a maximum of things and bring the studio to a good quality standard wihtout having to tear it down completely. Silvia is currently working on the upgrade and by thinking out of the box when possible is finding viable solutions (a very good but difficult exercise). Though sadly, a couple rooms will have to be destroyed and rebuilt from scratch.

Lesson of the day: always make sure your designer gives you a guarantee on results. And do not be scared to ask him / her to see calculation sheets or to explain in detail how this or that was calculated. While given the explanation, there should be no hesitation from the designer. The calculation sheet should be readily available, too. A rough floating floor calculation can be made on the fly easily, because … It’s easy.

If you ask Silvia or I about a recent design (within the last 3 years) we can probably go over about all the various aspects in detail from memory – we spent hundreds of hours on the project, calculating, drawing, detailing every bit of it. It’s tattooed in our brains. If you ask about a project from 5 years ago, we’ll likely still be able to remember most of the technical aspects of it too. So a designer that hesitates too much is one that hasn’t done the job thoroughly.

No guarantee, no cookie. Personally, I don’t see why a stability engineer gives 10 to 20 years guarantee on a building structure and an Acoustician / Studio Designer should not guarantee any of his work.

Back to Beirut.

Once done with the studio part, Walid was kind enough to drive me around his beautiful country. We visited a Castle in the mountain, a couple breathtaking grotto, a religious sanctuary, the amazing Roman era city of Byblos. I also got to meet some of Walid’s friends and had a great time discussing music and life with them and playing games in the car while driving windy Lebanese mountain roads. Good people, good times. I admired their positive attitude and happiness living in what is too often a very difficult environment where war, violence, oppression and political crisis are daily news.

Because of the War in Syria and heavy tensions in Lebanon, I had registered to the French Foreign information services, and on the morning of my last day there I received a text from the embassy requesting all French citizens to leave the country unless their presence in Lebanon was absolutely necessary. It made me feel sad. I eventually left the same evening on my scheduled flight without any problem. And I am glad today that things seems to still be ok there so far – even if the civil war in Syria is a major threat to land-locked Lebanon.

I hope I can fly back at one point in the near future, say hello to Walid and check out with him how the upgrade turned out. If you read this, thank you Walid.

About 3 weeks of intense work in the office in Brussels followed, working on all current design projects long hours. Travelled to Paris a couple times to visit the Red Bulls Studios and get feedback from Thibault Javoy, the current resident engineer. Good guy. Serious and very much up to the task.

Flew to L.A. Late September to visit the OWLSA building, check various detail on site and have a meeting with the OWSLA team. The project isn’t an easy one, but I’m glad we could find ways around a few issues with the building. As usual, the OWSLA team was fantastic. Great guys to hang out with. Hong, the structural engineer working with us on the project is a very good one too – old school with tons of experience. Since I’m not used to working in major seismic areas, it’s very important that I can interact with an engineer that takes the time to explain to me how they manage these aspects of things in a building structure – and I’ve learned a lot thanks to him. We can now readily apply these design methods to our floating shells designs and be fully compliant from the first proposal.

It reminds me of my first projects in The Netherlands almost a decade ago, where I had to learn how to design structures on deep poles / pillar foundations that are suitable for areas with a lot of water in the ground or subject to unstable grounds.

While in L.A. I also met a couple times with Dennis Darcy of the DDCG, whose team built Bonati Mastering for us in NYC and did a great job. Dennis was kind enough to fly over to L.A. From NYC to visit both our projects sites there for a first evaluation of build costs.

Since I was in L.A. for the week-end too, I drove to Big Bear Mountain and spent three days with friends for a good friend’s birthday, which is also the occasion for an annual reunion. Always nice to take a few days off, cook and discuss things around a drink and be able to have a nice long hike on the local mountain trails too. A healthy break for work and a good way to manage the always difficult jet lag of 9 hours when coming from Brussels/Paris. It’s never easy. Tried various options, but in the end, you only catch up of about an hour a day…

Flew back to Paris/Brussels on Monday.

Got back to work at the office for a couple of weeks with only a few local trips, concentrating on the on-going projects: Hannes Haindl in Hamburg, final detail work on OWSLA, upgrade for Walid in Beirut, SOAP Studios in Brussels, JPCC in Jakarta and KMS Mastering in Switzerland.

I then flew to NYC for AES mid October or so. As usual, good times. It’s not only a good opportunity to network, but also to meet with friends, former clients, future or on-going clients and get a feel of how healthy the industry is. Ever since I started attending AES NY (we don’t go to the San Francisco one, only every second year in NYC) I noticed the event was getting smaller every time. Except this year, where it was healthier than I’ve ever seen. It felt good. There were a lot of interesting new products.

While there I was introduced to Studio Designer Wes Lachot by a friend. I never had a chance to meet Wes before. We had a very nice and relaxed chat. The world of full time Studio Designers is so very small, it’s always good to meet each other and exchange stories & ideas. Wes had never been in a FTB room, so we visited Bonati Mastering together – the occasion to chat a bit more. Geekie times. We’ll certainly bump into each other again in the near future.

Richard Newman, one of the main engineer at ATC Loudspeakers also dropped by Bonati Mastering. The guys at ATC always impress me – they definitely know what they’re talking about.

