Music Annex Mastering is part of one of the Bay Area’s most venerable professional audio institutions. Over the past 26 years, Music Annex has covered all bases in music recording, post-production, tape duplication and, now, DVD authoring. Mastering at Music Annex was transformed six years ago at the company’s Menlo Park location (south of San Francisco) by senior engineer Tom Carr, renowned in the Bay Area for his tracking and mixing skills, as well as his mastering finesse.
The octagonal mastering suite at Music Annex is based on a Michael Blackmer acoustical design. It is large and spacious, with a purposely wide sweet spot between the room’s soffit-mounted JBL 4430 bi-radial speakers and the Audix Nile 10 midfield monitors, which Carr uses primarily. Based around a custom console, a 24-bit Sonic Solutions workstation and some select signal processing gear, the suite’s technical philosophy is “less is more.”
“We tend to be very minimalistic in our approach to mastering,” Carr explains. “We have some extremely high-end processing gear, including Massenburg EQ and a Summit 2-channel tube compressor, as well as Apogee A-to-D/D-to-A converters. But the point is to limit the signal run to the shortest it can be and still accomplish the goal. Often we’re not even running the signal through a patchbay. Cable runs are just long enough to get from point to point. The result is that minimal equals musical-there’s very little interference with the audio that comes in the door.”
Carr says that the mastering division’s location within the main Music Annex complex of studios has significant benefits for clients. “It’s not unusual for some clients to decide to track, mix and master all within the same facility, often with me as the engineer at all stages of the proj-ect. That brings a certain kind of consistency and familiarity to the production, which you can’t get elsewhere. The client gets a tremendous amount more control over a project, and they really like the idea of being able to complete a project start to finish under one roof.”
Of course, many clients come to Music Annex just for the mastering. Over the years they’ve worked on many releases for Windham Hill/BMG, including the Windham Hill 20th Anniversary two-CD set, Sanctuary; as well as recordings by Nightnoise, Paul Hanson, Tracy Silverman, Pearl Jam, Steven Halpern, Ronnie Montrose, Doc Kupka and the Strokeland Super Band, Louie Belson, and many other releases covering all musical genres.
The bottom line, says Carr, is that Music Annex Mastering has achieved the ability to give the client options: “Whether you’ve recorded all or part of your project here,” he says, “or if you’ve just come for mastering, this is a room that translates extremely well to the outside world.”