Home Studio Recordist
Olivier Behzadi's Fostex A8-based studio.
In the deepest recess of Herts lies a Fostex A8 recording system that has been taken out of the realms of the bedroom home recordist and into serious home recording. The studio in question is owned by Olivier Behzadi.
The studio is a converted garage, situated on the family farm. The garage is a rectangular brick (30'x10') building with a pitched tiled roof. The conversion from garage to studio took place last summer, work started with the installation of a false ceiling of plasterboard covered over with insulation. The floor was levelled then concreted over.
For the walls, an inner wooden sub-frame was constructed, then pegboard nailed to the subframe. This left a gap of about a foot between the brick and the pegboard which was then tilled with loft insulation. The combination of the peg-board and loft insulation works very well, as the holes in the pegboard allow resonating frequencies to pass through and are then absorbed by the loft insulation. The result is a very dead acoustically treated studio that also acts as sound proofing as well.
The studio itself does not have a control room/studio partition but with the aid of carpet-covered doors the recording equipment can be partitioned off from the recording area which is handy when recording drums and guitars etc.
With the design of the studio complete, a basic 4-track cassette system was installed consisting of a Fostex 250, a pair of Fostex 6302 monitor speakers and Fostex 3050 digital delay.
This, explained Olivier, was a very good way for generating ideas and getting used to working with multitrack equipment. But it was soon realised that to go any further and develop, eight track had to be the medium for putting ideas onto tape.
So in November of last year, a secondhand Fostex A8 tape recorder, 350 mixer and 3060 meter bridge were installed in the studio. With the upgrade in recorder/mixer also came an upgrade in ancillary equipment. Olivier claims that it wasn't just due to a doubling up of the amount of tracks, before he had recorder and mixer in one unit. Whereas, the 8-track recorder is fairly easy to operate, the mixer was a lot more complex. This is almost always the case when upgrading, and should be borne in mind when considering new equipment.
The studio layout is very simple: the entrance is at one end leading to the recording area, with the recording equipment area at the far end.
The recording equipment can be sectioned off and consists of a converted office desk which houses the 350 mixer with a patchbay mounted in the desk alongside the 350. The channel inputs of the 350 have also been extended out to the end of the desk that faces the recording area.
The tape recorders and effects rack are on a shelf that runs at a right angle to the office desk, so everything is in easy reach for engineering purposes. Some shelves have been put up running along one wall of the studio to act as storage space for guitars, keyboards, headphones, and tape etc., whilst the monitor speakers are on a table that runs parallel with the recording desk and at ear level height when sitting.
With the advent of the eight track machine, a wide range of effects were bought to increase flexibility during recordings.
The Fostex digital delay was traded in for an Ibanez DM1000 which offered a longer delay and the hold facility. For shorter delay effects a Vesta-Fire SLF010 dual flanger/chorus was introduced which produces a noiseless warm effect as opposed to the somewhat cold, thin sound of the Ibanez.
For phasing, a Moog 12 stage phaser is used, which features 12 stages of phasing as opposed to the normal 4 and 8, resulting in a very smooth effect. With its clock voltage and external modulation inputs, linked up to a monophonic synthesiser, a wide range of interesting effects can be obtained.
For compression, 2 Vesta-Fire MLM-1 compressor/limiters are used. Although not as well known as the Accessit compressor, say, a more controllable compression/limiting setting can be obtained. They also have a stereo tie facility which enables two such compressors to be controlled identically by adjusting only one set of front panel controls - a positive boon in mixdown situations.
Reverberation treatments are created via the Accessit spring reverb, but for a live reverb sound, one of the outbuildings on the farm (a disused freezer room) is excellent. As well as the equalisation on the mixer, an MXR dual 10 band graphic equaliser is available for finer control of the recorded sound.
2-track mixdowns are recorded onto a Teac 32-2B and a Technics stereo cassette recorder used for cassette copies.