I very much enjoy these evenings spent in a studio listening to tracks and exchanging impressions – but doing this with a Loudspeaker Engineer, a Mastering / Vinyl cutting Engineer and a classical music recording Engineer all in the same room is a particularly rare occurrence.

Back in Brussels a few days later, Silvia and I really had a lot of work so the office was pretty much the equivalent of a Monastery. Barely a few sentences exchanged during our long days behind calculation sheets and AUTOCAD.

And this is pretty much where we’re at still. Working in a Monastery-like office.

Though, Wednesday we’re off to Paris to meet the OWSLA Team & Skrillex to discuss the project and hang out – Skrillex plays Paris that night and driving from Brussels to Paris is easy. Should be a fun evening!

We’ve got a few build that will start in the coming weeks, so I’ll have a few interesting studio build pictures to add to the Blog and on FB. Right now, they’re either awaiting permits or in the early “space clean-up” stages.

We have a lot of new projects coming in as well. We just started to work on a second project with the guys @ Benzene Music in Paris, we are discussing a very interesting project in China (Shanghai) for a European Post-Production company – designing a couple FTB rooms and edit rooms there, we’re discussing a FTB Mastering Room in the UK, and various FTB based facilities in Australia, USA, Canada & The Netherlands. We’re also discussing with a very interesting Belgian company about providing certification services for their specific Audio Systems.

A lot on the table.

Speak soon,

Thomas.

Ready for a new lap and off to Beirut, Lebanon.

READY FOR A NEW LAP…

After a couple nice weeks of holiday consisting mainly of catching up on sleep, surfing and sailing in Bretagne I’m back in the office a lot fresher than when I left.

I always count the “work” year from September to September. I guess I never switched back from the academic year model.

It’s going to be very busy until Christmas. We’re working hard on the Skrillex/OWSLA Project Phase 1, designing writing rooms in their current building in L.A., finalizing the JPCC upgrade proposal in Jakarta, awaiting permits for the SOAP Studios project in Brussels so we can start to draw the detailed plans, finishing the initial set of calculations for Hannes Haindl’s studio in Hamburg, Germany, and moving it to final CAD drawing stage. We’ve also been contacted for a lot of potential projects. Exciting!

But we’ve also got a lot of builds about ready to start. Dave Collins Mastering & Manley Audio Labs in L.A., David Nijs in France, Mark Pinkston in North Carolina. We’ve got the Jazz Club In Brussels which turned out to be quite a difficult build that soaks up a lot of time away from Silvia. Dealing with local administrations & permits has been pretty difficult in the recent months as well I must say. For various reasons, but they are by far the biggest slowing factor in most projects.

We’ll attend AES NYC in mid October, be in L.A. late September… And I’m leaving for Beirut, Lebanon on Tuesday. In 2 days that is.

…AND OFF TO BEIRUT, LEBANON.

Now that’s a country I always wanted to go to. I’m quite fascinated by this region of the world, mainly because of it’s history and beauty but also because of the political tensions there. It’s such a culturally rich and complex area of the world. I’m very enthusiastic and happy to discover it.

Now when you go to a country like that, ideally you’d like to go relaxed and enjoy the scenery. And in many ways I am. But hearing & reading about the the war in Syria every day and the recent escalation of tensions in neighbouring Lebanon, that “little inner voice” tells you to check the security bulletins from your Embassy….

http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs/conseils-par-pays/liban-12277/

… So does your girlfriend that worked for a few NGOs and has travelled all over the world including North Korea, lived in South-Soudan and been to areas of the world where the local population had not seen a white person since 1938 (I sometimes call her ‘Indiana’-Kendrah and will buy her an Indiana Jones-like whip and hat one day). She’s not the scared type and she’s got very good advice, especially when you read news like these:

http://www.euronews.com/tag/lebanon/

But let’s not be paranoid either, even if it’s important to be well informed and well prepared in case things go wrong (and they can go wrong fast).

I remember when my colleague Silvia and I were suddenly evacuated in a minivan filled with soldiers after an Africa Cup of Nations Soccer game in Libreville, Gabon, where we were invited with a local VIP while working on a project in 2012. Sure the ambiance was heated after Gabon won the game, but honestly I did not feel threatened at any time and was quite enjoying the moment actually. But the staff was probably better at reading the crowd and decided it was unsafe to stay due to the general excitement.

Mr. Walid Hokayem, the studio owner I am visiting in Beirut for an expertise of his current studio space has told me: “It’s not as bad as the news presents it”.

And I believe him.

He said he’ll take me for a couple days of sight-seeing after we’re done with the expertise (nice!) and obviously we’re not planning on going to areas where we know there are major security issues and  too close to Syrian or Israeli borders. Walid seems to be a very nice guy, so I think we’ll have very interesting discussions too.

All in all, I think the biggest challenges I will face are the heat (they say 36°C / 96.8°F) and what sauce I want on my Falafel. Falafel! One of my favourite dish!

INTERVIEW.

Matt Gray and I were interviewed by an Australian Pro Audio Magazine called Audio Technology.
Read the free online version from your computer:http://j.mp/184c2cs
iPad app: http://j.mp/17GpZhS
Google Play / Android app: http://j.mp/16xaCt1

Another recent interview: Josh Bonati about his studio build in NYC

http://squarecad.net/ArchivePages/squarecad67-bonati.html

TIP OF THE MONTH.

