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Company Profile: Studiomaster

Article from International Musician & Recording World, October 1985

Mixing with the master men



Enquire what lies behind a Studiomaster mixing desk, and you'll probably be told there's a row of XLR's and a few rows of jack connections. Leaving aside the more obvious points, however, at the back of each Studiomaster product there is around 10 years of design development and innovative technology. In fact, during 1985 the company is celebrating a decade on the road and in the studio. We've looked back over those years at some of the products, the changes and the company itself.

RSD Hire, which is an important part of the business to this day, was concerned with running the sound systems of the most notable touring bands of the era. From Rod Argent to The Kinks to Roy Wood they provided "the best live sounds that were around at the time". Because PA systems were relatively undeveloped, the equipment that would give a level and performance suitable for such bands was not easy to buy "off the shelf". Consequently, it had to be made. In this way the ancestor of present day Studiomaster desks was born. A large robust construction and no particular beauty, it had many features that were several years ahead of its time: fully modular construction for example. It was designed for use on extended concert tours and had the durability which was to become a hallmark of the company. It also had signal to noise characteristics which in the mid-eighties are rarely equalled. An early story of the first model (owned by Argent) concerns two music business experts who, impressed by the appearance of the new machine, asked for it to be switched on so that they could find out how much hiss and hum it added to the sound. With some satisfaction the designers informed them that it was switched on. Incidentally, Studiomaster played the same trick at a recent demonstration of the 8-4 model — the contribution to system noise made by these desks comes close to negligible.

Studiomaster and Recording Studio Design realised that it would be a good idea to develop the successful top-flight desks into a format that would be desirable and affordable to a majority of musicians. Manufacturing production began, and with it the conquest of the world — at least the rather specialised world of the sound engineer.

Whereas others have attempted to conquer the world by fire and the sword, RSD initially chose the 800b power amplifier and the 12 into 2 mixer for the task. Both these products were highly successful, but the real world-beaters were the later 16-4 mixer (4-track recording was gaining popularity at this time due to the advent of affordable 4-track machines) and the 800c power amplifier. The 16-4 was a scaled down (and rather more aesthetically pleasing) version of the first modular desk as far as its audio circuitry was concerned. It offered a remarkable specification and instead of the useful but expensive modular system, it pioneered a design using 4-channel add-on modules. Later a "4 into 2" add-on was available for live use. It was the forerunner of today's 16-4-2. Not only was it an exceptionally popular road mixer, but it was also the first of its kind with full remix facilities so that re-patching for 4-track recording was a matter of simply touching a switch rather than plugging and unplugging jack-to-jacks: this made it a perfect choice for small studios. A great many people in over 40 countries did (and still do) record on these mixers — and they have some claim to it being the most successful compact desk ever made. As technology progressed and 8-track recorders were affordable to more people, so a quality 8-track desk was required. Studiomaster supplied the demand with 16-8, identical to the 16-4 but with extra outputs and improved routing.

The 800c and 400c power amplifiers followed the 800b. Like the 16-channel mixing desks, they were a response to the lack of currently available products (British ones that is) which were up to the job. Power amplifiers that were around tended to be low on power — something that could never be said of the 800c! The 800b had been a good amplifier. It was the company's first production amplifier and was the foundation of the company's reputation for rugged reliability. The 800c was basically an improved 800b. Attention was paid to still improving the reliability of the amplifier and to making it easier to service. LED's were used for output display for the first time and input attenuators were also added. The 400c, as a reviewer of the time said "fills the power vacuum below the 800b and 800c models".

Expansion



The chief reason for the success of Studiomaster products is the ability of their designers to appreciate the economics of running a band. Bands tend to want a professional standard of sound quality and control together with a professional array of channels and facilities. Fundamentally, they have insufficient funds for either. With the 16-4, 16-8, 12-2 and the uprated 12-2, the 12-2b, they found the perfect compromise.

The mixers had the right audio specification and powerful equalisation (which would allow good engineers to make a mediocre sound brilliant — but bad ones to make the same sound terrible!). They were well laid out, with good separation and logical positioning of controls. But perhaps most important to a small band, was that they were structured for a minimal initial outlay, without imposing built-in-limitation — because of the add-on modules.

