It’s sometimes a strange world in the studio these days: My entire training as a record producer/engineer involved big consoles, big tape machines, big EQ boxes, big speakers, and just plain big stuff. If I walked into a studio and didn’t see a bunch of big gear lying around the Control Room, I would wonder if we would be able to make big sounds there at all.
The landscape of the studio has changed drastically over the past few years, and this became blatantly apparent when the Playground went through its massive upgrade and remodeling recently. My trusted Amek “big” console that has been with me for just about every record I’ve made; from Mercury Rev to Urge Overkill to Flaming Lips to Hum…it’s a large frame console with 44 faders and 88 channels of pure audio bliss.
But, it had its drawbacks; the preamps were a little “peaky” and brittle at times, the automation was nice, but never updated, the console took up the entire front of the Control Room, making it almost impossible to get out of the way of the sound coming from the speakers, no matter where we placed them in the Control Room, and to document an entire session, meant lots of paper, even though we were working within a “Total Recall” environment.
With the careful selection of the SSL Matrix console (this won’t be an ad for that awesome console), it was similar to the feeling I had when I decided to make the move to Pro Tools so many years ago. I thought I would lose a part of myself and my creative palette. But what ended up happening is that the Matrix opened up a whole new level of automation and flexibility that I never had before. External preamps tied seamlessly into the console, and I was free to pick and choose my favorites, which include the Shadow Hill Gama Quad, complete with the Neve Mod, my treasured Avedis MA5’s, my old trusty Avalons, a couple of LaChappel tube mic pre’s, as well as a surprise new favorite; the built-in preamps on my WEISS ADC2 A/D converter that runs the enture studio.
The Matrix has software that documents every detail of the recording, mixing, and mastering process, so paper is no longer required. The footprint of the console is tiny, making it ideal for mastering. It has 16 motorized fader, instantly assignable to an unlimited number of tracks, making it ideal for tracking and mixing.
But something in me misses the giant spread of the Amek “big” (or any other large frame console), and it’s sometimes difficult to sell bands who come here to record on the tiny SSL console that barely takes up any real estate in the Control Room. So, for now, the “big” sits out in the band space (See photos), and I don’t know if I will ever be able to get rid of it, even if it’s just a reminder that big isn’t always better, and that the future often lies in the palm of our hands.
No one will ever be able to get me to get rid of my ATR-102 ½” machine though; for both mixing and mastering, the analog compression gives me an extra 6db of gain to work with before compression, and these days, that’s a present from the analog audio gods.