Los Angeles (February 22, 2006)–Mark Knopfler, producer/engineer Chuck Ainlay, and mastering engineer Bob Ludwig took home the Grammy this year for “Best Surround Sound Album” for their 5.1 remix and master of the Dire Straits classic album, Brothers In Arms. The original stereo recording of Brothers in Arms was released in 1986 and was one of the first all digital recordings for the new compact disc format.
Chuck Ainlay (left) and Mark Knopfler collaborating at British Grove Studios.On the technology used to complete Brothers In Arms-20th Anniversary Edition, Knopfler commented, “I still use and strongly believe in much of the older analog equipment for premium sound. However, there are many clear advantages in harnessing digital technology with analog equipment.”
Using original engineer Neil Dorfsman’s tracks, Brothers In Arms was remixed to create the new edition last year on AMD Opteron processor-based digital audio workstations running Steinberg Nuendo production software at Knopfler’s British Grove Studio in London. British Grove is also equipped with ATC monitors in a 5.1 configuration. Knopfler added, “I like to balance the best of the old with the best of the new and in my opinion, AMD represents the best of the new.”
According to Ainlay, the ATC monitors played a key role in the project as well. The full-range models at British Grove are ATC model SCM300ASL (300A) mounted in standard left-center-right configuration, with two more 300A’s on a unique track system for surround. Dual ATC SCM0.1/15ASL PRO (Sub 1/15) subwoofers alongside the left and right mains provide the LFE monitoring.
Ainlay also utilizes ATC 300A’s at his own BackStage Studios at Soundstage in Nashville. Knopfler had been impressed with the ATC sound quality at Backstage, and after evaluating the monitors further at the studio of David Gilmore (Pink Floyd), he chose them for British Grove.
“It’s a total showcase studio, probably the best I’ve ever worked in,” Ainlay said of British Grove. “And the ATC’s are absolutely fabulous there. When we went to master, Bob (Ludwig) told me, ‘that room must be just right,’ because there wasn’t a lot to adjust in the mastering process. The obvious conclusion is that the reference provided by the room and monitors is correct.”
The innovative idea to track-mount rear surround 300A’s came after a discussion between Knopfler and Ainlay about lack of a real standard for their location in the horizontal plane. Film mix engineers tend to prefer them at 100 or so degrees while many recording mix engineers tend to want them far wider, up to 135 degrees or so from center.
“We thought there ought to be a way to offer a flexible solution, where every engineer who uses the room can set the rear monitors wherever they prefer,” Ainlay said. “The result was to mount them on a track that allows them to be easily moved wider or narrower, from about 100 degrees to 145 degrees, with basically a push of a finger, letting the engineer put them exactly where wanted without changing the distance to the listening location. It’s really cool.”
The 300A is a three-way, self-powered tri-amplified system with dual custom SL 15-inch cone woofers, a single 3-inch custom SL dome that is wave guide loaded, and a 1.3-inch dome tweeter that’s also wave guide loaded. The Sub1/15 self-powered subwoofer includes the largest of the SL driver options (15 inches).
“A reference loudspeaker is supposed to allow the engineer to make accurate judgment calls and not get in the way, and the 300A’s do that very, very well,” Ainlay said. “The resolution is super high, and there are no horns involved so there is virtually no distortion. The response is so flat that they don’t require EQ–put them in a good room, mount them properly, and nothing else needs to be done.
Ainlay has served as the engineer on several of Knopfler’s solo projects as well as the more recent albums by Dire Straits. For Brothers In Arms–20th Anniversary Edition, remixed for both DVD-Audio and SACD formats, he started with Dorfsman’s original master tapes, which were recorded on a Sony 332416-bit DASH machine, the first iteration of Sony digital multitrack that only supported 24 tracks.
“Some of the original recordings were spread over a bunch of different tapes that we first had to locate,” he notes. “We transferred up to 120 tracks per song from the master multitracks, analog slave multitracks and even some of the ‘safeties,’ to arrive at all the assets necessary to mix the album.” Using the AMD Opteron computer, added Ainlay, “gave us the power and flexibility to run and automate surround panning and effects under a heavy load with ease and confidence. We could concentrate on the music without thinking about the technology.”
In a nutshell on this project, Ainlay used the latest model Sony DASH unit, the 3348HR, as well as a Studer 800 analog machine to feed discrete multitrack outputs to transfer into the DAW, using the AMD dual Opteron processors and Apogee 16x A-Ds for the converters. Everything was saved to hard disc using the latest version of Nuendo software at 96 kHz, 24-bit.
Mixing was done on a Neve 88R console, with tracks individually bused from Nuendo directly to the console. In addition, a five-channel surround effects mix in Nunedo was also brought into the console and an SSL compressor was put across the mix bus for overall compression. From there, Ainlay plied his talents to transform the tracks into a stunning surround presentation before handing them off to Ludwig for final mastering.
“I was extremely happy to have the ATC loudspeakers at the head of all of this great studio technology,” Ainlay concluded. “They really make a difference, no matter what format you’re working with.”
Brothers In Arms–20th Anniversary Edition is available internationally through the Mercury Records label, while in the U.S. it’s on the Warner Brothers label.