Conway Recording Studios, which first opened its doors on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood in 1976, is currently celebrating its 25th year in business. Known for its world-class rooms, dedicated support staff and a landscaping theme that evokes a tropical paradise, Conway has attracted a wide range of recording artists; credits include the Dave Matthews Band's Everyday, Blink 182's Enema of the State, Christina Aguilera's self-titled album, Hole's Celebrity Skin, Marilyn Manson's Mechanical Animals, Beck's Odelay, Fleetwood Mac's The Dance, Bonnie Raitt's Luck of the Draw and U2's Rattle and Hum. Conway has also hosted sessions for many feature film scores and soundtracks, including Sleepless In Seattle, Toy Story and Beavis and Butthead Do America.
Most recently, Conway installed a Neve 88R large-format analog console in Studio A. Staff training on the 72-channel 88R was completed in early August, and Italian pop singer Laura Pausini was in Studio A the following week, recording her new album for Warner Bros.
Conway co-owner Buddy Brundo displays an almost paternal pride when discussing the 88R, the first all-new AMS Neve large-format audio console in nearly 20 years, and the first to be installed in the U.S. “I've been doing this a few years now, and I look for certain criteria in a console,” says Brundo. “We have always really liked Neves, especially the old ones, and we've been talking to Neve for five years about what we'd really like to see in a new one.” The hybrid analog/digital desk features digitally controlled remote mic preamps and Encore automation, and is designed to offer classic Neve sound in a full surround format.
Studio A is used for both tracking and mixing, and remote mic preamps were a high priority on Brundo's wish list. “I love classic mic pre's like the 1081s and the ones that were built for Montserrat and George Martin,” he explains. “But when you have a low-level signal from a mic going through a hundred feet of cable to get to the preamp, you lose a lot. When you put the mic pre right near the microphone, it really comes alive. Of course, if the preamps are in the studio, you have a problem in how to control the gain. With the 88R, we have 24 digitally controlled remote mic pre's — 12 of the new/old 1081s and 12 of the Montserrat style — all hand-built exactly like the original ones. The digital controller has nothing to do with the audio, but simply allows you to control the mic pre level at the console.”
Another feature that Brundo requested was motorized small faders, making for a total of 144 automated faders that can feed the stereo and surround buses, while still keeping the footprint of the in-line console relatively small. “On big, 100-input consoles, people often end up returning echo, effects and other things that don't need to be equalized on the big faders,” he notes. “But you don't need a whole channel strip for them, you just need automatable level. On this console, you can plug things like that into the small faders, and we could keep the console 72-in, which makes the size of the working surface much easier to handle. The footprint of this console is gorgeous; because there is no rack below it, the bottom end in the room really comes alive.”
Other features of the 88R include five stereo main mix buses and an LCR bus with splittable main and aux buses to permit film-style stems. The board also offers eight aux sends, full dynamics on every channel, 4-band Formant EQ and multifunction PPM/VU LED bar graph meters.
“Although the automation is far more comprehensive than our previous system, the new interface makes the system easier to use,” notes Conway chief engineer Dave Hecht. “Sonically, the 88R is a huge improvement over the VR. It has a sound very reminiscent of the old 80 Series Neves, with all the facilities of a modern console.”
No other changes were made to the Vincent Van Haaff-designed Studio A, where the control room, like all of Conway's, features natural lighting and a view of the complex's lush gardens. “Studio A has always been a great-sounding room, and we didn't want to change anything,” says Brundo. “Neve did a wonderful installation; they took care of everything.” The three-room Conway complex also houses an SSL 9072 J Series and a MadLabs-modified 72-channel VR; each of the three rooms are outfitted with Neve 33609 J compressors and 1081 mic preamp/equalizers.
Conway's overall client roster remains eclectic. In the past year, the facility has played host to acts ranging from R. Kelly, 'N Sync and Blackalicious to Paul Anka and Neil Diamond. According to studio manager Alyssa Romano, sessions for Seal, Amanda Ghost and Korn are already booked for the new console.