(Fwiw, this is a very generalized overview of a complex subject. So take it all with a grain of salt)

We are sometimes contacted to design a “commercial studio” by people that are in fact outside the ‘industry’, or are mainly hobbyists.

Now, there is nothing wrong with that, but one thing is for sure: it’s not because one builds even a large commercial studio that clients will come. Why musicians/producers/engineers decide to rent a particular studio is very complex and very much linked to how things are done locally and the current health of the local music scene.

I was recently discussing with a very good Recording and Mixing Engineer and his take on the way musicians choose the studio where they will record or mix these days was very interesting. And somehow pretty close to what we’re witnessing as designers.

He had a lot of good points. One of them was that not only the budgets for albums are still shrinking – and hence put extra pressure on how much a studio can charge per day and jeopardizes the quality of the recording itself – but also that local musicians & band members have to have day jobs nowadays, which makes them less mobile and implies further constraint on schedule and location of the project.

Which triggers a chain reaction: it’s difficult to go to a studio that is too far from their home. Often, even a 1h30 door to door commute will be considered to be too much. Because budgets are low, bands can seldom afford to rent the studio’s accommodations (when they have bedrooms – which commercial studio owners today can afford to invest and maintain an extra annex with 5 bedrooms, a kitchen/lounge next to the studio with studio rates that low?). Staying in a hotel is often too expensive in light of the budget. Studios are seldom national or “world-class” facilities anymore. They are shrinking to become strictly local or regional facilities.
I’m sure that if budgets were higher bands, engineers & producers would happily consider the acoustical and technical performances of a given selection of studios as the main deciding factor – but this is not the case for most in reality. And probably will never be but for selected projects with a good budget.

These days the decision to go to facility A, B or C will be based on prices and location.

Mastering is immune to that for obvious reasons. But recording studios do suffer from it a lot.

While there will always be room for commercial studios with great rooms and gear, let’s not be naïve: the future isn’t bright, and facilities are getting smaller so they can survive.

There are a lot of older studios that are very much struggling to stay afloat. And I do believe in the end that piracy (not only of music but also DAW softwares, plugins etc) and the way the music industry has behaved in the last 15 years have a big share of responsibilities in that.

There are niche markets like film scoring studios which are doing better, but they’re in a different league and linked to the healthier film industry.

NOT COMMERCIAL, BUT PRODUCER OWNED.

Now, for music production studios the future is headed towards the “producer-owned” type of  facilities. A studio that is owned and operated by a specific producer, engineer or musician. Just like most Mastering Suites these days are owned by the engineer(s) working in it.

This is a more viable business plan to have. And it’s the bulk of our work these days.

But for this to work, you need:

-to have a bit of a name on the local market,
-enough successful projects in your portfolio (not necessarily commercial successes, but finished, good sounding projects),
-be in the right town/area for what you’re doing,
-in an area with a high density of population,
-enough budget to get a good studio designed and built in a suitable building,
-be ready to fight the hordes of students coming out of audio schools working for about nothing an hour – too often on cracked software, that forces the local studios rates down.

Talking about the hordes of young engineers coming out of audio schools, we see a new pattern of “natural” selection happening. Not necessarily a fairer one though. If there was ever a fair one.

What we witness here is that half of the students graduating from a given “audio school” will be working in another industry within the following year. 90% will not be in audio anymore 3 years later. No matter what the school’s leaflet says. This is reality.

Most of them do not realize that the recording industry is a small industry by now and there isn’t a whole lot of work. A 1.5 million inhabitant city like Brussels can simply not absorb even 50 new “Audio Engineers” on the market every year. And there are 200 to 300 students graduating every year. A 15 million inhabitant area like the “larger” Paris or London will not absorb such volumes either. Nor will L.A.

To be part of the 10% remaining after 3 years and more importantly the 1% remaining in the long term, you’ve got to be smart and talented, work very hard and be a bit lucky.

Sadly, it’s also about having more money and managing your finances better than the others, so you can survive until your name is out – if you do a good job that is.

Some will be lucky and have families that can support them during that period. Some will find a part-time job that pays the bills and hopefully helps with investing in decent equipment.

Some will manage to land one of the rare and often unpaid assistant positions in the bigger facilities or assisting a known local producer (that’s still one of the best paths to take!). When there is enough trust, he can let you use the studio during down time. And by all means, this is a unique chance you have to seize.

But all in all, the time between the moment you start your career after your graduation and the moment you can sustain a living from it is constantly expanding. We witness that transition happen to engineers in their mid thirties or late thirties.

That’s a 15 years process to reach that “1%” stage.

At that stage, if whether or not investing in a studio you’d own makes sense varies a lot. It’s typical to see engineers work mostly from big home-studio like set-ups and sometimes rent a proper studio with a nice live room where they track drums or vocals, or rent a good Control Room where they’ll polish their mixes for a few days.

The key is to look at the financial aspect of things. But also to look at how much time is wasted fighting a mix because of a less than optimal monitoring environment and how much money is spent renting a professional studio to track instruments or fine tune a mix. It’s also good to have a look at how much time is wasted fixing recordings or electronic music track bounces that were made in a bad sounding or inappropriate environment and hence exhibit lots of tonal imbalances problems or other various harder to hear artifacts.

