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SPL MMC1
[SPL-MMC1] Multichannel Mastering Console
 
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SPL MMC1

Multichannel Mastering Console



  • SPL MMC1

    Overview



    The goal of the MMC1 development was to create a stereo and multi-channel console which is superior in audio quality to all known and foreseeable audio formats, whether analogue or digital.
    The MMC 1 operates in the centre of a mastering environment fulfilling the tasks of speaker management, source connectivity, audio metering, track assignment, master and monitor level setting and automated insert routing of external processors.




    Excerpt from an interview by Fernando Curiel in RECORDING Magazine, September 2006 ("Bob Ludwig, the master of mastering shares his thoughts"):
    Recording: "What gear do you use and how is it different from the gear that a recording facility might have?" Bob Ludwig: "The SPL MMC1 8-channel analog console that I use has electronics that spec out far superior to a recording console that must jam 48 channels into a package that is still somewhat affordable. Plus the heat from pure Class A circuits would probably make a multitrack console like that melt!"


    Fade In ...


    Digital audio formats are subject to further development and change. The degree of incompatibility enforced by the "format war" between PCM and DSD has persuaded us to decide for a technology that is superior in dynamic range, headroom and sound quality – and that is discrete analogue technology in its most advanced implementation.

    And there are further requirements speaking for the employment of high-performance analogue technology:



    • The number of necessary AD/DA conversions should be reduced to a minimum. Digital sources can be connected to a digital router (i.e. of Z-Systems), which outputs the selected source through the preferred DA converter to the MMC 1. Thus it is ensured that the sound quality remains comparable and is not affected by converter differences.
    • From a sound-aesthetical view, high-quality analogue outboard processing is superior to digital processing. The analogue concept allows for problem-free integration of those processors.
    • Monitors and power amplifiers are mostly analogue designs. Why have another converter in that chain?

    New Technologies


    In the MMC 1 SPL`s new SUPRA operation amplifiers are used throughout. They operate at 120 V operating voltage. During a four-year period, SPL has researched this discrete operation amplifier, until the basis of a new generation of analogue audio technology was found. The SUPRA operation amplifier obtains a signal-to-noise ratio of 116dB with an headroom of 34dB. The dynamic range amounts to 150dB with a frequency bandwidth ranging to 200kHz.

    With these basic specs, the MMC 1 is beyond the requirements of today's PCM digital formats up to 24 bit and 192kHz sampling rate or DSD digital format with 1 bit and 256 fs.
    It is not to be expected that digital technology will offer an environment in foreseeable time, in which the MMC 1 could become a "bottle neck".



    AUDIO MEDIA-UK 3/2002

    EURO SMASH! Galaxy Studios

    TIM GOODYER finds commitment to quality (and new kit) in one of Europe's super-studios ... Galaxy

    Why would you go to Belgium to master your CD? Neither a 'traditional' recording centre, nor one of the world's wonders, this is a question that Galaxy Studios' Kees de Kruyf has anticipated: "We have built a Formula 1 Audio car here and we've put a very good driver in it," he asserts. "We go 100 percent professionally into our work, otherwise why would you go to Belgium? It has to be better..."

    The mastering facility is the latest addition to Galaxy, which first opened in 1982 and built its present complex in 1995. It offered the first fully-equipped 5.1 studio in Europe and now operates almost 80 rooms, including eight recording rooms and five control rooms.

    Some two years and € 1.2m in the making, its 'better' mastering room is equipped to handle all surround formats through a custom SPL analogue mufti-channel console, a Sony Sonoma editor, Europe's first SADiE DSD mastering editor, ranks of dCS converters, and custom 5.1 Perreaux/EgglestonWorks monitoring. The project also ran over time and seriously over budget, a consideration de Kruyf accepts with few qualms: "That's what happens when you don't want to compromise," he reflects. "Either we do things or we don't – that's our philosophy. If it costs us pain financially, we have to suffer it," he concedes.

    It's a sound philosophy if the investment pays off, but with the music business in decline and record companies notoriously reluctant to acknowledge the value of good mastering on this side of the Atlantic, is it misplaced? Part of the inspiration for the venture came from certain of Galaxy's recording clients being unhappy with mastering elsewhere, and with the facility open for business since early December, de Kruyf reckons the record companies are happy with both service and pricing.

