Singer Cara Dillon (pictured) and her multi-instrumentalist/engineer husband Sam Lakeman have added the Metric Halo ULN-8 combination mic pre, converter and DSP to their home studio set-up.
The critically-acclaimed musicians – who have collaborated on stage and in the studio for many years – had previously operated a studio configuration based around an early 2000s digital console and a now-discontinued high-end AD/DA converter, along with an impressive collection of vintage Neve, Avalon and Chandler mic pres.
Increasingly, Lakeman was finding some aspects of the core set-up rather problematic. “I got fed up with having to navigate the digital console for really menial tasks and I came to realise that I disliked the sound of everything through that old converter,” said Lakeman. “So I started looking for an alternative. It was apparent early on that there is a very committed core of Metric Halo users who are vehemently dedicated to these products and have been users for years. I was also impressed with the level of feedback encouraged by Metric Halo and the obvious importance they place on implementing changes in line with evolving technology and user needs. Ultimately, the main selling points for me were the on-board DSP and the almost non-existent latency, which meant I could ditch my console and still process tracks via DSP and outboard hardware without significant latency or CPU drain.”
Dillon’s pregnancy prevented Lakeman from putting the newly-acquired ULN-8 through its paces – “there has only ever been one thing that I can truly judge a piece of equipment with, and that’s Cara’s voice.” Having finally had the opportunity to try out the gear with an act on the couple’s Charcoal record label, calamity struck when a hot water pipe burst, flooding the floor below the studio.
“Our antique wood burning stove had rusted to a lump; my iMac was streaming with water; all the soft furnishings had two inches of fur and mould on them; and the heat had melted the glue in the furniture, which was all in pieces. In fact, it was so hot that the paint on some of our pictures ran! Luckily, any doors that were closed swelled shut, creating a seal in the heat and moisture that prevented anything other than the ground floor from being completely destroyed. The second-floor studio was untouched.”
Finally, Lakeman got the opportunity to record Dillon using the ULN-8 when the BBC asked her to record a version of ‘Corrina Corrina’ to mark Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. Lakeman deployed a collection of high-end Neumann and AKG microphones, including the Neumann KU-100 binaural head to capture the room and spot-mic the banjo, mandolin, guitar, and Dillon’s vocals.
The Metric Halo ULN-8 provided all of the mic pres and conversion, and at mixdown, Lakeman used the unit’s DSP ‘tube mic character’ settings on both banjo and mandolin, along with reverb, EQ and compression across everything.
“On top of the routine stuff, the guitar took some significant processing to clean it up and set it back into the mix, which was no problem using the ULN-8’s DSP,” said Lakeman, who is looking forward to tracking the next Dillon album with the ULN-8.