The Studio SOS team pay a visit to the lucky winner of the spectacular $30,000 SOS Dream Studio giveaway, to help him get his prize up and running.
It doesn't take much guesswork to imagine how pleased rock guitarist Craig Sellwood was when he won the SOS $30,000 Dream Studio Giveaway, held at LIMS (the London International Music Show) earlier this year. He'd messed up his entry the first time around, and had almost not bothered to try again! But enter he did, and having informed Craig about his prize, we arranged to meet at his home in South Wales. We turned up, in the pouring rain, with a van full of gear and just a few hours to unpack and help him install everything.
The SOS team for this visit comprised Hugh Robjohns, Chris Mayes‑Wright and myself, with Andy Brookes handling video for the SOS web site (see box), and Craig had kindly bought in enough chocolate Hob Nobs and assorted other biscuits to feed us all! Craig had also dismantled and removed all of his old studio equipment prior to our arrival: much of this would be going back in once we'd installed the new gear, but it helped to be starting with a blank canvas. The space was about the size of a small single garage (about 4 x 2.5m), with a lightweight bench and some shelves in place at the front (the corner shelves usually supported some small PA speakers for when Craig was rehearsing with his band in the room), and a large sofa at the other. We thus had a fair amount of typical Studio SOS acoustics work to do... and, fortunately, the prize included lots of Auralex acoustic foam.
All the walls and ceiling had already been lined with some form of acoustic isolation board, and covered with polystyrene tiles. This sort of tile may be a good thermal insulator, but it tends to reflect a lot of mid- and high‑frequency sound, so the overall tonality of the room was quite live and 'ringy'. This characteristic was improved only slightly by the rather loudly patterned carpet, which had been recycled when Craig's grandmother decided she needed something more up to date!
Craig was happy for us to make whatever changes were necessary to get the room sounding good, so we unpacked the foam and started to work out a plan. Auralex had also supplied several tubes of solvent‑based caulking-gun-type adhesive with their foam absorbers. Suitable as this glue usually is, it has a tendency to dissolve polystyrene tiles, so we bought some solvent‑free adhesive from a local DIY store, as well as a gun with which to apply it.
Hugh and I decided that the best strategy would be to put absorbers on the front wall, behind the monitors, with additional panels at the mirror points to the side and on the ceiling. In addition to the assortment of foam panels, Auralex had also supplied some LENRD corner wedges, which can be used to construct modest bass traps, and we decided to fit these to the front vertical corners, all the way from floor to ceiling on the left, and from ceiling to desktop on the right. This involved a bit of trimming to get them to fit above and below the corner shelves, and it also ate up quite a bit of the shelf space, but it was otherwise straightforward. We cut the foam using a sharp utility knife, but if this doesn't work for you, an electric carving knife is also very effective for this purpose.
For the wall behind the monitors, we had a large pack of Studiofoam DST112 12-inch square tiles, which can be applied in different orientations to create interesting visual patterns. Craig wanted the wall to look as regular as possible, so we settled on the arrangement shown in the photographs, where the panels covered virtually all the front wall, from desktop to ceiling, and extending almost as far as the bass traps to either side. The solvent‑free glue worked fine for these, but it doesn't grab in the same way as the usual contact adhesive, so we had to be careful not to disturb the tiles until the glue had dried.
For the side walls, we decided to use some of our regular Auralex two‑inch thick Studiofoam Wedge panels (two pieces each side), because this would look tidier when fixed to the polystyrene tiles. As an experiment, we applied solvent‑free adhesive around the edges and a thin layer of the usual Auralex solvent‑based spray adhesive to the centre. The spray adhesive would attack the polystyrene to some extent, but we figured that if we kept the layer thin and allowed it to go tacky before fitting, it would help the panels stick firmly, and this worked well. We used the same trick to hold up another two Wedge panels that we fixed to the ceiling, above and in front of the listening position. Later, once we had the monitoring up and running, we added a couple more of the smaller DST panels to the side walls, to extend the side‑wall mirror-point coverage, which prevented early reflections from the monitor speakers bouncing back to the listening position. We had two of the LENRD corner wedges left, and Hugh suggested fixing these to the rear wall/ceiling corner, which we did.
Craig's new KRK RP6 G2 Rockit monitors were placed on Auralex MoPads on the desk surface and angled to point inwards towards the listening position. These came with a KRK 10S subwoofer that we placed on an Auralex Gramma isolation platform beneath the desk, and off to one side of the centre, where listening tests confirmed that we were getting a reasonably even bass response once we'd adjusted the sub level and crossover frequency. This, we thought, could probably be further improved by active room-correction, which is available via the KRK Ergo system that came as part of Craig's prize.
The Ergo is a piece of hardware that sits between the monitor controller and the active monitors, and has its own monitor level control. Using the included measurement mic and software, readings can be taken at the monitoring position, and other chosen locations in the room, from which the system calculates an EQ correction curve to give the best response at various different listening positions. We installed the software onto the Synergy Audio PC (also part of the prize) and checked that the Ergo was communicating with the system, but we left Craig to make the final corrections, as that takes time and is something that's probably better done without a noisy installation team in the room!
Once we'd unpacked the remaining gear, it was a matter of deciding on the most ergonomic positioning. We decided the computer would be best at the bottom of the built‑in drawer unit, beneath the side arm of the L‑shaped desk. That necessitated cutting a small hole in the side panel to pass cables for the Synergy Audio PC's monitor, mouse and keyboard, as well as USB and Firewire connections to some of the hardware. We also had to send part of the team out in search of long DVI monitor, Firewire and USB cables, plus a couple of optical cables to complete the installation.
