The technical importance of having a great console in a control room has arguably shifted in the past several years, but the emotional significance has not. Special mixing desks have the power to inspire, and in the hands of the right engineer, can take a tracking or mix session to a place that a DAW alone just can't. New York City is home to some of the most intriguing fader-equipped mechanisms.
The Space's Guy Benny (left) and Walker Pettibone
Located in a historic vaudeville theater in the Lower East Side, The Space makes a big impression even before you reach the Augspurger-equipped control room, thanks to its 60-foot (four-story) ceilings and old-school-meets-new-school vibe. Inside the command center, clients can't help but get excited to start mixing on owner Guy Benny's Acoustilog GB-1 console. Designed by the renowned Al Firestein, the 32/62-channel remix board wraps around the mix position in a subtle triangular arc, giving the mixer ergonomically excellent access to a wide array of distinctive features.
“I wanted something that was either an industry standard or something completely different that didn't sound like anything else,” Benny says. “This Acoustilog was built in 1972, and is a blend of an API, Helios and Harrison. Like any Neve board, there's tremendous sending potential, GML-type automation, with master faders that are VCA and mini-faders that are not.”
While the board's sonics and API-style EQs pave the way for electrifying mixes, it also has many advanced features; most eye-catching is the “Spectrum Multilyzer” plasma metering, which turns the meter bridge into an instant source of very visible spectrum analysis. It's all part of a board you just want to be with. “With a unique board, you can get a straight sound, or just engage it a little more and define the mix in another way,” Benny notes. “This Acoustilog lets you tailor a different mix that you wouldn't necessarily be able to get in other ways or places.”
Excello Recording is home to a spacious and airy live room on one side of the glass and a tank-like Calrec Series B 40×16×18 console on the other. Built exclusively for the BBC, the board is one of only four of its type ever constructed, and it was used to broadcast and record from London's Royal Albert Hall from 1990 to 1999. Put into retirement by the Brits, it has since found a most appreciative fan club in Brooklyn.
“The BBC wanted a console with what you want, too,” says Excello partner/engineer Hugh Pool. “Low distortion, loud and clean with tons of headroom. All of the output cards have hand-wired Lindahl transformers, and the weight when you pull them out is amazing — approximately six ounces per board.” Although Excello initially sought a Neve or API to complement its wealth of vintage gear (including an equally notable Neve 12×4 1063 sidecar), the studio and its clientele have fallen in love with the Calrec's extreme flexibility and ultra-low noise.
In the August 2006 issue of Mix, Gary Eskow wrote an article about Room 309 at Sony Music Studios, an outstanding mix facility that may soon be officially renamed The Dave Smith Room after its brilliant designer, who passed away in June. The surround-capable room is attracting its share of followers, many of whom return for Smith's hand-built, 36-input, 12-bus Massenburg GML console with Flying Faders running on Neve Encore Automation. “This console is unlike any I've ever heard,” says Joe Ferla, one of the most in-demand jazz and rock mixers working today (John Mayer Trio, Bill Frisell, Geoff Keezer). “It has nothing in it: a fader, pan pot and some aux sends. That's the console — no EQs, no dynamics. The signal path is so clean and short that the console's sound is huge.”
There are a thousand Neves in the naked city, and one had to squeak through into this article. Among my personal favorites is the one at Stratosphere Sound, where a bodacious 1979 Neve 8068 Mk II 32-input console with GML automation resides, modified by Dan Zelman to have 64 returns. Like the studio's owners, which include Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha, the board is at once old-school and as hip as they come.
“The Neve bridges the gap between big studios and home studios,” explains Stratosphere chief engineer Geoff Sanoff. “The current process of music creation has provided a democratization for clients who may not do the entire project at our studio, but do have a need for what we provide at some stage.” In addition to modifications for increased flexibility, Zelman's efforts launch the sonics of Stratosphere's Neve into the — well, you know. “It sounds great; it's a really punchy-sounding console,” says Sanoff. “When it was recapped, it got back a lot more of its clarity and zing. People think of Neves as being dark and warm; I'd say this console is warm, but not dark. It's not bright like an SSL, but it's a really live-sounding console that breathes nice and wide.”
No list like this would be complete without the hand-built, wood-appointed desk that resides in one of the most unforgettable rooms in New York City: Studio C at Sear Sound. Looking out onto the natural light, plants and hundreds of microphones that comprise the 11,500-square-foot live room, the custom-designed, Class-A, 60-input console with Flying Faders and Avalon EQs translates sound faithfully.
“It's quite flexible, with 24 buses if you need that many, but always direct,” says owner Walter Sear. “A console is a big lump in the middle of the room that splits it acoustically. If the musicians don't play musically, then nothing in the control room is going to fix it. So the key is actually to get a good performance.” What a concept!
This is the first in a series on consoles, so let me know why your board should be featured next by e-mailing