If it turns out that investing makes both financial sense and will help reduce the time it takes to process a project and hence be able to work on more projects with better results, then it’s reasonable to consider it.

Actually, the Josh Bonati interview is worth listening to in that perspective. His story is a perfect example of a good scenario. http://squarecad.net/ArchivePages/squarecad67-bonati.html

A rule of thumb we often give is that, no matter what, a studio’s running costs (bank loans, rents, investments, electricity, insurance etc) should be reimbursed in less than 5 days of work a month.

It’s our “5 days” advice. If it takes you more than 5 days of work to pay for all your studio-related expenses then there is a high risk you will go bankrupt pretty fast.

This is also a very good way to estimate the budget that could go in a studio build. Or to have a rough idea of what the rates should be and if it would be sustainable on the market.

Now, it’s only a very generalized rule and there are some exceptions – but take that advice.

Maximum 5 days.

To give another perspective on things: as studio designers, we must work world-wide to justify the costs of running a serious studio design company. Very hard work, strong commitment and strict budget management were essential to surviving the first years, but without the internet and the network it allowed us to create internationally along the years we would not have survived long either. Or it would be only a one designer part-time operation instead – with much less experience and hence knowledge than what we have now.

There are days like today where I am reminded how lucky I am to be able to do what I do and go places I go.

All right, time to pack for Beirut. T-shirts and shorts only!

Thomas.

Good times & Good designs.

Where to start?

The trip to Jakarta, Indonesia and Brisbane, Australia was fantastic. We’re always happy to discover new countries and make new friends.

After a 24 hours trip with 16 hours of plane and a stop over in Kuala-Lumpur we arrived in Jakarta from Brussels and were greeted by our good friend Moko Aguswan of Big Knob Audio.

We’ve known Moko Aguswan for a few years and he’s our official Rep for South-east Asia. Very nice guy, and no need to mention that he’s been an amazing host. We had a great time with him. We especially enjoyed the delicious food “tours”, even if our weak European stomachs are not used to many days of hot food in a row… Quite the dilemma when food is so good.

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High Tea in Paris CDG with Northward Acoustics Engineer Silvia Santafé, waiting to board for a 13 hours flight…

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Beautiful wood carving in a Jakarta restaurant

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An evening walk with Silvia Santafé in Jakarta

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An evening walk with Silvia Santafé in Jakarta

The Local version of a Saule.

The Local version of a Saule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The project we’re working on there is the JPCC, an Event Hall – mainly designed to host concerts. The hall is in need of an upgrade, so we were flown in to visit and inspect the structure, hear it for ourselves and proceed with a series of measurements prior to the upgrade calculations.

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The JPCC Hall

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Mango and sticky rice! One of my favorites!

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Thomas Jouanjean and Moko Aguswan discussing the JPCC project on site.

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Jakarta at night. Felt like NYC sometimes.

 

 

 

 

 

We spent a total of 3 days at JPCC, bumping into the guys of VUE Audiotechnik that were installing the hall’s new P.A. First time in my life a P.A. doesn’t make my ears hurt and/or bleed. Looks like the VUE systems are very promising.

Silvia and I then spent the week-end attending various meetings with Moko, meeting a local Producer, and visiting Jakarta as well as visiting a Botanical park in Bogor, a town 1.5 hours away from Jakarta. Very impressive plants and nature.

 

Discovering South East Asia was a great experience – we loved it – and it looks like we’ll be back quite a few times. Special thanks to Moko and Yovita for their time and friendship.

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Flowers at the Bogor Botanical Garden

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Nice flower, but not so nice red ants. Pretty aggressive ants!

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And when I say the Indonesian red ants are aggressive, I mean it. Ouch.

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Trees in the Bogor Botanical Garden.

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Trees in the Bogor Botanical Garden.

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This one is for my friend Dylan Dresdow ;) Chilling in hot Jakarta. Not a bad view…

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Safest way to transport glass! #shortlifeexpectancy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the following Tuesday after a week in Jakarta, Silvia headed back to Europe and I flew to Brisbane to visit Matt Gray and hopefully certify his new FTB Mastering Suite, the first in Australia!

First time in Australia for me too, and as expected, Brisbane seems to be a very nice place to live and work in. The landscapes were a sort of patch of different landscapes I’ve already seen in other places like southern France, Northern Spain & Italy, Northern California, with a bit of Switzerland (the cleanliness?) or Africa (the birds and flowers?) to it somehow. A bit disorienting. But certainly nice.

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Australia’s fancier take on a duck. Classy.

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Glass design in downtown Brisbane. I like.

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The Brisbane river.

 

 

 

 

 

Matt has also been a very gracious host, the stay was easy… And as usual, too short. Matt’s new FTB Mastering Suite has been built perfectly I must say. He managed to find a contractor just as OCD as I am…

The room was certified in 15 minutes. Well within standards, excellent Low Frequency response (+/-4dB in 1/24th octave band 20Hz-200Hz with quasi flush-mounted free standing speakers) and an ETC response exactly as it should be. Being in the room feels natural as well: all good, as planned!

