out of town shopping ?

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by nervoustitan, Feb 25, 2004.

  1. nervoustitan

    nervoustitan Guest

    Hey all, this is my first post, but the forum here seems great, and i thought i'd post my kind of 'newbie' question.

    it's this : i'm in the process of starting my own mastering lab, as i've been roped into mastering a lot of projects for folks that are not satisfied with other local facilities. my gear is all tracking oriented, so i need to make major changes and purchases to really serve my clients. the problem is that it's next to impossible to go anywhere in town where i can sit and A/B high end monitoring systems or converters not to mention things like transfer consoles or mastering oriented digital gear.

    i clearly need to book an out of town trip, but to where ? any suggestions on what city i might find a shop in that would tolerate idiotic questions and a few hours of serious gear comparisons in a room that is not an acoustic nightmare ?

    my only alternative seems to be relying on the gear lists of studios that have pumped out masters that i envy, and researching their purchases carefully, which is spooky to say the least.

    and maybe this should be a new topic, but has anybody actually ever *seen* a maselec mtc-2 - are they as cool as they look ?


  2. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member


    I would strongly suggest that you join the audio engineering society & attend their yearly convention. Unfortunately you just missed this year's: it was in NYC back in October. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only single place where all the specialty mastering hardware manufacturers are to be found at any one time. A lot of the equipment is very specialized & not on display in showrooms. There are places in NY where you can see some of the gear: Dale Audio & Studio Consultants are among them, and there are, of course, others. At least getting some gear lists is not a bad idea, but things change in studios & new gear is sometimes not listed nor is a list of stuff once used, but no longer in service.
  3. Thomas W. Bethel

    Thomas W. Bethel Well-Known Member

    To answer your question I suppose New York, LA and Nashville would be where most the "gear" is on display and you could listen to it.

    Before taking the big plunge I would suggest you go and sign on to the mastering web board at
    http://webbd.nls.net:8080/~mastering and do some research. Most gear gets talked about on that web board and you will not find a nicer group of people (except here) that are always willing to help.

    As to starting a mastering room. It is not something that is taken lightly with today's economy. The most important things are the physical room and how well it is designed and the monitors you are going to use. Depending on your budget these two items alone can run into the thousands if not the hundreds of thousands of dollars to start. The equipment comes next and you should decide what you want to do. Will you be all analog up until the final A to D converter or will you be all digital or maybe a combination of both?

    You will also have to decide who your market will be. Are you going after the small fry or the big fish. There are equipment choices to be made for either group. If you are going after the really big fish then you will have to have the best to compete with the likes of Sterling Sound or Bob Ludwig. If you are aiming a bit lower then the best equipment will still be required only maybe not at the "bleeding edge" technology level. If you are going to go for the smaller artist just starting out then you may be more inclined to get your self a good computer with some plugins and satisfy the demand in a more economical way.

    The other problem is getting clients. All the equipment in the world will not get you clients. It is the person doing the mastering and how he or she interacts with the clients and their music that gets the rep that gets the clients that keeps 'em coming back for more.

    You say that you have been doing mastering for people. Are they paying you and are they willing to bring other people in to you mastering studio? What equipment are you using now that you think will not be good for what you are trying to do? You say you are all set up for tracking and not mastering. Do you still want to do tracking and add on mastering as a sideline that to will be something to consider when making your purchases. Do you have the room and the monitoring equipment to do a good job on mastering or will your first purchases have to be better monitors and redoing your room. Mastering requires good acoustics and good monitors. They are not the same requirements as for tracking or recording. What are you finances and are you ready to spend the big bucks or just go to your local GC and see what $1000.00 will get you. Saying that you want to start a mastering lab is commendable. You need to do a lot of thinking before you start planning an equipment list. In today's music business turned upside down many people are doing their own recording and mastering and some are doing it quite well. If you are only going to be offering mastering then I wish you good luck as today most mastering studios also offer a whole host of other services from restoration to remixing to CD duplication to transfers. Putting all your eggs in one basket, so to speak, is probably not a good idea.

