Naweed Ahmed moved his studio, Whitfield Mastering, to Chelsea last year and installed the largest 5.1 mastering console in the world.
He brought in design consultant Nick Whitaker to collaborate on the acoustics of the new facility and worked on the electronic design himself. The Crookwood M1 was custom-designed with the company’s managing director Crispin Herrod-Taylor.
Since 2003, Crookwood has been working with Ahmed, with his initial console one of the company's M1 stereo consoles, Herrod-Taylor told PSNEurope.
"Naweed choose the Crookwood console partly for its transparent sound, and partly because it can be easily expanded due to its modular construction. We added a modified RDL unit and elliptical equaliser to it in about 2010 to assist with vinyl cutting, but the largest expansion happened when he moved into his current room," explains Herrod-Taylor.
"Naweed has an incredible selection of vintage and current processing gear, both analogue and digital, and wanted an easy way to be able to choose what pieces could be inserted into his transfer/record path, and in which order. Now his Crookwood could already do this with 7 inserts, but Naweed wanted all of his kit available without patching, so we developed a new insert system that could cope with 11 to 15 stereo inserts, and support multiple paths or stems, mixing everything back together to stereo."
Herrod-Taylor adds: "At the same time Naweed added a complete 5.1 monitoring section for doing 5.1 work, comprehensive digital and analogue metering with his VUs and a DK Jellyfish display, plus 8 channels of our 192K DAC and ADC systems, and finally a revised vinyl cutting path. It was a massive upgrade, and makes Naweed's console probably the biggest we’ve ever installed. However because all of the work is done by remotely mounted audio racks, the actual size of his control surface hardly grew, which was important for him – he didn’t want any more acoustically reflective obstacles between him and his prized PMCs."
But Ahmed's PMC BB5 XBD-A reference monitors presented a challenge in the new venue. "I had to have my BB5s in the new room — but due to the shape and acoustics of the room, for the first time ever, I couldn't use them free-standing. You could hear very little below 40Hz at first. So we decided to soffit-mount them — and then we had an excess of sub-bass,” he explains.
“We tried acoustic solutions, packing the soffits with rockwool, and the engineers at PMC came down a few times to assist. The room was suffering from a stubborn 2-3dB dip at 40Hz, and PMC's engineers concluded that the only solution was an electronic one. We modified the crossover to cancel out the dip, and now my reference recordings sound the same as they used to in my Soho studio, which is essential for me.”
Ahmed adds: "You need a lot of elements to be a successful mastering engineer. Good ears, of course, but also transparent monitors and a room that you know and trust; one that doesn't colour what you do. If you lose any of those elements, it can be pretty serious for your business."
For Herrod-Taylor: "The net result is a compact control centre, allowing Naweed to rapidly respond to all mastering requests without constantly patching or bodging, making him faster and more accurate in his work, so he can concentrate on the sound, rather than the gear – it’s a beautiful thing!"
Ahmed has been the go-to mastering engineer for Ellie Goulding (including for the double-platinum Lights and triple-platinum album Halcyon), Bastille, Hudson Mohawke, Take That, Mark Ronson, James Morrison, Jamiroquai and Cheryl. At the same time, he has cultivated relationships with the Bollywood musical community, working on releases by some of its biggest stars, including Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone and Sunny Leone.
He has also been taken on as a sound design consultant to improve Sony’s headphone range, including the MDR headphone and XBA in-ear range.