    "We are one of the seven or eight biggest studios in Europe and we have a lot of international clients, de Kruyf begins. "We have clients from Lauryn Hill and Mary J Blige to the Scorpions and Guano Apes. Before we had our own mastering rooms we were hearing complaints about mastering quality and also the attitude of some of the people in the mastering studios.

    "More and more, people are convinced of the value of a mastering studio," he says. "It is the last opportunity to do anything before a DVD or SACD is pressed. During the last five years we've seen a real change in attitude towards mastering. We charge € 1250 for a ten-hour day for stereo and € 1550 for a ten-hour day for multi-channel work, and I haven't had any record company complain about the price."



    Pro Sound News (UK) 2/2002

    Galaxy Studios hopes its new mastering setup will give it the edge in quality.




    A world of its own

    BELGIUM – In addition to its already top-quality recording facilities – including a Neve Capricorn room, a Neve VRP room and the SSL 9080 J-equipped control room with Europe's first 8-track monitoring system – Galaxy Studios has now launched its in house mastering unit, offering the highest standards of mastering development, acoustics and quality.


    Galaxy Studios

    Galaxy started in 1982 in an old garden shack in Mol, in the Flemish countryside between Brussels and Antwerp. The studio, headed by Wilfried and Guy Van Baelen, soon established a good reputation for itself and has developed into a highly professional recording unit.

    In 1995, the Van Baelen brothers and their team of skilled engineers and technicians opened the 330sqm Galaxy Hall and the company's new premises – it took three years to construct the new building. The Galaxy Hall, an 8m-high studio, is a unique piece of art with a remarkable reverb time of 1.6s up to 2.6s and perfect for all types of live recording, including orchestral.

    The new building also comprises four control rooms, all on springs, three of which have direct visual contact with the Galaxy Hall. In terms of acoustical isolation, all Galaxy control rooms and studios measure less than 100.7dB; the panoramic windows between the hall and control rooms consist of 48 layers (a total of 20cm thickness) to secure optimal acoustical results, the new mastering room allows Galaxy to take its services right up to the finished product.

    "When we started Galaxy Studios almost 20 years ago, we wanted to include a mastering unit, and although we already took on mastering assignments, this new unit really puts us in the top range of mastering studios," says Guy Van Baelen. "Mastering is becoming more and more important. We get a lot of pre-produced material here and will now be able to offer the best possible mastering at reasonable rates. Also, for material recorded at Galaxy, this new mastering room was the next logical step towards a high-class product."

    With an investment of £770,000 (€ 1.2 million, without the expenses for research and development) the Galaxy Reference Mastering room has become another milestone in the Galaxy history. "The acoustics for the mastering room were developed by professor Eric Desart and the University of Leuven – they were also responsible for the development of the whole studio complex. The mastering room meets the highest resonance and sound-isolation standards. Each of our partners went a step beyond what they actually planned to do," explains Wilfried Van Baelen.

    "Galaxy Studios is a trendsetter today but setting a standard for the future," says Ronald Prent, summing up the reference mastering room's technical qualities. Prent has been a residential engineer at Galaxy for three years and is responsible for the SSL 9080 J studio.

    When Galaxy wanted to invest in mastering, Prent was a skilled partner and conveyed his opinion on quality standards. "When we got the green light about 18 months ago, the goal was to achieve the same musical level as the US-based mastering studios. In addition, the concept of the new unit coincided with the development of SACD and its particular demands on analogue equipment like the 200kHz bandwidth and a dynamic range of 35-40dB above zero," explains Prent.


    Console from SPL

    German manufacturer SPL was contacted to produce a console designed with Prent for mastering purposes. SPL was also building Europe's first adequate analogue equaliser, and both the console and the equaliser were developed in the same move, bearing in mind the high-quality standards required. SPL will also be offering the console as a commercial product – the company is convinced that other studios will choose this cutting-edge console in their mastering suites.


    Cutting-Edge Technology

    Offering cutting-edge technology was Galaxy's aim when the mastering unit was put together: with a zero-version of Sony's Sonoma and a new Pyramix recording system (from Merging Technology) for sub-audio editing and SADiE PCM editing, Galaxy Mastering offers more than one unique state-of-the-art feature. The new studio is also equipped with high-standard loudspeakers supplied by Eggteston Works – the Savoy five-channel system.

    "The idea of the Savoy range was launched when we started equipping Bob Ludwig's Gateway Mastering studios, and I'm proud to say that we offer some of the most detailed and accurate speakers here. And Galaxy's the first in the world to have them in surround as they've only been available for six months," says Mike Sabre, CEO of Eggleston Works.
    "Galaxy made us push our limits and standards one step higher, and they have been the testing ground to see our product in action. What we have here has been a year in the making... and worthwhile."

