Letter From LA
Editor gets sun-tan; justifies expenses, etc.
The Audio Engineering Society convention in LA this year provided an excellent opportunity to have a look at some American studios, and having not had the chance to enter a US facility since working in A&R New York briefly in 1974, I got around quite a bit. Studio Sound's Mel Lambert was there too, and between us we got to look at a number of places.
Something that impressed us both was the fact that we could walk into places unannounced, get shown round the building and chat to engineers without upsetting anyone, a hard thing to achieve in England. Also impressive was the overall air of cleanliness and efficiency. Maybe we were just lucky, but there were a number of places that were distinctly not expecting a visitation, but still looked as if they were brand new.
An excellent example of this attitude was at Kitchen Sync, on Sunset Boulevard (where else?). We just presented ourselves at the door and got shown round. The immaculate studio included a Sound Workshop 1280 mixer (12/8), Teac 80-8 tape machine and an Ampex 4/2 submix unit. Also in evidence were Otari MX5050 and Teac 3300 stereo machines, plus a 3340S 4-track ¼in. Monitors were JBL plus the inevitable (and in my view somewhat overrated) Auratone cuboids. A Teac DX-8 dbx unit was linked up to the 8-track, completing a very effective little studio with full copying facilities in another room, all in all a joy to behold.
Visits to larger studios revealed typical state-of-the-art US recording gear. United Western, also on Sunset, were showing their brand-new studio, fitted with the new UREI 813 'Time Aligned' monitors (the ones that are undistorted at the threshold of pain, eek!) and Harrison 40/32 console, backed up with an MCI 24-track and a couple of Ampex ATR100 stereos. The Harrison had the light-column metering option, and the spokesman I chatted to found them useful, as they were thin enough to sit over the monitor channels, thus removing the unnerving possibility of having to look across 32 meters and 40 channels to work out which went where.
Talking to people in and around the studios revealed an interesting sidelight on American studio practice: I came away with a definite feeling that the emphasis was heavily on making sure the producer went away happy rather than thinking about the sound of the finished product. It's difficult to generalise from such a short stay, but it strikes me that British engineers are rather more concerned with the way the tracks finally sound than their US counterparts.
A very lucky pre-arranged visit to Motown Records' studio on Romaine Street in Hollywood, which is given over entirely to in-house recording product, also produced some interesting comments. Talking to maintenance man Miles Weiner and a few of the engineering staff revealed an interest in quadrisonic recording that was largely unsatisfied: the quad monitoring in the three identical control rooms (all Quad/Eight desks with 3M tape equipment) had never been used, primarily because of the continuing controversy as to the 'best' system. Understandably they expressed great interest in Britain's 45J ambisonic format (see News in SI 2).
Engineers I spoke to were very interested in new technical developments in the industry: digital techniques, particularly audio recording, drew a lot of attention whenever mentioned, but engineers, far from being concerned at the plethora of outboard devices, actively welcomed new gadgets to offer their clients. I thought they might be after such units simply to attract clientele, but this wasn't the case: engineers in the US seem to be more than willing to experiment with new signal processing possibilities.
The whole visit was most enjoyable, not to mention illusion-shattering, and I'd like to thank all those studios who let us wander in off the streets and into their control rooms.
Feature by Richard Elen
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