Master of His Domain

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Marcussen Mastering’s multi-room facility opened its first room one year ago. Recently, owner Stephen Marcussen, who was at Precision Mastering for many years, upgraded his room to 5.1 monitoring and mastering capabilities.

“We are in a permanent mode of surrounded by sound,” quips Marcussen, who reports that the steady flow of 5.1 projects through the door has made the installation of a surround system a necessity. “It was a pain to keep changing around. On my first 5.1 project we probably spent two weeks setting up, just getting it dialed in, listening, and adjusting levels.”

Newly outfitted with five B&W Nautilus 802 three-way speakers, driven by Aragon Palladium amplifiers, the room conforms to the ITU recommendation. “It works really well and has a much bigger sweet spot than we thought,” reports Dave Collins, former chief mastering engineer at A&M. “It doesn’t sound like it looks. It seems like the fronts are bunched together and the surrounds are out and close, but the overall presentation is great.”

Collins and Marcussen shared temporary studio accommodations at what was the A&M Mastering facility (now part of Henson Studios) before moving into the old Citizen News building in the heart of Hollywood. Working with acoustician George Augspurger and architect Frank Glynn, the pair constructed three mastering suites, each with an adjacent production room, in the former newspaper pressing plant. A fourth room, its function yet to be determined, has also been built out. Key to the enterprise was the in-house construction of a custom mastering console, a joint venture involving Marcussen, Collins, and Jonathan Little, founder of Little Labs and a former chief technician at A&M’s studios. The console, which includes an entirely custom EQ section, is unique in offering both digital and analog signal paths.

“It’s clean and pure and as wide-ranging as you can make it, with the great capability of analog processing,” confirms Collins. “To be able to have extremely high-quality analog processing as well as monitoring before you even enter the world of digital processing really puts us ahead of the competition.”

He continues, “Before we knew anything about what format was going to succeed, we knew that an analog system was ready for anything. We can connect DSD, DVD-A, 96 kHz, 192 kHz…whatever. If you have an extremely wide, flat frequency response, and low noise, it works for any format.”

The trick, Collins notes, is to be able to run a digital project through analog processing and equalizers and return it to digital without degradation, “and not feel like you’ve lost anything, but only gained. It’s quite an undertaking to do it at this level, but you have to aim high in this world. It’s complicated to build an analog system that, one end to the other, has better than 100 dB of dynamic range.”

It’s also not an inexpensive proposition. The console’s left-hand bay holds an assortment of converters from dB Technologies, including three AD122-96 stereo D-to-As, a DA-924 stereo D-to-A, and two dB 44-96 multi-module units. The system also incorporates three Prism Sound Maselec MEA-2 precision analog stereo equalizers, three Manley stereo Variable MU compressor-limiters, and an SSL G-384 stereo limiter, as well as three Weiss EQ-1 Mk 2 units, a dbx Quantum, three WAVE L2 processors, and two Little Lab 4.8 digital audio mastering routers.

“Some material is better suited to staying all-digital,” notes Collins. “But, processing-wise, there are certainly things in analog that don’t exist in digital � although digital is getting better all the time.”

“When the project is suited to an analog chain, it really is,” concurs Marcussen, citing a recent project of which he is very proud. A DVD-Video compilation by Alice In Chains entitled Music Bank, produced by Toby Wright, is a chronological history of the band that, according to Marcussen, sonically blossoms from near-mono demos to rich 5.1 productions during its course.

Listening to the project, he says, “I hear our console – I don’t hear the console per se, I just hear the signature of this chain – and this thing really rocks, like maybe nothing I’ve heard. I think that a lot of that has to do with the fact that it came in analog and we processed it analog. We used the best of all worlds, with a lot of high-end digital gear to give it as clean a digital path as possible.” He adds, “I think our EQ is so sweet.”

“There isn’t one thing that sounds good, it’s the sum of the parts,” observes Collins. But he wonders if it isn’t lost on the average consumer. “The irony is that we’re in this rarified high-resolution world where everything is dialed-in to within an inch of its life, but, in the consumer world, quality is going down. How many people are complaining about the quality of 128k MP3s?”

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