Mix Engineer Rob Chiarelli Insists on Manley

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Los Angeles, CA—April 2017… With a stellar client list that includes Christina Aguilera, P!nk, Stevie Wonder, Leann Rimes, Kirk Franklin, and Will Smith; credits in a wide range of musical genres; and a long string of awards and nominations, multiple Grammy-winning mix engineer Rob Chiarelli is clearly a special talent. As with other “best of the best” engineers, he only uses a tool when it serves the song or the recording. But there’s at least one tool he always uses. “The Manley Variable Mu limiter/compressor has been on every record I’ve made since the day I got it back in 1994,” he reveals. “I love the sound of the Variable Mu. Even if it’s not compressing, it does something beautiful.”

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Although the Variable Mu has all the parameters Chiarelli needs, “I’ve never been a guy who looks for 100 features,” he insists. “I look for gear that does one or two things really well or that sounds different or better. The important thing about the Variable Mu is the sound that it adds. It always makes the music a little richer or a little smoother or a little deeper. What I love about Manley gear in general is that, like a lot of all-time classic gear, it has a certain sound, and it makes everything sound better. The truth is, I would freak out if I didn’t have the Variable Mu.”

Another crucial part of Chiarelli’s chain is the Manley SLAM! stereo limiter and mic preamp. “The SLAM! is another example of the sound being more important than the features,” he asserts. “I got mine about four years ago, and it has a few features that I don’t use often: For example, when mixing, I don’t need the mic preamps. But I love the SLAM!’s sound.”

Even when he’s tracking and could, theoretically, use the SLAM! preamps, Chiarelli is reluctant to readjust its controls. “I like having it set a certain way, and I don’t like to touch it once the magic is working,” he confesses. “Last year I mixed a record that was number 1 on the Billboard charts for 45 weeks—so there’s no way I’m changing the controls after that!”

Chiarelli uses the SLAM! almost as extensively as he does the Variable Mu. “The SLAM! gets incorporated into so many records because it’s part musical instrument, and it’s part super level box,” he explains. “It can get the levels really hot. Let’s face it, we’re in a level war, and the SLAM! is my secret weapon. Getting clean and transparent level is a big deal—huge!”

No reluctant warrior, Chiarelli likes the crunch he obtains with hot levels. “Some of my colleagues agree with me about hot levels, some disagree, and some like it hot but won’t admit it,” he laughs. “In general, I find hot levels appealing but not in all cases. Sometimes I leave extra headroom. I don’t overload or saturate anything unless the music calls for it. Creatively, it’s a song-by-song decision, and it's not related to a specific musical genre. Hot levels or not, I still want the Manley sound. Of course, the mastering engineer can always adjust the final level if needed.”

The most important thing, Chiarelli emphasizes, is that he uses the SLAM! as a musical tool, not just a level tool. “That’s also true of the Variable Mu,” he points out. “I use my Manley gear as musical tools first. It’s no surprise that they all sound great, because Manley doesn’t cut corners. They use only the best components, and their world-class designs give us the very best possible sound. I love Manley gear, love the company, and love EveAnna Manley. They are as good as it gets!”

(Photo Credit: Robert M. Chiarelli)