by Frank Wells
In the high desert of Nevada, amid the lights and bustle of Las Vegas, a new 10,000-square-foot studio complex has just gone on line, celebrating its grand opening on December 5 and beginning sessions the very next day. The Studio at the Palms is the brainchild of George Maloof, who runs the Maloof family-owned Palms Casino Resort. Heading the studios as director is industry veteran Zoe Thrall, who says that Maloof looked at the project "as an extension of services that he will provide to his already existing clients. That was the initial motivation."
That existing client base includes some artists who come to perform, but many more who choose the Palms as a place to just relax and have fun. "When he started thinking about it further," Thrall continued, "he thought, 'If we really do build a state-of-the-art facility, then we can make this a destination studio as opposed to just something for people that are coming through Las Vegas.' And in the end that was his main goal."
Maloof took the time to "court experienced people," including the design and technical install teams, and the permanent staff, including Thrall, who has run both the Hit Factory and Avatar studios in New York City. "He wanted people that have been doing this to make sure it got done right," Thrall elaborated, "and to be able to go out and secure some of that outside clientele." Also on board is Brent Spear, who served at Hit Factory for 11 years as chief tech. Spear, initially tasked with audio system design, is staying on as technical director at the Palms. In Studio Y at the Studio at the Palms on the eve of the grand opening are (l-r): Francis Manzella, acoustician, FM Design; Zoe Thrall, director, Studio at the Palms; George Maloof, owner, Palms Casino Resort; and Larry Rudolph, artist manager.A third Hit Factory alum, Samara Goldhecht, is on board as studio manager, and, though Thrall first looked locally, experienced assistant engineers were also brought in. Las Vegas locals with music and audio school backgrounds round out the rest of the staff.
Fortuitously for the Studio at the Palms, Tom Schlum, with experience ranging from SR company Electrotech, as director of engineering for GML, working with Air Studios in London and building Sphere Studios there, is now a part of Thermal Relief Design, a Las Vegas-based pro audio service, design and installation firm. "Tom moved here six months before we got here and, boy, was that timing perfect for us," said Thrall. "He did an outstanding job, and he very much was a part of this team. To have someone who has major studio experience from that perspective, the cabling, wiring, interfacing side of things, here locally was invaluable." Thrall adds that even if they'd had to "import" someone with similar skills, "I don't think I could have found someone better than him anywhere."
Alongside clients traveling to the facility, Vegas headliners are expected to be part of the clientele, and interest has already been shown by some of those artists. These are artists that are "accustomed to a certain service when it comes to recording," Thrall explains. "These are artists that have been making records for 20-30 years, some of them, and they're used to a certain environment in a studio they work in, and I think they recognize that this studio will provide that."
Catering to high standards in both the technical and aesthetic aspects of the recording experience were part of the overall concept, beginning with the two studios developed by Francis Manzella Design (www.fmdesign.com)--two control rooms, one with tracking space attached. Studio X, the tracking studio, encompasses nearly 1,500 total square feet including the control room, 1,000 square feet of that are the tracking spaces. Booths with "great sight lines" flank both sides of the main tracking area, with an alcove that can "comfortably" accommodate a goboed-off grand piano or drum kit.
Studio X is equipped with an AMS-Neve VR Legend, and outboard mic pres include eight each vintage Neve 1081s and 1084s, and pres from GML, API and Martinsound. Microphones include "a lot of AKG, Neumann, Sennheiser, Sony, Telefunken--a nice cross-section of everything from dynamic to condenser and tube microphones," said Thrall. "The classics are the Neumann U67 and U47 and Telefunken 251." Another mic that Thrall is "really excited about" after trying it in New York is the Brauner VM1A, sourced from the exclusive U.S. distributor for Brauner, the coincidental neighbor of the Palms, Transaudio/Las Vegas Pro Audio--Brad Lunde's Las Vegas equipment distributorship and retail arm, respectively. Studio X has a generous complement of outboard processing, and "very tweaked out" Pro Tools HD systems, with "the top plug-ins, a lot of power, a lot of RAM, a lot of Accel cards," said Thrall, "to simplify people's lives. They can come in and not have to worry whether they brought their iLok with them or not."
Save for the additional mic pres, Studio Y, the similarly sized mix room, is similarly equipped with outboard gear and Pro Tools, anchored by a SSL XL9080K console. A common machine room houses the console computers and power supplies, Pro Tools main frames, Studio Networks Solutions' 140 GB+ A/V SAN for storage, Apogee's Big Ben master clock and a pair of Studer A827 Gold Edition 2-inch, 24-track analog recorders. Also available for analog mixdown is an Ampex ATR 102 with both 1/2-inch and 1-inch headstacks. Also, 3/4-inch video can be accommodated, or video can be transferred in to Pro Tools through a Canopus converter for lock to picture.