    The world does not need another mastering studio PERIOD but that did not stop me from starting my own mastering operation and if you are serious I am sure it will not stop you. Just do the home work FIRST before taking the plunge. What now seems easy will soon seem hard especially when you have spent a bundle on equipment and completely maxed out your credit cards and there is no work coming in the door. Make sure you know what you are getting into and make sure you have the drive to get though the start up process where so many businesses today go belly up.

    Just my thought and I wish you well in your endeavor. If you have more specific questions please state them as I am sure their are people on this board that have most if not all the answers.

    You may also want to go to http://www.digido.com and read about mastering before you take the plunge. Also I have found that most mastering engineers are more than happy to have visitors when they are not super busy and you maybe able to look in the MIX master directory to see if ther are some mastering houses in your area. A simple phone call asking for a visit may be all you will need to do. Your visit will be welcomed as long as they a) don't see you as a threat to their business and b) as long as they are not super busy when you want to come for a look see.
    The same would work for out of town visits and a simple phone call maybe all that is needed to see some special piece of gear you are interested in. Just some additional thoughts
  4. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    The good thing is that there aren't that many tools out there that can do the job, the bad thing is that they are expensive and hard to get ahold of. Developing relationships with people you can trust is a big way of weeding through the stuff. I usually spend a year doing research and testing before I buy a piece of gear. It's time consuming but necessary if you want to get equipment that works for you. I don't think a weekend in the city will do it, you'll probably come away more confused than when you arrived. I've driven hundreds of miles to listen to a pair of speakers only to get there and find that one of the tweeters was gone on their demo pair and wouldn't be repaired for another 2 weeks. So I drove back again and listened, thought they were ok but wanted to listen with another amp, didn't have anything else. drove back again with amp in hand, listened, decided against. forget about consoles, next to impossible to get a demo on one, unless you go directly to the builder. Eq's and compressors are much easier.
  5. nervoustitan

    nervoustitan Guest

    Hey guys,

    thanks for taking the time to respond. your input is really a massive help.

    first, i'd like to thank thom for his thoughtful observations. what you say is true - the world is packed with mastering labs, but my town is not. i am fortunate to live in a very active music community that's got few viable alternatives for mastering. my state has a "music office" that the governor established to build on the power of our local music economy, and thus the state's tourist industry. they have an incredible wealth of useful information for folks trying to break into the biz. they sent me a list of contacts for my city's 171 commercial recording facilities, and another of the 47 "mastering studios." of the 47, two of them are actually worth calling "mastering labs" - meaning they are not tracking rooms monitoring on the same ns-10s they mix on, and they have more going for them in terms of equipment than an L2 running on a pro-tools rig to get the job done. (don't read that as a slam on the L2 - but if that's all you got, i'm mastering somewhere else..)

    neither of these rooms have been able to spend the time or money to really develop. one of the labs, which is always booked a month to 6 weeks out does not even have an ATR. If you mix to analog, you are on your own in terms of the first conversion. considering that the explosion in home recording tech seems to have gotten us to a point where the mastering engineer is frequently the first audio "professional" to hear a project, this sounds nutty to me. not that most of these mixes are not digital anyway, but you get my point...i mean this room is busy at 800 a day - and no analog 2-track !

    i would not design my own room (in an acoustic sense) any faster than i would build my own airplane (although it's merely a matter of time before the geek in me takes a crack at it, i guess.) My plan is to hire a friend that works as an acoustic engineer to suss out tuning and speaker placement with me. i might be out of line, but hiring a TEF guy and calling it a day doesn't seem like the way to go.

    the investment is scary. i will need to borrow from a bank to get into a position of strength, but if my read on the competition is correct, i should be doing okay by the end of a year in operation.

    my hope is that the lab will be attached to another studio here in that is doing a lot of the business currently being shipped to folks in other cities for final masters. i want to intercept some of that work.

    in any event, suggestions about visiting labs in other towns and a trip to new york are great advice. buying speakers is such a pain in the ass...they are never going to sound like they sound in my room, and when looking at $10,000 plus for a suitable pair, i need to know it's going to work.

    converters are a bit easier, as cost per unit is so much lower - the gamble not as great and it's a little safer to rely on specifications and trusted reviewers as environment seems to play a much narrower role - but i wish i could listen to a stack of options before plopping down a couple of grand that will just depress me after a few hours of listening.

    as for the console - seems like gear lists and jumping in based on community reaction may be the only way to go...

    well, it beats A&R.
  6. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    Hi Michael,
    What speakers have you tried out? before you chose the B&W's?

