Masterer of the House

When you hear the name Bernie Grundman, you can’t help but think of mastering. His world-renowned facilities were launched in 1984, following Grundman’s 15-year tenure with A&M Studios. In 1997, Grundman opened his BGM Tokyo studios and in 1998 expanded to new facilities in Hollywood. The Hollywood facility operates five studios with a sixth 5.1 mastering room just opened in October 2002.

Grundman’s new 5.1 mastering studio features an in-house designed 6-channel analog console with discrete electronics. New BGM equalizers feature frequency select from 20 Hz to 24 kHz per channel. All devices can be hard-bypassed. The console is equipped with both VU meters and a DK Audio MSD600M multichannel display. Line amps are high-output, single-ended; converters are Lavry Engineering (formerly dB Technologies) AD122MkII A/D and DA924 D/A for console and monitoring. All electronics run from custom-built, low-impedance, high-current, constant voltage power supplies. The main computer is the Audio Cube AC5-D530 multichannel digital workstation with DVD-A available. Monitoring is done on two NEC LCD 20-inch monitors and surround monitoring is done with vintage Tannoy 15-inch speakers and in-house cabinets and crossovers.

SP: When did you launch your first 5.1 mastering studio?
GRUNDMAN: More than two years ago — we were one of the first studios in Japan to offer 5.1 mastering. The room is convertible, so it is used both for 2-channel mastering as well as 5.1. At the push of a button, the console in the 5.1 room is like the other 2-channel consoles in Tokyo and L.A.

From a technical standpoint, what are the considerations when creating a 5.1 room?
It’s similar to 2-track, but with three times as much of everything. To maintain the same level of quality as the 2-channel systems, we have spent the extra money to get the highest-quality processors. There are multichannel processors available that I’m sure a lot of people are using, and a few 8-channel D-to-A and A-to-D boards that are very affordable. But we didn’t want to cut corners anywhere. We only wanted to have top-of-the-line, so all our processors are modified to the specs that we have in the 2-channel rooms.

This new system also has a newly designed equalizer to supplement our main graphic equalizer. It fills in some of the gaps and has a little more flexibility than our normal 2-channel rooms — eventually we will have this new one in all of our rooms as well. We only use BGM equalizers, and this new one is additional — it doesn’t replace anything.

It goes all the way up to 24 kHz?
Yes, that’s one aspect of the new one.

With the background of the room in Tokyo, did you learn anything that is incorporated in this new room in LA?
The new room here is basically the same, but we have these new equalizers now and we tried to streamline the board and eliminate any unnecessary moves. What we develop here is shared equally with our studios in both countries.

And is the Audio Cube going to be the main computer in the new room?
Yes, we have the new AC5 for the 5.1 room, and we have the AC4 in our 2-track rooms. We have had that system for more than a year and we’ve gone through the learning curve, but now we have to learn the 5.1 computer, which has a lot more going on. The AC-5 has a few new features.

When you get a 5.1 mix for mastering, are you prepared for new styles of mixes?
Well, you know, it’s all a music experience, and we will grow as we go, learning just what the system can do. I feel that the industry is in a period of experimentation. We experiment, but we always try to determine if it is doing anything beneficial to the music. We will try new things, but we like to stay in touch with the music, without gimmicks, to give people better musical experiences.

Have you studied a lot of 5.1 mixes?
Yes, and now that we have the new room we can critically listen to what other people have done. We have come to the conclusion that the center channel is not very useful. It has to be used sparingly, because it can almost take away from the spatial effect — it’s really odd.

What about the bass information?
Well, our room has all full range speakers with subwoofers, as well. Some people have satellite speakers with subwoofers, and those systems will take anything below a certain frequency and put it in the subs.

How would you compare mastering in this new format with the past?
We will continue our work as before, and that means touching up the mix in the mastering process when necessary. We can vary the levels of each channel, and the EQ, compression, and limiting — all done individually. Just like 2-channel, there usually is some touching up taking place.

Do you think 5.1 mastering will take a lot longer than 2-channel?
I couldn’t say, but I know that the authoring takes some time for DVD-A, or even a DVD-Video format like DTS. It’s more time consuming than our normal 2-channel CDs. We plan to do it all. The authoring aspect of CDs is simply putting in the markers, and the PQ codes, and so forth, so that each tune can be accessed, which is quite simple. In DVD they want to put a lot of information in there: a stereo mix, a 6-channel mix, tune titles, maybe even photo material. We are going to do as much of this as possible. Time will tell, and we really don’t yet know what the public is going to want — or what the record companies will want.

Authoring also creates a data stream that tells the playback systems what it is. In DVD-A you can have different sampling rates and bitrates on different channels. Something has to tell the system what it is, and that is one aspect of the authoring. Our studio in Japan is doing DVD-Video authoring right now, so if you are doing music video, or an audio-only DVD-Video, like the DTS-type disc, they can put it all together there. There are so many things to consider — DVD-A, DVD-V, SACD — and there are extra considerations for each one. The basic system will be in place, capable of output to any of the various formats, and we will encode the product accordingly.

Surround Professional Magazine