Forecasting The High-Res Future

Airshow Mastering, in sunny Boulder, CO, has recently added a new multichannel production suite to their expanding line of services. The 20-year old award-winning company, which also operates another facility out of Springfield, VA, worked closely with designer Sam Berkow to bring the new rooms to life.

“We’ve been doing an increasing amount work in multichannel,” notes Airshows founder and chief engineer David Glasser, “so we decided to build this room from the ground up.” Celebrating a 2003 Grammy Award for the Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues: the World of Charley Patton project, Glasser and Airshow are no strangers to high-resolution audio. The company has worked on over 80 SACDs to date, including the surround reissue of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. They also work with DVD-A and DVD-V formats, having also just completed Merlefest Live! The 15th Anniversary Jam surround DVD, featuring Doc Watson with guests such as Earl Scruggs, Nickel Creek, and Alyson Krauss.

The new suite, called Studio C, seamlessly incorporates the best of analog and digital technology. A Prismsound MEA-2 EQ, Millennia EQ, API 550b EQ, Manley Vari-Mu, API 2500 comp/limiter, Maselec MPL-2 limiter/de-esser, and TubeTech multiband compressor make up the analog chain. A Weiss EQ-1 MKII, Weiss DS-1 MKII, Waves L2, dbx Quantum, and Z-Sys 6-channel EQ and compressor round out the digital domain. Workstations include a SonicStudioHD with three Sony CDW-900e CD writers and a Sony Sonoma with Sony SBM-Direct DSD-to-PCM converter and SACD authoring. Recorders include an Ampex ATR-104 1/2-inch 2- and 4-track, a 1/4-inch 2-track Studer A-820, and digital gear by TASCAM, Genex, and Alesis. There is also a Technics DVD-A player and Sony CD and SACD players for consumer playback.

As you would expect, much attention was paid to the routing and converter selection. A Pacific Microsonics Model 2 192 kHz/24-bit converter sits next to a Meitner DSD/PCM 8-channel ADC and DAC, although they often also use the DCS 972’s for PCM-to-DSD work. “We’ve built the infrastructure so that we can patch in up to 24 channels of analog equipment and up to 24 channels of PCM digital,” Glasser says. “They all show up on XLR patchbays and routers, allowing us to reconfigure the room and console in minutes.”

Speaking of consoles, Studio C also features a Maselec mastering version built by Leif Mases, who also builds the Prism EQs and compressors. “He did a fabulous job with this console, which is a modular system,” Glasser notes. “It’s expandable from stereo to full 5.1 surround, and it’s very clean and quiet.” Glasser uses Dunlavy SC-V monitors for the front L/R setup, with Dunlavy SC-IV’s for the C, LS, and RS. “I’ve always been real enamored with the Dunlavys,” he says. “The monitors are the most critical choice. The amp is a local company called Ayre amplifiers. We’ve used other amps, but the Ayre is hands-down the best we’ve had. That combination is the foundation for our sound.”

For many producers and engineers, a critical piece of the surround puzzle is the multichannel-mixing environment; a great project room for stereo may not be adaptable for surround needs. “With surround, we found the engineers had the DAW resources, but not the room. Our answer is the home-away-from-home studio — a surround control room with an adjacent overdub booth. It can be configured however a client needs. They bring in their Pro Tools rig and we can add a variety of outboard gear and recorders,” explains Glasser. Standard equipment is a 5.1 Genelec monitoring system with Martinsound Multimax controller.

Glasser was clear to note that Airshow handles a large amount of format conversion from 96 kHz/24-bit surround to DSD. “I think this service will become more and more important because people want to use all their high-res PCM tools, so when they go to DSD, they will come to a place like ours and make sure the translation works well.” He also noticed a trend in the core of their business: independent labels and artists, who until recently were “out of the picture” with high-res audio and SACD, have been not only asking all the right questions, but increasing the overall amount of surround sound projects. “It’s moving down the chain, and now with Crest pressing hybrid SACD discs in L.A. and DADC starting up in Indiana, all the pieces are in place for what was once just a Sony/Phillips subsidized high-end situation.”

“We’re excited about the new rooms,” notes Glasser. “Because the surround thing is so new and there are so many question marks and variables, we had to build a room that was top notch, feeling the work would follow. You can only attract business with all of the pieces in place.”

Airshow also publishes a very useful “Artist and Producer Guide to SACD,” which is available on their Web site, www.airshowmastering. com, along with other information about the facility.

Surround Professional Magazine