New York Metro, December 2009The lure of New York City is strong, but there are issues that can break Gotham's magnetic grip on the musically minded. Why master in the granite canyons 12/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern
The lure of New York City is strong, but there are issues that can break Gotham's magnetic grip on the musically minded. Why master in the granite canyons of Midtown when you can do it equally well from the comforts of home?
That's what Carl and Adrianna Rowatti, owners of Trutone Mastering Labs (www.trutonemastering.com), pondered back in March of 2008, when Sony BMG Music made a tempting buyout offer for the lease on their Midtown Manhattan studios. Sony's high-caliber mastering department had been displaced when its 54th Street building closed in late 2007. Impressed by the Walters-Storyk Design Group-designed Trutone penthouse facility, Sony BMG realized it would be faster and easier to take over the Trutone studios than to build its own from scratch.
What did the couple do? Fast-forward to the bucolic surroundings of Trutone today, a 1,500-square-foot studio facility added to their 4,400-square-foot suburban Orangeburg, N.Y., home, and the decision sure looks like a no-brainer. They took the deal and virtually re-created Rowatti's New York City mastering suite — complete with a legendary Neumann VMS-70 lathe for cutting vinyl records — in the countryside.
The relocation of Trutone Mastering Labs is the latest evidence that world-class mastering can thrive in a home environment. By employing decoupled floors, a fully floating room design, IAC doors, diffusers, absorption and thorough sound insulation, WSDG's John Storyk ensured that the new Trutone studio would have minimal environmental impact not only in terms of the neighborhood, but also in relation to the rest of the Rowattis' house.
“Putting studios in homes is old news, but mastering facilities are still seen as mostly being in cities,” Storyk notes. “The new location for Trutone is part of a totally welcome trend and consistent with the playing field becoming more democratic. I think we will continue to see more world-class mastering facilities in homes. When designing these residential-based facilities, the two major hurdles you typically face are providing sufficient isolation and proper ceiling height.”
A top priority for Rowatti — whose credits include icons such as Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Whitney Houston, Pavarotti, The Killers and the Rolling Stones (as well as Yung Joc and Cassie) — was maintaining as much continuity as possible between his New York City suite, Studio I, and his rural haunt. The new room sports fewer cubic feet, but the dissimilarities end there.
“This studio is very similar in design and function to the room I had in Manhattan — it is laid out in the same way, and I wanted to maintain a similar flavor as far as color scheme and finishes,” he notes. “I kept two short racks behind me with certain gear, including a brass-face Fairchild 670 [Serial #45]. Prior to relocating, I did pick and choose the gear between New York City Trutone's Studio I and Studio II; I had the option of selecting the cream of the crop.”
While digital equipment plays a role at Trutone — a Weiss EQ1 MKII and BW-102 mainframe, and Sonic Studio HD DAW are all in the rotation — analog is definitely top dog here. Given Rowatti's expertise in vinyl mastering and renown for accuracy in the transfer, that penchant for analog should be no surprise. Sitting in the sweet spot behind the Neumann SP-77 mastering console and an awe-inspiring Neumann lathe with SAL-74B cutting rack and SX-74 cutter on the right, it's clear that vinyl is indeed spoken here.
“Most of the top studios process in analog and that's what we do,” Rowatti confirms. “We have a wide array of gear, from contemporary to really sought-after vintage pieces. The Sontec MES 432C mastering EQ has op amps, and the line amps in the Neumann console were rebuilt with those same Sontec op amps to drive them. Additionally, we replaced the console's input transformers with an active front end. By replacing the console's transformers with this new input and output section, we got rid of some iron and gave the console some more oomph and definition, without compromising anything I need for cutting my records.”
While the Sontec is his go-to EQ, Rowatti has no compunction about putting his Pultec EMH7 vacuum tube EQ into the signal path, either — a combination of the EQP-1A3, MEQ-5 and a high/lowpass filter on one chassis, Trutone's collection represents the only four of these units that were produced. “The Pultec is a passive equalizer, and the curves are created using coils and condensers. It's a very expensive way of doing it, but it has unique characteristics as a result. It's like a musical instrument.”
Away from the unrelenting pace of the New York City metropolis, Trutone Mastering nonetheless remains right in its element. For Carl Rowatti, mastering appears to be a completely intuitive process, one that may require complex tools but a quite uncomplicated explanation. “As a mastering engineer, I feel privileged to be last in command as far as putting the finishing touches on a project before it's released,” he says simply. “The goal is to adjust the program for maximum volume without perceivable loss of dynamics, maintain track-to-track continuity and equalize so that everything is heard barring a non-forgiving mix. As a result, the top is crisp, the vocals are clear and defined, and the bass is where it should be.”
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