    When you step inside the new reference mastering room, surrounded by the 270kg Savoy speakers, you are, arguably, entering a new era in musical definition. "And still we make sure the technology is second to the music – unlike other European mastering studios where monitor speakers sometimes give quite different results from different sound sources. Music is what counts and what you hear best here," says Prent. To further develop its mastering operations, Galaxy Studios approached Rene Schardt, a specialist in mastering engineering with many years' experience in top level studios.

    Wilfried Van Baelen is confident that the investment will attract additional clients to Galaxy Studios – the spacious complex is built to accommodate bands who come to record or mix down material and sometimes stay for two weeks or more.
    Recording an album involves teamwork, a synergy between artists, producer and engineer, and can be a long process. We reckon mastering jobs will take one or two days per project. The reference mastering studio will serve as an introduction to a new group of clients and strengthen our reputation as a full-scale studio," he concludes.

    MARC MAES

    SPL Users

    You are not alone.

    Bob Ludwig
    Chief Engineer/President of Gateway Mastering and DVD in Portland, Maine, USA

    "I've never heard a mastering console as musical as this one."

    Bob has been an SPL user since the inception of Gateway Mastering in 1992. Over the years, he has used several Vitalizer versions, including the Classic Vitalizer, Vitalizer MK2 and customized Tube Vitalizers.
    "The Tube Vitalizer is a fantastic tool for old tapes," Bob explains. "It has been saving me on several re-issue projects."

    Among the latest SPL additions was the PQ 2050 Mastering EQ.

    Bob Ludwig ordered the first MMC1 Multichannel Mastering Console for delivery in the US. After extensive remodeling and rewiring of their "Mastering A" surround mastering suite, Gateway Mastering and DVD re-opened the refurbished suite, completed with the SPL MMC1. "I've been dying to get the room finished and get to work with the console," Mr. Ludwig describes that period. "There was nothing else like it that I knew of and I was very excited about it."

    In the meantime, Bob added a Transient Designer 4 to his collection of SPL tools and did his part in convincing Mick Guzauski at Barking Doctor Studios to also buy one.

    And Bob is far from being disappointed now: "The MMC1 sounds fabulous – my clients are surprised that my room could sound even better than before. I've never heard a mastering console as musical as this one."


    Ronald Prent
    Resident Engineer Galaxy Studios, Belgium

    SPL units: GainStation1, Qure, Passeq, Vitalizer MK2-T, Tube Vitalizer, DynaMaxx, Transient Designer, PQ Mastering EQ Surround Set.
    Our special thanks go to Ronald for his valuable collaboration in developing the MMC1 console. Before Darcy Proper was engaged as resident mastering engineer in the Galaxy, Ronald was also involved in planning the mastering suite, where the MMC1 operates in the centre of the mastering environment fulfilling the tasks of speaker management, source connectivity, audio metering, track assignment, master and monitor level setting and automated insert routing of external processors. A surround set of three PQ 2050 adds a decent parametric filter package.


    Simon Heyworth
    Simon established his reputation in recording at Virgin's Manor Studios, most notably as co-producer of Mike Oldfield. Now he is the owner of Super Audio Mastering in the south west of England.

    The Super Audio Mastering facilities are based around the MMC1

    Located in the Dartmoor National Park in the South West of England, Super Audio Mastering has been established as one of the world's finest Mastering studios.
    Flower filled courtyards and outstanding views provide an ideal relaxing environment. Housed in a spacious granite walled roundhouse, the studio is fully equipped to Master your music, both in Stereo and Surround.

    Simon Heyworth gained years of experience working as a Mastering Engineer in London, before establishing his own revolutionary Mastering studio in Devon during the summer of 2002. Paying meticulous attention to detail, frequentlyri testing equipment and performing audio verification tests at every stage of the mastering process. Simon ensures that SAM delivers audio of the very best quality.


    Skyline Tonfabrik
    Skyline clients include Die Happy, Tocotronic, Madsen, Klee, Die Toten Hosen, H-Blockx, Donots ...

    "The MMC1 forms the center of my listening and working area."

    At Skyline a MMC1 is installed in the center of the mastering suite. A Passeq EQ is among the selection of finest outboard gear.