Before measurements, we had a proper listening session with Matt and his assistant. First time I hear the Duntech Marquis C4000 and they sounded good in the FTB (I’d heard another Dunlavy/Duntech model at the former Bonati Mastering’s studio in NYC – before his FTB room). I’m always a bit worried when I see speakers with that many drivers, it’s a recipe for problems at least in theory. What you should ideally aim for is a point source. But I must say that these are just fine. I played some of my band’s current demo tracks and my guitar sounded just like I’m used to hear it (my quick and dirty way to judge / get a reference as to how mids and low mids are reproduced on speakers I don’t know). Basically everything sounded good, good depth, wide stereo with strong and sharp mono, flat response. Duntechs passed with the room!

Which makes me think about a question I get every now and then: “why don’t you build your own speakers?”. Well, firstly I think it would be quite a pretentious move. Secondly, I’d have to find a speaker expert (a good one will be busy, so not easy to convince) as I am in no way qualified – I’m a Studio Designer / Acoustician specialized in HRTF and other Psycho Acoustics related subjects. Not an Electro-Acoustician. And hiring an expert is in no way a guarantee that we will do a better job than companies like ATC that have over 3 decades of experience and tons of knowledge, with highly specialized and dedicated engineers on board. There are so many little thing to think about, so many features to fine-tune. Years and years of work.

I’m not talking about “speaker assembling”: buying pre-made parts and assembling a speaker in a box like you assemble a PC: this is not speaker design. That I can do. Speaker design to me is when you design your very own drivers, amps etc: when you have control over every aspect of the system.

So, I’d rather stick to what I know and ask qualified speaker companies to provide my clients and I with a good system. We may ask for a specific feature now and then, but it ends there. There are also many engineers to satisfy that have sometimes very different tastes – so having a handful of trusted high-end choices of designs & brands with different philosophies is a good thing. Even if the more experience you get, the shorter the list of candidates gets.

Back to our trip.

I like -and usually request- to be there at the first listening session (just before the finishing stages, when the acoustics are 100% finished) mainly to install the system and make sure it is all done properly as well as to check everything is fine before they proceed with the upholstering: that would prevent easy inspections if the room was not to behave properly and having to remove the fabric to check things out would be very expensive. You can never be 100% sure – so many things can go wrong in a design, in particular during the build phase.

15g After listening and testing, ready for the fabric finish and final touches

Matt Gray’s soon to be finished FTB Mastering Suite, ready for certification.

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First listening session at Matt Gray’s new FTB Mastering Suite, just prior to certification.

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First listening session at Matt Gray’s new FTB Mastering Suite, just prior to certification.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also enjoy witnessing the reaction of the engineer / client, even if the first listen and certification process is a stressful experience for them (and us!). You basically break a sweat and hope your calculations are accurate. Even if you checked your work 3 or 4 times before releasing the plans and take sufficient safety margins/coefficients there is always that “bit of doubt” in that dusty corner of your mind. Was it well built, too? Did I miss something during inspection visits or during the build pictures reviews? But in many ways, that bit of doubt is a good thing. The day one gets overly confident designing is the day a mistake will go through.

Happily, when Matt turned on the system and after we all spent quite some time listening to tracks we know, we were all relaxed – sounded good. I then proceeded with shooting the room and the results were excellent. Room certified!

The following day in Brisbane was spent at the studio with friends of Matt /Audio Engineers that visited the room. All were very enthusiastic about it, which is always a good thing to add to the list: many other happy sets of trained ears!

Of course, only the long term use will tell us how good the room is, but for sure this is an excellent start. Like with other projects, we’ll follow Matt on his first year in the room to see how he gets used to it, how his work progresses and how his clients react to the masters he produces in the room.

That day I also was interviewed by an Australian Pro Audio Magazine called Audio Technology http://www.audiotechnology.com.au/. The journalist was very nice and didn’t mind my sometimes not perfect English (thank you). I do slide in a bit of Fren-glish every now and then. Hopefully it will turn out fine… It’s not easy to sum up rather complex systems in a few words. But it’s also a very good exercise.

The last day, Matt and his wife took me to visit Brisbane under a bright blue sky and perfect temperature (coming from Brussels, this is awesome!). Hopped on a boat for sight seeing. It was a nice and relaxed day, even though Jet Lag isn’t always easy to manage and I crashed by mid afternoon like a 5 year old… And was back on the plane that same evening followed by a 36h stop in Jakarta, hanging out with Moko – then off to Kuala Lumpur and finally Paris.

Back in good ol’ Brussels, we’ve been dealing with new contracts and taking care of admin after 2.5 weeks away.

We finalized the draft studio lay-out proposal for OWSLA in L.A., worked on the SOAP studios design in Brussels, Dave Collins Mastering in L.A., Why Be Jazz Club in Brussels, WT Mastering in Switzerland, JPCC measurement report and were contracted by Mr Hannes Haindl in Hamburg, Germany, to design his studio with a FTB Control Room.

We’ve also been working a bit more on our Decoupled Speaker Stand system, acoustically optimized DAW desk & a Mastering Console/desk. Expect these to be gradually ready for shipping between mid September and January.

Busy!

That’s it for now… See you around!

/Thomas

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Good ol’ Belga Bar and Flagey building near my home in Brussels. Great concert halls in there.

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Jazz club in Brussels: This is what a shift in the sandy Brussels grounds can do to a building’s structure / foundations. This one shifted down of over 70mm. Had to compensate when the windows were changed to heavy acoustical glass and frames by DEMATEC.

