SFP: Sync Sound Turns 25

Oct 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Gary Eskow



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“By the time we started Sync Sound, in 1984, we were keen on Adam Smith synchronizers, but realized that what was missing was a good control system to glue everything together. I teamed up with a friend of mine to develop a software-based control system that could handle all of the tape machines we used. Ken's input, as to how he liked to work, was crucial at this time. We had a series of STD bus computers sprinkled throughout our facility, and a proprietary network system that handled communications between all of this equipment. Eventually, we integrated 9-pin machines into the equation. We had a high-speed data link operating on 75-ohm co-ax that could be as long as 2,000 feet. This gave us panache and a genuine advantage in the industry. We could do things other studios were not capable of.

“For example, we were the first studio to lock a pair of Sony 3324s to a video machine. I remember we tried this out on a Peggy Lee concert film — this was our first paying job at Sync Sound. Sony couldn't help us; neither could the folks at Adam Smith, so we invented a way to make it work on our own. Shortly after that, Laurie Anderson produced the first all-digital feature film, Home of the Brave. It was recorded and edited digitally. We did the audio post on that project.”

“See, I told you Bill was the genuis!” adds Hahn with a laugh. “Part of what made Sync Sound was having the know-how. The other half is knowing how to make clients happy. Understanding that a given client wants to be extremely involved in the technical process, and that someone else just wants to enjoy a good cup of coffee and give some editorial input at critical points is essential. The technology has changed enormously over the last 25 years. The human part of the equation hasn't.”

Hey, all you young post engineers, now gather 'round and hear what it was like to spend $100,000 on a workstation! “Let's put this in perspective,” says Marino. “We cut spot effects for Pee Wee's Playhouse on a Synclavier II. That unit came with a 10-megabyte hard drive — enough to store 100 seconds of mono audio!

“We saw a demo of the AMS Audiofile at an NAB show and were impressed. The original Audiofile was a 4-channel editing system. You stored to hard drive, but there was no backup capability — everything had to be output as audio. Then they integrated a data RDAT backup system. We had 10 Audiofile systems at one point. Our first held two hours of audio and cost 90k. Then we bought a four-hour system for 110k — an extra hour of storage capacity cost $10,000! By the time we installed our Synclavier Post Pro SD with the extra optical drives we incorporated into the system, we were spending almost $200k on a single system.”

Sync Sound began working with Pro Tools in the early 1990s. “Ray Palagy, an engineer who worked with us, liked Pro Tools, and we became intrigued with the possibilities,” Marino recalls. “So we bought a Pro Tools 2 system and ran it on a small Mac. We also had a Digidesign SampleCell system.”

Sync Sound currently has Pro Tools systems in all 10 of its editing rooms, four mixing studios and the facility's mixing theater. “Some are on [Version] 7.3, others 7.4, some on 8,” says Hahn. “Eventually, they'll all be on 8. We also have a variety of control surfaces — everything from HUIs up to ProControl, D-Commands and C Control. Funny, though, despite having all of these hardware options at their fingertips, most engineers use the faders for level control and the mouse for everything else.

“The ultimate goal of the recording industry is to make the difference between listening to a recording and listening to the same material live in a room indistinguishable. I always thought that was the promise of digital: the full dynamic range of human hearing with all spatial elements intact. Unfortunately, we didn't foresee the expediency of portable devices, the convenience of downloading MP3s, the success of iTunes. These things derailed the pursuit of quality audio. Whatever happened to 24-bit/96kHz becoming the standard release format? All interest in executing higher and higher quality was terminated by the success of lower-fidelity downloads.”

A few grumblings aside, Sync Sound's proprietors are sanguine about the future of the audio post industry. “I still have our original rate card on my desk,” says Hahn. “We laugh about it sometimes — we charged more for some services back then than we do today! And, sure, it can be difficult to make a buck in network television these days. Budgets are tight, audio is always the caboose on the train, and while the cost of equipment has gone down, labor costs have risen dramatically.

“But I still enjoy mixing as much as I ever did, and I know Bill feels the same way. My job is essentially just as it was back when we first opened the doors at Sync Sound. I want to get inside a client's head and tweak an audio clip just the way he or she wants it before they even ask for it. The sunset in this scene wasn't shot perfectly: Can I massage the audio to give the feeling that a director wants? How much reverb should be applied to a solo violin? These are subjective decisions. Bill and I, and our staff have developed relationships with clients based on our ability to come up with creative solutions to their problems. We look forward to many more years of service to them, and remaining an important force in the audio post community.”

Sync Sound Selected Projects

Since opening its doors in August 1984, Sync Sound has provided sound editing and mixing on projects for every major network, studio and music label. A partial project list includes:

30 Rock (NBC)

The Barbara Walters Specials (ABC)


Damages (FX)

Stephen King's The Stand (ABC)

Homicide: Life on the Streets (NBC)

Beavis and Butthead (MTV)

The Hours (Paramount)

Fantasia 2000 (Disney)

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