    "The MMC1 forms the center of my listening and working area. It sounds simply outstanding – or rather allows my gear to sound outstanding. The numerous routing and monitoring options simplify working enormously and avoid complicated and fatiguing processes.With our without compressor or the EQ pre or post compressor – everything is done by the push of a button. There is no need to leave the sweetspot. Despite its many features the MMC1 offers a clear interface and works absolutely reliable, keeping my head, or that is to say my ears, free for the essentials."
    Kai Blankenberg, Chief Mastering Engineer, Skyline Tonfabrik

     


  • The MMC 1 configuration in short

    • In the Source section the Inputs (4x stereo/ 4x 8-channel) and Returns (8x stereo/ 8x 8-channel) can be selected.
    • The Input section offers a passive router to re-assign the track configurations of the various surround formats to match the SMPTE/ITU standard. Each input channel is equipped with an On, Phase Reverse and a special Trim switch for precise gaining in 0.5dB steps from -9,5dB to +6dB.
    • The Insert section is quite unique. It offers control functions for an automated patchbay, called Insert Box. Up to eight 8-channel processors can be connected to this outbreak 19" unit. The mastering engineer can store and compare up to four sequences by a push of a button. An all-over bypass switches the Insert Box in and out of processing.
    • The Monitor section features a central Monitor Level control and switches for Mute and Dim levels. Two stereo loudspeaker sets and two surround loudspeaker sets of up to eight speakers can be connected to the MMC 1.
      The speaker management offers an On and a Solo switch for each loudspeaker. The Solo function operates as Solo-in-place. With the Solo-to-Center switch each speaker can be monitored through the centre speaker for better comparison. There is provision to monitor the LFE on the L/C/R. Three Mono functions (L/R; LS/RS; Lt/Rt) and two mode switches for stereo or multi-channel operation round up the Channel Selection section. The meter bridge houses a RTW Surround Monitor 10800x and eight big VU meters with superb ballistics. The remote control for the RTW Surround Monitor is already built into the console next to the calibration switches for the VUs. The VUs can be switched to either show input or output. The VUs can be calibrated to eight different values (0 dB/-2/-4/-6/-8/-10/-12/-14 dB).
    • The Master section is dominated by a second eight channel level control. With the Master Level control, the overall output level of the desk to the recording sends is governed. The range of adjustment is from -10dB to +10dB.
    • The Output section offers the same Trim switch for precise gaining as used in the Input section. Level differences, which may have been introduced by outboard processing, can be compensated for each channel in 0.5dB steps ranging from -9.5dB to +6dB.

    The sections in detail



    Source

    The Source section is divided into two departments. On the left side are the selectors for the input sources, which undergo the mastering process. Four stereo sources and four 8-channel sources can be connected to the MMC 1.
    On the right side are the selectors for the returns of the recorders, DAW, analogue multi-tracks, SACD- and DVD-Players, TV, AC3/DTS encoder/decoder etc. The Input/Return button switches the monitoring to a total of eight stereo and eight multi-channel returns.
    The inputs and the returns can be attached on the back of the MMC 1 both to XLR sockets and to EDAC multi-pin sockets.

    Input

    The Input section receives the signal selected in the Source section. First the signal goes through a passive routing switch, with which the individual channels can be routed to every other channel. This function is essential regarding the different channel configurations of the surround formats.
    A table above the routing switch gives an overview of the most important channel configurations:
    DTS: L / R / LS / RS / C / LFE / L(t/o) / R(t/0)
    Film: L / LS / C / RS / R / LFE / L(t/o) / R(t/0)
    SDDS: L / LC / C / RC / R / LFE / LS / RS
    The MMC 1 buss structure for all inputs and outputs follows the SMPTE/ITU track assignment:
    SMPTE: L / R / C / LF / E / LS / RS / L(t/o) / R(t/0)
    Note: L(t/o) and R(t/0) explained: The appendix `t´ means `total´ and refers to the automatic stereo downmix function within AC3-encoders, whereas the appendix `o´ means `only´ and stands for a separate stereo mix.
    The routing selector transfers each conceivable channel configuration into the SMPTE configuration. The high-quality switch has gold-plated silver contacts with a life span of over 25.000 switching cycles.
    Audio then runs through an On and a Phase Reverse switch followed by the 32-position Trim switch. The range of trimming is -9.5dB to +6dB in 0.5dB steps. The specialty of this switch is its mechanical architecture that interconnects only two contacts. Common switches route the audio through a chain of resistors switched in series. Thermal noise and tolerances are adding up. The MMC 1 Trim switch avoids that by routing the audio through only one 0,1% metal film resistor at any position.