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Tricky structural work at the Jazz Club in Brussels.

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REGUFOAM 150/37 in place for the floating floors at the Jazz Club in Brussels.

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ca.50mm thick new window panes at the Jazz Club, Brussels.

Acoustically controlled Studio furniture

We’ve been working on designing studio furniture too, in our spare time (We basically don’t have spare time. So, it’s been a slow process…).

This is our first model, a 28 units Rack bay. Design makes it non-resonant in the LF. Optimized shape and ergonomics.

For example, access to the cabling is easy and can be done without having to crawl in the rack via the access hatches. Thanks to the curved shape of the rack housing, when seating at the sweet spot you can easily read the VU meters, read knobs position and reach the lower units without problems. Comes with many options too (RAL and NCS colors, extra tools and various adapters like extra temporary units modules that sit on top of the rack bay, keyboard and laptop trays et) that we’ll detail in the product info PDF. Official sales start in 09/2013.

These will come in single bay 14u 19″ and double bay 28u 19″.

Next on the list is a fully decoupled speaker stand with a natural frequency of.. under 7Hz. Fully tune-able to the specific weight of your speakers. Still in prototyping stages, but should see light before the end of the year. There is also a DAW desk developed with the guys from Noisia that should be ready and tested in-situ in the near future.

Comments?

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/Thomas

Final visit & certification for Red Bull Studios Paris.

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Red Bull Studios Paris in final stages.

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RB Studios Paris LR to CR view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All right! Done with this project, in the Thalys TGV train on my way back to Brussels… We’re officially entering the +/- 1 year project follow up period now. During that period we stay in touch regularly with the studio’s Engineer, studio’s management and if possible some of the artists that record there to see how the studio works in “real life” use. That is the final test, in fact. Beyond the numbers in my measurement software that don’t say it all (although they do say a lot…).

 It’s an important phase as it’s the one that allows us to gather detailed feedback about the rooms and look back at the decisions that we took many month before, during the design phase. Were they good & reasonable decisions? Could we have done things a bit differently maybe? If the answer to that turns out to be yes to the first and no to the second, we’ll be very happy. And there is always something to learn from carefully listening to the end users. We can’t progress if we don’t listen to them.

 I did the final Control Room certification while there today and except for the usual mixing console surface and size related problems it turned out well within FTB standard. Which makes me happy seeing that it was a difficult design to both calculate and build.

I’ll try and see how we can tame some of the acoustical impact of the console. But it is also a fact that all studios with a console this size have to deal with the acoustical consequences of such a large object being “in the way”. The larger the room, the less impact it (potentially) has, but let’s not day dream here: they’ll never be transparent to sound. You can’t put a big block of circuits, knobs, various massively reflective surfaces, multiple vibrating steel panels and hollow steel frames between the engineer and the speakers and expect this not to have some impact on the room’s acoustical response. Though Mr Eric Valentine @ UnderTone Audio is working on some interesting options: http://www.undertoneaudio.com/atws.html

I do believe that what they bring in terms of sound does out-weight the moderate response issues they create. Well, the higher-end ones do at least. Unless you can afford one of these second hand or new, my recommendation is that you stick to mixing in the box. Don’t go for a mediocre console. There are no advantages to them.

I’ll double check the Live Room once all the decorative furniture is in, but the response is where I wanted it to be. Very much drums, percussions and strings oriented. A real live room. Not a glorified deadened booth. It’s got character! Pretty punchy. A bit like what we’ve done with Trevor Gibson at Circle Studios in Birmingham (he’s got beautiful Stone and Wood rooms on top of his large Live Room – http://www.circlestudios.co.uk/ ). Can’t wait to hear how the drummers like it.

I must thank the Architects, Stéphane Ghestem and Cyrille Groube, which have been really proactive and easy to work with. What they did in the entrance and lounge(s) is really cool (love the big fader-like Sofas) They are also the ones that chose the floors, fabric and general colour scheme for the studio. I wish it were always this easy. Thank you.

As usual: thanks to the whole DEMATEC team as well as the Baillien Team for executing that difficult build with excellent results and my friends at ATC Loudspeakers for (again…) delivering a flawless custom cabinet for the ATC 110 A SL in record time.

And of course, thanks to the whole Red Bull Paris Team (Jean Philippe S., Philippe H. & Elise H.) and Red Bull Music Academy for the opportunity to work with them (Erik B. & Many A., Imar @ Acousthink).

(Imar is also a studio designer / Acoustician that does a lot of projects for Red Bull and does good work, check him out! He’s based in spain: acousthink.com).

Talking about Spain: off to Barcelona tomorrow. Long day ahead…

Chop-Chop! Keep the pace! Can’t miss the Airport shuttle!

/Thomas 

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RB Studios Paris Live Room

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RB studios Paris Live Room

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Cool idea from the Architects

 

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RB Studios Paris Live Room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vicky Cristina Barcelona… Paris… London… Jakarta… Brisbane… Brussels.

I can’t believe another month and a half flew by since the last time I posted. It’s been crazy busy weeks. Mid June to mid July will be just as crazy though. It’s always like this at this period of the year, just before the summer break.
I spent short 2 days of rest in Bretagne, where we did our usual surfing & power kite sessions with a few friends. It’s good to get your mind at rest. It was a welcomed break.

