Silverbirch Gets A New Monitoring System or Lipinski Meets Velodyne and Gets Dangerous
Besides the experience of the engineers, the other major assets of a world-class studio are a professionally designed and built studio, the quality and quantity of class-A equipment, the digital audio workstation and the monitoring system.
Since January, 2004, we have been implementing our commitment to bring every aspect of Silverbirch up to the level of the best mastering studios in the world. Our most recent goal was to upgrading our monitoring system.
The music enthusiast and even most audio engineers usually use words like great sounding, kick ass, gorgeous, sweet, etc., when describing speakers that they like. When evaluating speakers for a mastering suite, the words that are used are honest, detailed and transparent. Mastering studios tend to have speakers that are either audiophile grade or hybrids of audiophile and high-end studio.
It took us over six months to evaluate speakers that we thought would be right for our room and in the end, we settled on the combination of Lipinski L-505 satellites, dual Velodyne D-10 sub woofers and the Dangerous Monitor ST.
The Lipinski brand caught our attention as one of the bright new companies that were dedicated to building reference level monitors. The reviews were really excellent and the speakers were appearing in more and more really good mastering suites, replacing well-known brands such as B&W, Dunlavy, Eggleston, PMC, etc. So, we brought in a set to try, liked them and purchased them.
These are passive speakers, meaning they needed an external power amp. We chose the Bryston 3B SST. This amp is found in many, many studios world-wide as well as in the homes of the most discerning audiophiles. The description of the Bryston amps are roughly the same as mastering speakers, honest, transparent and important for studios, absolutely reliable. We got a kick out of the following quote from a very good mastering engineer who was describing his Bryston amp. "No colour, no hype, no lies, no down time, no mistakes! "
The L505's do not go down to the very lowest frequencies and so have to be mated to a sub woofer in order to reproduce the entire audio spectrum necessary for mastering.
THE SUB WOOFER
And so we began our search for sub woofers. The idea of stereo subs had intrigued our mastering engineer for some time.
Again, we tried several different brands but couldn't duplicate that "phatt" bottom end that we were used to hearing with our old system until the Velodyne DD-10 active sub appeared. As a bonus, the Velodyne D series offers unprecedented digital control of frequencies. The digital controls made it easy to blend the satellites with the subs to make a seamless frequency spectrum, without any added room equalization.
Because the crossover (the point where the main speakers roll off and the subwoofer begins to be heard) is relatively high, you would be amazed at how much stereo signal is subtly reproduced with stereo subwoofers. A simple example is listening for the sound of toms across the soundstage. With a mono sub, the lowest part of the floor tom is summed to mono but with stereo subs, you hear the sound as it was recorded.
These are subs that are made for music, not special effects. The sound of the bass instruments are very clear and yet hip hop and reggae tracks sound as they should!
THE MONITOR CONTROL SYSTEM
The last important detail to attend to was to find the best way to control the volume of the system. We also needed to switch to other devices in the room, like the CD player and alternate speaker sets.
Following the philosophy that less is better, we didn't want to add a preamp just to control the volume. So, when running a passive speaker powered by an amp coupled to an active stereo sub, how do you control the room volume?
These problems are addressed by a monitor controller/speaker switcher.
While controlling volume and switching to other devices, this device must deliver clean, uncoloured sound. After spending $10,000. for our speakers and amp, we didn't want to colour or degrade the sound by adding what is essentially a volume control and a few switches.
While the concept is simple, we discovered that the design reality takes a lot of expertise and high quality components to be realized. A couple of years ago, we bought a very reasonably priced passive studio controller but after our third unit developed problems, decided to look elsewhere! We discovered that if one is willing to pay at least three times the price, there are a number of mastering-grade units available.
We turned to the Dangerous Music company as we already owned one of their analog summing amps, the Dangerous 2-bus LT (more info). It has been totally reliable for two years and sounds great. It also helps to know that the company is co-owned by Chris Muth, who spent a lot of time as in-house technical chief and custom equipment designer at the highly respected Sterling Sound mastering studios in New York.
The description of the Dangerous Monitor ST sounded just right for what we needed and so we brought one in for trial. After installation, we noticed that the sound was immediately more clear, as compared to our old unit. So much for inexpensive passive boxes that claim to be uncoloured!
Long story short, we now own the Dangerous Monitor ST.
And lastly, one needs to convert the digital audio signal coming from the computer into the analog world in order to hear it through the speakers and controller. This converter is usually known as the room digital to analog converter (DAC). So just to sprinkle the last bit of angel dust on our system, we replaced our Pro Tools DAC with a Weiss DAC1-MK2 converter.
Our new full-range system is simply stunning in detail and accuracy. Good mixes sound good and problem mixes show themselves immediately. There are no "hyped" frequencies here. Absolutely perfect for mastering!