Chuck Ainlay Receives a Grammy for Best Surround Sound Album

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Chuck Ainlay (left) and Mark Knopfler at British Grove Studios

Noted recording engineer Chuck Ainlay recently received a 48th Annual Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album for his work on Brothers In Arms: 20th Anniversary Edition, which was remixed for both DVD-Audio and SACD formats. Ainlay was also co-producer of the album with Dire Straits’ leader, Mark Knopfler, while Bob Ludwig was the mastering engineer.

The high-resolution surround-sound engineering work, using original engineer Neil Dorfsman's tracks, was painstakingly done at Knopfler's new British Grove Studios in London, which is equipped with ATC loudspeaker monitors in a 5.1 configuration. The ATC SCM300ASL (300A) is mounted in standard L/C/R configuration, while two more 300As are mounted on a unique track system for surround. Dual ATC SCM0.1/15ASL PRO (Sub1/15) subwoofers alongside the left and right mains, provide the LFE monitoring.

The idea to track-mount rear surround 300As came after a discussion between Knopfler and Ainlay about lack of a real standard for their location in the horizontal plane. Film mix engineers tend to prefer them at 100 degrees or so, while many recording mix engineers tend to want them up to 135 degrees or so from center.

“We thought there ought to be a way to offer a flexible solution, where every engineer who uses the room can set the rear monitors wherever they prefer,” Ainlay says. “The result was to mount them on a track that allows them to be easily moved wider or narrower, from about 100 degrees to 145 degrees, with basically a push of a finger, letting the engineer put them exactly where they want without changing the distance to the listening location. It's really cool.”

For Brothers In Arms: 20th Anniversary Edition, Ainlay started with Dorfsman's original master tapes, which were recorded on the first iteration of a Sony digital multitrack that supported only 24 tracks. “Some of the original recordings were spread over a bunch of different tapes that we first had to locate," he explains. "We transferred up to 120 tracks per song from the master multitracks, slave multitracks and even some of the 'safeties' to arrive at all of the assets necessary to mix the album.”

Ainlay used the latest model Sony DASH unit, the 3348HR, as well as a Studer 800 analog machine to feed discrete multitrack outputs to transfer into the DAW using AMD Dual Opteron processors and Apogee 16X A/D converters. Everything was saved to hard disk using the latest version of Steinberg’s Nuendo software at 24 bits, 96 kHz.

Mixing was done on a Neve 88R console, with tracks individually bused from Nuendo directly to the console. In addition, a 5-channel surround effects mix in Nuendo was brought into the console and an SSL compressor was used across the mix bus for overall compression. From there, Ainlay plied his talents to transform the tracks into a stunning surround presentation before handing them off to Ludwig for final mastering.

For more information, visit Las Vegas Pro Audio (which distributes ATC loudspeakers in the U.S.) at www.lasvegasproaudio.com, Chuck Ainlay’s Website at http://chuckainlay.com and Mark Knopfler’s Website at www.mark-knopfler.co.uk.