JBL's reputation and success in the
professional markets largely began with studio monitors
and the recording industry. For some time, it had been my
desire to see and hear a JBL installation in that
environment. Thanks to
Augspurger and Craig Hubler of
Sound Recorders, an opportunity arose as part of the 2003 Lansing
Heritage Tour (LHT).
Sound Recorders is one of the most storied studios in the
United States. The complex is a collection of old
commercial and residential buildings (some built over
80 years ago) that was originally converted into a studio by Tutti Camarata
in 1962. The studio is still in the Camarata family, being
owned by son Paul, and is one of the last privately owned
It's hard to do justice
to the history and legacy of this studio. Over 200 gold
records have been recorded here. From the Beach Boys, to
the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Michael
Jackson, Prince, and Alanis Morrisette - they have all
recorded at Sunset Sound Recorders. It is the last venue where all
of the Beatles played together for Ringo Star's album in
connection to Sunset Sound Recorders was George Augspurger who was responsible for the
acoustic design of the recording and control spaces in
addition to designing the custom JBL main monitors. He did the initial design in 1976 and
has been responsible for continuous upgrades to this date.
George arranged a tour of Sunset Sound on the morning of
April 8, 2003. We were met by Craig Hubler (shown at right
in the recording space of Studio 3). Craig has been
Sunset's studio manager for the past 20 years.
are three studios in the recording complex and our tour
began in Studio 3. Here George is pointing out the details
of one of the main monitors. The mains in all three
studios are of a similar, custom design using JBL and TAD
components. The Studio 3 mains are an all JBL
system using twin 2231 bass drivers reconed as 2235's. The
midrange is a 2440 with the "Hartsfield" 2390 horn lens.
Highs are covered by twin 2405's (.
control room design is interesting in how it deals with
bass frequencies. The room is a relatively small space
considering the size of the main monitors and bass
management is an issue. The back wall of the studio has
been designed to have a degree of acoustic permeability to
bass frequencies so that the adjoining hallway acts as a
console is a API-DiMedeo unit with a monitor section that
was custom made by Sunset Sound Recorders. I found it
interesting that all of the studios primarily use analog
equipment. As Craig explained, virtually all recordings
will at some point enter the digital realm, and Sunset
Sound has a full Pro Tools setup in each studio. However,
most of their clients prefer the sound of analog equipment
and each studio is also equipped with a 2" Studer tape deck.
We next moved to Studio
2 where we were joined by Mick Higgins, the Chief
Technical Engineer at Sunset. Mick is shown at the far
right of the adjacent photo with George and Craig in the
recording space of Studio 2. Studio 2 is the most renowned
of the three at Sunset and is the largest. It has become
the "Carnegie Hall" of studios with a unique character
that has become a standard of sonic excellence. A number
of recent multimillion dollar studio designs have used
Sunset's Studio 2 as a reference.
Part of the magic of
Studio 2's sonic character relates to the materials. For
example, the tile flooring dates to the original
conversion of the studio and is no longer available.
However there is a concern that replacing it would change
the acoustics. Therefore, George Augspurger has had to
work very carefully during the 25 years of his involvement
with Sunset Sound Recorders. He has designed necessary
upgrades involving changes to room geometry, construction and surface
treatments. In every case, he has ensured that the
result is a sonic improvement. The result is a definitive
strives for consistency in sound in all of the spaces he
designs. I found the sonic character to be a bit of a
revelation. I had expected a "dead" character, since I
know of the problems that reflected sound can cause.
However, the rooms at Sunset Sound Recorders are not dead. As George
explained, a completely dead room would sound unnatural.
There is a certain amount of reverberant energy in any
enclosed space and trying to eliminate it would be
counterproductive. Instead, George looks to strike a
balance, where the reverberant soundfield is controlled to
eliminate room colorations, but still evident to provide a
natural sound. An interesting anecdote regards the fact
that I recorded our entire tour of Sunset Sound by
clipping a small digital recorder to my shirt pocket. The
voice recordings from our time in the recording spaces
were remarkable in quality compared to anywhere else.
Voice intelligibility was far greater in these rooms no
matter where the speaker was.
The control room for
Studio 2 was completely redone in 1995. It is the
largest and most sophisticated of the three control rooms.
It is designed around a Neve 8088 console. The main
monitors are custom JBL's that are virtually identical to
those in Studio 3. A great pleasure was the opportunity
to listen to the mains from the engineer's seat at the
console. The sound is amongst the best I have heard. It
had all of the dynamics that JBL's are famous for, yet
could be subtle and detailed sounding depending on the
program material. There was no noticeable coloration. My
concluding thought - I want this in my home!
Upstairs at Sunset Sound
Recorders is a "live chamber" used for creating reverb effects. A
key component of this chamber is a venerable Altec Lansing
A7 Voice-of-the-Theatre. With all of the technology
available to create reverb effects, it is intriguing that
there is still a place actual recording in a reverberant
room. The technique involves playback of a recorded signal
through the A7 at one end of a very live sounding room. A
microphone setup at the far end of the room captures the
reverberant soundfield. The "liveliness" of the room is
created with non parallel walls lined with hard,
reflective materials. Supposedly current digital
technology can not match the smooth natural reverb
achieved with such a room.
Our next stop was Mick's
domain; the maintenance facility for the studio. Mick is
responsible for keeping all of the studio equipment in
working order. There is a complete inventory of
replacement parts to keep down times to a minimum. Along
the top of the right wall is only a small collection of
the literally scores of gold records that were produced at
No studio is complete
without the definitive midsize monitor; the JBL
4310. In this case, they are part of the shop sound system
that Mick uses while working. This is actually
the first pair of 4310's I have come across. While
noteworthy for establishing the market for smaller
monitors, the 4310 was not produced in that great a
number. It was in production for less than three years,
when upgraded to the even more successful 4311. For this
reason, there are not that many still around and it was a
pleasant surprise to find this pair.
We only had a short time
to visit Studio 1 since it was in use at the time. George
had specifically scheduled the tour for the morning since,
(surprise) most popular recording artists are not morning
people. That allowed us unfettered access to Studios 2 and
3. However, a young music act (obviously
unaware that they were not supposed to be morning people)
was laying down tracks in Studio 1. We were able to
sneak in during a break in their work.
1 is the newest of the recording spaces. The control
room in centered around a Sunset Sound custom console.
This studio had been cosmetically refurbished in February
2003. The main monitors in this facility use 2-15" TAD
woofers with the remaining components being the same JBL's
as used in the main monitors in Studio 2 and 3. As in all rooms, a pair of ubiquitous
Yamaha NS10M's are mounted on the console bridge as nearfields.
last photo is from the storage room for microphones. Sunset Sound prides
itself on a collection of over two hundred mics to meet
the demands of virtually any client application.
I want to conclude by
expressing our gratitude to the staff at Sunset Sound
to George Augspuger for arranging the tour. Even though he
had just returned from a trip to Buenos Aires, George made
time to arrange and join us in the tour. Craig and
Mick could not have been more accommodating. They spent
two hours giving us access to virtually all aspects of
their studio operation. It was one of the high points of
the entire 2003 LHT.
© 2003 Don McRitchie