L.A. Grapevine

It's always interesting to see what Allen Sides is up to, so I stopped into Ocean Way Recording for a visit with him and a look at his latest creation: Studio D with its Neve 88R console.

It's always interesting to see what Allen Sides is up to, so Istopped into Ocean Way Recording for a visit with him and a look at hislatest creation: Studio D with its Neve 88R console. Studio D,which boasts a large control room and a breathtaking wall of outboardgear, is part of a whole new wing at Ocean Way. Carved out of what wasBernie Grundman Mastering's original home, there's now a private loungeand a Pro Tools room.

Even Sides, who's built numerous studios, admits that constructingnew from-the-ground-up rooms at the historic 6050 Sunset building was achallenge. One of the problems that surfaced was that the space, builtfor Grundman's Studios A and B, had a wall running down the middle ofthe two rooms that literally held up the entire building. Removing thewall and rebracing took time, a lot of money and a temporary closing ofSunset Boulevard for the delivery of a 40-foot I-beam.

Studio D, primarily a mix suite but with an iso room for overdubs,is Sides' first room to be constructed for non-soffitted main monitors.“We do a lot of 5.1 mixing,” he explains, “and wefind that everybody has their own way of setting up. I wanted a totallyopen configuration so we could set up any system.”

D is equipped with a large pair of freestanding Ocean Way-stylemonitors that were, Sides reveals, originally built as a playbacksystem for the executive conference room at Hollywood Records.“They needed a system that was accurate but impressive,” hecomments, “because all of the A&R and promotion people camein for playback. It's got twin 18s on the bottom, along with double-15sfor the mid-bass in OWR [Ocean Way Recording] enclosures with90×40 radial wood horns and roughly 6,000 watts of amplification.I liked the system so much I ended up putting it in here.”

The 88R was chosen after Sides worked on the one at Buddy Brundo'sConway Studios. He was impressed with the sound, about which he'snotoriously picky, and with the operation. “They worked hard togive it a quick learning curve,” he says. “While it has nointernal similarities to a VR, it has a similar layout, so it's easy tounderstand. And the automation is basically Flying Faders that do a lotmore. Anybody who knows Flying Faders can operate it.”

As usual, Sides acoustically designed the room himself, as well asacted as his own contractor. “I learned a lot from Bill Putnam,and I've been doing it a long time,” he says. “There arecertain basic parameters for designing spaces; premises that have beenaround for years. Most of the information is readily available. Theproblem is, many people are more into aesthetics and visuals than theconcepts of acoustics. That's why many control rooms end up with bigloudspeakers that are unlistenable.

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“What it comes down to is, that as an engineer and a producer,I know exactly what I need from the loudspeakers, and I will dowhatever I need to get that, even if it's a little unorthodox. ForStudio D, I wanted a large control room where 10 or 15 people could allhear the same thing, and I achieved that. I think it soundsamazing.”

Ocean Way clients seem to agree. In D since it opened have beenproducer Scott Litt working with Pete Yorn, producer Rob Cavallo mixingLess Than Jake, Sides mixing Kitaro in both stereo and 5.1, DJ Quik andLatin sensation Luis Miguel.

The rest of Ocean Way's rooms have also been holding their own orbetter during the past year. Respected producer Nigel Godrich has keptStudio B busy with Beck, Travis, Radiohead and Air, and on the day Istopped in, mixer Jack Joseph Puig was ensconced in his Studio A lairwith Grammy-winner John Mayer.

Ironically, after developing not only his studios, but peripheralbusinesses such as Classic Rentals and Ocean Way to Go (known forputting together home and temporary studios for such artists as ZiggyMarley, Mars Volta and Incubus), Sides finds his engineering work morein demand than ever. So far this year, he's worked with Cavallo onprojects for Phil Collins and Lisa Marie Presley; with Burt Bacharachproducing; recording Aretha Franklin and the finalists from AmericanIdol (see photo above); and, with a full orchestra, the Ron IsleyBurt Bacharach songbook album for Dreamworks.

