Studio A is our mastering room. The first key to good analog reproduction is a transparent signal path. Mastering engineer Bob Katz believes that a short, clean path between your analog tape and digital conversion makes the most transparent, dynamic master. All analog equipment at Digital Domain is custom-built, including the "STAMPEX," a unique hybrid of a Studer C37 transport with custom-made extended response 1/2" head connected to very customized Ampex MR 70 electronics, all-tube. The STAMPEX is quiet, transparent and warm, yet with tight bass; clients agree it's better sounding than any solid state electronics we've heard. To avoid additional connectors and cable in the path, we do not use analog patchbays and patch all equipment directly and on demand for the best sound quality.
If you want to listen to Masters made in Studio A, go to the "Mastering_Mastering Demo" section!
The most important mastering equipment, Bob Katz!
Bob Katz's Stereoization Process, embodied in his K-Stereo Processor, actually lets the mastering engineer get a handle on the original reverb returns of the recording. Client Eric Schilling called Bob's stereoization invention "the glue that holds the music together." His microdynamic enhancement technique works with music to enhance its impact in a unique way, enhancing punch, but also maintaining the transient impact. If a recording is not percussive enough, microdynamic enhancement can literally remix the percussion level without the traditional sound of squashing and compression. Bob also has refined MS mastering in conjunction with stereoization, to help "vocal under" mixes and other such problems that often occur but with little or no loss in depth and space.
Bob is a champion of high-resolution digital processing, which can make a difference in the final product. It used to be a rule that outboard gear outperforms plugins, but some of the highest resolution plugins that we use now equal or exceed the sound quality and resolution of some outboard gear. Processors include devices by Weiss (EQ1-LP, DS1-MK2, SFC2), PSP, Waves (Hardware L2 and plugins when needed), Sony, Sonnox, TC Electronic System 6000, Algorithmix (K-Stereo Processor, Red and Blue Equalizers, Descratcher, Denoiser, Compressor), Cranesong (HEDD-192, Trakkers), Millenia Media NSEQ customized by the designer, Fred Forsell, Anamod (ATS-1), Pendulum OCL-2 tube compressor, and many others, used in unique and musical ways. This combination of analog and digital processing produces a warm yet transparent product that has to be heard. The Anamod (or the HEDD) is useful in simulating analog tape characteristics with all digital sources, without having to dub to analog tape. Of course, all material is archived in 24-bit form for compatibility with high resolution formats, such as DVD, and we do a lot of upsampling/downsampling with the Weiss SFC2 and the Weiss Saracon, since processing at 96 kHz increases the sense of robustness and helps make digital processing sound even more "analog-like."
The Monitors and the Room
Our stereo monitors, Revel Ultima Gem 2 are 3-way (2-way biamped) sitting atop 52-pound stands mounted on the concrete slab.
The center and surround speakers are by Lipinski Sound, designed by Andrew Lipinski, renowned recording engineer and producer whose perfect hearing abilities were recognized by the US National Bureau of Standards. They are augmented with two subwoofers--JL Audio 12" Fathom subwoofers crossed over at 65 Hz, 24 dB/octave. The mating of satellites and subs is seamless and perfectly calibrated. Driving the Revels are a pair of Lipinski amplifiers, each amplifier is a dual monoblock with 2 x 350 watts of power. Each sub has an integrated 1000 watt power amplifier. Because of the headroom and response accuracy of this system, Bob's work translates to the widest variety of playback systems.
The mastering room is 23' long in the part between the speakers, and 18' long at the sides, by 14' wide with a sloping cathedral ceiling that starts at about 12' high in the front and goes up to 20' high in the rear. 3 out of 4 walls are concrete block with one overlayer of sheetrock, and the back wall is double reinforced sheetrock. The walls are selectively treated with Sonex located at precision points to remove flutter echo. There is a carpet over mat on the floor, which is first floor mounted right on the concrete slab. The room is extremely quiet and the air conditioning is inaudible (all noise-making machinery is in a separate room). Clients have remarked that they can hear details in this room that they didn't know were on their tapes, yet the monitors are unfatiguing, involving, and accurate. Clients sit on the comfortable couch facing the loudspeakers with the mastering engineer. Auxiliary monitoring is with Stax and Sennheiser headphones and a customized, high-voltage Stax amplifier. After the CD is cut, comparisons can be auditioned in another room on two representative home-type stereo systems.