Back to basics: MotorMusic studios on its move to go ‘console-less’

Last summer, MotorMusic studios sold their SSL 9000 console and decided to return to the basic principles of recording, reports Marc Maes.
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Motor Music

The principle of a ‘console-less’ studio was there from the first day MotorMusic moved to their new building, seven years ago. The idea was enhanced by the fact that one of the studio’s founder-owners, Steven Maes, saw young engineers deciding to mix ‘in the box’, without a console. As a lecturer at the PXL Music University College, he noticed a remarkable shift towards this new trend. “At PXL, students have two studios to work in, one with an SSL Duality, and a Neve VR studio,” explains Maes. “Students use the consoles for recording but not for mixing. They prefer to mix in the ProTools environment. A tendency that became more and more obvious over the past five years..”

In addition, Maes has been using preamps for mobile recordings since seven years. “Grace Design preamps are probably the best preamps in the world,” enthuses Maes. “The remote controlled M802 and the M801 are directly routed via a Madi fibre cable and Dante connection into the ProTools HDX-PT 12 system. I realise that the M802 preamps may be somewhat to ‘clean’ for pop recordings but the combination of these preamps with top vintage microphones like our Neumann M269 valve mic delivers unequalled sound quality.”

The excellent results of these mobile recordings, and acclaiming reviews for MotorMusic’s ‘deskless’ approach triggered a thinking process with Maes and co-owner Hans Bellens. “What are we doing?,” said Bellens. “We invested 10.000’s of euros in more than 80 quality microphones like Schoeps and Neumann but the signal goes through numerous AD/DA conversions affecting the final result. So we decided to get rid of our SSL 9000 console and to invest in a preamp configuration, consisting of 2 x 16 channels Grace Design M802 and M801, eight channels (remote controlled) Neve 4081 and 16 channels Crane Song Spider preamps.”

In August, MotorMusic’s S1 control room was completely stripped. “The bottle-neck of the whole investment was that our clients could hear the result of our new modus operandi. New acoustics and new monitors were the next logical step,” Bellens explains. Acoustic engineer/designer Jelle van der Voet of Pinna Acoustics measured and designed the room’s acoustics. “The original control room had only a few bass traps and a compression ceiling. I re-tuned the room and ceiling. The backwall was covered with an 80cm thick panel with tuned membranes,” says van der Voet. “As acoustics and speakers go hand-in-hand, I also opted for new monitors: the PMC IB1-S, quite big monitor speakers, bring out the essence of the acoustics in the room.” The PMC IB1 speakers will be completed with a pair of PMC AML1 for surround mixing.

It took van der Voet little more than a week to implement the new acoustics – meanwhile, a new working desk was designed and put in place of the former SSL position. The new S1 control room opened on September 22. “People come to record here with quality microphones, they pick their preamp which is then channelled straight into the ProTools Dual HDX system,” continues Steven Maes. “We have equipped the S1 control room with a DAD Man monitoring matrix converting the ProTools’ digital signal into analogue for the PMC IB1 monitors – our Beyer DT 990 and 770 headphones are amplified by a Grace Design M900 headphone amp. We use the DAD Man in combination with a Colin Broad TMC-1 control system, offering any format from mono to Auro 3D.”

A rack with the three types of preamps is positioned in the spacious main recording studio, only metres away from the S1 control room. “We keep the chain as short as possible,” underlines Bellens. “And make a good microphone actually sound like a good microphone. We can now offer our clients the option to choose between to ‘freak’ using the wide inventory of well-maintained outboard gear, compressors, EQ’s and effects we have, or to use the new configuration with 100% natural and pure sound one-on-one, capturing the authentic sound.”

“The Spider preamps can also be used as summing amp for mixing from ProTools, so that clients, like in the past can do analogue summing,” adds Maes.

Both Bellens and Maes say their new recording model may well mark the start of the console-less studio era. “The only mix table we have is our pool table,” laughs Bellens. “But seriously, we are stepping away from the eye-catching large format consoles. We want to impress our clients by taking them back to the original sound. On top of that, our huge (200 m² and 7 metres high) S1 recording hall is the true power of MotorMusic allowing us to take on specific assignments like chamber orchestras, drum recording or strings. The S1 is equipped with an extensive backline and a Yamaha concert grand piano.”

With the S1 control room serving as fully fledged mixing room, the facility’s Studio 5 and 7 complete the configuration as mastering, post-production and budget studios.

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