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by Lisa Roy

Holed up in Hollywood’s Capitol Studios, ten-time Grammy-winning engineer Al Schmitt was completing 5.1 surround mixes for Diana Krall’s forthcoming project. Produced by Tommy LiPuma and assisted by John Hendrickson, Schmitt created the multichannel mixes in Studio C on a Neve VRQ 72 console. He used his own Mastering Labs monitors — which are Mastering Lab-built cabinets and electronics with Tannoy drivers and was designed by the L.A.-based mastering facility. This surround sound pioneer invited Surround Professional to stop by for a listen and a chat.

When you did the basic tracks at Avatar Studios, did you set up your mics for 5.1?

Yes, I always plan for surround mixing now. Even if I don’t know that it will be mixed in surround, I’ll still do it in case someone requests it down the road. It’s only a matter of setting up a few more mics, but it makes a big difference during the mix.

Why did you choose to do the stereo mixes first and the 5.1 mixes later? Why not do them at the same time?

I find that it can be more time consuming that way. I did the stereo mixes first, then went into surround a week later. Some engineers like to do it the other way; everyone has a different approach. For me, it just makes it easier this way.

What reverbs did you use on this record?

I used Capitol’s live chamber number four on the strings going a bit wide of left and right toward the front, taking the stereo image and wrapping it around toward the rears. I put the EMT 250 on Diana front left and right with just a touch in the center. I used the TC Electronic 6000 for a lot of the surround on the orchestra using the studio 20×20 setting as well as the stage and hall. I also used the TC Electronic 3000’s PUK setting for the drums, putting a little bit of the snare in the center and some kick in the sub. The toms were mainly front left and front right, with a bit toward the rear speakers. For the woodwinds, I put up the Lexicon 960L medium hall and large hall settings. The reverbs are set up to give you the impression of standing in front of the orchestra.

Did you use different settings on the front and rear channels?

The rear channels were basically ambience for the room, so there was less echo used. The only thing behind me was the surround mics — it was just depth rather than anything popping out. Everything else was as if I was the conductor at the podium — stretched out in front of me to my left and to my right.

Was all the panning done on the console?

Yes, all the panning was done on the Neve board. From a musical standpoint, I set all the pans as if I were Claus Ogermann, the conductor, looking out at the orchestra. I want to give a panoramic view of the orchestra sonically. I pan wide in the front bleeding a little into the rears.

How did you use the center speaker and the sub?

I put very little in the center speaker. I used a little of the vocal, a little of the bass, and a little bit of the snare just to keep things centered. In the sub I put some kick, bass, and some of the low-end strings. Actually, I could get by without the center speaker. I really don’t have a need to put anything in the center or the sub because I feel surround already sounds good without it. I do put a little bit in the sub, so if someone at home wants to crank up the low end, they know their subwoofer and center speaker are working.

What was your mixdown format?

I used the Studer A827 2-inch with an 8-track head-stack, Dolby SR, going to BASF 900 at 15-ips +3 over 185, formatted with a separate timecode track. I get greater dynamic range, I get the analog sound, and it’s also good for long-term archiving. As a backup, I used the Genex GX-8500 MO disc recorder set to 6-channel of dB Technologies M•AD824 24-bit/96k A/D converters.

Did you find that mixing in surround was easier than mixing in stereo?

It’s a joy to mix surround. Everyone I’ve spoken with lately seems to feel the same way. It’s some of the most fun we have now in mixing. You have so much space; there’s so much creativity because there are no rules. Yes, it’s easier — especially after you’ve done the stereo mixes. I love it. I could do 5.1 forever. [Diana’s album] sounds wonderful in surround — really beautiful!

Surround Professional Magazine