A Facility Filled with Firsts…

Even with all the illustrated press it has received, the reality of Galaxy Studios in Belgium is overwhelming when experienced in person. That experience is enhanced yet further if your tour guide is facility co-owner Wilfried Van Baelen, a man who is infectiously exuberant about his dream come true — a facility built on a solid technical foundation to achieve a comfortable atmosphere, free of distractions.

In 1992, construction began on the Galaxy Studios complex, a three-year development project that included the UK’s Eastlake Audio (led by designer David Hawkins). Where conventional techniques proved inadequate to meet Van Baelen’s vision, support was enlisted from researchers at the University of Leuven (led by Professors Gerrit Vermeir and Eric Desart). Wilfried’s brother Guido Van Baelen quit his job and joined the project as chief engineer, a position he still holds as a shareholder and co-managing director. Untested isolation principles and techniques were applied during construction, with the facility providing an unprecedented research opportunity for the scientists.

The result met Van Baelen’s goals of extreme isolation, creativity promoting sight lines, efficient use of shared space, acoustically pleasing recording spaces, and control rooms that are as sonically neutral as possible and practical. The 2000-square-meter Galaxy Studios complex includes three physically identical control rooms, six “quite different” recording spaces, a mastering room, edit suite, and preproduction room. Support areas include a bar/restaurant, guest accommodations for 12, a fitness room, and snooker room. The staff provides complete but unobtrusive support, including gourmet catering. The facility includes a heliport that puts it within an hour from Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris.

The massive 330-square-meter Galaxy Hall, with an 8m overall height, is the facility’s anchor — accessible from each of the control rooms, with well-conceived inter-room visibility. The spectacular isolation allows a full orchestral session to be tracked in the Hall from one control room, unbothered by a full-volume rock ’n’ roll session in another. Every acoustic space in the complex is an independent floating room, mounted on precision-engineered springs that each bear 3.1 tons of weight. Even the near-1600-ton (TON!) Galaxy Hall has a 300-year guarantee against all but minimal settling, at a coupling resonance below 3 Hz.

Half the control room’s volume is behind cloth and used for absorption and reflection control. No diffusion is used with just enough remaining reflections to make occupants comfortable. The traditional approach at soffit mounting changed the sound of the Genelec mains to Van Baelen’s ear. Conical springs were then configured as massive “tip-toes” for the monitors. To properly compress these springs, made to stabilize cargo-ship loads, the 150-kg Genelecs sit first on a 300-kg steel plate!

The attention to detail in the signal path is equally impressive. The “budget” room features a 72-channel Neve VR-P. Primarily used for tracking, though equipped to mix, the VR room is the only control room not equipped with large rear monitors for surround work, though it frequently sees a nearfield setup. All of the rooms in the facility are equipped with Digidesign Pro Tools HD systems, with multitrack analog and digital tape machines on hand as needed in the central, shared machine room.

Van Baelen’s primary room (where he books some 200 days a year), now houses a Neve Capricorn. Van Baelen is busily completing projects before the planned July upgrade of the room with Neve’s new Logic MMC console. The surround-equipped MMC is capable of handling 96 kHz sessions (the first are already scheduled), but is still just a stepping stone to a major milestone in DSD production; AMS-Neve has announced that they are working closely with Philips to make native DSD operation an option for the MMC. Galaxy’s MMC will be equipped with this technology by year’s end, giving them the world’s first large format, multichannel, DSD production console.

Primarily a music room, the Capricorn room is also tricked out for film and DVD work (including Foley), with extensive (and primarily digital) outboard gear, Genelec main and surround monitors (in 5.1 for music and up to 6.1 for film and DVD), and 35mm film projection capability. To accommodate both film work, with the console backed deep into the room, or music and DVD projects, with the desk toward the center, Van Baelen put his Capricorn on wheels. The Capricorn (and soon the MMC) can be reoriented in the room in seconds, and the rear monitors are on swivel mounts to accommodate the change in position.
Galaxy Studios is an ardent supporter of DSD recording. While Van Baelen’s MMC is obviously a testimony to that devotion, the third control room at Galaxy will soon be home to an analog console chosen for similar reasons.

Noted producer and engineer, Ronald Prent, is the primary occupant of the third of Galaxy’s control rooms. In August, Galaxy and Prent will install the world’s first API Vision, an all-discrete surround desk in vintage API style.

Prent shares Galaxy’s fully surround equipped Reference Mastering room with resident ME René Schardt and with visiting engineers like Simon Heywood. The focus is a prototype SPL MMC1 analog mastering co-developed by Prent (with major input by Bob Ludwig, soon to be a MMC1 owner). The MMC1 sports 120VDC internal rails with discrete “super amp” opamps that yield 35+ dB of headroom over digital zero, at a bandwidth of 200 kHz. Two massive rotary knobs control 6-channel, precision tracking potentiometers — $1800 ganged units spec’d to track within 0.1 dB. One is the master volume knob; the other is used for manual gain riding offering critical control over a narrow range. Fades are left to the inevitable DAW source, while the console handles monitoring (with multichannel inserts for encoder/decoders), switching, mutes, solos, and innovative features like rear to front monitoring. A gorgeous, color RTW digital surround meter package is complemented by real analog VU meters. Switchable attenuation manually pads the metered signal to the VU’s measurement range. Processor routing and setting presets can be stored and recalled. Galaxy Reference Mastering uses custom Egglestonworks Savoy 5.1 monitors, custom-modified Perreaux amplification, workstations from SADiE and Pyramix, conversion from dCs, and processing from Weiss and Z-Systems — a bountiful list.

Studio owners all hope to build the facility of their dreams with no compromise. Reality and budgets typically demand that compromising choices be made. At Galaxy Studios, all challenges were met, and solutions were found instead of compromises. Galaxy Studios uses the phrase “beyond all standards” to describe the venture — an apt choice of words for a facility that truly sets new standards of performance and function, while providing a creative environment that removes the technical details from your consciousness.

For more information, visit www.galaxystudios.com.

Surround Professional Magazine