Hot as his engineering career may be right now, Sides has no plan tocut back on his cross-pollinating businesses. “It's a difficulttime,” he says. “I think it's better that I'm an involvedwith the studio as a producer and an engineer, rather than just being astudio owner.

“Running a high-end studio like Ocean Way is an incrediblyexpensive process,” he continues. “We provide a very highlevel of tech support and service. We can partly support that becauseour other companies are successful, but I don't think they would be ifwe didn't have Ocean Way. All of the consultation and the design that Ido are based out of having Ocean Way. It's almost like [legendaryFrench chef] Joël Robuchon's restaurant Jamin in France, one ofthe greatest in the world. It had 50 employees for 50 patrons. Robuchonnever made a dime on the restaurant, but he made a fortune in cookbooksand ancillary appearances and other things. Running Ocean Way is alittle like that: My profit centers are not just the studios, they'reall of the other ancillary things. And you've got to stay on the caseall of the time. It requires a lot of attention to stayrelevant.”

Those who lament the days when audio products were primarilydesigned to fill actual needs (as opposed to the current trend todesign cool products and then go out andcreatea need),will be delighted with Quantegy, whose FireWire FHD Series externalhard drives definitely fill a need and also have some extremely coolfeatures. To show them off, Quantegy hosted a recent Los Angeles SPARSluncheon.

“The evolution of our FHD Series started about a yearago,” explains Quantegy's Steve Smith. “Manufacturingchanges in SCSI drives were causing a lot of confusion, so we startedlooking at opportunities in FireWire as a transport medium. Because ofthe speed of the new generation, pro people want it. But, we quicklydiscovered that across the Internet and throughout the industry,there's a wide range of quality, performance and price, driven byconsumer retail where it's marketed as a product for home use. What wedid was go out and purchase a wide selection of retail FireWireenclosures to see if any of them made sense. A lot of them were junk,but we got down to six.”

All of the six had Oxford 911 chip sets, the fastest currently outthere, and that became Quantegy's starting point. Using speed andreliability as criteria, Quantegy chose IBM as the manufacturer. Afterthat, Quantegy went to customers for a wish list.

Suggestions that were incorporated include a Power switch on thefront and separate LED indicators for power and drive activity. And,something that seems obvious but isn't, a standard AC cord. “Mostmanufacturers looking to reduce costs have gone to DC adapter boxeswith multiple connections,” Smith explains, “making the boxunique and unusable in different situations. We wanted to have internalpower of 110 to 240, 50 or 60 Hz, and for it to be easy for a client totake the drive from, say, L.A. to London and plug it in.”

The end product includes a built-in universal auto-switching powersupply, a front-mounted power switch, dual 1394 ports, a fully shieldedmetal chassis and an ultra-quiet ball-bearing fan: no easy thing tofind. “The first fans we tried sounded like littleairplanes,” Smith says with a laugh. “The drives get veryhot when they work, and ventilation is essential. We found the fan withthe absolute lowest ambient noise, which was a complicated processhaving to do with pitch of blades, velocity, cubic area. Don'task.”

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A rugged Lexan outer case protects against scratches and hightemperatures, can be used either horizontally or vertically, has rubberfeet on all sides and is stackable. Each FHD drive is subjected to adetailed final system test, and the individual test data generated isincluded with each drive.

And here (donning my studio manager hat) is the coolest part: AllFHD FireWire drives come in a professional carrying case called theDrivePak, which protects, stores and transports the entire FHD system.The DrivePak includes a high-density, anti-static foam interior;professional user labels; power cord; and FireWire cable storage, plusstorage for one DLT or LTO cartridge and two AIT session backup tapes.I saved the best for last: The DrivePak has large label areas toaccommodate traditional studio 10½-inch reel-size labels! Nowthat's progress.

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