FROME, UNITED KINGDOM – JUNE 2011: For anyone who lives to make music and pines for a soulmate, it would be hard not to envy Irish folk vocalist Cara Dillon and her husband Sam Lakeman. The two met in the band Equation and quickly left to walk – as seen in hindsight – a sure and steady path to artistic, commercial, and familial success. Winning dozens of awards and countless accolades, Dillon’s otherworldly voice takes the spotlight, and the duo have created and produced four solid albums on Rough Trade Records and, now, their own Charcoal Records. Lakeman also serves as the recording engineer in their second floor (this fact will become important) home studio. Tired of cobbling together equipment and re-jiggering routing on menu-heavy digital boxes, Lakeman purchased the powerful Metric Halo ULN-8 combination mic pre, converter and DSP. But from the time he would receive it to the
time he would use it to record a guerilla session for Dillon’s cover of “Corrina Corrina,” both blessings and tribulations would profoundly intervene.
Their previous studio setup centered on a digital console of early 2000s vintage and a now-discontinued high-end AD/DA converter, together with an admirable collection of vintage Neve, Avalon, and Chandler mic pres. “I got fed up with having to navigate the digital console for really menial tasks and I came to realize that I disliked the sound of everything through that old converter,” said Lakeman. “So I started looking for an alternative. It was apparent early on that there is a very committed core of Metric Halo users who are vehemently dedicated to these products and have been users for years. I was also impressed with the level of feedback encouraged by Metric Halo and the obvious importance they place on implementing changes in line with evolving technology and user needs. Ultimately, the main selling points for me were the on-board DSP and the almost non-existent latency, which meant I could ditch my console and still process tracks via DSP and outboard hardware without significant latency or CPU drain.”
Lakeman was excited to put their new Metric Halo ULN-8 through its paces as soon as it arrived in the spring of 2010 but as Dillon was pregnant with their third child, the sessions for their next album took a back seat. “There has only ever been one thing that I can truly judge a piece of equipment with, and that’s Cara’s voice,” he said. “I know her voice better than anything else in the world. Over the years, I have heard it with an innumerable combination of mics, pres, compressors, consoles, monitors, studios, and hairstyles. It would have only clouded my judgment had I forced an opinion of the unit with various recordings of other instruments or singers.”
But an engineer with new gear can only hold out so long. After their daughter was born in October, Lakeman acquiesced and agreed to put the ULN-8 to work doing preproduction with Winter Mountain, a band they had signed to Charcoal over the summer. However, shortly before the session, Dillon and Lakeman returned from their daughter’s christening in Ireland to find much of their house in ruin. “It was flooded for ten days by a burst hot water pipe,” he recalled. “Almost everything on the first floor was ruined. Our antique wood burning stove had rusted to a lump; my iMac was streaming with water; all the soft furnishings had two inches of fur and mold on them; and the heat had melted the glue in the furniture, which was all in pieces. In fact, it was so hot that the paint on some of our pictures ran! Luckily, any doors that were closed swelled shut, creating a seal in the heat and moisture that prevented anything other than the ground floor from being completely destroyed. The second-floor studio was untouched.”
Amid this chaos, and almost a year after first receiving the unit, the BBC asked Dillon to record a version of “Corrina Corrina” in celebration of Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. Lakeman used a collection of high-end Neumann and AKG microphones, including the Neumann KU-100 binaural head to capture the room and spot-mic the banjo, mandolin, guitar, and, of course, Dillon’s vocals. And at long last he was able to put the Metric Halo ULN-8 to use, which provided all of the mic pres and conversion. At mixdown, Lakeman used the unit’s DSP “tube mic character” settings on both the banjo and the mandolin, along with reverb, equalization, and compression across everything. “On top of the routine stuff, the guitar took some significant processing to clean it up and set it back into the mix, which was no problem using the ULN-8’s DSP,” said Lakeman. Although their children still command the front seat, with the music still in the back seat, Lakeman is very pleased with his decision and looks forward to tracking the next Cara Dillon album with the new ULN-8.
ABOUT METRIC HALO Based in New York’s Hudson Valley, Metric Halo provides the world with high-resolution metering, analysis, recording and processing solutions with award-winning software and future-proof hardware.
For more information on Cara Dillon visit:www.caradillon.com