"I can't tell you how excited and happy I am," said Thrall of the control room monitors--the studio in-wall version of Griffin Audio's (www.griffinaudiousa.com) high-resolution speaker system--co-designed by Manzella and his partner at Griffin. There are five cabinets each in each studio in a surround configuration. The distinctive red, full-range monitors are equipped with an 18-inch woofer from RDF in Italy, two 8-inch Excel midrange drivers from Sea in Norway and a Stage Accompany SA8535 ribbon tweeter. A pair of 18-inch Griffin subwoofers in each control room complements the five main monitors. The cabinets are powered by Crown Studio Reference I amps. Speaker processing is handled through BSS' Soundweb London DSP system, while the house standard processing is set flat, for those certain clients that demand a different voicing for certain types of music, alternate presets are just a button push away.
The facility houses a wide selection of instruments and amps, including a 7-foot Baldwin acoustic piano. If more is needed on those lines, one of the largest vintage guitar shops in the country is Vegas-based, there are two Guitar Center locations and a branch of S.I.R. Load-in is facilitated by an elevator that runs between the studio and a loading dock.
The Studio at the Palms is housed on the third floor of the resort's new Fantasy Tower. The name derives from the 10 "fantasy" suites that share the tower. These range from suites with swimming pools to "a suite with a basketball [half] court in it called the Hardwood Suite," Thrall elaborated, "to the Kingpin Suite which has regulation bowling alleys in it, to the Ghost Bar Suite which is a replica in color and style to the Ghost Bar that's on the roof of the first tower. The studio is interconnected between some of these luxury suites including Hardwood and the Sky Villas that are up on the top floors. So an artist could, if they were in one of these luxury rooms, record from their room, from their suite, down to the studio."
While the Fantasy Tower has access to and from the casino, Thrall points out that they've gone to great lengths to ensure their clients' privacy. "So, for example, to come to the studio on a day-to-day basis, you'd actually go to a separate entrance that's at the rear of the Fantasy Tower, where there's security at street level. Then you go up a private elevator that goes right to the studio." That said, clients can "use as little or as much as they like of what place like the Palms Casino Resort offers--anything from beautiful meals from the gorgeous restaurants here to a simple sandwich from room service. There are spa facilities here. There's a private theater down the hallway for our clients. One thing people do recognize about Vegas is it truly is a 24-hour city."
The Palms recently broke ground on a new music venue, expected to be completed in the fall of 2006. "The obvious thing for that," said Thrall, "is that we'll be able to do live recording from that venue direct to the studio, which we're really excited about. That's going to be an additional service we can offer touring acts which is pretty rare these days." The 2,200-seat venue, big enough for a substantial audience yet still intimate, is being designed exclusively for musical performance.
The Studio at the Palms will be a good neighbor for the Las Vegas pro audio community. "I believe very much that promoting the health of the entire community benefits the health of your individual facility," said Thrall. "We're a small industry, and we have to stick together, and that's why I spend the time to be involved in AES and SPARS." Accordingly, Thrall, Lunde and Schlum worked together to establish an AES section in Las Vegas, which was approved at the October convention. The section is expected to be somewhat unique, drawing from a number of different audio disciplines, with a heavier emphasis on live sound than in the average AES section.
Nightlife, luxury, entertainment, fine foods and great weather--the traditional attractions of Las Vegas are readily at hand for clients of the Studio at the Palms. Adding a first-rate, professionally run and marvelously equipped studio complex to that mix may just prove the adage, "If you build it, they will come."
Studio at the Palms
Studio at the Palms
Las Vegas, NV
Studio Owner: The Maloof family, Palms Casino Resort
Room Design: Francis Manzella Design, Ltd.
Consoles: Neve VRP 72-input w/flying faders; SSL XL 9080K 80-input
Recorders: Pro Tools HD|3 Accel (2); SNS A/V SAN; Lacie external drives; Studer A827 Gold (2); Ampex ATR-102; HHB CDR830+; Panasonic 4100 DAT; Apogee Rosetta 200 Converters
Main Monitors: Griffin Audio Custom S-1 full-range (in surround) with Griffin Audio subwoofers; Crown amps; BSS processing
Nearfield Monitors: Genelec; Griffin Audio; JBL; KRK; Pro-Ac; Yamaha
Microphones: AKG; beyerdynamic; Brauner; DPA; EV; Neumann; Shure; Telefunken
Mic Pres: API; Avalon; dbx; GML, Neve; Manley; Martec
Outboard Equipment: AMS; dbx; Empirical Labs; Eventide; Lexicon; Neve; Roland; SSL; Summit; TC Electronic; Universal Labs; Urei; Yamaha
Musical Instruments: Akai sampler; Fender and Gibson guitars; Fender and Marshall amps; Korg, M-Audio, Roland and Yamaha keyboards; Yamaha drums
by Frank Wells