    Insert

    While it is relatively easy in a s
    tereo environment to connect processors via a patchbay and specify their sequence, it becomes complicated and time consuming when dealing with surround.
    The MMC 1 features an Insert-Box to which up to eight 8-channel processors can be connected. The unique advantage of MMC 1 is that the engineer can specify up to four routings, called sequences, which can be stored and re-called.
    The Insert section provides a switch for each of the eight external processors. Depressing them in a sequence specifies the signal flow through the processors. Beside each switch is a seven segment LED-display indicating the current position of the processor in the sequence.
    The mastering engineer can use this feature to compare between sequences in a varying order or to compare the same type of processor like equalisers of manufacturer A with manufacturer B.
    Three memory banks are available. Together with the current sequence, four different signal flows can be compared instantly. A bypass switches the Insert Box to hard-bypass.


    Monitor

    The audio signals returning from the Insert Box are sent to the Monitor section and coevally to the recording outputs. The Monitor section is divided in the following sub sections:


    Speakers

    Two stereo pairs and two surround loudspeaker sets can be connected to the MMC 1 for monitoring.


    Channel Selection


    Each loudspeaker can be switched on with the On switch, which is labelled with the respective loudspeaker position. Underneath them a Solo function is provided for each loudspeaker. Multiple solo is also possible.
    The Solo-to-Center function allows for monitoring of each loudspeaker through the centre speaker to obtain a better comparability. Solo-to-Center can only be activated, if a speaker was switched to solo before. In a multiple solo situation the Solo-to-Center cannot be activated.
    The LFE-to-L/C/R switch distributes the LFE signal proportionately on L/C/R.
    In the Monitor section two switches are provided to change the MMC 1 configuration from stereo to multi-channel. The stereo switch should be pressed before starting a stereo mastering job to switch off all monitoring functions except for L/R for improved operation safety. When depressing Multi-Channel, the MMC 1 resets itself to the last multi-channel configuration.
    The Monitor section offers three mono functions:
    1. Mono L/R
    2. Mono Rear (cannot be enabled in stereo mode)
    3. Mono L(t/o)/R(t/0) (cannot be enabled in stereo mode)



    Monitor Level

    The Monitor Level is regulated with a genuine custom-made potentiometer with eight chambers. The MMC 1 avoids using DACs, steps ladders or VCAs for this operation. The specifications of this potentiometer are impressive. The maximum tolerance is 0,5 dB over the entire control range! And such a masterpiece deserves an appropriate optical frame: this noble potentiometers is moved with an 60 mm diameter knob of massive aluminium. The scaling is illuminated with 30 blue LEDs on a circular area of 120 mm with a pointer element from miniature orange LEDs.

    Dim/Mute/Back

    Three Dim levels are available (-10 dB, -20 dB and -30 dB). In addition to the Mute function a switch labelled Back is incorporated. It is used in case a Dim function is activated and afterwards Mute was pressed. The Back function immediately returns to the actual Monitor Level setting without releasing Dim and Mute.


    Metering

    Right of the Monitor Level potentiometers are the switch functions for the VUs and the RTW Surround Monitor. All functions of the RTW can be controlled remotely. They are placed next to the Monitor Control potentiometer for easy access. Thus the mastering engineer does not need to leave the optimal hearing position.
    The VUs are likewise custom-made by a Japanese company, which manufactures VUs with the optimal ballistics. The VUs can be calibrated on eight different reference levels (0 dB/-2/-4/-6/-8/-10/-12/-14 dB). Furthermore the VUs can be switches to indicate either input or output levels.


    Master/Output

    The MMC 1 provides three eight channel and four dual channel recording outputs. The output section features the same 32-position switch for level trimming in 0,5dB steps as in the input section. Additionally a Master Output level is provided to regulate all eight channels simultaneously. The same potentiometer is used as for the Monitor Level regulation. With this potentiometer, extremely fine recording level settings are achievable to retrieve the very last bit of the recording headroom. Owing to a genuine potentiometer with infinite resolution a dynamic mastering is possible.


    Fade Out


    Ronald Prent, developing partner for the MMC1 project: "I had a clear image of what I wanted so I designed it myself and gave the drawings to those crazy guys at SPL in Germany. Their interpretation of my concept is phenomenal."

     

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