A Studiomaster add-on module is simply four extra input channels (identical to the existing ones) which can be bolted on in around 10 minutes. Several can be used and any desk can be expanded up to 32 inputs. This rules out the problem of a band having to replace a perfectly good mixer as a result of acquiring a couple more vocalists or a more sophisticated keyboard rig. A "4 into 2" add-on was made for the 16-4 which allowed for 2-track mixdowns, or stereo output when performing live. Even today it is a major selling point of Studiomaster consoles and now patch bay add-ons are available. Studiomaster will fit these add-ons for you "from the factory" when you purchase a desk if you want a custom size desk — part of their good customer relations service which they pride themselves in. Another example of this willingness to adjust themselves to a customer's individual needs was a number of special order Mosfet 1000's for the Manhattan Group. This Hong Kong based company (which owns prestigious night clubs throughout the Far East) required their own logo screened on the front of the amplifiers.

While the desks were growing, so was the company, since it had broken into America. The States are as important a market for British equipment makers as for British artists and Studiomaster quickly gained a foothold there. Once America was secured, the rest of the world soon followed and you can now find the products in some 40 countries, faithfully coping with about a thousand curious ethnic interpretations of the Rock 'n' Roll idiom. Well known exponents of 'Studiomastery' include Phil Collins, Mark Stanway, Phil Lynott, Midge Ure, Alan Clarke, Russell Webb, Earl Slick, Spandau Ballet, Steve Nieve, Girlschool, Iron Maiden, Lloyd Cole, Jimmy Summerville, Nik Kershaw, Cocteau Twins and George Melly.

During 1978 and 1979 when the company was making the running in America, it also penetrated Europe in a big way. There were also phenomenal sales of 20-8 monitor mixers in Japan, though why this particular configuration should have found such disproportionate favour there is unclear. With the expansion came renewed R&D efforts and a new generation of compact desks was devised, starting with the 8-4. This wedge shaped rack-mountable unit had all the popular Studiomaster features in a product geared for the growing home studio market, although it quickly became (and still is to this day) a creditable road desk. The 8-2 Power Mixer was the same size and shape as the 8-4, but had three built-in MOSFET amplifiers. MOSFET technology was relatively new at the time and the 8-2 was the first production Studiomaster to incorporate it. The outputs had stereo 7-band graphic equalisation. The three parts of the 8-2 (the mixer, amplifiers and graphic eq) could all be used discretely making the unit extremely versatile. Incidentally, the 8-4 and 8-2 are still good sellers today! The other product in this new format was the Studio 4 the esoteric portable studio. A fully equipped 6-channel mixer (derived from the proven 8-4), industrial standard logic control tape deck and LED bargraph displays set the Studio 4 apart from anything else. Around the time of its launch, 50% of all phone calls to the Studiomaster Sales department were about the Studio 4!

Around this time of great R&D effort, Studiomaster produced PA cabinets, 3 & 5 way crossovers, multi-cores and even a Flanger.

During 1981-82, Studiomaster were researching the relatively new MOSFET technology to uprate their amplifier series. (MOSFETs had already proven themselves in the 8-2.) At the time of MOSFET amplifiers being put in the 8-2, prototype designs for a Mosfet 250 amplifier and Mosfet 800 were made. These were never actually produced due to a last minute re-think and a decision to build a Mosfet amplifier larger than 400w per channel. This larger amplifier was the now legendary Mosfet 1000 (Mark 1). The benefits of MOSFETs included lower intermodular distortion, superior hf reproduction, greater bandwidth and freedom from thermal problems characteristic of bi-polar designs. Studiomaster suggest this test: replace your bi-polar with a MOSFET and the clearer altogether crisper sound will be instantly noticeable.

The old series mixers gave way to the current 16-4-2, 16-8-2 and 12-2c in 1982. These new models had even more powerful equalisation and notably: plug in wire looms to replace the old hard wired harnesses. A board on a new Studiomaster desk can be removed and replaced without soldering in just a few minutes. As 16-track recorders (notably the Fostex B16) came within reach of small studios, Studiomaster quickly built a desk to suit (derived from the new 16-4-2 and 16-8-2): the 16-6-2. As one satisfied customer stated in a magazine "the RSD 16-16-2 is at the present time, the only logical choice of mixing desk to mate with the Fostex B16 in my opinion". The main reason for his high praise of the 16-16-2 was its realistic price and the fact that it was a TRUE 16-16, NOT and 16-8-16 — meaning that you could simultaneously record all 16 tracks if required instead of only 8.

