"Every circuit was painstakingly optimized for the absolute best possible performance. No corners were cut. No expense was spared. This console was built for the love of audio, not for mass production and profit. The result is the finest, cleanest mixing console in existence. There is nothing like it at any other facility, anywhere. Unless Sony starts selling these consoles, no other facility will be able to emulate the Dave Smith Room. Nothing else commercially made equals its performance. It is simply not economically feasible."
- Mix Magazine, October 1, 2006
Instruments and Amps
Lawson has a rich palette of instruments that are available to its clients. Vintage Slingerland drums, Musser M55 vibraphone, Adams 5-octave marimba, Ludwig Timpani, Valje congas, and an incredibly wide range of hand drums, percussion instruments and cymbals are at the disposal of the room's clients. Also available are the Hammond organ with Leslie, an upright piano, a selection of synthesizers, a Fender Stratocaster, Epiphone and Danelectro basses, and a selection of guitar and bass amplifiers.
The studio's centerpiece is a 36-input, 12-bus Massenburg GML console based on Massenburg's HRT9115 mixers, with Neve Encore automation. Every circuit of this ultra-quiet console was hand built by Dave and the team at Sony, and optimized for the highest quality audio possible. This is not a Swiss-Army-Knife type console, which colors the entire feel and sound of your mix with the sonic properties of the console. The idea behind this unique and infinitely-flexible environment is that all processing is done with outboard equipment. The console handles the summing and routing of all audio in the audio realm, but without coloring or otherwise affecting its sound. This allows the addition of any affection to be at the discretion of the mixer, and by way of Lawson's beautiful collection of outboard equipment.
In addition to the Massenburg/David Smith console, this room includes the classic Studer 962 14-channel mixer with Preamps and EQ on each channel, 6 busses and 4 compressors. This sidecar was a remote recording desk for Sony Classical, and functions perfectly as an adjunct to the David Smith GML console.
For those who would rather mix digitally, the Contro|24 can be used in conjunction with the David Smith and Studer consoles, or in place of them. The Control|24 offers 24 bankable channel strips, each with a touch-sensitive, motorized fader, motion sensitive encoder and LED ring, and dedicated Mute, Solo, Select, Input, Record, EQ, Dynamics, Insert, Send, and Automation illuminated switches and unlimited track handling. High-quality analog components provide great sound on the front end along with outputs to handle tasks such as monitoring, in stereo or surround. The Control|24 comes equipped with a 5.1 surround analog monitor section for post-production work.
The room offers 3 main types of recorders, Pro Tools HD (10 & 7.4), a Studer 827 24-track 2" machine with remote, and a Studer A820 1/2 " master recorder. All are in mint condition, are perfectly integrated, and were all acquisitions from Sony Music Studios. Ableton Live, Logic or Digital Performer can also act as front end DAW solutions.
The vintage outboard gear that David Smith and Sony chose for the original incarnation of this room remains. This is no coincidence, and not incidental. 16 channels of Neve 1081 preamps and EQs make the perfect spouse for the console. The Neve and Studer 962's preamps make for an incredibly clean signal path to the recorder, with exceptionally low noise, but with a rich analog sound, and 30 channels of EQ. Classic vintage compressors such as the Neve 33609, Urei LA-3A, DBX 160, DBX 160A, DBX 165A, Empirical Labs Distressor, Drawmer DL251, and those onboard the Studer 962 give compression options from classy to crunchy. Reverbs and processors such as EMT plates, the Lexicon 480L, Lexicon 224, Lexicon PCM 72, Lexicon PCM 42, DBX FS900 DeEsser, Drawmer DS201, Eventide Harmonizer H969, Yamaha Rev 7, Yamaha SPX90, and Roland Dimension D give a mixer a myriad of tools for his/her mix. Other unique effects including vintage and eclectic pedals, samplers, processors, and drum machines to toy mics and megaphones will keep you inspired and provide endless creative outlets, no matter what the project.
For monitoring, the room relies on B & W 802 Nautilus monitors and Chord amplification, in addition to various nearfield options. In an article in Mix Magazine ("The David Smith Room at Sony Music," August, 2006) David Smith describes how they chose to import the B & W/Chord combination from Abbey Road Studios, saying "The speakers accurately reflect the timbre of the electronics driving them. The Chord has a smooth top and excellent control of low-frequency transients. This combination is particularly well-suited to jazz and classical material..." "One of the advantages of the B & W Nautilus lies in the fact that the monitors can be tailored to control the size and position of the sweet spot - so much so that they are used successfully both in large spaces and small ones.......... They can literally be tuned into an image that needs to sit like a knife on the tip of your nose or one more like a large cloud that easily covers the width of two people." Smith went on to note that in 2006, four major motion pictures (Star Wars, Memoirs of a Geisha, War of the Worlds, and Munich) used this type of loudspeaker. In all cases, the engineer, composer and director sat inside the sweet spot.
In the same article in Mix Magazine, David Smith says "Cabling choices will certainly affect the sonic characteristics of any critical listening environment. The bulk of the cabling in 309 is Mogami, which we chose because of its excellent performance in the high-frequency area." Much of the cabling was taken out of the room at Sony and transplanted to Clinton. Any new cabling used in Lawson's studio was of a equal caliber, or in some cases, even a higher quality. The result is a pristine, unbelievably quiet, accurate signal flow.
The studio is completely equipped for tracking or mixing to picture. Video is monitored via a Samsung 46" flat-panel LCD HDTV featuring a 1080p display, 16:9 aspect ratio, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 20,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio for stunning images. Capable of addressing any technical needs a mixer, director or video editor may have, the monitor features 2 HDMI inputs, 2 RF inputs, 2 component inputs, 1 composite input, and a PC (VGA) input.
Coupled with the B & W 802's flexible sweet spot and the option of 5.1 surround, this not only makes for comfortable viewing from anywhere in the room, but a comfortable and accurate theatre environment.
The studio is equipped with Pro Tools HD 10 and/or 7.4, Ableton Live, Logi Pro, Pyramix, and Digital Performer. By using the included DigiTranslator, one can move easily between platforms without ever leaving the room. The Pro Tools system includes plugins such as the Waves Platinum bundle, McDSP CompressorBank HD, McDSP FilterBank HD, McDSP MC2000 HD, Focusrite d2/d3, Altiverb, AutoTune, Melodyne, Bomb Factory Classic Compressors, JOEMEEK, Line 6 Echo Farm and Amp Farm, SansAmp, Moogerfooger Lowpass Filter, SoundReplacer, and more. Other software includes Native Instruments Komplete, Reason, and Melodyne.