November 16, 2011

Visiting Fluid Mastering Studio 1.

PMC UK had planned to bring us to visit Metropolis recording studios in London, followed by Fluid Mastering studio as part of our hifi trio "educational" program. Alas, as luck would have it, Metropolis was fully booked for the day as recording from the previous night finished late and the next sessions arrived earlier than scheduled. Still, we managed to get a glimpse inside one of London's biggest commercial recording studio. It's a hip and happening place. Enjoy the photos.

Metropolis studios is located inside an old power plant, aptly called The Power House!

The art gallery like foyer reveals the extent of the sound treatment done to the place. The bands were jamming inside and we heard absolutely nothing outside!

The first floor foyer, which leads to the in house cafeteria and a lounge of open space.

Jo seen here with all the artists whose albums are recorded here at Metropolis.

We were then quickly ushered to the nearby Fluid Mastering studio 1 where we're graciously hosted by Nick Watson, one of the Mastering Engineers working that day. Nick quickly explained to us the difference between a recording and a mastering studio. The first is where the music is recorded, and the later is where all the subtle magic happens. It touches up raw recordings in to it's final commercial presentation, in form of a master for stamping, be it for CDs, LPs, or tapes.

While we're there, Nick was working on a live concert recording. He played us the original recording and the remastered tracks back to back. We all could hear the subtle touches that the remastering had an an effect to the original recording. On the original recording, there was a wall of sound effect, where the music was relatively flat, and no staging or imaging was discern able. The bass guitar lines on the track was at times drowning out the female vocals too. The remastered track cleaned up the bass lines and made it tighter, and it now never interfered with the vocals. The highs seemed "airier" and there is now some resemblance of what we audiophiles recognise as staging and imaging. There was overall more depth to the music, making it easier to follow.

Nick says it typically takes a day to master an album, however there are really though ones that can take two or three days of work. The final mastered version of the recording is then sent to the artist for approval, which most of the time is O.K. However, there are some artist who set very specific standards and may require further adjustments pending their final approval. With the artist's approval, a master stamper can then be made for mass production of CDs or LPs.
Nick Watson at Fluid Mastering studio 1, seen behind are a pair of PMC BB5-XBD active monitors with Bryston amplification. A pair of smaller Spendor monitors are also used to check reproduction of the mastered music file.

On the Captain's chair. Nick uses various software and hardware on his console to fine tune all the recordings that comes to him.

A pair of Studer reel to reel tape player is used for playback and transfer.

An LP cutting lathe is used to cut a master stamper, which is then used to press production LPs. 
A CD transport mated to Weiss DAC on the console.
A Rega P3 is used to monitor playback of  LP.

Some of us asked if Nick thought that LP is truly superior as a music format compared to CD? He reckoned if he had mastered them both of the same album, there should be no difference at all. If any, he says, it's because a vinyl set up offers more personalised tweaking to met preferences of the owner of the hifi system. A good CD based system would almost naturally be more accurate due to it's lack of adjust ability.

James of AV Designs then asked Nick to play some music which can stress test the Bad Boy PMC BB5-XBD. Nick choose a bass heavy dance/club track which high lighted the capabilities of those famed PMC monitors. We were awe struck by the agility and superb bass control of the flag ship PMC monitors. There are no BB5-XBDs in Malaysia today as yet, so this experience is priceless.

Next, PMC launches a new speaker range to commemorate their 20th Anniversary celebrations!

Pictures are courtesy of James Tan, Felix and Big E.

No comments: