Students studying music and audio production at the University of Westminster now have access to a new recording facility that incorporates some of the most technologically advanced pro audio equipment on the market today.
After careful planning and budgeting, the new facility on the University's Harrow campus finally opened in July and was put through rigorous testing over the summer prior to the start of the new academic year.
Alan Fisher, previously acting Dean and Head of the University's Music Department, and now consultant, says: "Our philosophy is to only introduce students to equipment that is industry standard. We realised some years ago that we needed an acoustically accurate recording studio that was of sufficient size to accommodate a large group of students. It has taken five years to accomplish our mission, but the University of Westminster now has a facility that is easily on a par with commercial recording studios, enabling us to educate students the techniques and skills they need to progress in the real world."
The University's new facility includes a large control room can easily accommodate up to 25 students. This is equipped with an SSL Duality console and the first pair of PMC’s new QB1A’s main monitors to be installed in Europe in addition to a 5.1 surround sound monitoring system featuring PMC twotwo.8’s.
Adjacent to the control room is an equally large live room with variable acoustics. This also has PMC twotwo.8 monitors in a 5.1 configuration, so that it can be used by students studying audio techniques for television, film and computer games. The control room is permanently linked to the University's existing live spaces, including its large performance venue, so that concerts and performances can be recorded.
The entire facility was designed by Peter Keeling of Studio People and constructed by his team alongside Langdale Technical Consulting who looked after the technical install.
Langdale Director Bill Ward said: "This was a big install with an SSL Control Room housing the 48-channel Duality console, a machine room, live area, vocal/drum booth, three rehearsal rooms, two performance rooms, a fully equipped live venue and, just for good measure, two further spaces allocated for future use and expansion.
"It all equates to a lot of rooms that all need interconnecting, over some huge distances and with a complex variety of cabling and infrastructure options. There was only ever going to be one shot at getting all the cabling installed."
After looking at all the options, Langdale chose Van Damme cable and used vast quantities of Van Damme analogue Blue Series, video, HDMI, data and control cable, along with connectors, patchbay and studio hardware – all supplied by VDC Trading.
"We designed a complex multi-room system and I have to say Westminster University now has in its possession one of the finest audio recording facilities to be found at any university in the world," Bill Ward adds.
Colm O'Rourke, the University's Studio Manager, took charge of specifying the equipment for the flagship facility, in consultation with other members of the faculty. The equipment was sourced and supplied by Yan Gilbert-Miguet and Neil Boia of Academia.
"It was a collaborative process, particularly for the big ticket items such as the console and the monitors," O'Rourke explains. "We listened to a number of different monitors but the only ones that really impressed us were the PMCs. A few of us went to PMC for a demo and we were blown away by the accuracy of their products. We liked the idea of having the same surround monitors in the control room and the live room and we are delighted to be the first facility in Europe to install the new QB1As. They are incredible monitors– really powerful and transparent. Although we all have very different musical tastes and different views on what a good monitor should sound like, PMC was the only brand on which we could all agree."
Bringing a large-format SSL console to the University had been a long-standing ambition for the teaching team. "It was the one thing that students would give feedback to us about," explains O'Rourke, "so we were confident if we only installed equipment with a global reputation for excellence, we would attract the best students from around the world to study with us."
The 48-channel Duality's hybrid approach means that students can combine a traditional analogue path - SSL's SuperAnalogue™ inputs, mix bus, and processing - with DAW control and integration on the same surface; and now δelta-Control offers analogue console automation in a DAW workflow. "We wanted something that is industry standard… top of the range," O'Rourke adds. "We wanted a tool that was widely used and highly respected. There was no choice really; it had to be an SSL."
The University also invested in more Tubetech equipment and has added to its stock of Prism Sound conversion, increasing the number of multichannel converters it owns from three to nine.
"We bought our first Prism Sound converters some years ago and installed them in one of our other recording studios," O'Rourke says. "Again, it was accuracy that mattered – they sounded so much better than any other converters we tried that once our students used them, there was no going back. We are now using 48 channels of Prism Sound ADA-8XR I/O in our new control room and the sound we get is exceptional – very natural and with no coloration at all. I'm also impressed with Prism Sound's after sales support, which is second to none."
The University of Westminster has been running BA courses in Commercial Music, a BMus in Commercial Music Performance and MA courses in Audio Production, Sound Design and Music Business since the early 1990s and many of its alumni have gone on to carve out exceptional careers across a broad range of industries. Every year over 600 students use its music recording facilities, which include 13 other smaller studios as well as the new flagship rooms.
"Students across all five of our BA and MA courses are expected to master or understand the principles behind music production, even if that is not the area they ultimately want to work in," Alan Fisher adds. "We also expect them to learn business and digital skills so that they can tick every box and become successful independent practitioners. The new studio facilities are primarily there for teaching, but the University is also developing some interesting links with external organisations such as the BBC, providing a Maida Vale style service to the BBC Introducing initiative, and British Underground in promoting their acts. Students from TV and Music get the opportunity to work on these projects, which gives them real experience while they are still studying. This is definitely a benefit to everyone involved and something we are keen to expand."