The following weeks saw quite a bit of back and forth with Paris for the Red Bull Studios project there. We’re at the stage where we feel we’re close to finish but there are still so many little things to check here and there and to finish. Never ending detail work. It should open mid June. One last push!

The live room there should turn out rather interesting. We basically never use pre-made panels, but this time, due to size/space restrictions we decided to use DEAMP panels as they seemed to be exactly what we needed. These are funky because depending on the distance from the wall at which you install them, their behaviour will vary greatly. So in a Live Room like this one where on the one hand killing it’s signature (“Broadband dead” room type) is no option as it would sound at best dull/boring or on the other hand not applying enough treatment or going for a slat type system would end up making it overly boomy due to dimensions, these DEAMP panels should allow to remove the boominess while keeping a rather clear/clean Mid and High Frequency response and take care of flutter elegantly. We’ll see how that turns out… The name of the game being “make it sound larger than it is – and make sure drums sound interesting, punchy and live in there”.

Josh Bonati has completed his move to his new FTB Mastering Suite in Brooklyn and so far the feedback we get as to the room’s behaviour in real life is very good. That’s THE test for us. If measurements are good – that’s a very good start. If the room translates well and you get good feedback, that’s when we can start to relax a bit.

We also worked on preliminary drawings for the OWSLA/Skrillex Studios so we can have an idea of the budget and figure out the direction we should be taking when it comes to general studio ergonomics. The building is very nice, but there may be some structural work to do. We don’t know yet and are awaiting feedback from the structural engineer. The seismic constraints do make things more complicated, but it’s also a fun challenge. It’s going to be interesting to see what we end up doing in there – if we get green light that is.

The drafts for our project with Daniel Bleikolm / SOAP Studios are also on the drawing board. We’re working on a FTB Control Room on the 1st Floor (2nd floor for US readers) and a quite large Live Room with a Control Room “area” in it for tracking on the ground floor (1st floor for US readers). The idea in there is also to provide an as large as possible Live Room with a wide pallet of colours depending on where you place your instrument in the room. I like to tailor live room responses towards drums and piano/strings though, because this is what people can’t get anywhere else but in a “good” studio.

We had the pleasure to visit Yves & Marien Roussel in Barcelona. We designed their studio last year – Silvia doing the bulk of it. We went there to check out the studio. Marien and Yves are a nice team, and the 3 days spent there went really fast. We had just enough time to take a short walk in town and see a few things. Such a nice town – been years since I visited.

I was also lucky to visit Mr Kostas Iatrelis in London and see his FTB Control Room finished for the first time. He did a fantastic job – it wasn’t an easy build and the studio turned out very nice. He’s a great cook, too. Thanks for the delicious lunch Kostas!

A new face @ Northward Acoustics.

We’ve been really busy for the last 4-5 years, working 24/7/365 & managing a dense schedule. As a small operation we always think “this won’t last – it’ll calm down at one point”. But it hasn’t. And it doesn’t look like it will. Which is good… But it’s about time we hired more brain power and try to reduce our overall work load a bit.

So we hired an in-house project manager! This will allow Silvia and I to focus more on Design, get more projects done and hopefully travel a bit less. We reluctantly had to stop our entry level “After Hours Services” from January 2012 and will only accept new Pro projects from 07/2013 – we simply could not handle more work. Hopefully, this will help revive the After Hours services.

It was a long process to find the right guy, but we did in the end. So meet Lorenzo, Project Manager at Northward Acoustics.

I have known Lorenzo for many years in fact – and I know he’s a very serious guy that I can trust. He has been in music for a long time, and he’s got good ears. By that I mean trained ears – which is pretty much a necessity.

Next stop for us in the coming weeks: more Red Bull Paris + certification, certification @ Sunny Side Studios in Brussels, certification @ Studio Maasland (Dirk Brouns) in Holland, Certification @ Matthew Gray Mastering in Brisbane, Australia, a project assessment in Jakarta, Indonesia and a serious amount of hours behind a screen designing on AUTOCAD and doing our calculations for upcoming projects.

See you in Indonesia & Australia! I think I will love it there!

Tip of the month:

Our experience with the larger projects (generally speaking) is that this is where you realize that involving too many people on a project is rapidly becoming pretty counterproductive – too many opinions at once, dilution of responsibilities ‘(“passing the buck”) on top of having to get answers from and/or coordinate all of the parties which can really be a tedious work. Especially when people disagree and step on each other’s toes.

It really shows that it’s best to:

1- Have a minimum of people involved: Client, Studio Designer, Architect, Contractors – not more. If the Architect or Designer doesn’t want to endorse the role of coordinator or the contractor doesn’t have one in-house, then hire one that remains under the strict supervision of either the Studio Designer or the Architect. But be careful who you hire, as we ended up many times having to… do the job of the coordinator anyway.

2- On projects where there are too many parties involved (Marketing department, Video Department, Company’s hierarchy, various outside consultants etc) There’s always going to be people that disagree. Don’t let Consultant A say what Consultant B “should be doing”. Separate the discussions with regards to what the various consultants were specifically hired to manage or do, make sure they concentrate only on their area of expertise and define a hierarchy between them. It is very likely Consultant A is in no way qualified to do Consultant B’s job or he wouldn’t be hired. Consultant A may “know enough to be dangerous” and hence think he’s entitled to step on Consultant B’s toes, but in 99% of the cases Consultant A actually does not fully understand the decisions that were taken and why. He knows enough to be dangerous, but nowhere near enough to be competent.

