L.A. Grapevine

Aug 1, 2003 12:00 PM, By Maureen Droney

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Mix Regional

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It's always interesting to see what Allen Sides is up to, so I stopped into Ocean Way Recording for a visit with him and a look at his latest creation: Studio D with its Neve 88R console. Studio D, which boasts a large control room and a breathtaking wall of outboard gear, is part of a whole new wing at Ocean Way. Carved out of what was Bernie Grundman Mastering's original home, there's now a private lounge and a Pro Tools room.

Even Sides, who's built numerous studios, admits that constructing new from-the-ground-up rooms at the historic 6050 Sunset building was a challenge. One of the problems that surfaced was that the space, built for Grundman's Studios A and B, had a wall running down the middle of the two rooms that literally held up the entire building. Removing the wall and rebracing took time, a lot of money and a temporary closing of Sunset Boulevard for the delivery of a 40-foot I-beam.

Studio D, primarily a mix suite but with an iso room for overdubs, is Sides' first room to be constructed for non-soffitted main monitors. “We do a lot of 5.1 mixing,” he explains, “and we find that everybody has their own way of setting up. I wanted a totally open configuration so we could set up any system.”

D is equipped with a large pair of freestanding Ocean Way-style monitors that were, Sides reveals, originally built as a playback system for the executive conference room at Hollywood Records. “They needed a system that was accurate but impressive,” he comments, “because all of the A&R and promotion people came in for playback. It's got twin 18s on the bottom, along with double-15s for the mid-bass in OWR [Ocean Way Recording] enclosures with 90×40 radial wood horns and roughly 6,000 watts of amplification. I liked the system so much I ended up putting it in here.”

The 88R was chosen after Sides worked on the one at Buddy Brundo's Conway Studios. He was impressed with the sound, about which he's notoriously picky, and with the operation. “They worked hard to give it a quick learning curve,” he says. “While it has no internal similarities to a VR, it has a similar layout, so it's easy to understand. And the automation is basically Flying Faders that do a lot more. Anybody who knows Flying Faders can operate it.”

As usual, Sides acoustically designed the room himself, as well as acted as his own contractor. “I learned a lot from Bill Putnam, and I've been doing it a long time,” he says. “There are certain basic parameters for designing spaces; premises that have been around for years. Most of the information is readily available. The problem is, many people are more into aesthetics and visuals than the concepts of acoustics. That's why many control rooms end up with big loudspeakers that are unlistenable.

“What it comes down to is, that as an engineer and a producer, I know exactly what I need from the loudspeakers, and I will do whatever I need to get that, even if it's a little unorthodox. For Studio D, I wanted a large control room where 10 or 15 people could all hear the same thing, and I achieved that. I think it sounds amazing.”

Ocean Way clients seem to agree. In D since it opened have been producer Scott Litt working with Pete Yorn, producer Rob Cavallo mixing Less Than Jake, Sides mixing Kitaro in both stereo and 5.1, DJ Quik and Latin sensation Luis Miguel.

The rest of Ocean Way's rooms have also been holding their own or better during the past year. Respected producer Nigel Godrich has kept Studio B busy with Beck, Travis, Radiohead and Air, and on the day I stopped in, mixer Jack Joseph Puig was ensconced in his Studio A lair with Grammy-winner John Mayer.

Ironically, after developing not only his studios, but peripheral businesses such as Classic Rentals and Ocean Way to Go (known for putting together home and temporary studios for such artists as Ziggy Marley, Mars Volta and Incubus), Sides finds his engineering work more in demand than ever. So far this year, he's worked with Cavallo on projects for Phil Collins and Lisa Marie Presley; with Burt Bacharach producing; recording Aretha Franklin and the finalists from American Idol (see photo above); and, with a full orchestra, the Ron Isley Burt Bacharach songbook album for Dreamworks.

Hot as his engineering career may be right now, Sides has no plan to cut back on his cross-pollinating businesses. “It's a difficult time,” he says. “I think it's better that I'm an involved with the studio as a producer and an engineer, rather than just being a studio owner.

“Running a high-end studio like Ocean Way is an incredibly expensive process,” he continues. “We provide a very high level of tech support and service. We can partly support that because our other companies are successful, but I don't think they would be if we didn't have Ocean Way. All of the consultation and the design that I do are based out of having Ocean Way. It's almost like [legendary French chef] Joël Robuchon's restaurant Jamin in France, one of the greatest in the world. It had 50 employees for 50 patrons. Robuchon never made a dime on the restaurant, but he made a fortune in cookbooks and ancillary appearances and other things. Running Ocean Way is a little like that: My profit centers are not just the studios, they're all of the other ancillary things. And you've got to stay on the case all of the time. It requires a lot of attention to stay relevant.”

Those who lament the days when audio products were primarily designed to fill actual needs (as opposed to the current trend to design cool products and then go out and create a need), will be delighted with Quantegy, whose FireWire FHD Series external hard drives definitely fill a need and also have some extremely cool features. To show them off, Quantegy hosted a recent Los Angeles SPARS luncheon.

“The evolution of our FHD Series started about a year ago,” explains Quantegy's Steve Smith. “Manufacturing changes in SCSI drives were causing a lot of confusion, so we started looking at opportunities in FireWire as a transport medium. Because of the speed of the new generation, pro people want it. But, we quickly discovered that across the Internet and throughout the industry, there's a wide range of quality, performance and price, driven by consumer retail where it's marketed as a product for home use. What we did was go out and purchase a wide selection of retail FireWire enclosures to see if any of them made sense. A lot of them were junk, but we got down to six.”

All of the six had Oxford 911 chip sets, the fastest currently out there, and that became Quantegy's starting point. Using speed and reliability as criteria, Quantegy chose IBM as the manufacturer. After that, Quantegy went to customers for a wish list.

Suggestions that were incorporated include a Power switch on the front and separate LED indicators for power and drive activity. And, something that seems obvious but isn't, a standard AC cord. “Most manufacturers looking to reduce costs have gone to DC adapter boxes with multiple connections,” Smith explains, “making the box unique and unusable in different situations. We wanted to have internal power of 110 to 240, 50 or 60 Hz, and for it to be easy for a client to take the drive from, say, L.A. to London and plug it in.”

The end product includes a built-in universal auto-switching power supply, a front-mounted power switch, dual 1394 ports, a fully shielded metal chassis and an ultra-quiet ball-bearing fan: no easy thing to find. “The first fans we tried sounded like little airplanes,” Smith says with a laugh. “The drives get very hot when they work, and ventilation is essential. We found the fan with the absolute lowest ambient noise, which was a complicated process having to do with pitch of blades, velocity, cubic area. Don't ask.”

A rugged Lexan outer case protects against scratches and high temperatures, can be used either horizontally or vertically, has rubber feet on all sides and is stackable. Each FHD drive is subjected to a detailed final system test, and the individual test data generated is included with each drive.

And here (donning my studio manager hat) is the coolest part: All FHD FireWire drives come in a professional carrying case called the DrivePak, which protects, stores and transports the entire FHD system. The DrivePak includes a high-density, anti-static foam interior; professional user labels; power cord; and FireWire cable storage, plus storage for one DLT or LTO cartridge and two AIT session backup tapes. I saved the best for last: The DrivePak has large label areas to accommodate traditional studio 10½-inch reel-size labels! Now that's progress.


Got L.A. news? E-mail MsMDK@aol.com.






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