Some time ago I had the opportunity to try out a prototype of the Nemo DMC-8 when I was nearing the end of a major artist’s record project. It shed new light and opened up the sound above and beyond the vintage Neve monitor section in use up to that point. But that was only the start — once I got the full production unit into my own studio, I really got the sense of just how powerful this box can be.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, post productionontrol room monitor controller.
Key Features: Class A discrete circuitry; three balanced stereo inputs; level matching; mono, mute, dim, speaker select; dual outputs; stereo bus “thru” outputs; aux balanced output
Contact: Nautilus Master Technology at 714-894-4000, Web Site.
I was impressed by the cool retro-modern look of the production unit, and I was eager to hear its sonic difference compared to my console’s monitor section. Suffice it to say it won hands down again — everyone agreed that the sound in my control room had made a serious shift for the better. Codesigners John Vestman and Inward Connections have made a winner for DAW and analog users alike.
The DMC-8, while simple in its layout, really packs more of the monitoring features you always wish you had. Eight large mastering-style buttons select your stereo bus output as well as two balanced stereo sources and a stereo RCA input – enabling you to monitor your two-track playback (whether from a MasterLink, DAT machine, CD burner – as well as a standard CD player). This makes it easy to put up a commercial CD and A-B your mixes to see just how close your sound is to the competition.
While other manufacturers have units with similar capabilities (some with cumbersome rear panel trims), the DMC-8’s front panel level-matching controls are the most important function anyone needs at mix time. I found that really precise listening was easy, even when the volume levels of commercial CDs from year-to-year and artist-to-artist are so different. Plus even if a hundred different studios have a hundred different acoustic treatments, great reference CDs are always a constant reference point, and therefore equally as valuable to any engineer.
You can also select mono, mute, dim (with front panel level control) and speaker B (with front panel level control). For a better view of dynamics, the retro-cool VUs have a five-position meter range switch – a feature you’d normally see in a mastering studio. Which brings me to ask, why in the first place, don’t most studios have some of the monitoring tricks you see in a mastering studio anyway? Wouldn’t it make sense that mastering engineers largely have a lot of the final say in how a product stands up in the consumer’s environment? Fusing these ideas is the concept of veteran mastering engineer, John Vestman.
Talking to John, it was clear that he’d been deluged with many similar questions – how do you get the perfect mix balance? What frequencies do you choose for different instruments – and how do you get your vocals to sit in the mix correctly? How much compression is right? Seemingly his answer kept coming up “Compare your mixes with big name artists’ on a level-matched system.” But the question that followed was “What monitor controller does that perfectly?”
Inspired to create the answer, John teamed up with Steve Firlotte of Inward Connections (who had built and/or customized several pieces in his mastering suite) to build the Nemo. You can really hear a stellar difference using this box. It opens up the top end, almost making it faster and better placed. The low end is tighter and goes deeper, and there is just a sense that you can find your way around in the mix better. Using the SPA690 discrete block circuit designed by legendary designer, John Hall, the Nemo feels right (comfortably large knobs) and sounded so good I couldn’t go back to what I had before.
Simply put – I was able to hear into my mixes more effortlessly – and there’s really nothing like VU meters to give a more complete picture of what’s going on dynamically. I was able to see larger meter surges from vocals and bass parts that didn’t show up on my DAW peak meters (the twitchy computer plug-in VU meters just don’t compare with the real thing). I like hotter mixes, so the meter calibration switch came in handy for keeping the meters revealing my dynamics. Even though I’m selective about when to A-B my mixes with other records, I can truly see the value in the precision front panel level matching volume controls, especially when a project is a particularly important one.
I was able to place the unit right where I needed it in my console — so while some may opt to get a Nautilus remote for this piece, I was happy with it as is. Easy to understand connections on the back included two stereo bus thru outputs to recorders, 6 dB pads for the stereo buss input, a pad for the RCA inputs, and a balanced “source select” output that could be useful for either a headphone distribution system or an auxiliary CD burner, DAT machine, etc.
There is a beefy strain-relief bracket for the Virtual Dynamics audiophile power cord (list $365) included with the DMC-8. Okay, I admit, I was skeptical about anything “audiophile” – especially the power cord – but in several listening tests, and don’t ask me how – it truly made a difference to the sound. Nautilus is the only company that I know of so far that accounts for the potential weight (and sonic benefits) of such a cable. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
As far as headphone control or talkback, the DMC-8 will network with another Nautilus product – The Communicator. Otherwise, most people can probably continue to use the talkback method they’re already using. Since this product is designed to be equally at home in mastering rooms, Vestman felt talkback features (and costs) should be partitioned into a separate box.
With an extra-heavy chassis, exemplary specs of ±1 0.5 dB from 10 Hz to 60 kHz frequency response, THD 0.006% @ +4 dBm, crosstalk 100 dB @ 1 kHz, output signal-to-noise -95 dBu – and cleanly laid-out innards, you get the sense that the Nemo is built to last. Vestman says that the SPA690 discrete blocks in the unit have already been used in countless high-end discrete console upgrades, and that the reliability factor is tops.
While I think there will always be some mystery to the mastering arts, I think the Nautilus Nemo DMC-8 puts an essential piece of mastering gear at the hands of anyone who wants to remove some mystery around the art of mixing. Add Vestman’s informative articles on the web site, and you’re well armed to upgrade your mixes. This unit comes with a price tag to be sure. But when I consider the many engineers who will gladly spend $2,000 to $4,500 on a specialized compressor or channel strip (that addresses one channel at a time) I’d say that the $3,600.00 (list but $3,200 directly from www.nautliuspro.com) price tag is worth the potential improvement to all the channels in your mix – and a hit record deserves every nuance you want the listener to experience.