3- As a designer if we’re told to take care of the ‘looks” as well (fabric, colours, furniture etc) then do not leave anybody else get in the way of that. Leave the Designer and Client interact alone. If the studio designer is told to not interfere with final looks (outside of validation of fabric type and other acoustical considerations), then do not expect the designer at any point to coordinate any of that. Avoid situations where lead to confusion and dilution of responsibilities.

In short: keep it small. Keep it clean.

Busy bees.

Been another long week.

Started by a day visit to Noisia on Monday to check things out (like you do with a new car after the first 5000km – quick check-up at the mechanic).

Good times as usual, and all is fine with the studios. The guys are now about to take their final decision on the outside finishing of the studio bunkers and are waiting for their custom desks to be ready to finalize install of the audio gear. Their first mixes in the new Control Rooms turned out great and they had excellent feedback from their Mastering Engineer, which is always good news for us as it confirms the design functions 100%.

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Most important thing: a good ping-pong table!

I wish I could have stayed for their Noisia Invite event in Groningen – but sadly had a meeting early the following day and it’s a 4 hours drive from Groningen back to Brussels.

Tuesday Silvia and I attended an important meeting in Leuven, for a very interesting project – but also a massive project. Which would imply the company’s structure and HR would have to grow a fair bit. Which raises a lot of questions and challenges for us, as we’d like to stay rather small so we can remain flexible. All in all, we feel we know our limits so we planned this project so it doesn’t impact our way of working. But the new HR will have to be top notch. This is key to our success if this project gets green light… We’ll likely know next week.

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874 Diffusors for our show-room’s Live Room (Northward Studios) ready for install at DEMATEC workshop.

Wednesday was another heavy day, even though supposedly a holiday here – 1s of May. (There is no such thing as a real day off when you’re running a company. At least it’s rare, and I can’t help feeling guilty when I take a day off.)

It was spent mostly on CAD, designing and updating plans. In the evening I met with Daniel Bleikolm for his Studio project in Brussels that we just started to work on.

Thursday yet another long day was spent at Dirk Broun’s private studio in the Netherlands, installing the decoupling system for his main speakers while Silvia was off to Spain. It’s always a tricky install in particular when the studio is DIY, where you have to make sure everything clicks together. Which means that if Dirk had made even a small mistake with his front wall build, today is the day we would’ve seen it.

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Installing mains & mains decoupling system at Dirk Broun’s studio.

Happily he did a good job, so the install turned out pretty smooth and we could have a short and basic test of the system to validate the decoupling. All good! And Dirk is already happy with the studio, even if it’s not finished yet.

Friday, up at 5am, on the Thalys train at 7am direction Paris / Red Bull Studios with converters and various main speaker decoupling nacelles install tools in my back pack and a soft gear bag (tensioning and measurement systems, good converters for a preliminary listen after the speakers are in).

That’s a good 35kg of tools to carry. But all in all I still prefer walking 30min from the Paris Nord train station to the Studios with 35kg on my back rather than having to deal with the long drive and traffic/parking in Paris. And that accounts for a good workout. Win/Win I guess.

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Red Bull Studios Paris entrance.

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Red Bull Studios Paris entrance.

The DEMATEC team (Denis, Fred, Jacques, Fred)  was already in Paris at 6am with all the Glass, speaker decoupling nacelles, custom ATC 110A SL and all sorts of tools and materials in their truck. That’s 6 tons of freight. About 3/4th of that being the glass alone. When I arrived they already had unloaded half of the glass. Such heavy glass panels are no fun to move around. Even if in sections, some were pretty close to 300kg (660 lbs).

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FTB Control Room’s front wall glass is in. Now decoupling nacelles install stage, then speakers.

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Aaaaannnnd… Nacelles and ATC 110 A SL Custom Speakers in.

It took 5 hours to get the Control Room’s front wall ready for glass & proceed to glass install, another 5 hours to get the nacelles in place in the glass, tension the system to frequency (3.5Hz natural frequency) and get the speakers running. The following 2 hours were spent testing, listening and cleaning. Mix Engineer Philippe Weiss and his Tech were there to witness the install & help as well as work on the SSL 4048G console that is already in the Control Room and is going through a major overhaul.

All these guys are Pros, good fun and easy going. We got the system in, played some music, tested. All good. Philippe Weiss played really bass heavy hip-hop in there. Good stuff to test decoupling. Doesn’t get more LF heavy than that…

There is always a big relief and euphoric moment after the speakers are turned on and we can hear that the whole room seems to functions as planned, speaker decoupling is very efficient, Bass response is really stable in the room, imaging as it should be, no rattling even at very (very) high SPL, etc.

Next step at Red Bull will be finishing the glass work (other windows), some work in the Live Room and in-depth testing of the Control Room for certification.

Saturday & Sunday : Some CAD work, but mainly very much needed catch up on sleep. Maybe a bike ride in the sun with my girlfriend if I have the energy. That would be nice.

/Thomas