    I think that getting you monitor situation right(or as close as possible) is the most importent thing to start with and that will take a few month at least to one year or even several years....

    Many peoble here including me has been working on their monitor system for several years... and more to come :)

    I auditioned different "tech designed" rooms here in Denmark to come up with the conclusion that a typical "tech designed" room was not an option I was going to use.
    Instead I designed my own room and build acoustic modules that I now use sparingly so they will not kill and mess up the sound of my monitor system and the sound when you speak in the room.
    I think the room is just as personal as the monitor system... so why trust another person?

    Once I've got someting I really feel like trusting I can begin testing gear.
    That's how i did it.

    Best Regards,
  7. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    Many places including myself don't use a console. I just string together the pieces I'm using via an XLR patchbay. I monitor with a source selector switch and a passive attenuator.

    An MTC-2 is a beautiful machine but quite expensive. I personally would cobble something together and save a bundle of cash for other things. BTW I use the Maselec MEA2 and MLA2 and love them.
  8. nervoustitan

    nervoustitan Guest

    Hey paul -

    this is an interesting idea for me, and would save a b-load of cash. i do have a few questions for you though, if you have time...

    are you able handle surround stuff with your setup ?

    do you have multiple sets of monitors that you switch between while you work ?

    do you do any m-s equalization ?

  9. gawlowski

    gawlowski Guest

    Hi guys,
    Nice to see you here Paul(MLA-2 rocks by the way!)
    I've got a fine mastering console that did not cost a fortune.It's called Crookwood Mastering Bricks.Crispin Herod Taylor makes these consoles in England.
    Very good quality for a little money really.

    Jacek Gawlowski
    JG Master Lab
  10. Ammitsboel

    Ammitsboel Member

    I think that there's more to it than just saving money when it comes to not using a mastering console.
    I don't believe in using a console with fancy switching relays and light's.
    Don't forget that what makes a good upper range preamp has a lot to do with signal transfer and therefore must not have relays because they degrade the signal transfer.

    I believe in direct couple of the few units you want to use for the session and if you must have a switch to compare instead of pulling cables in and out, then build a very simple console to do it with very good quality rotary switches.

    Check out Brad Blackwood's simple console in the tech forum.

    So Save your money and what's most important: Save your sound!!!

    Best Regards,
  11. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    No, but I'm not planning on doing surround work, or quad:)

    No, but if you want to put a speaker select switch in it's easy. You would need a seperate amp.

    Yes. I have a transformer matrix for encode and decode. I just patch it in when I need it. I also have an elliptical EQ and HPF/LPF and line amps like in the Maselec.

    I don't belive there is any more compromise in passing a signal through a good sealed relay than an XLR connector. There is the possibility of switching clicks but you get that with a physical switch as well. There are good arguments for both a passive and an active solution. Just remember that in many ways a passive approach is harder to deal with. A good active design is fairly idiot proof. A passive approach takes carefull attention to detail to work correctly in all situations.
  12. joe lambert

    joe lambert Distinguished Member

    I see everyones comments. I do have the MTC-2. It's a great piece. I don't like to give my opinions on gear anymore! Not that I don't like to help but you have to try things for yourself to see what works best for your situation.

