London, UK—Gearbox Records, a London label specializing in audiophile vinyl releases of live music, much of it jazz, has been a labor of love for owner Darrel Sheinman (@DazzaDarrel) since he started the business as a hobby in 2009. In 2012, he went into the venture full-time and built a mastering studio, which he recently started to market for third-party projects.
Sheinman, a self-confessed “audiofool,” has been a drummer since the age of 13 and is an avid vinyl collector, especially of Blue Note releases. He came to the audio industry later in life, having previously spent years in maritime security and the stock market. “This is my third career; the hardest, but the one most loved,” he says.
Gearbox is located at Tileyard Studios, a creative complex near King’s Cross that is occupied by over 150 businesses, including 70-plus music studios and pro audio manufacturers, including Focusrite-Novation, Arturia and Spitfire Audio. The Gearbox facility is interconnected with next-door neighbor Mark Ronson’s studio.
“When Mark moved in a couple of years after me, he said, ‘Why don’t we join up our rooms? We can master and record in one facility.’ He hasn’t used it much, but I’ve used it quite a lot,” Sheinman reports.
Initially scouring the archives at the British Library and the BBC for unreleased live jazz recordings that he could license and release, Sheinman would master at AIR or Soundtrap. “Very good studios and very good engineers,” he observes, “but there were certain things that I wanted to do which were much more analog-driven, using some of the techniques of the Mercury Living Presence and RCA era.”
Consequently, Gearbox’s mastering room is a cornucopia of vintage equipment, including Studer H37, J37 and A671 tape machines and Lang PEQs and limiters. Sheinman sourced the equipment himself, calling on specialists such as Studer’s Andreas Kuhn. “And we got a very rare Philips Pro EL 3501 tape machine from Ted Kendall, a sound restorer based in Wales.”
A Maselec/Prism Sound system forms the core of the mastering desk. “If you come in with a hi-res digital at 96K, we’ve got wonderful Apogee Symphony converters with a Thunderbridge. But we found that we get better results if we put the high-res digital through tape first. Tape tends to find data in the digital domain and bring it to the fore, and alter the soundstage. It makes it a lot bigger.”
Sheinman encourages artists to attend mastering sessions. “The mastering process is the last part of the creative process, not the beginning of the manufacturing process. It’s a very powerful position in the chain—we’re the last chance for an artist to make changes. I think it’s almost more important for an artist to be in a mastering session than any other point in the chain, other than the recording,” he says.
Monitoring is by Audio Note. “They were famous for making the Ongaku in the ’70s, hailed as the best amplifier ever built. We use one for monitoring in the studio.”
The UK manufacturer’s owner is also an avid gear collector and had an old Haeco Scully lathe with Westrex heads and cutting amps moldering away in storage. “He and I decided to restore it; I leased it off him and put it in my studio. We’ve done a number of great direct-to-disk cuts,” says Sheinman, using Ronson’s live room.
“The mastering process is the last part of the creative process, not the beginning of the manufacturing process.”—Darrel Sheinman, Gearbox
Sheinman will often record using a Decca tree. “Unusually, the three mics we’re using are ribbons. A lot of engineers say you can’t do that—you’ve got figure of eight patterns and phase lobes—but the three ribbons I’m using are extremely rare and have cardioid patterns, so we don’t get that issue.”
In the center position is a 1959 RCA KU-3A. Two Western Electric 1142RA ribbons sit on the outriggers. “They sound delightful,” he says. You get all the richness of ribbons but they’re not dark, so there’s good airy top end.”
Tileyard’s audio facilities were put together by Chris Walls of Level Acoustic Design, who was formerly with Munro Acoustics. Sheinmen brought Walls in to modify Gearbox. “Because it’s a floating floor, there’s a resonance at about 1 kHz, unfortunately, when you walk around. We drilled through the floor and rested the lathe on the girders of the building for additional stability.”
But construction work in an adjoining building made it impossible to work. “Chris found some special rubber tuning devices which could go under the feet. Now we can even cut when someone is drilling.”
Prism Sound • prismsound.com
Gearbox Records • gearboxrecords.com