The Digi 003, which would do duty as both audio interface and control surface, was placed in front of the 22‑inch LCD screen, with the rack hardware set up on the desktop to the left, along with the TL Audio Ebony-series Summer tube summing mixer, Focusrite Octopre and ESI M8U XL eight‑port MIDI interface. The Micro Korg XL keyboard, Moog Murf guitar effects unit, Novation Zero SL MkII controller and Yamaha Motif XS6 61 keyboard were set up to the right, with the keyboard on its own Ultimate Support floor-stand.
With the equipment roughly positioned, Hugh crawled around on the carpet, under the bench, to rig the mains power and audio cables. There was a generous number of electrical sockets in the front wall, but Hugh managed to power everything off a single double outlet and a filtered mains distribution plug‑board, which ensured a single earthing-point and minimised the chances of a ground-loop hum appearing.
The prize package also included a Black Star HT5 guitar amp and an SSL Mynx modular signal processing rack. Both of these were to be shipped a little later, and the Mynx would be fitted with Craig's choice of modules. We suggested that, as he had a summing mixer that could be used to mix several DAW outputs, and also to mix in his own hardware synth modules, an SSL Bus Compressor (a dual‑width module that would fill the Mynx on its own) might be the most useful option, and Craig agreed. Our van-load of goodies also included a Washburn Icon 64 Relic guitar with a distressed finish, which Craig said felt really good: his main instrument is guitar, so this should make a useful addition to his existing arsenal.
While Hugh and I were fixing up the acoustic tiles, Chris installed the ADAT card in the Focusrite Octopre and fitted the UAD2 card in the PC. As there was no broadband feed in the studio, Craig downloaded the latest UAD software via his home laptop, along with the authorisation codes for the other software included in the prize.
Once everything was wired up, we tested the basic system to make sure the core software (Ableton Live, Reason and Pro Tools) ran properly, and that the Digi 003 Interface was working correctly. Chris also installed the Toontracks Superior Drummer 2 drum software and the support software for the Novation Zero SL Mk II controller.
Several training packages were included in the prize, one of which covered the use of Pro Tools, and we suggested to Craig that he get to grips with Pro Tools, Reason and Live before tackling the more sophisticated additions. He could then move on to the TL Audio Summer. Chris had set this up to be fed from the eight outputs on the Octopre, which was connected to the Digi 003 via a pair of ADAT lightpipes. The final mix at the output of the mixer could be recorded back to a new stereo track via two of the 003's line inputs, and mix‑bus compression could be added at the same time by patching the SSL Mynx, with its bus compressor module, into the insert points at the back of the summing mixer.
We had to leave Craig to install some of the software himself, simply because of the sheer amount that was included in his prize. In addition to the DAW software, Craig also got the AIR Virtual Instruments collection, iZotope Ozone 4 and RX, and the five top virtual instruments from G‑Force, not to mention the plug‑ins that come with the Universal Audio UAD2 Solo. Much of this had been installed in the PC before delivery, but there was still plenty left for Craig to do, including wading through the hefty pile of manuals.
The remaining space on Craig's corner shelves was perfect for storing his software boxes on one side, and some of his new mics on the other: the plentiful mic selection included with the prize package comprised a Sontronics STC2 and Matrix telescopic stand, Shure PG27 and SM27, an SE 4400A with a Reflexion Filter and a sturdy SE mic stand, and a pair of the very versatile Rode M3 small-diaphragm condensers. Craig also took delivery of a pair of AKG Perception 170s and a Radial J48 DI box, with a generous consignment of XLR and jack cables and adaptors from Adam Hall (who kindly put together everything we needed at very short notice), to help him string it all together.
Once we'd checked the wiring and tidied up a little, what was previously a rather uninspiring empty shell was now looking much more like a serious studio, and more importantly it sounded significantly better controlled, with good stereo imaging from the KRK monitors, as well as plenty of low end punch. Craig was (predictably!) very happy with his new setup, although he still wasn't entirely sure about that carpet!
Craig and the SOS team would like to extend our thanks to all those companies who helped us put together this fabulous prize.
Craig: "I'm still pinching myself and staring in awe at all the new equipment, and can't wait to learn how to get the best use out of it all. I'm generally very stubborn and stuck in my ways, hence I've only over the last few years upgraded from Cubase VST on Atari ST to using a PC! I've used this equipment to create and record music for my band, Acid Tongue. We've recently been signed to Pure Darkness Records and are at present recording our debut album. All I can say is that any new songs we record are going to sound awesome using all this new gear. There's going to be a big and interesting learning process, with many late nights reading manuals to follow, along with working out what I'm going to do with all the empty boxes... but I can't wait to get stuck in!
"I feel extremely lucky, and after being seriously ill over the last few years, this is just the perfect pick-up I need — and who knows where it may lead? I just want to say thank you to everyone who contributed to the prize give‑away: things won't ever be the same again! The guys from SOS have been excellent and have done a great job; the studio looks amazing. Thank you Andy, Chris, Paul and Hugh for putting up with me whilst installing all my new toys!”
If you want to see Paul, Hugh and the rest of the team at work on this Studio SOS, we've placed a couple of videos on‑line. Just go to www.youtube.com/soundonsoundvideo or www.soundonsound.tv for more details.