If noise reduction is required for mix-down an old Kellar dual Dolby'B' noise reduction unit is available. Oliver explained that everything, as far as effects were concerned, was bought secondhand, with the exception of the compressors, so that at the end of the day, for the same money as a new system you end up with a wider range of equipment to call upon.
To tie effects, mixer and recorder together a Roland PJ80 patchbay from the old System 700 modular synth, is used, this is one of the lesser known Roland products. Not only does it have individual inputs and outputs, but also single input to double outputs, and single input to four outputs. This type of patchbay can itself be used both as a creative tool and as an easy means of connecting one piece of equipment to another.
For a studio of such a small size, Olivier has a wide range of microphones:
AKG D12E x1
AKG D1200 x1
AKG D222 x2
AKG D190 x2
AKG D451 x1
AKG D330BT x1
Calrec 652D x2
Shure Unidyne III
For monitoring purposes there are 3 references, a pair of JBL4313 speakers provide master reference monitoring, while an old pair of Braun (yes the shaver manufacturers) speakers are used for Hi-Fi reference, which sound very similar to Visonik Davids, and are powered by a Leak Hi-Fi amp. And for radio reference, a pair of self-powered Suzuki NG10CTs, although only 3 watts output, produce a very clean and flat response.
Headphone monitoring is done via Beyer Dynamic 330 MkII cans which give a very tight bass response - essential when monitoring while having to record drums, guitar etc.
All in all, a wide and concise range of equipment for a home studio, but Olivier is adamant that a studio, be it 4, 8, 16 or 24 track, should have the necessary tools to fully express both musical and technical ideas. To this end, the studio hires in equipment, not only to enhance a track, but to obtain some understanding of equipment that is beyond his budget. Hire charges are relatively inexpensive compared to the experience you acquire by using the equipment and the benefits it conveys to what you are recording.
When it comes to using the equipment available to him, Olivier freely admits that there is always the temptation to use all of the equipment on all of the tracks. But listening to what has been recorded, effects and equipment have been used to enhance the music as opposed to the music simply acting as a foundation for the effects.
The compressors are used on vocals and bass guitar, but Olivier prefers drums to be recorded uncompressed. The Ibanez delay is used mainly for ADT (automatic double tracking) for vocal thickening, and in conjunction with the reverb. This is done by putting the effects signal through the delay with a setting of about 80-120 ms, then taking the output of the delay to the reverb to create a more natural reverb sound.
Reverb is added on initial recording and on mixdown, the reason being that only having one ancillary buss on the mixer makes it difficult to monitor effect and recorded tracks. When recording with reverb the signal is sent to the reverb and then brought back to a spare channel of the mixer, which allows for greater control over the equalisation of the reverberated signal.
Good stereo effects can be obtained with the Vesta-Fire dual flanger/chorus: if one side is set for flange and the other at a chorus setting, the signal will automatically pan across the stereo field. The Moog phaser is used for the same effect but especially on string sounds.
With such a large selection of mics available, getting good acoustic sounds isn't too much of a problem. For drum miking the AKG D12E is used for the bass drum and the D222's to capture a full tom sound. The D1200 is used on the snare to get a sharp snappy sound, with the Calrecs used as a stereo cross pair to pick up the overall kit. The AKG D330BT is used to get a silky hi-hat sound and the C451 for the cymbals. The end result is a very clean professional sound that you would expect to hear from a pro studio not from a 'home studio'. Olivier feels that experimenting with mics is the only way to learn the art of recording drums and guitars and this ethos should really be extended to all aspects of recording. Experimentation is the key to creativity!
The attitude taken by Olivier while recording and mixing is very serious. Obviously not everybody has the budget to record in luxury and comfort, but it's good to know that home recording is being treated as a serious business. The results are very impressive, so impressive in fact that the studio is being let out to friends as a songwriters' suite.
The music generated is commercial 'pop' with the angle on single success. He has been writing songs for about 6 months and will be approaching record companies in the near future. Olivier has his eyes on the Otari eight track if a substantial advance is forthcoming, and whoever he approaches for a record deal need not worry about the quality of the demo tape.
Feature by Sean Chenery
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