- Apr 9, 2006
- HiFi Trade?
3rd December 2022
How many of us get the opportunity to listen to music being recorded and then listen to the mastered product? Precious few.
Stephen Harper of Audio Consultants worked with Damon Sawyer to give ‘audiophiles’ a chance to hear music being recorded, produced, mastered and published. It was an eye and ear-opening event. The consistent comment at the end of the session was, ‘I wish it was longer’. As generous as Stephen and Damon were with their time it still felt like a whistle-stop tour.
The event was originally conceived as one of a number of Audio Consultants customer focussed events to educate and elucidate his clientele; but George47 of our parish, who has dealt with Stephen over many years, suggested this might be widened and so it was kindly opened to Wammers. The date and time were set.
Both Stephen and Damon had a level of trepidation about how things would unfold on the day. This proved to be unnecessary, things worked smoothly and the only element lacking was time. To make the experience available to a wider number of people two sessions were arranged, which curtailed more in-depth explanations and Q&A sessions.
The Crescent Recording Studios are located in deepest darkest Swindon. George and I sacrificed ourselves to arrive at the appallingly early time of, errr, 9.30 am. OK, so not so deep, dark or early. Stephen and Alex were already on site attempting to get their advertising displays to stay up and not act as sails.
Heading down into the bowels of the building we entered the mixing suite.
Having been supplied with a welcome cup of coffee I had an initial chat with Stephen Harper who explained to me how Damon had approached him as he was interested in the ideas of vibration control, cabling and grounding and how these may impact upon the results he was obtaining. This was then a meeting of two open-minded result-centred minds, about what works. In addition to working with Damon on what could assist him get better recording results he also supplied a ‘mid-range’ system for playback consisting of: An Ayre CX-8 CD player; AVM A6.2 Master Edition amplifier; Amphion Argon 7LS loudspeakers; with GutWire Synchrony Cube cables and power cords.
Please note the HRS dampening applied above and below the equipment, this will become a bit of a theme.
Stephen was keen to emphasise how much he loved and valued music and that if it was possible to help things improve from the source then this could only benefit everyone. He saw today’s sessions as a way to help educate and spread the word.
Having buttonholed Stephen I went to find Damon.
Damon got into audio and music at an early age and started drumming professionally, both for groups and as a teacher. This led him deeper into the dark arts of recording and mastering music. He started in the early eighties as the industry was moving from analogue to digital. He was aware of, and had used, two-inch tape but had no analogue habits to break. The changes and advances in digital were such that he had a continual reinvestment of his funds into more equipment.
In due course, Damon had to make the difficult decision to dive headlong into music recording. Since that time he has been doing studio and live work, in fact, he was just back from a tour. He has wide experience in trying to make the best of live venues as well as recording studios.
Crescent Recording Studios came about through serendipity. The owner was planning on converting the recording space into a swimming pool. Damon walked in a clapped his hands, the control of the echoes in the space had him persuading the owner that another direction might work better.
I went to look at the recording space a bit closer.
Close Microphones on the Piano.
The time for the session had arrived along with the first set of punters. Stephen opened with a welcome and introduction.
We were then handed over to Damon who gave an overview of his entry into the world of recording and why he had approached Stephen. How they had worked closely together to experiment with vibrations, earth planes, RFI/EMI and cabling. How these areas can be as controversial in the recording industry as they are with some audiophiles and how he is working to expose the advantages he has found to as many of his colleagues as he can.
Damon then introduced us to his approach to music production and recording, mentioning such things as:
- EQ, levels and compression;
- Avoiding sample rate conversion;
- Recording at 384kHz, 24bit;
- Ensure the session is mic’d appropriately to capture the music;
- In this three musicians, fourteen microphones including room capture, one mic on upright bass;
- Musicians have to be sensitive to the recording process to enable the best to be gained from it;
- Today’s musicians are some of the best he has worked with;
- Microphone selection is important, different diaphragm sizes emphasize different wavelengths;
- Positioning of the musicians and the microphones is important, due to factors such as audio spill, that is microphones picking up more than one instrument;
- Spill is partly controlled through the use of screens.
Damon introduced us to the space and how he had instrumented it and why.
We were then joined by the musicians:
- Pianist, Peter Billington, images, instagram;
- Bassist, Paul Jefferies, site; and
- Simon Price, drums, image, contact.
Two pieces were recorded, one by Oscar Peterson and the other by Chic Corea. The second piece was recorded twice. In the event, Damon chose the first take, which I agreed with as I felt the bass solo was a tad better, although that meant missing out on a rather good drum solo. The difficult choices of producers!
Time to go back through to the nerve centre to discover some of Damon’s dark arts.
We now had a more detailed discussion on EQ, levelling and compression. This included Gbus and parallel compression. Damon uses several compressors for different purposes as they have different characters. Their effect is used subtly to add or subtract a half decibel here and there.
Although Damon is thoroughly inculcated in the art of the digital this is not a blindly followed approach, he will use analogue where he has found it to give a better result, such as his limiter which is analogue; it is the best he has heard rather than a plugin ‘in the box’.
We discussed Stephen and Damon’s collaboration with respect to resonance control, grounding and cabling. Damon stated that he only did things that were effective, consistent and that he could hear and demonstrate. For instance, the removal of the vibration control and grounding led to bass becoming ‘flappy and uncontrolled’. Something many of us will have heard at home.
The grounding cables that Damon has installed are by GutWire. Stephen lent Damon a selection, ‘unfortunately’ Damon found the more expensive ones to be the most effective. Stephen stated that the GutWire system is designed to give the shortest path between the circuit boards and ground.
Damon then talked us through a number of the devices he uses for capturing and mastering a recording session.
Damon sang the praises of the GutWire Consummate Grounding Cable he used in his mixing desk:
We were now fed and watered by Stephen and Alex whilst Damon did some fleet mastering, after which we were called back to the studio where the seats had been reversed.
To my ear, the actual session was more dynamic and detailed. But the recording had better balance, with the bass being far more of a presence. I am sure others will have their own view!
Many thanks to Stephen, Damon and Alex. Any sausage rolls left?