San Francisco, CA (December 16, 2008)–Dustpan Studios recently added a pair of active ATC SCM 20 ASL loudspeakers, according to owner Zack Smith.
Smith started his career as the founder of the 1980s band Scandal, fronted by Patty Smyth, and wrote most of the band’s hits, most notably the New Wave staple, “Goodbye To You.” He earned an Emmy for NBC’s Henson Rain Forest special and is the creator of Cotton’s “Fabric of Our Lives,” ASCAP’s most-played advertising theme.
“Over the past 20 years, I’ve always had fairly ambient control rooms in my New York and San Francisco studios,” said Smith. “But several months ago, I spent three weeks listening to my mixes at Skywalker and various other high-end studios around California. I didn’t like what I was hearing. There were things happening with ambiences, EQ, and especially bass that were completely hidden at my studio and more than a little disappointing. I realized a radical change was in order.”
Smith hired friend and acoustician Manny Lacarruba–a partner at Sausalito Audio and the force behind the original design of The Plant–to reinvent the control room at Dustpan. The two made a plan and then proceeded to gut the existing 24 x 20 x 9-foot structure. They reframed a double wall, floated speaker towers on shock absorbers, and decoupled everything from everything else. They added absorption to the walls and ceiling where appropriate and installed refractors and bass traps.
Smith also listened to various nearfield monitors. “True, I came out of the NS-10 school, and I wanted something on that order,” he said. “But I also wanted something that was much more honest; something that didn’t have the high-end and fatigue issues associated with NS-10s.
“The ATCs really tell a story,” he explained. “Many times I have wondered how I could be a better mix engineer. Call me naive, but suddenly the answers were right in front of me, and they were obvious. It is far simpler to address audio clutter, to bring out definition and punchiness, when you hear your work on this system. With clients in the room, it’s great to have monitors that perform well over a twelve-foot swath, instead of just the width of my chair!”
With the ATC SCM 20 ASLs in the nearfield position, Smith moved his Dynaudio BM15s with 12-inch sub to midfield position. In the first month with everything up and running, Smith has turned to the midfields mainly for drum tracking and for situations where sheer volume is called for.
“When I need something more ‘hype-y’ or when I’m need to blow people’s hair back, I use the midfields,” he explained. As an aside, Smith admitted that he has yet to clip the ATCs. “They push much, much harder than anything their size and are fatigue-free even after marathon, 16-hour sessions!
“I’ve been in this business for a long time,” he says, “and I’ve always wondered how all these really world-class mix guys do it. How do they build such consistently awesome mixes that sound amazing no matter what system they’re played on? It seemed like magic. But now I’m learning that the truth lies, to a large degree, in great speakers and great rooms. The key is simply having a system that lets you hear it.
“With the ATCs, I’m not mentally compensating for what I think the speakers are doing to the mix,” he says. “I’m just mixing.” Recent spots completed for Honda and Barbie’s 50th Birthday were done on the ATCs. “You do, after all, want to trust your ears, so it’s critical that nothing impede your ability to really hear what’s going on in the music.”