Today Studiomaster employ some 70 people at their factory in Luton and their head offices in Northall. Things have come a fair way since the manufacturing operation was set up in the upper story of an old barn and cash flow was regulated by the accountant putting his foot on a trap door every time a creditor climbed the ladder to the only entrance! For Studiomaster, as for some other top names in musical equipment, the limit on expansion has not been demand for the product or ability to make it, but the reluctance of Western financial institutions to give high levels of support to companies making musical equipment. (This reluctance is not met in Japan, with quite noticeable results). Nevertheless, Studiomaster have spread throughout the globe and make some of the world's most widely used desks and power amplifiers.

Currently the Mosfet 500 and Mosfet 1000 rule the roost and have built up a formidable reputation for reliability and performance — you'll find them everywhere from Dire Straits' PA rig to top nightclubs in the Far East. New to the Mosfet range (to be introduced late '85) is the massive 2000 (massive only in power: it still fits in three rack units!) which includes four independent 500W modules which can be bridged into 1000W pairs or split as required — another pioneering concept from Studiomaster. Also becoming available soon are a range of budget amplifiers: the Recording Studio Design Stellar Fet 1, 2, and 4. These give 100W, 200W and 400W per channel respectively and the smallest one is available as a free standing version. They may be budget price, but RSD pride won't let them out of the door with "budget specification"! The range of desks is comprehensive too, from the 6-2-1 (which has been shown on test to give desks three times the price and six times the size a run for their money in terms of sound specification), through the rackable 8-2 and 8-4 to the slim wedge 16 channel series (the 16-4-2 is the company's best selling mixer despite stiff competition in the four track market).

The new flagship of the mixer range is the 12M monitor mixer, due later this year. It's a 12 output monitor desk which is built in a flight case and is available with up to 40 input channels (24-12 being the standard configuration). Naturally in Studiomaster tradition, if you start with a 24-12, you can up rate it to 32 or 40 inputs without purchasing a new desk. The features and specification of this desk are absolutely first class: full parametric four-band equalisation, variable notch filter, built-in talkback microphone, reading lights, the list goes on!

The Future



The next decade looks to be as exciting as the last. 1986 will see the introduction of the Studio 4-2 dual deck (4 track, 2 track) tape machine — which is another world first — and its associated mini-mix module. The mini-mix is an ultra-compact mixer which enables the Studio 4-2 owner to use the tape machines many facilities without the further expense of a big four-track desk on top of the tape deck. As with its predecessor, the Studio 4-2 is in a class of its own. A new series of 16-channel desks is on the way with improvements in specification and a whole host of new features. Also on the way is a computer controlled mixer with some truly unique innovations that are as yet secret.

The company is also distributing Primo microphones. Primo have up until now been purely a manufacturing company: name what you consider to be the top Japanese microphone and the odds are that Primo make it.

Studiomaster are continuing to grow and diversify without neglecting the roots of their achievements: an appreciation of what musicians who consult and work with them reads like a programme for 'Live-Aid'!

Along with design inspiration, the company has a record for consistency. A 1975 Studiomaster 16-4 is still a useful, reliable and well-thought-out desk even by today's standards. A 1985 16-4-2 has refinements but the old design principles still stand: excellent s/n ratio, powerful equalisation, practical control proceduresand as tough as old boots. With the power amplifiers touring with bands like Dire Straits, running 14 hours out of 24 in the heat and humidity of Singapore clubs or handling the sound in a Moscow stadium (the Mosfet 1000 is the only European amplifier approved in Russia), the reliability of Studiomaster products is unquestionable.

There is no reason why the next decade should be any less successful than the last.


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Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Oct 1985

Donated by: Mike Gorman, Neill Jongman

Scanned by: Mike Gorman

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Previous article in this issue:

> The Musical Micro

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