    Good luck,

  13. nervoustitan

    nervoustitan Guest

    i definitely understand your call on this Joe, but it's been a rough ride trying to sit anywhere in my neighborhood to try out an MTC-2 ! the specs look nice, but for the money paul's suggestion is striking..

    can you talk at all about what led you to go the console route vs. sophisticated patching as outlined by Paul above ? Do you feel like it's given you an advantage in your day to day operation that you couldn't live without at this point ?

    again, i thank all you guys for taking the time to dwell on te subject it's a massive help, and it's fun considering how many of your platters (and CDs) live in my crates - i appreciate your comments !
  14. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I think i've listened to just about every speaker ever made. I still listen to a set once every month. i listened in the price range of $1000 to $100,000 and chose mine based on what I like to hear in a speaker and how it sounds in my room. I originally chose the Dunlavy speakers but they were just too big for my room. Then I was going to go with the B&W 800's but they too were too big. I'm in pauls camp in regards to consoles. I don't use one. everything is hard patched as needed. seperate xlr bay for digital and tt bay for analog. Less problems, less money, more toys. I don't have a ton of toys but what i do have I like and get a lot of use out of. I've developed relationships with people that let me try out pieces of gear when i want to and I also trust what they hear. Good luck on the studio.
  15. gawlowski

    gawlowski Guest

    I think that there's more to it than just saving money when it comes to not using a mastering console.
    I don't believe in using a console with fancy switching relays and light's.
    Don't forget that what makes a good upper range preamp has a lot to do with signal transfer and therefore must not have relays because they degrade the signal transfer.


    I don't intend to start another stupid gear talk,but must say that you are wrong Henrik.
    Crispin gets the best available relays for his consoles that don't degrade the signal transfer
    (that's actually the most expensive bit in them!).
    The reason why he is doing it is the sound quality
    issue.The console is clean and transparent when compared to "straight wire" and also does M/S processing in analog,5.1 processing in both digital and analog,you have full of great options available for a decent price,but not cheap.
    You need to listen first,than judge.

    Jacek Gawlowski
    JG Master Lab

  16. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I guess it depends on how you like to work. I have a lot of flexibility on monitoring and a/b'ing so that's not really my concern. It's more about keeping the path simple. I've looked into several consoles and most seem very well built. As I acquire more and more gear though, routing flexibility will become more of an issue.
  17. gawlowski

    gawlowski Guest

    I guess it depends on how you like to work. I have a lot of flexibility on monitoring and a/b'ing so that's not really my concern. It's more about keeping the path simple. I've looked into several consoles and most seem very well built. As I acquire more and more gear though, routing flexibility will become more of an issue.


    Exactly.Routing flexibility is an issue for me,cause I have 5 digital and 5 analog devices.
    I use them in all kinds of combinations.
    I once had an XLR patchbay and recall it as a nightmare experience.
    But I believe it can serve well for other people.
    I think that the simplest patching in/out of gear is the key,but to me it's such a pain really.
    I've done it once,don't wanna do it again and I'm
    just fine with my current console setup.

    Jacek Gawlowski
    JG Master Lab
  18. nervoustitan

    nervoustitan Guest

    even though i see it as a fad, i think 5.1 (or quad, or edison canisters, steam driven compressors, whatever:) is going to be pretty important in my room. there is a lot of film activity in my city, and if i set the room up right i think i can tap a cool secondary cash flow out of doing some audio post..this may mean that there are folks using my desk that are not me (cringe) and i think a console might be of better service to them and my monitors..

    i have not really thought this out enough to talk about it, and it's sliding way off topic for the thread but the conversation re: consoles tickled my money bone...

    i still wish there was a mastering "shop" where i could really evaluate the WILDLY expensive gear i need to get moving..
  19. Gold

    Gold Active Member

    I didn't mean to imply that a console was a bad and unnecessary choice. I would love to have an MTC2. The ergonomic advantages are real and the sound quality is superb. The Crookwood is a very well thought out product and integrates analog and digital routing seemlesly. It is also modular and can be added to as necessary. I haven't heard one though.
  20. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    I didn't get that implication, I know we would all love a great sound console. I almost bought the old sony mastering cello console but in the end I just couldn't afford it. :(

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