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Keeping In Touch

Keeping In Touch

As this month’s cover feature shows, U2’s residency at the new Vegas Sphere is revolutionary, both from a technical and an artistic point of view. In its ambition, scale and sheer novelty, it also highlights the growing gulf between the live and studio worlds.

For years, the studio was the heart of sonic innovation. As artists explored multitracking, overdubbing, editing, sequencing, sampling and synthesis, recording studios were constantly pushed into finding solutions to new problems. But today, live sound is driving the technological minibus, while a sort of museum mentality seems to pervade the studio world. Which of us can truthfully say we aren’t swayed more by the lure of a vintage console, or a collection of classic keyboards, than by the latest AI breakthroughs or haptic control devices? How many of the new products reviewed in this magazine sell themselves through the promise of recapturing some sort of old magic?

If we’re honest, moreover, I think most of us would have to admit that this isn’t always about the pursuit of the best possible sound. The average listener will neither know nor care whether we mixed a track using expensive outboard or cheap plug‑ins. Collecting vintage equipment is as much about vibe as it is about the results. It’s selling something that artists and producers can’t get from their laptops. But does a studio have to hark back to the golden age of recording to do this? Why shouldn’t cutting‑edge technology also be an effective tool for selling studio time? Why do clients get excited about old valve mics and not about, say, a Soundfield mic, something that really does open up new possibilities?

If we’re not willing to learn and exploit new tools, what are studios going to be for?

If there’s one new technology that can act as a selling point for studios right now, it’s probably immersive audio, and those who have dived into Atmos seem to be reaping the rewards. At the same time, though, there’s a lot of scepticism among those who haven’t. That’s understandable, given the often underwhelming experience of spatial audio on headphones and the steep learning curve associated with Atmos mixing. But when scepticism drifts into cynicism, it raises questions about the future of the recording studio. If we’re not going to embrace new technologies, if we’re not willing to learn and exploit new tools, what are studios going to be for? When a new generation of artists and producers no longer cares about the equipment that was used to record the Beatles, what reason can we give them to hire us?

Abbey Road has a past like no other studio, but it’s thriving today because it has invested in the future. For studios without history on their side, staying relevant is even more important.

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief